A Kansas-Based Creator And His Infectious Creative Energy

“Why don’t you do it?”

Standing in front of The Bottleneck Bar’s owner in Lawrence, Kansas, Jon Marzette found himself at a crossroads. The year was 2012, and up until this point the college-aged Marzette did not consider himself anything more than The Bottleneck’s doorman. He and his best friend (who would become his business and artistic partner), Cameron Birdsall, had just received word that the DJ hired for the evening hadn’t shown. “Why don’t you do it?” the bar owner asked the pair. Marzette and Birdsall accepted.

They ended up throwing a party that evening that quickly exploded into a popular dance fest series, which became known as Assjamz.

“Assjamz has grown into this big thing. I’ve learned so much from it. We essentially learned how to DJ by throwing a big house party. At first, 50 people came, and then 60, then 100, and then more and more,” says Marzette.

Success was not without consequence. Marzette is a living crash course for young creatives navigating the murky waters of launching an artistic career. At a young age, he learned that when entering an artistic community, being cognizant of other artists is paramount.

“At the time, Cameron and I weren’t super into the surrounding DJ culture. A lot of the DJs locally were giving us heat. They were like, ‘You can’t just pop out of nowhere. You don’t know what you’re doing.’ Which we didn’t. But we got through it. Cameron is the yin to my yang. I’m the sensitive one, and I worried about it. Cameron is more, ‘Nah, fuck y’all.’ Some of them were saying that we didn’t have skills—that we were dumbing it down. After that we really did our homework. Now, we have the skills to back it up.”

For Marzette, the success of the event series, coupled with his education, gave him the confidence to pursue a career as an independent artist. In an age where “influencer” and “content creator” are coveted but elusive titles, Marzette is a spirited example of someone who is making a name for himself by simply embracing and capitalizing upon one’s interests. Since that first evening at The Bottleneck, the University of Kansas graduate has launched a creative career encompassing design, art, music and production. Whether he is planning an event, compiling a playlist or designing a logo, his brain bounces between creator and marketer. And for an emerging talent, that’s the best place to be.

What is it that creates a following? What qualities must someone possess to inspire? We caught up with Marzette, who was between promotional photo and video shoots for upcoming events, to ask him about life as a young artist.

jon marzette

You’re at a party and someone asks you the annoying question: “So, what do you do?” What do you tell them?
[Laughs] That is a hard one. I generally say art and music—simple as that.

You’re passionate about music, film, art and design. To which medium do you devote the most of your time?
The weird thing is how it’s all so connected. I’m all over the place, all the time. With the music, there’s normally an art component, like a poster illustration, that I will create for a show. And it’s the same with art. What I make is always connected to some vibrant energy, like music. For design, if I’m doing a branding project, even just making a logo, it still has a certain vibe. The same with DJing.

Artistically, what are you most proud of?
Man, oh man, that’s tough. I hate to say this, and I only use this word because it’s true: There has been a ton of “organic growth” and connection through my art and design. I’m proud of that. Most recently, I’ve been involved with a festival called Flyover. Huge artists, who rarely come to Kansas, will be there. Along with my partner, Cameron Birdsall, we’re doing all the branding and also performing.

You have a lot going on. Do you work independently, or do you have a day job?
That’s been my biggest struggle these past three years. Two and a half years ago, I worked at Hallmark, where I was a designer by day. It was a comfortable, nine-to-five position. But I found that when I did my DJing and art work at night, it was so tiring. I decided to leave Hallmark and worked on DJing and freelance design, but that was also really difficult. There weren’t enough DJ gigs to sustain me. It’s really been just over the past five months that I’ve been getting in a consistent groove of contract and DJ gigs. At the end of the day, I want to do both. I’m still trying to find that balance, and I know a lot of
artists can relate to that. We want to pay our bills, but we also want to be unique and creative.

How do think living in Kansas and the Midwest affects your work?
I’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately. In the Midwest and in Kansas City, people really love to work hard. The work ethic is real. I think people sometimes feel like they’re ignored, but we have something great here. We have to work twice as hard to get noticed. But the talent is there. It’s a blessing and a curse, because there is so much competition in other cities. But if you’re unique and true to yourself, you’re going to stand out. Around here, there’s a beautiful community that builds you up.

What’s your creative process like when you’re getting ready for a show?
Well, this is interesting. A lot of the backend work of a DJ is actually playing the songs and finding out what people are digging. I do a lot of different types of gigs: some super hip-hop and ratchet, some funky. I get to try out a lot of different things. Generally, if you’re listening to a song and you’re not dancing in your chair, it’s not right for a party. There are go-to songs like that. You include those with other stuff people are currently liking. That being said, there are things I like that I’ll play and people aren’t into it. When that happens live, I’ll immediately switch it.

Who are some Kansas musicians you are excited about right now?
Man, there are a few people that I’m really stoked on. Where do I start? First and foremost, I would say Hermon Mehari. He’s a Kansas City trumpeter; he’s so dope. He plays all over the world, and his music is so jazzy and cool. DJ Sheppa is great. For roots and rock music, Spencer Mackenzie Brown. And my favorite heavy band in Kansas City is called Conflicts.

On a photo in your Instagram feed, you’re wearing a t-shirt that says, “No, thank you!” Will you share your thoughts with us on the importance of being gracious?
Giving back is something I think a lot about. It should come as second nature. Remembering to support people improves everything. Help out your scene. If you’re throwing an event, why not try to get a local charity involved? Why not do a free show? As long as you keep doing that and being genuine, you can’t lose.

This story originally appeared in ALIVE Issue 3, 2017. Purchase Issue 3 and become an ALIVE member.

Photography by Attilio D’Agostino.

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