Dallas Observer Mixtape with Jeff Mitchell, aka Daddy J: Decks in the Park
courtesy Jeff Mitchell

Dallas Observer Mixtape with Jeff Mitchell, aka Daddy J: Decks in the Park

In the past few years, Decks in the Park has become a staple of the Dallas summer music schedule. Each free event brings thousands of people out to listen to music in the open air.

Jeff Mitchell is the DJ behind the concept and the party. He grew up in Detroit, where he lived until he relocated to Dallas in the early '90s. Mitchell's roots are in house music, but he has a broad musical palette, as evidenced by this week's Observer mixtape.

Dallas Observer: How did you get started deejaying? 
Jeff Mitchell: I fell in love with house music when I moved to Dallas around 1990 and started working the door at clubs like Fish Dance, 2826, Elm St. Bar and getting more immersed in the dance music culture.  It wasn’t long after that I decided to start throwing my own warehouse parties in Fair Park with a buddy of mine, so we purchased turntables for our parties.

Since I always had the decks laying around my place, it was just a natural progression for me to start learning how to play. From there, I started playing at clubs and parties, producing music and ran a house music label for several years. Now, 24 years, seven months, three days and two hours into it, I’m still at it and having fun.

How did Decks in the Park get started?
I have been deejaying and throwing parties for many years, from club events to rave parties, so throwing events has been in my DNA and always something I enjoyed. Over the years, I have been inspired by various outdoor festivals and events, like some of the older school Hazy Days ranch parties to more modern events like The Warm Up at the PS1 Museum in NYC and some of the San Francisco Sunset Parties.

I had always wanted to do something that was like this in Dallas, but free and accessible to the whole community. Music breaks down barriers between people, and we thought that an event like this could help connect the community in a positive way.

Once Klyde Warren Park opened up, it was loud and clear that this was the space: a deck park situated in the middle of the city, buzzing with energy and neon lights. I got connected to the people at the park, pitched them the idea, and off we went.

Massive shoutout all the DJs who have played and my partners: Marty Martinez from Social Revolt, Julio Rivera aka DJ Souljah, Jose G, Renee from Events Moderne and Ryan Kimura. Without these guys' commitment and skills, Decks would not be possible today. I also have to send some love to Clint at Code Blue Sound and Natalia Saenz. They saw the vision early on and put a lot of work into laying some of the early foundation.

How has it changed over the past few years?
Mainly size and the complexity of throwing events and adding more ticketed pop-up events to help provide a little funding for our free park events. When we started out, we had about 1,200 people at our first event in early 2013, and we're now drawing upwards of around 7,000 people per event.

It’s been really rewarding to see it grow and at the same time really challenging to keep up with the rising costs through pure sponsorship dollars alone. When we started out, we were doing five to seven park events per year, and now it's two to three events because of this.

Everyone on our team generously volunteers their time and resources to produce the event. This includes everything from marketing, DJs, operations, janitorial needs, raising money and more. Our goal is for Decks to be a long-lasting musical legacy for our community, something that Dallas can enjoy for many years to come, so we're working hard to keep it alive.

We recently got some funding from the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau (aka Visit Dallas), which has been really helpful, but we're always grinding for sponsorship and donor support from gracious people like Ron Johnsey, who has been a big supporter of what we’re doing in the community.

Where do you like to dig for tracks?
I listen to various music blogs that I generally find through Hype Machine. I get a lot of my download tunes from Live DJ Service record pool, sites like Beatport and random promos people send me. 

What's your favorite genre? Is there one you would like to play more often?
I have been most influenced by jazz, funk, disco, soul, Brazilian music, techno and hip-hop, so I tend to enjoy playing anything that has these elements, especially if it's integrated into house music and indie dance.

How was this mix made? Is there a particular theme for the track selection?
I made the mix on my Serato DDJ controller. I wanted to start off with a smooth blend of classics, deep house and funk, and finish off with a little harder bass/techno to pay a little homage to my Detroit roots.

What was your most significant musical experience of the past year?
The Kraftwerk show was amazing. It took me back to my Detroit days listening to Jeff Mills as The Wizard on 98 WJLB. This really laid the foundation of my love for electronic music growing up.

I’m often moved by the energy and positive, unifying vibes I experience at our Decks park events. It’s really magical.

Is there a track that you always come back to as a DJ?
Man, that’s a tough question. Any of the MJ Classics, old Tribe Called Quest cuts, Stevie Wonder tunes, Joey Negro “Change for Me" and MAW Remix of Gwen McCrae’s “Funky Sensation.”

What other music-related projects do you have going on?
Really just deejaying and Decks in the Park, as far as music goes. I gotta have some time for my family and my work as a real estate agent, so there isn’t much room for anything extra at the moment.

What gigs do you have coming up?
Decks in the Park after party Friday, Aug. 25, at Foundation Room, Decks Halloween party and poolside party benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters on Sept. 14 at Le Meridian (The Stoneleigh Hotel).

Tracklist:
Featurecast – "Funky Introduction"
50Cent – "Disco Inferno" (Viceroy Jet Life Remix)
Gwen Mccrae – "Keep the Fire Burning" (Joey Negro Feed the Flame Mix)
Skyy – "Here’s to You" (Dr Packer Multi Track Mix)
Yvvan Back – "Pick Up The Pieces" (Club Mix)
DJ Dan, WhiteNoize – "Engine No. 9" (Original Mix)
Me & My Toothbrush – "Fair Enough" (Original Mix)
Platinum Doug – "Brown Sugar" (Croatia Squad Remix)
Freejak – "Jamaica"
Disclosure – "When A Fire Starts To Burn" (Shapeless & Golden Leaf Bootleg)
Jay Robinson – "Hussle"
Watermat X Pep & Rash – "Ruff Like This"
Jauz – "Goodiez"
Jack Beats – "Work It"
Phill & Dansmore – "Get Wet" (Original Mix)

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