People We Think Are Dope: Jesse Walker
Updated: May 31
We love Salt Lake City, and much of that love is attributed to the amazing people and communities that bring SLC to life. We’re excited to chat with local human gems that contribute to the magic that makes this city so great.
We sat down with local legend, Jesse Walker, to learn about his roots and what continues to inspire him about SLC. As a celebrated DJ, designer, event, and music producer, Jesse Walker has helped shape underground dance music, design, art, and culture in Utah since the mid-1990s. Founder and editor of New City Movement (NCM), Walker has become an ambassador-at-large for America's best-kept secret; Salt Lake City and has been featured in multiple publications, including FADER, MTV, SPIN, and SLUG Magazine.
Walker is known for his long-running annual “Bunny Hop” Easter Sunday charity event, now in its 12th year, which we were lucky enough to attend in April (and literally had the time of our lives)! You can often find him DJing around town with frequent appearances at Alibi, Blue Genes, The Pines, and numerous other events - keep an eye out!
Hi, Jesse! We love all that you do, so let’s start with a thank you for continuously bringing people together. Not only do you and New City Movement host amazing events, but you’re also always highlighting other events throughout town - I’ve been exposed to so many local artists, memorable experiences, and wonderful people thanks to you!
Tell us a little about New City Movement...
New City Movement started as a DJ crew and event production concept stemming from a weekly event I did at The Manhattan Club called 'New City'. I launched the website which turned into a blog, trying to be a cheerleader for anything interesting, weird, or cool around the city. Now it's back to more of a normal website, highlighting our events, news, and guest mixes. We produce 50 or more events a year thanks to the amazing people in our crew like Matthew Fit, Gizmoe, Johnny Peppinger, Choice, and many, many others.
When did you start DJing and throwing events?
I started DJing in Idaho Falls when I was 17 in 1994. New Year’s Eve was the first time I played out that year. I grew up playing piano, in church choirs, and playing in bands in high school. My bandmates and I threw an alternative music festival in high school that was a surprising success with bands from Idaho Falls, Salt Lake, and Seattle. It’s crazy, thinking about it the other day, how I’ve been doing this my whole life. I get so much enjoyment from bringing people together and making connections, and music just does the rest.
I moved to Salt Lake City shortly after. The big(er) city appealed to me coming from a small town and the draw of better music. The DJs I was finding out about were here, the only scene I knew about was here. What I knew of the rave scene came from message boards that XMission was running. My mom would print out tons of pages from it about rave culture and how to throw parties on that computer paper you tear the sides off of... remember that? This brilliant fashion designer Jared Gold was throwing these insane renegade raves around Idaho Falls and Rexburg including one that got shut down in an abandoned LDS ward house. I attended and worked at several and we became fast friends. This was at the height of Rave culture in the USA. He ended up moving to Salt Lake and working in the club scene here where I soon followed. We had a night at the original Vortex at Exchange Place called Wild Planet where we caused a lot of over-the-top insanity. Bricks was another big venue, a huge abandoned warehouse turned nightclub on the west side. It became the first truly mixed straight/gay venue I had ever seen outside of a rave. There were rooms for every kind of music, disco in the front bar, Drag in the middle, hip-hop in the basement, and major DJs coming through from around the world on the main dance floor. It was a golden coming of age in many ways for me, looking back.
Many people have preconceived notions about culture in Utah. I love hearing about the various forces at work here for decades, that most outsiders are unaware of.
The predominant religion provides a smokescreen you might say. Many people don’t realize how progressive Salt Lake City, and Park City have been for generations. There's a renegade spirit here. We are constantly defending our thoughts and actions from regulation by our 'small government'-minded theocracy, who claims its prime directive is personal liberty and freedom. It's hard to wrap your head around sometimes, so we look to each other for community.
