Written by: Mikala Lugen | Photo(s) by: Austin Aubry Daar Creative
New City Movement’s Jesse Walker Talks The Future Of SLC’s Dance, Art, & Culture Scenes, Forward-Thinking Ethos, & More
If you don’t live in Utah, you probably don’t immediately imagine a growing culture surrounding underground music parties, forward-thinking collectives, and a well-developed arts scene. Honestly, just a couple decades ago, Utah was still just known as the hub for LDS-practicing communities to find their footing while still giving people access to world-class mountain terrain.
Fast-forward to today and Utah and its Salt Lake City counterpart remain one of the fastest growing places in the U.S. Behind the scenes of its rapid come up include a long list of people and places that have helped shine a light on SLC and bring it back into the forefront. Among the plethora of people doing this is New City Movement co-founder and celebrated DJ and designer, Jesse Walker.
Named after Lebbeus Woods’ abstract architectural drawing book “New City,” Walker moved to SLC from Idaho in the ‘90s hoping to help “launch” the city’s lack of access to underground nightlife, particularly in the deep house scene. From that emerged New City Movement, the city’s longest-running forward-thinking art and culture collective.
“NCM was pretty loose back then,” Walker told Volume Utah. “When I moved here, I found that the city didn’t offer that many safe spaces to dance. And there was a missing layer of underground culture that was easy to find in bigger cities. New City Movement was founded to help promote those things in any way we could. To help like-minded communities connect, be stimulated and open up to change through the power of music and art.”
Now going on its 24th year, New City Movement hopes to continue its forward-thinking ethos and continue making positive impacts in and around SLC’s culture, arts, and music communities. Through its immersive annual community events, curated DJ mixes, and loyal “misfit” fanbase that prides itself on originality, acceptance, and mindfulness, it’s no surprise that New City Movement’s impact has helped shaped the city in a positive way.
“The city has grown in a lot of ways and with that so has dance music culture. Each surge and crash in the economy has affected the dance community throughout the country. After 9/11, clubs shut down, and when we had our big economic crash in 2008, there weren’t a lot of places to regularly see DJs as much as rock music. But as our society re-emerges out of the pandemic, New City Movement has been growing like crazy. I credit to my partner in crime, DJ Matthew Fit, the entire NCM crew, and our regular collaborators like Social Disco Club with even more people coming out to our events. We’ve seen a pretty huge influx of young, BIPOC, Latinx friends on the dance floor recently—adding to our already large LGBTQ+ and allied straight community,” Walker said.
The collective’s biggest annual event, “Bunny Hop,” has been a long-running charity event, raising money for local organizations. There, you’ll find the largest, most diverse set of people all coming together for a collected goal of having fun and making a difference for the city at large. While the past two years had to forego its usual setting for a virtual radio event, it’s the collective’s hopeful, futuristic energy and the community behind it that continue its shared ethos and vision.
Even with its positive change over the past two and half decades, Walker knows there’s still more work to do. While the city saw an increase of professionally curated music venues, nightclubs, and booked tours, Walker still wants to see more effort placed to literally elevate the sound of Salt Lake City.
“I would welcome seeing even more bars and clubs level up their sound systems and lighting design. The music scene here is better than it’s ever been but there’s always room for more creativity in programming underground nightlife,” Walker says. “It can be a huge draw for people to be in a space that just sounds and feels perfect from the moment you walk in the door. With a dedicated lighting artists and sound engineer. Experienced and educated DJs know exactly how to work with those elements.”
With the start of the new year just beginning, Walker is ready to help make that more of a reality. In the past five years, Matthew Fit and Gizmoe specifically have helped New City Movement attract even more seasoned DJs and producers from around the world to SLC’s music scene. Additionally, Walker and team help bridge music exploration with art and design components, “remixing” the two elements into SLC’s culture at large through graphic design, on-site performance-based art installations, and more. That, along with the collective’s locally curated NCMX: Guest Mixes, ensures there’s no shortage of creative exploration.
“The cool thing about the underground community here is we all work together in an amazing way that other cities don’t. We’re futurist at heart, very progressive, and it’s always about bringing people and ideas together that are forward-thinking. It takes a village, but once you have that, you have all the peace, love, and happiness you could get.”
For more information on New City Movement, visit the collective’s website.