Cover Story: Refusing to Follow Trends, NYC’s Jubilee has Won Success Exactly Where it Counts

A passion for UK and American bass-driven sounds has carried Jubilee around the world, earning her a score of global admirers and industry friendships in the process. Jasmine Kent-Smith hears her story so far.

20 min
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Mar 15, 2021
Jasmine Kent-Smith

When she was a little girl, Jessica Gentile would sleep with the radio on. She was born and raised in South Florida, and so it was local stations like Miami’s Power 96 or 99 Jamz that she tuned into before bed; a soundtrack of Miami bass and freestyle lulling her to sleep.

Her parents were into music too – which she knows “is, like, the bio favourite to write.” Her father always had a “crazy” record collection, while her mother was an ’80s-era aerobics instructor and listened to everything from disco to Latin freestyle, Gloria Estefan to early Madonna. Gentile was into this stuff too, but it wasn’t her calling. She wasn’t quite sure what that was back then. She’d soon figure it out though, and in the process become Jubilee — the globally-adored, Mixpak-affiliated DJ, producer and, most recently, Magic City label head.

As Jubilee, Gentile melds her bassy signature sound with dancefloor-honed versatility. This dual approach makes her the kind of DJ who’s as ease playing to the likes of Beyoncé at a trendy party held at Opening Ceremony’s now-shuttered NYC store as she is on stage at a larger-the-life EDM festival, or at an intimate venue in the north of England.

At the heart of her career lies an authentic devotion to dance music — a dedication to musicians and movements that link back, however loosely, to the Miami-routed, bass-indebted stylings that shaped her as a child and have continued to drive her artistically ever since. “I’ve always wanted to, and always will make, things that sound like Miami bass,” she offers over email after our call. “I know that it’s my ongoing thing, but it’s what I love.” It’s a love that burns regardless of what she’s working on, who she’s working with, or any external battles she may be facing. Like, I don’t know, a global pandemic.

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In conversation, Gentile is personable and warm as she shares stories and anecdotes from times long past; her words flowing with such openness you’d think it was a catch-up between old friends rather than an interview. This could be credited to her time spent working as a make-up artist at New York department store Henri Bendel. Much like hairdressing, it’s a profession that requires an empathic deposition, and the kind of charm that elicits confessional moments from clients who often treat appointments a little like therapy sessions.

Or it could stem from years spent rolling up to raves alone. When she was a teenager, drum & bass was Gentile’s gateway into dance music. It linked nicely with her enjoyment of breaks-focused material, especially the kind played by the local DJs she loved. Plus, she’d always loved Miami bass, and these sounds all flowed into a communal sonic pool. But she struggled to find friends with the same interests. “When I lived in Florida I was a total raver,” she says. “[I] loved going out, but there was nobody at my school or in my world [who] was like that. It wasn’t cool.”

At the time, Miami raves worked like this: someone would find a spot, and every party in the city would be held there for a while. Then it would get raided or close down or “something horrible would happen,” and the city’s promoters would move somewhere else. “When I first started going out, there were a lot of afterhours [parties] on South Beach, and then they passed this law that everything had to close at 5 a.m. there because of raves,” adds Gentile. The anti-rave legislation in question was introduced in 1997 in efforts to curb all-night events. Or more specially, the drug use that was considered part of the events by the state.

One of the venues she stumbled across back then was The Edge, a “mostly punk” spot in downtown Ft. Lauderdale. It was “insane,” she admits, with “people just doing balloons like laying on the floor.” She would go a lot, attracted to the music on offer. However, she was too young to get in legally, so would have to climb the fence or try her luck with the “stamp trick,” when an of-age party-goer licks or otherwise wets the stamp on their hand before smudging onto the hand of someone underage.

I ask Gentile, if she were to make me a mixtape (an actual, tangible, IRL one) composed of tracks that played a key role during her teenage years, which tune would kick things off. She settles on DJ Icey‘s “Tricks Theme– “for sure”. It’s something she’s starting to play again actually, along with other stuff from her youth. Back then, she’d go to the record store to pick up mixtapes and tickets to local raves – but she wouldn’t actually buy records. “Turntables were expensive, records were expensive, and I was super young,” she recalls. She only started purchasing them aged 21 or so, while living in New York.

