When Jason Harlowe moved from San Diego to Bend in 1999, there were not a lot of places in town to DJ.
Not that he let that stop him. This is a guy, after all, who DJed at the bus station in downtown Portland earlier in that move.
“I had some time and I pulled out the (turntables) and plugged into a power jack and passed the time mixing records,” he said in an interview Monday. “It was definitely a strong passion.”
Once he'd completed the trip to Bend, he got settled and began surveying the scene, looking for a place where he could regularly showcase his blend of electronic whomp: mostly drum 'n' bass, trance and house music.
But he had to dig. He found a group of folks running an underground place in an industrial section of Bend. They called it The Treehouse, and bands jammed there. So Harlowe gathered up his vinyl records and went down, “just to hang out,” he said.
“I was like, 'Hey, there's nowhere else for me to play except my room, so ...” Harlowe said, he voice trailing off as if he was nervously trying to break into a group of strangers all over again.
The group was receptive to the new guy with the new sound, and some took an interest in his craft.
A dozen years later, things have changed in Bend. There is a vibrant DJ culture here now, and a handful of places where they can not only play, but people will come and listen and dance.
And as a regular presence at The Blacksmith, The Astro Lounge, MadHappy Lounge and Slipmat Science parties, Harlowe has been a big part of that shift. (He also cites the opening of the now-defunct downtown club The Grove as a “defining moment” for electronic dance music in Bend.)
“I would hope I had some impact,” he said. “That's what I wanted when I got here. I knew that if I really wanted to be a part of this community and have any influence on it at all, from an artistic standpoint, I had to start with the foundation of what's here and work and grow with it.”
While growing, Harlowe has also stayed rooted in what he does well. After five years in Bend, he attended the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Tempe, Ariz., to study audio engineering and production and soak up knowledge from industry veterans. But at the same time, he has stuck with his traditional tools — vinyl records — despite electronic music's digital revolution.
“I tried the digital thing for a year solid,” he said. “But vinyl's what I learned on. That's what I grew up with. To me, that's always going to be my instrument.”
Harlowe calls Bend “home base” and a “magnet,” and his wife and three kids his “rock of stability,” but it's time for a change. He's moving to the Portland area, where he hopes to use longstanding connections to continue DJing. Before he leaves, though, he'll throw one last party tonight at The Astro Lounge, where a “family gathering” of guests — Prajekt, Defekt, Cloaked Characters, Keez, Caitlin Cardier and more — will not only help send him off, but will also celebrate his new CD, a blast of dubstep, breakbeats, house and jungle called “New Kingdom.”
Harlowe created each track from the ground up, a reflection of his impressive work ethic and dedication to his music.
“I've just tried to squeeze myself in where I could and play just about anywhere (I had an) opportunity to,” he said. “(All I need) is an outlet and the people.”