If you’ve ever seen John Summit on TikTok, you might assume his life is one never-ending bender. And in many ways, it is. From day parties in Vegas to afters in New York City, Summit is always jet-setting to the next city to play his latest set. “It’s a nonstop lifestyle, which I do well with. But it’s definitely tough at some points,” shares Summit – from Ibiza, nonetheless, where he was playing one night at Amnesia before he set off for a festival in Croatia.
Just a couple of weekends ago, the Chicago native was in New York City, where he played three sold-out nights at The Brooklyn Mirage. Situated in the heart of New York and its insatiable dance scene, the iconic Bushwick venue was transformed from its brutalist factory facade into a lush oasis, complete with tall trees and a lodge-inspired booth. Over the weekend, Summit electrified crowds with his two-and-a-half-hour-long sets. Not only did he play his namesake tracks (“Where You Are”, “Witch Doctor”, “What a Life”), but he also experimented with new demos.
“The whole lineup was all hand-picked and curated by me,” he shares. “Even all decorations and all that stuff – all that was on us. And I was so happy with it.” The inspiration behind the transformation came from his label name and respective mission statement. Last year, Summit formed his own label titled “Off The Grid,” whose whole aim is to “pursue house music and more without limits.” He shares with V that he’s always loved the outdoors, and mountains specifically – his original moniker was just Summit – so it seemed like a no-brainer, blending the two.
“I started DJing college, but it was just like college bars,” he says. “It was just for fun, really. And it wasn’t until I went to Chicago and started DJing the underground parties there. I was able to play whatever the heck I wanted, and then I kind of grew a following through that. Then I started releasing music that all the other DJs in Chicago started playing it.” And when asked if he ever thought he would make it, he laughs and shrugs. “I never ever expected to be even as close, as big as I am now. I mean, I freaked out when I got booked for my first own headline show and started playing at festivals.”
And just like when he first started – one quick slap on the face, a couple of shots of tequila, and he’s ready to go. For more on Summit’s pre-show rituals, his favorite venue to play at, and where he sees himself in ten years, read below.
VMAN: When you’re like preparing for a set in New York, do you go in with a different mindset? How is a set like Ibiza, different from New York or Miami?
JOHN SUMMIT: Yeah, so I would say Ibiza is way more proper underground tech house. Miami is super Latin, and percussive. LA has a more EDM scene, and not that I really play straight EDM, but I can get away with anything – big vocals and stuff. But in New York, they love techno, so I started off every night with some techno. And then, from there, I just tried a bunch of new stuff. Some people liked it, some people didn’t [laughs]. It was fun. As the event was called Off The Grid, which is named after my record label – the whole thing is based on being able to pursue house music and more without limits, being able to do anything. So the whole lineup was all hand-picked and curated by me. Even all decorations and all that stuff – all that was on us. And I was so happy with it.
V: Yeah, it was a super cool stage design. While at The Brooklyn Mirage, it felt like you were in nature, with all the trees and greenery. I’m curious how did the name “Off The Grid” come to be? Have you always liked the outdoors?
JS: [laughs] Yeah, so it sounds so lame, but Summit is like a stage name. My real last name is Schuster and I went by just Summit in college. Just because it’s just so simple. I just like mountains, and I like the aesthetic of mountains. I’ve always been a big outdoors guy, have been skiing since I was three. So I knew that was going to be the vibe of the label. And then the main goal of the label was being in control of not just my music and stuff, but also the events. I want to throw events out in the middle of nowhere. We just did an event at The Caverns, which is like two hours outside of Nashville. Your phone doesn’t even work out there, like at all. So it’s as off the grid as it gets. But that’s the kind of aesthetic we’re going for. We’re planning on doing it all over the world. I just started the label last year, and it’s been a crazy year already.
V: What a crazy year it’s been. And as you talk about your stage name in college, I would love to hear more about your earliest memory of performing back then? And how you got into music?
