Like many artists whose lives have been turned upside down by COVID, DJ Jake Rudh now works in a virtual world.
MSPIFF39 Redefined – this year’s virtual Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival – began last week with a virtual party where Rudh played songs from his favorite film soundtracks. On Wednesday night, he hosted four hours of American new wave music videos on Twitch, a live streaming platform.
His weekly radio show, Transmission, is heard Thursdays on the Current. It used to be live, but now it’s prerecorded. He hasn’t been to the radio station for two months. His studio is in the south Minneapolis home he shares with his wife, Mercedes, their daughter, Liv, and their fuzzy white dog, Harry, who sometimes shows up on Twitch.
Before COVID, Rudh could be found on Wednesday nights at the Uptown VFW, where he hosted a popular weekly dance party called Transmission. (The name of a song recorded by the English rock band Joy Division in 1979, Transmission is Rudh’s brand.) On other nights, he might have been anywhere: First Avenue, the Turf Club, the Varsity, the American Swedish Institute, the Parkway, the Cedar, Brit’s Pub, the Fine Line, Aria, or Honey MPLS (now closed permanently), to name a few.
His Transmission parties at First Avenue drew big crowds, and his Prince tributes sold out the main room. He was a go-to guy for club gigs and concerts, public and private events, corporate gigs and weddings.
A full-time DJ for more than 20 years, Rudh is a self-described “huge music fan” with an encyclopedic knowledge and a fondness for old school, mainly ’70s and ’80s new wave and pop. He has been named Best DJ several times and was the Star Tribune’s Artist of the Year in 2012.
One of Rudh’s favorite things – he calls it “actually my favorite thing that I do in my career” – is opening for artists and bands he loves, getting audiences revved and ready. That very long list of names includes Aimee Mann, the B-52s, Billy Idol, the Cult, Echo & the Bunnymen, Information Society, OMD, Psychedelic Furs, Soul Asylum, the Suburbs and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh.
Living in a pandemic, his livelihood in flux, Rudh has also suffered a great personal loss. His stepfather of 40 years died earlier this month. (Not of complications from COVID, which we need to say these days.) “Not being able to be by his side while he was dying just flat-out sucked,” he said. “To have him be alone in hospice in a hospital setting, and not with friends or family. Not knowing when we can have a funeral for him.”
We spoke late Wednesday afternoon. This conversation has been edited and condensed.
MinnPost: What did your life look like before mid-March?
Jake Rudh: Dozens and dozens and dozens of gigs on the calendar. Some were club gigs for myself. I’ve been doing a weekly club gig every Wednesday for 20 years. I was lined up to DJ in front of a handful of artists that First Avenue was presenting.
I own Transmission Music, a DJ company, and I have six or seven contractors who work with me. We had a whole calendar full of weddings. They were all postponed. Everything. My entire calendar’s been wiped out through September so far.
MP: What were some of your last live events?
JR: I opened for Howard Jones at the Ordway [on March 4]. He did an acoustic thing, just a Steinway piano, with Nick Beggs, who was the bassist with Kajagoogoo, and guitarist Robin Boult. They rocked it. The night before, I opened for Wire, a British post-punk band, at the Fine Line.
MP: It seemed like you were always doing something somewhere.
JR: I get to work with things I love. I think people appreciate anything that’s authentic. Most people know I’m a wacko and a nerd for what I do, and they enjoy that. And I certainly do, too.
I do a lot of corporate gigs. That’s the bread and butter that helps pay my bills. I run a business where we do a lot of great weddings. We’re great club DJs. I’ve put together a crew of DJs who love music and all have their own jobs. This is like a side hustle for them, but it helps fill their bucket of happiness.
So my career is threefold. It’s running and operating Transmission Music and landing gigs for that. It’s being a club DJ. It’s being a radio DJ. I love every bit of it. It’s different every day.
Some really exciting moments have happened. Especially when the Superbowl came. We got hired for so many gigs in that three-to-four-day span, it was insane.
MP: And then what?
JR: My life since mid-March has been cancellations and postponements. The first gig I canceled was Saturday, March 14. Then it was like – do I go forward with my Wednesday gig [at the Uptown VFW]? I didn’t want to. I did not want to be the guy responsible for, No. 1, possibly getting people sick, or, No. 2, coming across like I don’t care about anyone else, I only care about getting a check.
