Dan Jugle performing with Chandeliers in 2010. Credit: Giant System

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.

Jugle grew up in Elmhurst, and in the 90s he started introducing his friends to records, taking them to shows, and just generally leading them into underground music cultures that most kids their age barely knew existed. “Dan was the prime mover for everything,” says longtime friend and musical collaborator Mike Broers. Brian Jugle, his older brother, had played Joy Division and Kraftwerk for Dan, and when he met Broers in seventh grade, he was wearing a shirt for Screeching Weasel’s Wiggle. When Jugle, Broers, and their friends started getting into Nine Inch Nails, Jugle unearthed everything he could on industrial music. “He quickly would try to find the edges of everything and dig as much has he could,” Broers says. “He was the first person to find something and blow everyone’s mind when he played it.”

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.

The band Chandeliers, from left to right: Scott McGaughey, Dan Jugle, Chris Kalis, and Harry BrennerCredit: Shannon Benine

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.”
Jugle also played the Fireside with Ghost Arcade, a project that had evolved out of his early experiments with Broers and Zawacki. “Our first show was opening for Quintron and Magas at the Fireside,” Broers says. The trio approached techno from a punk perspective, restricting their bristling, minimal tracks to three minutes or less. “Dan just wanted to get together with people, work on music, and play shows, and he didn’t really care about releasing records,” Broers says. “I put on pressure to manifest these things, and that’s the reason why this stuff exists.” In 2001 Ghost Arcade self-released the CD Coded Performance, and in 2003 they put out Mr. Bossa Suicide, the debut of Ghost Arcade LTD, a seven-inch label Broers had launched to release unconventional techno that blurred together punk, harsh electro, and minimal synth. “Ghost Arcade was doing all that stuff before it was trendy,” Beau Wanzer says.
Wanzer met Jugle in the early 2000s, while working with Broers at Jim Magas’s Wicker Park shop, Weekend Records & Soap. Wanzer was impressed by Jugle’s knowledge. “I learned a lot about equipment and gear,” he says. “He’d play some rare techno song from the 90s, and he could tell you exactly what instrument was played, exactly what effect.” Wanzer and Jugle began jamming in the mid-2000s, but didn’t start recording together till five or six years ago.

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.'”
Jugle polished and readjusted his music constantly, and Wanzer especially enjoyed that aspect of working with him. “I’d make a sound, and he’d tweak it, and I’d tweak it, and he’d tweak it again and make it completely different and amazing,” Wanzer says. “He’s probably the best 909 programmer I’ve ever met—he has an ear for techno.” Jugle’s perfectionism didn’t always rub people the right way, though, and Kalis says he could be stubborn in Chandeliers. He left the band in late 2011 due to creative differences and money issues—Kalis says Jugle couldn’t pay rent on their practice space at Shape Shoppe for about eight months. “We had such an organic chemistry—we wouldn’t talk a lot, we would just jam a lot, and it wasn’t as easy when Dan left,” Kalis says. “I realized, ‘Oh, he was the glue, he kept us all together.'”

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.
Broers wishes Jugle had earned this wider fame sooner. “We were playing at the Bottle, we were playing at the Fireside, we were playing at house parties—never at a club, never at a rave,” he says. “It didn’t get to that level until the Dar Embarks thing.” A UK fan recently contacted him about his early-2000s duo with Jugle, Mandate, which pushed the two of them to revisit material that had laid dormant for more than a decade. “We finished up four of the old Mandate tracks, and we just got the masters back two weeks ago—Dan was super excited about it,” Broers says. “One of the songs was one of his passion jams, and now it’s gonna be out.”
Jugle’s friends hope to release a compilation of his unreleased collaborative work, and Wanzer has some Juzer material for it. He says the only reason there’s any Juzer material at all—the only reason he ever started sharing his music publicly—is because Jugle was there to support him in the early 2000s. “Without him, I don’t think I ever would’ve had the guts to release music,” Wanzer says. “Way before I released anything, he was always very honest and had good insight about things. I was the most comfortable around him—more so with him than anyone else.”