The death march rhythms and lurching, anaesthetised rhymes on Salem’s devastating debut album King Night, have seen them become synonymous with chopped-and-screwed, the sizzurp-swilling, slow-mo sound of Houston hip-hop. While its influence on the doyens of Drag (Salem’s own name for their entropic genre) is undeniable, their real rap obsession has roots closer to home. Salem songs might sound like they were belched up by the river Styx (“A black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe,” thanks Dante!), but they probably have more to do with the blue collar horror of life in America’s Midwest. Of the trio, John Holland and Heather Marlatt are from Traverse City, Michigan, while Jack Donoghue is from Chicago, Illinois, home to the music he loves: the frantic, ghetto house-spawned sounds of juke and footwork.  

At first, juke’s rapid fire 160bpm rhythms might sound a million miles away from Salem’s arctic crunk, but listen again and correlations appear. The jarring synths and unforgiving air of menace. The industrial bass and whip-crack snares. Both sound insular, abstract and completely terrifying. JUKE spoke to Jack about juke (say that ten times fast after a cough syrup slushachino)

What is it you like about juke music?
In most music, besides classical, the thing I feel the most is the beat. Juke and footwork tracks always have super sick drum patterns.

Who are your favourite juke artists?
Dj Nate, The Pope, DJ PAT MAN, DJ Diamond, Traxman, Dj Chip, Dj Pj, Dj rashad. Dj Nate tracks I like: My Heart, You’re Gonna Love Me, Below Zero… I don’t know the list is too long. House Arrest is a classic juke CD.

How has juke influenced the music Salem makes?
I feel Salem have definitely been affected by juke. Our beats will take ideas from juke drum patterns, but then slow them down and take it in a different direction. Even as far as sampling, we sometimes look to juke. ‘Cause juke beats go hard as fuck and have drive.

How did you first get into it?
I don’t know the first time I heard juke. Anyone who grew up in Chicago has been around it, hearing it their whole lives. The first proper Juke mixtape I ever got was from this girl Tanelia in 7th grade.

Who is Tanelia?
Tanelia is this black girl I was in school with in 7th and 8th grade. She grew up in the projects on the river near my house and my mom would give her and her two younger sisters a ride home sometimes, if she picked me up.

Have you been to any juke parties?

You guys don’t let many people remix your songs. Are there any juke artists you’d work with?
DJ Nate is doing a remix of our song Asia.

Tell us about when you met DJ Nate, what did you guys talk about?
We are both young, so we just got on in that way, joking a lot. His manager MB said someone made a sign that said Nate was a witch ‘cause he had a picture of a burning cross online for a while. I played him some Salem I thought he’d be into and we talked about trading rap instrumentals for footwork beats and about teaming up on a mixtape. Then we went to his studio where these two marines were getting their hair cut in the back yard and we talked while he worked on music and… that kid is the track genius! He got shit poppin’ in like 20 minutes and had a pretty sick song going.

Can you do that crazy footwork dancing?


By Scott Wright

Photo: Jack Donaghue, Salem and DJ Nate, by Bea Fremderman

For JUKE Vol.02