The annual Pride Week Festivities are a perfect example of this community in action. New City Movement is proud to be programming a stage at the festival and throwing a two-night event at The Pines with many LGBTQIA, BIPOC, and allied DJs leading up to Sunday.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in Salt Lake City since coming in 1995?
That’s a great question because some days it feels like nothing has changed, and other days it's in your face. The amount of commercial and residential development in progress is stunning. I think we're in the midst of something similar to Denver's boom last decade. The pandemic changed things – people moved here to get away from big cities and fell in love with Utah. Culturally it’s growing in similar ways. I think that's making it easier to find things to do, and people to do them with. The arts, culture, music, etc. That used to not be the case, it used to be more underground.
I’ve witnessed a few ups and downs over my time in Salt Lake. I think it’s all going uphill for the next while. I think we’re going to experience some confusion and an identity crisis dealing with this level of influx. It feels like, post-covid there are going to be 10,000 events happening this summer, and no easy way to choose between them. People are ready to get out and enjoy life while they can.
SLC offers more than people think.
I like to mix it up. Occasionally I’ll go out to a friend’s punk show, or see some heavy metal. I try to see the value in everything, break out of the norm and expose myself to different scenes. I always like to tell people that at its core, this is still the wild west. People come and go, and you got to have some grit to tough it out, but when you do it’s really rewarding. There is such a core group of people in the arts and music scenes here that love to support anything interesting. It makes for a well-rounded community.
It’s always good to keep the monthly gallery stroll on your radar because there are different types of events that overlap with it, so if you make a point to do the stroll and hit one or two things, you never know what or where you'll end up. It’s the 3rd Friday of each month.
What are your favorite things to share with visitors or newbies to SLC?
It depends on the person and how much time they have, but we’ll usually drive by the LDS temple, explain the basics of Mormonism, and then they become quite curious. A stop by Gilgal Gardens is next because it’s super wacky and we can show them another side to that coin. Sometimes we’ll go for a drive up a canyon or to some lookouts over the city. Nature in Spring and Fall here is so beautiful. I like to take people for a night out on the town to show them some of the cooler spots, and my favorite haunts. Waterwitch is probably my first stop because we're family and it's my neighborhood watering hole. We'll go dancing or to whatever party New City Movement is doing. TF Brewing is an awesome spot, their Sundays are great on the patio with DJs playing rare vinyl. Red Iguana is a must, especially if coming from a place or country without great Mexican food.
What are your favorite things to do without visitors (with no intention of blowing up your secret spots, of course!)?
I’m always excited about what’s coming next, so I try to keep my ear to the ground to snoop on new venues, restaurants, artists, and stuff like that. I like to walk around my once un-walkable neighborhood in Central 9th and the Ballpark or ride my bike along the Jordan River Trail, or around the city to have a beer with friends and take it easy.
What’s on the horizon for you?
We currently have a monthly at Metro Music Hall called Metropolis. It’s going great so far. Bringing stellar local, national, and international talent together under one roof, trying to provide something like an after-hours vibe a little earlier in the night.
A lot in the works as well. The Neon Desert Exp 1 event we did with the University of Utah design school returns this Fall. Again, based around FICE Gallery, with a bigger team of creatives, and sponsors behind it. Announcing that in June.
Pride is a huge arc in the Spring. It goes Bunny Hop, Pride, then everyone leaves to go camping or festivals. And I always fail to make vacation plans in the Summer I feel like!
If your readers want to keep up with what we’re doing, the can sign up for our email newsletter at NewCityMovement.com and keep an eye on our Instagram.
Mind sharing a bit about your design realm?
My design career evolved out of the music thing for me, like literally making band posters, and being obsessed with the artwork on early electronic albums and DJ, fashion, and art magazines. It was just a necessary thing to create what didn’t exist where I lived. Completely self-taught, I was just trying to emulate what I thought was cool and happening around the world I guess?
You’ve done well with your craft! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, and thank you again for all that you do. We'll see you on the dance floor!
Salt Town Realty and friends at Bunny Hop 2022!