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Breakbeat Science, a drum & bass record store in Manhattan’s East Village, was her store of choice when she moved to New York in 2003. “It was so exciting to go and go to these record stores that I’d followed on the very bleak Internet that we had at the time,” she says, smiling at the memory. Before moving, Gentile had only experienced the store via its bustling message board. “And of course, the guy working there was a total dick. You know, I got the full experience. Shout out to Breakbeat Science, they’re the best, but like that one guy working there at the time…” She assures me that everyone else who worked at the store was lovely. In fact, she’s actually still friends with one of the employees.

Gentile would trawl through forums like Hollerboard or Breakbeat Science each week in search of raves to attend. She met a lot of people this way, some she still talks to today, and even met Mixpak founder Dre Skull there. When Dre eventually invited Gentile to be his friend on Myspace, she noticed that Miami hip-hop hero Uncle Luke was among his top friends. “All right,” thought Gentile at the time. “I can fuck with this dude.”

She wound up moving in with him and DJ, journalist, and promoter Star Eyes, aka Vivian Host – another one of Gentile’s long-time friends. “For two years, we were living in this weird loft,” says Gentile. “It was during the recession, so we weren’t really working. Like, I believe I was working at this club, but rent was really cheap. We had three rooms each — it was nuts.” Gentile and Dre were living together when Dre first came across Jamaican dancehall star and Mixpak signee Popcaan. “I remember him being like, ‘Oh my god, I met this vocalist, and he’s like, it.'”

It was around then that Gentile started promoting raves, like her regular Flashing Lights bash, which took place in a Chinese restaurant called 88 Palace – “super cool, super grimy, really fun,” Gentile says – with DJ Ayres and Fool’s Gold‘s Nick Catchdubs. She relished putting on her own events because they meant she could book whoever she wanted and play whatever she wished. It’s an ‘If it doesn’t exist, I’ll do it myself’ kind of mentality that can be felt in all that she does.

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In 2008, she launched a record label called Nightshifters alongside Jason Forrest. Nightshifters put out the first record from Canblaster, a collaboration between Gentile — who was dabbling in production at this point — and Udachi, as well as music from the likes of Hostage, AC Slater, and more. After a few years of label life, the pair arrived at a crossroads: They either had to put all they had into it – or call it a day.

“I had just finished my first solo record by myself,” recalls Gentile, who confided in Dre (who she and Star Eyes used to dub “The Guru” thanks to his insight into the music business), telling him: “I don’t think I want to put this out on my own label, because I don’t think this label’s gonna really go much further.” His response? Well, to put it out on the then-fledgling label Mixpak.

It wouldn’t be the first time that the pair worked together. They were already throwing small, fun and “crazy” parties together with some of their favourite artists. “They would never do well! It was just me and him like, ‘Hey, we want to get the Brick Bandits or these Jersey club dudes who I’ve known forever,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve lost so much money in my life — and not complaining about it at all — because I’ve just been like, ‘Oh my god, everybody needs to see this person DJ and I’m gonna break the bank to get them here.'”

Over the years, Gentile’s released a pair of excellent albums (After Hours and Call for Location) and a handful of EPs on Mixpak, plus played at events like Red Bull Culture Clash 2016 on behalf of the label. (Mixpak won, deservedly so). She’s full of praise for the imprint and its commitment to mix things up in a way that feels totally organic, and reels off favourite early Mixpak releases from the likes of Sizzla, Double Dutch and Lil Scrappy. It’s something she does frequently during our conversation, and her enthusiasm is only heightened while talking about UK-originated sounds.

It’s a topic we get into serendipitously. Mid-way through our conversation, Gentile notices the pastel-hued illustration by the usually Manchester, but currently Seoul-based multi-disciplinary artist Murlo on my wall. A fellow Mixpak-affiliate, Murlo shared a selection of the prints to accompany the release of his 2019 debut album, Dolos. As it turns out, Gentile has the very same one on her wall.

