Sometime around Spring 2010, Jeff Retro was hanging out at Rain nightclub and handed me his See the Sun promo. I listened to it nonstop, didn’t understand why he wasn’t playing big Las Vegas clubs, and we ran a little blurb on him in the magazine I worked for at the time. I’d see him around, support a set or two when he spun at First Food & Bar, caught him playing house on the patio at Blue Martini, but was still scratching my head as to why a talented DJ/producer such as Retro wasn’t getting better gigs. Such is the fickle nature of Las Vegas sometimes. Fast-forward to 2013 at Hakkasan, and Retro had earned a residency opening and closing the club. “It’s about fucking time!” I told him as he humbly smiled. And now it’s about time to introduce you to the man getting people out on the dance floor at one of the biggest rooms in Vegas.
What first piqued your interest in house music?
I went to college for communications, and always had a passion for music—but I never did anything about it. I got a job as a loan closer in college, then I eventually started my own business to the point where I was self-employed and doing really well. A radio station opened up in Orlando, Florida, and was one of the first all-dance music stations in the U.S. I went in for an internship position even though they didn’t take graduates.
I became a production assistant, then an on-air overnight jock. The station was 95.3 Party, and I started getting club gigs. Everything was great, and then the station switched formats, because they didn’t feel dance music was going to do well.
Go figure! [Laughs.]
How’d you ultimately end up in Las Vegas?
At the time real estate took off I was doing really, really well. Then the market crashed, and I lost everything. I realized that if I was ever going to do what I wanted to do—which was music—I needed to follow my passion, just take a chance. I was at the gym and had my headphones on and was listening to some progressive house and was like, “You know what? You need to move.” So I ended up getting rid of everything, and I came out to Vegas. That was when I met Nick Terranova, [also known as] Starkillers, and he told me I was pretty talented and I should make the move.
How would you explain your role as an opener/closer at Hakkasan?
I do open and close, but in the last two months I started doing support sets, too. So we have three guys who normally play; the opening set, then there’s the support set right before the headliner, then the closing set. For a while I was playing four nights a week, opening and closing. Then I got my first open support for Tommy Trash. Last month was a good month because there was an error in scheduling, and Josh Donaldson kind of put his neck out for me and emailed [talent agency] AM Only and said, “Hey, why don’t we give Retro a shot; he knows what he’s doing.” Both AM Only and Tiësto agreed, and I did back-to-back weekends. Getting a handshake from Tiësto and him saying to me, “I really enjoyed your support, really good job,” that was awesome for me.
When you first moved to Las Vegas, I recall production was really important to you. Has your focus shifted more to pulling off the best DJ sets?
It was, 100 percent. I’m not gonna lie, last year I wasn’t enjoying a lot of the stuff I heard coming out. At the same time, I was also at Blue Martini and doing open-format; my ears were kinda twisted. I stepped away for at least two or three years from doing any production, because I was like, “I’m a DJ, I’m a DJ.” I finally realized about in November, I’m trying to make big-room tracks and I can’t play them because I’m not in that time slot. So I thought, “Why don’t you start making stuff you can play? I can see if it’s doing well, I can see the reaction. I have a massive crowd in front of me; play songs they can dance to.” It’s been working because the reaction’s been great. I’ve finally found that niche for me, and I enjoy it—that’s the best part.
Listen to Jeff Retro’s music at SoundCloud.com/jeffretro.
Originally published in Vegas Seven.