MP: You had a Transmission 19th Anniversary Dance Party scheduled for March 21 at First Avenue.
JR: Transmission’s Big Adventure, for Pee-wee Herman. That was the exact same night Pee-wee was going to be performing at the State Theatre. I was trying to get him as a guest DJ. A crowd of 2,000 people would see him at the State, then come down to First Avenue. That was one rotten thing that got canceled.
I’ll probably do a virtual anniversary show sometime in June. I don’t want to skip a year. We’ll just have the 20th next year at First Avenue, and it will hopefully be a humdinger of a party.
MP: What is a typical day for you now?
JR: I sleep in a bit later than I usually do. I try to have a schedule that I follow every day. Having a family, my day ends at five o’clock. I help with dinner, play with my daughter, do dinner, have some more playtime, and do the bedtime process.
During the day, I don’t have phone calls coming in like I used to. I don’t have emails coming in with gigs left and right. It’s a little harder for me to stay focused. I’m having to be creative.
The biggest thing that’s new for me are my virtual gigs. Most DJs and musicians are doing virtual gigs, whether it’s Instagram Live, Facebook Live or Twitch.
I’m living out my MTV Veejay fantasies, shooting music videos out across the world via my Twitch channel. Sometimes I’ll get on the microphone in front of the camera and talk about the artists or the song. If I’ve worked with an artist in the past, I’ll maybe tell a personal story.
That has been working really well for me. There have been a few gigs where more than 550 people have tuned in.
MP: Are your Twitch gigs free or ticketed?
JR: People are tipping me through Venmo or Paypal. That’s literally the only way I’m making money right now.
If there’s one thing I hear more than anything – whether it’s from a tweet, an email, a message or a Facebook comment – it’s “Thank you for keeping this going. Thank you for taking my mind off this BS that’s happening in our world for just a few hours. I needed it.”
I need it, too. I need the creative outlet of curating a great playlist.
MP: What was it like to go from high-energy live dance parties to virtual shows?
JR: There’s nothing like that high when you’re hitting it on all cylinders, and you get a dance floor feeling every move you make, every note you’re playing. When 80 percent of everyone on the dance floor is singing every word to every song. That is definitely something I miss. It’s a beautiful thing.
It was a little awkward at first, but I’ve actually come to really enjoy [the virtual shows]. And I think I’ll continue doing this, even once I start doing live gigs again, because I’ve grown a following around the nation and the world.
MP: What is your main concern?
JR: Not knowing how this is going to come back together. I’m still lining up gigs for the fall and next year, but we just don’t know an exact start time.
In the meantime, I’m eliminating gigs. And it really sucks. This is my livelihood. I make a living by doing DJ gigs and running a company that does social events with soundtracks and DJ gigs. It has hit me 100 percent.
I don’t like to play the woe-is-me card, because it’s not just me, it’s frickin’ everybody. I try to stay positive. I am pretty much a glass-half-full kind of guy. But sometimes it’s tough.
MP: Is there a silver lining anywhere in this for you?
JR: More family time has been great. But there really aren’t too many other positives. I miss live music terribly.
MP: What’s the first thing you’ll do when you can do whatever you want?
JR: I definitely plan on having one of the greatest Transmission events I’ve ever hosted. It might be the best one I’ve ever done.
Upcoming events with DJ Jake Rudh:
Saturday, May 23, on Rudh’s Twitch channel: Transmission Celebrates International Synthesizer Day. A live veejay mix of synth acts old and new in an all-synth celebration. 8 p.m. – 12 a.m. Free, but tips will be accepted.
Saturday, May 30, on Rudh’s Twitch channel: Transmission & Slicing Up Eyeballs Present “180 Minutes.” A tribute to MTV’s former Sunday night staple “120 Minutes,” with music by Joy Division and New Order. 8 p.m. – 11 p.m. Free, but tips will be accepted. Don’t be alarmed by the “Slicing Up Eyeballs” name. Rudh explained, “It’s a Pixies lyric.”
Rudh’s radio show, Transmission, is heard every Thursday night on the Current starting at 10 p.m.