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This isn’t really a surprise. Gentile’s a proven fan of UK-born sounds, from two-step to garage, grime through to dubstep and jungle. In the past, she’s played frequently at Swing Ting, the Manchester party and label that cites Murlo among its crew; repped Mixpak at Notting Hill Carnival; and hosted shows on London-based radio stations like NTS, Rinse FM, and even BBC Radio 1, where she took up a residency in 2018. This was something she’d always wanted to do. “It actually felt really good because everything that I had done before was like, ‘Oh, it’s because you know this person’, or it’s because you’re on Mixpak and whatever — you have imposter syndrome. [But] that was really a good feeling because they knew what they wanted, and I was that.”

She’d actually piloted a show for them already back in 2014, but it didn’t work out. She didn’t let it get to her too much though; years spent immersed in theatre in a life lived prior meant that she was equipped to deal with rejection. “I would go on all these auditions for commercials and stuff like that,” she says, reflecting on her theatre days. “My mom would always be like, ‘Don’t get excited and don’t get your hopes up. If you get the call, you get the call,’ and that also applies now.”

A couple of years ago Gentile was “basically halfway” to living in London. She’d stay in a friend’s spare room and even considered moving permanently, but then Brexit happened, Covid-19 happened, and so it remains a wistful pipedream. It doesn’t mean she’s been diverting her gaze away from Britain though. She’s still as excited as ever by music and artists coming out of the UK. Take Manchester-based party-starter Anz. “I don’t think I’ve felt such gushing love for an artist’s work and progression like I feel about Anz,” she says. Or British-Jamaican rapper Thai Chi Rosé, whose “stage presence is unreal, and so far, the music she has put out has been great.” Or the woefully under-applauded producer (and UK funky innovator) KG: “I love everything she does.”

“Honestly, if it weren’t for coming to London all the time for three years it would have been hard to stay inspired,” Gentile admits. “There is a never-ending output of incredible music and people in the UK. Getting to play with Swing Ting once or twice a year and hanging in Manchester with the crew and MC Fox is like yearly medicine to me.”

Given how much exploring new places and meeting new people inspires Gentle, it’s natural that her enthusiasm has waned in the past twelve months. “That’s where I made my music from,” she says, frankly. “So, sitting home isn’t exactly doing it for me right now. And it’s really, really hard to work on music. However, knowing that I have my The Lot Radio show coming up and having to put together music for it keeps me up on things.”

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As does her new label Magic City, which takes its name with the compilation series Gentile’s been running since 2015. The label, which kicked off with an EP from Gentile titled Are We There Yet?, sees her adjusting into a mentor-like role. Really, what she wants is for the artists releasing via the imprint to be excited about the music that they’re coming out with and for her to do a little bit of the work for them – whether it’s helping with artwork, paying for mastering or getting them a sync deal. She looks up to the likes of Nina Las Vegas, who through her label NLV Records, has “helped a lot of young artists really find a way to make money but also keep it weird,” Gentile says.

Gentile’s in an expert position to assist both artists taking their first steps into the industry, and semi-established names looking to make overdue breakthroughs. She’s lived multiple lives, navigated a dizzying number of trend-led eras, and donned more hats – figuratively speaking – than Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay. “People don’t understand, first of all, I’ve been around a little longer than they think,” she says at one point.

Diversifying her career – something she started doing early on – has been key to her longevity. As has keeping her circle tight, and opting to work with friends or people she’s known “forever.” She also reckons a lot of it is due to never having an “over-hyped up” moment: “I never ‘got big’ as they say, I guess.”

To an extent, I’d agree. Though it downplays Gentile’s consistency and tireless dedication to her craft. While she may not be “big” in a ‘ginormous techno fee’ kind of way, she’s valued immeasurably by fans and peers who’ve followed her journey across regions and roles. Gentile’s refusal to shrug off the sound she loves — the very one she’d fall asleep listening to all those years ago — in favour of something trendier or more financially lucrative remains a major part of her draw. Much like her natural ability to forge strong connections with others around her, these components, when soldered together with her music, mean that Gentile is secure in herself and her style no matter what the next chapters in her story bring.

Jasmine Kent-Smith is a freelance journalist. Find her on Twitter.