JS: So I started DJing college, but it was just like college bars. It was just for fun, really. And it wasn’t until I went to Chicago and started DJing the underground parties there. I had zero connections in the music industry at all. Like I didn’t know anyone in it. And so I like to think of myself as self-paved in that regard. But the only way you can get gigs – and I’m sure it’s the same way in New York, is that you just have to go to these underground parties that are thrown by these normal people. You go there and support and you go every weekend. And eventually, you tell them that you DJ too. And it’s like, “Okay, you can get the shittiest swap possible. The 7 to 9 PM slot or whatever.” I started doing that and I was able to play whatever the heck I wanted, and then I kind of grew a following through that. Then I started releasing music and stuff that all the other DJs in Chicago started playing but that’s really where I found the love for it. I never ever expected to be even as close as big as I am now. I mean I freaked out when I got booked for my first own headline show and playing at festivals. But yeah, I’ve been in love with it for a while now.
V: That’s great. I love hearing about how you came up in the city and now you’re playing all over the world. If people have seen any of your TikToks they know that you’re always on a bender. What keeps you going?
JS: It’s pure adrenaline because I’m pretty much asleep in the green room before every set. Like I look like I’m dying. Before my set at The Mirage, you would think I’m pregaming or whatever, but I’m actually half asleep in an RV. But then, as soon as I get on stage, it just clicks and then I get this huge burst of energy. And then then I end up staying up all night too because it’s such a huge adrenaline rush. I’ve tried to go to bed after a set, but it doesn’t work at all. I stare at the ceiling the whole time. But yeah, it’s a nonstop lifestyle, which I do well with. But it’s definitely tough at some points.
V: Yeah, for sure. And when you’re finally up, minutes before the set, do you have any pre-show rituals?
JS: Just slap myself in the face a few times [laughs]. Throw some water on my face? And then a couple of shots of tequila, and then I’m ready for the stage. It kind of gets me in the mode, I guess. Which is rough when you have a lot of shows in one week. But I guess that’s my pregame ritual.
V: It’s a good pre-game ritual. I’ll give you that. And as you’re in Ibiza at the moment, can you share with us how you prepare musically for a set?
JS: Yeah, the reason I love it over here is because my shows aren’t as big. It’s very like club underground focused and I can get the test out things. I get like 200 demos a day from my label, and so I get to test out a lot of the more underground tracks that don’t have big vocals. Versus when I played Vegas, you have to play the hits. I tried to create a different Vegas set every time, but I always have to be playing my top tracks and everything, which I love doing. I love all the top tracks, but it’s so fun to try out and test the music. And they’re very open-minded over here, which they definitely are in New York and Miami, too. But yeah, it’s fun to try new things and go back to my roots a little bit. It keeps me balanced as an artist because I’d get very bored if I only did 60-minute festival sets or whatever. I just played an eight-hour set on Saturday here.
V: That’s crazy.
JS: Yeah, it was a crazy night. The jetlag was a little rough, but we made it through.
V: And of the hundreds of sets you’ve played, are there any that you’ll remember forever? Any favorites?
JS: Yeah, playing at Red Rocks, for sure. First of all, it was on Mother’s Day. So my mom was there, and I brought her on stage. My whole family was there – my dad, sister, brother in law that and then all my friends from Chicago came out. It was super special. And as soon as I got on, it was like the heaviest downpour ever. And I was worried, I was like, “Are people going to leave?” But then after, everyone said it was like the most magical experience. I think it’s because it’s such a destination gig and 10,000 people travel from all over the world to be there. So when it started raining, everyone was like, “Screw it, I don’t care.” And it was this huge, huge dance party. It was like months of preparation with my team and everyone pulled it off so well. It used to be just be me, or me with my manager, and now I got a tour manager, visuals guy, et cetera. It’s a full team effort now and I love it, because it used to be just me.
V: Yeah, it’s exciting to collaborate with others and have them add their perspectives on big projects like this. I’m also curious if you have any long-term goals. Are there any five, or ten-year plans?
JS: So I’ve always gone with the flow. I’m a big believer in like six months or fewer goals. Because I never once thought I was going to be playing a festival, never once thought I was going to be playing Red Rocks, never once thought I was going to be owning a record label. There are so many little goals to get to a big goal. It’s just like if you have a job on the corporate ladder, you can’t just say I’m going to be CEO. You first have to be senior, whatever. But because I now have my label, Off The Grid, I want to throw more events. I do want to eventually get to the point where it’s like a festival with multiple stages and huge camping. Because festivals are how I first got into the scene, and I’m super interested in that. I know it’s a lot of work, a lot of people, and a lot of stress, but one day that will be possible.