English DJ and producer Palms Trax is acutely aware of the pitfalls of pigeonholing. “It’s something I worry about a lot. How can I represent everything I’m into musically in a way that still makes sense in the context I'm playing in?” he tells New Times by phone. Although DJs who are keen on a specific genre or are especially gifted at mixing certain kinds of sounds sometimes wind up being cordoned off, Palms Trax — real name Jay Donaldson — circumvents this problem by keeping things consistently eclectic.
His taste in music is like a prism that enables light to shine through in all different directions: Want some house-infused tribal music? Donaldson has you covered. What about nu-disco that slides into New Wave? Say no more. Old-school Marco Carola tracks? Oh, most definitely.
After performing at Rakastella in December on the Where Are My Keys? stage, Donaldson is set to return to Miami for his ATV Records debut just in time for Valentine's Day this Friday, February 14. He admits coming to Miami in such short intervals is a bit uncommon for him, but it doesn't pose a problem when you have a slew of sounds at your disposal.
“I had a really good time at Rakastella. I heard about it but didn’t really know what to expect,” Donaldson recalls. “Before that, I actually had not played in Miami in years. I remember I played in a pool hall [Bardot]. I was keen on playing at the Electric Pickle, but it was too late; they told us about this club that was opening with this fresh energy, and it seemed like a good time.” This will also be the first time PL0T, Rebeca Lange’s promotional group, has organized a show at ATV. Before the new downtown venue's opening, PL0T was one of the main party organizers for the Pickle.
Whether Donaldson is mixing in a festival or club setting, his holistic approach to DJ'ing allows each of his sets to feel personalized and distinct from the others. "My understanding is that this new venue will have more of a club feel and you can play a little more hypnotically,” he explains. “I plan on approaching it in a different way.”
Despite not visiting ATV Records yet, Donaldson already has a good grip on the underlining ethos of the venue and its owner, Will Renuart: “I think he was the guy at Rakastella who sat on the roof during my set and was swinging this giant clock around.”
It was only six years ago when Donaldson produced his debut EP, Equation. Though he had already been DJ’ing at a little bar in London, the nostalgia-rich synths and melodies of the record helped propel Donaldson to underground stardom. Palms Trax can now be regularly seen playing Berlin’s legendary Panorama Bar or closing out highly regarded dance music festivals such as Dekmantel.
After his comeup, Donaldson relocated to Berlin and found himself adapting to its sheer number of DJs, shows, and overall music. “I think I'm definitely better adjusted,” Donaldson says in an assured tone. “I feel like being here has given me the time that I need during the week to really take a step back and think about what it is that I want to be doing.”
Donaldson counts the likes of Detriot’s Omar S, English synth-pop legend Depeche Mode, and the pioneering house music of Frankie Knuckles among his influences. As for the languorous tribal touch heard in Palms Trax sets, that was made possible partially by Donaldson's girlfriend and a trip to Morocco.
"Well, she’s infinitely cooler than I am,” he states matter-of-factly about his significant other. “We went to Morocco and saw Floating Points and James Holden doing this collaborative project with Maalem Mahmoud Guinia. It sort of opened my eyes. It was interesting to see how Floating Points and Holden were working with them and trying to adapt these different rhythms, which opened me to all these new sounds, which are used a lot in my radio shows now."
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Above all, Donaldson remains grateful to all the label heads and artists who gave Palms Trax the start he needed and deserved: “I always envisioned myself creating or playing music, but I think if it weren’t for Jimmy Asquith — who started the record label Lobster Theremin — taking up the reins and putting out the Equation record, I don’t think it would have actually been released. He really pushed me and believed in me.” The same can be said of Thomas Martojo and Casper Tielrooij, who signed Donaldson to Dekmantel's record label.
Looking ahead, Donaldson hopes 2020 will afford him some time to self-reflect. “This year is basically [about] trying to enjoy everything,” Donaldson chuckles. “I have been setting up this studio in Berlin for the last month and a half. And I have been working on some projects with some singers and making music that strays away from the pressure of making music suitable for a club. I want it to be more of a collaborative experience; dance music can sort of let you be isolated.”
His adventuresome spirit and uplifting attitude seem to forecast even brighter days ahead for Donaldson. Asked if he believes in luck, he says, “Yes, I have been incredibly lucky. If it wasn’t for luck, I wouldn’t be talking to you. So many lucky run-ins and moments. I’m lucky to be given so many questions. Yes, I absolutely believe in luck.”