Chicago producer and multi-instrumentalist Dan Jugle got hooked on electronic music in the mid-90s, when he had to find his way to raves without being old enough to drive. Shortly after he turned 16, he started messing around with analog equipment to make his own music. He fell in love with techno, and in recent years he’d earned a reputation for the waterlogged club tracks he made with Juzer (a duo with Beau Wanzer) and the raw, throbbing cuts he recorded with Dar Embarks (a duo with childhood friend Ken Zawacki). Last Thursday, Dar Embarks played Smart Bar, one of the most respected electronic-music venues on the continent. But it was the last time Jugle performed live—he died this past weekend at age 37.
Chris Kalis, who befriended Jugle at York Community High School in the late 90s and would later play in Chandeliers with him, remembers when Jugle first played him the 1995 Aphex Twin album . . . I Care Because You Do. It was during a rehearsal by one of their early musical projects, and the song “Alberto Balsalm” caught Kalis’s ear. “I was like, ‘Dan, what the fuck, what is this?’ It was blowing my mind, and that’s one of my favorite songs of all time,” he says. “I can pinpoint that moment as the moment where I lost interest in traditional rock music made with guitars.” They both tinkered with music throughout high school, Kalis in bands that went nowhere and Jugle with electronics. “Dan was the first person to ever get interested in buying gear—he had a drum machine and a synthesizer really early in high school,” Kalis says.
By the time Jugle turned 16 in spring 1997, he drove into Chicago as often as possible. He bought records at Reckless and Gramaphone and visited his gear at Broers’s older brother’s apartment, where he learned how to make his own music inspired by Detroit techno. “You couldn’t hang out at your parents’ house and do this,” Broers says. He, Jugle, and Zawacki bought a Roland TR-707 from a thrift store, but because it didn’t have a manual they were stuck figuring it out how to make it work by trial and error. “We didn’t know how to mix a track, we didn’t have a computer,” Zawacki says. “The best thing is that me, Dan, and Mike were all there, all the same age, all learning it together.” The trio recorded some of that material, but didn’t release it. “It was like a very awkward first kiss or something—it wasn’t stuff I would ever share,” Zawacki says.
As Jugle became entrenched in electronic music, he kept making rock too. In the late 90s he became the keyboardist for an indie-rock outfit called Written in the Sand, which Kalis says was more a joke than a band—at least until Jugle entered the picture. Kalis would later come aboard himself. “Dan would take joke projects, or things you didn’t take seriously, and take them very seriously,” he says. “Written in the Sand actually became a full six-piece band that made a record, toured, and everything, because Jugle believed in it.” Before breaking up in 2003, the group released one full-length, 47 Ursae Majoris (Johann’s Face). On Jugle’s 21st birthday, in 2002, Written in the Sand played the Fireside Bowl, and he took over vocals for a cover of Beat Happening’s “Bad Seeds.”
That long delay was in part because Jugle had so many other projects. He and Broers were collaborating on a hard-driving, minimal techno duo called Mandate, though Jugle pulled back from it in late 2004, when he became involved in Chandeliers. Kalis had formed the proggy indie-rock group earlier that year with former members of Written in the Sand. “Our drummer was really busy and wasn’t showing up for practices, so we needed an anchor,” he says. Jugle became that anchor, programming drum parts for the band. To buy the necessary equipment, he sold Broers half his record collection. “He gave up on DJing,” Broers says. “He was the tastemaker dude who was like, ‘I’m not gonna DJ anymore.'”
The following year, Jugle and Zawacki rekindled their creative relationship. “When I started Dar Embarks, he wasn’t in it, but I wanted to do it all live, and I needed another pair of hands,” Zawacki says. “He needed a place to live, and I had a room. That’s actually when Juzer started too—Beau and Dan recorded that in our apartment.” Zawacki’s apartment became a workshop for the creative projects that helped make Jugle’s name in the world of techno. Dar Embarks’s debut EP, 2014’s Fleer, came out on an imprint of Jerome Derradji’s Still label called Stilove4music, and Juzer’s first release, 2014’s Horseplay 12-inch, was released by Anthony Parasole’s label the Corner.