Since then Daniel's kept busy making music at his mom's house on the north side of Detroit. It's one of the few things Daniel opens up about, along with subjects such as the gentrification of his city, a visit from the Black Panthers and that Facebook post from December 2013, which came just two months after his first EP dropped on Theo Parrish's Sound Signature label. That record dumped Daniel in at the deep end, and he admits to not being fully prepared for what happened next.
"I didn't know how big house music was over in Europe," he says. "I mean, I was aware, but it's one thing to know and then experience it. It took me by surprise, it was overwhelming at times, all the people and amount of energy that gravitated towards me was kinda crazy." As is the modern way, Daniel was inundated with requests for podcasts and interviews from blogs all over the world. As he expressed on Facebook, he felt that such offers did more good for the blogs than for himself.
"There are a lot of people trying to get on you and commodify your art. [Music] is not sacred to a lot of people, and I don't feel that's fair to the artist," he says, coming alive for the first time in the interview. "I mean, I can put out a mix on my own blog or SoundCloud and get some listens, but my thing is, man, in today's society, there is a whole lot of curating going on. That's not needed. The people who do all these blogs aren't putting forth any creative method on their own. What good will it do me to help them help their blog? And furthermore, when are they going to create? Will they just keep hosting these mixes, these reviews?"
He continues, uninterrupted, for minutes. "I don't believe in intellectualising music like that. A review is cool, it helps people pick it up or whatever, but I feel [reviewers] say, 'I like this, but…' and I don't feel people make this music for you to say 'but.' I feel like all the second-hand evaluating and stuff, it's bad for creative consciousness, because it makes you think about what other people will say about your music. And that's not important to the creator, 'cause he's not creating for everybody, and I make stuff with that in mind."
The Scorpio Rising EP came about after Daniel handed Theo Parrish a demo CD. At that point, he'd only been making music "five or six months" and basically made it all on an MPC "that I didn't know how to use so well," and a synthesiser on loan from Kyle Hall. The reason two of the cuts on it are raw-as-fuck drum tracks is simply because he records direct to tape and didn't have a mixer at the time. Lending the drums some serious weight and groove, though, was Daniel's skill as a drummer—he'd been playing since eighth grade, all through high school and in a gospel choir. You might wonder how he ended up in techno at all.
Enter his father, who had separated from his mother when Jay was two and "was not the best role model." Jay went with him to Maryland for high school, and though he eventually returned to Detroit, his time spent out of town had a lasting influence on him.
"In Maryland they have go-go, with a lot of live percussion. It's like reggae but not really. They cover top 40 songs, hip-hop shit on the radio. Being in Maryland playing drums, you either play in a go-go band or you play in church, and I'm not religious or nothin', and I knew go-go was a real no end. You just play in clubs in the D.C. area, there's nothing else. But I feel go-go had an effect on the way I see and hear music. The cadence and syncopation is different from any other music. I could have played in a band, but it's easier to make music by yourself."
He pauses, then comes again. "I mean, it's harder 'cause you have to know different instruments, and I want to be skilled on keys and I want the drums to be on point and everything, but at the same time it's easier 'cause you can do it all on the MPC or synthesizer, you know."
Following his first release, time spent on the road in Europe ("it's cool, it's just not America") gave Jay time to fine-tune the skills he'd picked up playing with Hall at their Fundamentals party in Detroit. But he remains a resolutely rough-and-ready DJ, happy to brave unquantised funk records as well as more typical house fair. Ever since returning home, he's been more focused on production than ever before. "[Production] is a time you can encapsulate all the energy and stuff you experience at that time. You make a track and whatever has happened to you between EPs, you culminate it all in production."
The next fruits of his labours came in the form of Karmatic Equations, a double-pack on Hall's Wild Oats label that showed a more mature side to Daniel's sound. "Dance music and everything is cool," he muses in his dour tone. "But I'm just trying to make good music. I don't want it to be classified as much as it has. I want to be able to make stuff that people play at home, not just out in the club or whatever. My audience is people here [in Detroit] who can drive around in the car and listen to it. It's not about what you have technically; what gear you have. It's about what you have creatively and how much of it you are willing to exert."
As a child, Jay grew up singing along with his cousin to "Stars" and "Feel the Fire," the '90s house tracks for which his mother provided vocals. Produced by Carl Craig, both came on I Ner Zon Sounds in 1993, a sub-label of Planet E set up exclusively to release the work of Naomi Daniel. Despite being minor classics licensed to more than 20 compilations since, Naomi didn't like the attention she was getting and ultimately pursued a career in journalism. Daniel has had a similar reaction.
"Me, I don't even want all the attention to be honest," he says. "It just came, and I'd still be doing music with no attention, just not on the level I'm doing it now I guess." Another thing he learnt from his mother is to "have integrity," but he also reckons he had to learn a lot for himself as an only child (save the step siblings on his father's side). Part of that has been dealing with outsiders' perceptions of Detroit.
"You grow up here, you don't know outside or what anywhere else looks like, so you don't worry what people who haven't been think about the place. On a cultural level, what Detroit has contributed to the world speaks volumes, regardless of how the media portrays the city. I mean, the way America was founded was corrupt, so I don't know how anyone can expect it to thrive and prosper. People objectify the city and use it as grit, the same as they did with Brooklyn. People try and use that to their advantage. Some dude from some club in Berlin [Dimitri Hegemann, the founder of Tresor], he tried to come here and build a club or something. People here won't settle for it. Maybe if you're from the suburbs or not from Detroit, but you can't take something out of Detroit, then bring it back here like we never seen it before. Techno started here. I'd rather someone from Detroit did it. In cases like that the money is not going back to the city. It's more for the person's own growth. It's selfish, so they can say they came to Detroit and started a club. It's for namesake."
Daniel says he would like to do something to contribute to his city, but not necessarily a club. "I feel like clubs harbour drugs and alcoholism. They take people away from the music, they just come out to socialise."
As conversation turns back to music, Daniel reels off some of his inspirations. "I listen to mostly jazz, because I feel like jazz is the most influential genre of music. Everything came from jazz, and blues. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wendell Harrison, Tribe Records, spiritual jazz, stuff like that. At first that shit was over my head, but I feel like you have to study it because jazz is a stream of conscious thing."
As well as modern artists like DJ Harrison, Geology and John Lawyer, he also references the writings of Zadie Smith, a lot of black consciousness books and African history. But at no point does he ever sound excited or enthused, even when mentioning that his next two releases will be on his own new label, Watusi High. So what does excite Daniel?
"Maybe I got spoiled going to all those places so young, but really music is what excites me—when I'm making a track, and it feels real good. You know, I'm a real person. I'm not just a musician—I'm a person first. People can blow you up to be this—not a star, but an idol or whatever, and that's cool, but you have your own stuff you worry about, and music is always a focal point for me. I'm not trying to sell myself, you know? I'm a person first. I don't want to feel commodified. I don't want to do a gig and look back and think, what was the point of that?"