DJs today are confronted with an astonishing number of choices, from vinyl to digital media, controllers, mixers, and the unending stream of more music being released for consumption than at any time in history.
It’s all a bit overwhelming. We thought we’d create a quiet sort of space, called How I Play, in which we talk to DJs about the one thing that isn’t a matter of “choice”: the culture of DJing itself.
Sound Warrior is a label and collective of female producers and DJs. Sound Warrior’s first record was a split between Jenifa Mayanja and Dakini9 – I loved it, and I reviewed it here back in June 2013. Sound Warrior’s second release, out December 12 worldwide is a 12″ featuring Jenifa, Dakini9 and Pursuit Grooves.
How many years have you been Djing?
I started out as a bedroom DJ back in ’92 so I think thats maybe 20 years. My first professional gig was I believe sometime in ’93 at a school party with some friends including T. Parrish who kind of pushed me out of being a bedroom DJ. I was very nervous and terrified of train wrecking but I learned quickly that I had a natural ability to select music because I was always a music lover and later formed an understanding of what makes a great DJ.
Where were you living then, and where are you living now?
My DJ journey began in Kansas City, Mo of all places – somewhere not really associated with any house music lore of any kind. But thats where I was after moving to the United States from my birthplace in Uganda. I wasn’t necessarily planning on becoming a DJ but I was always interested in dance music and dancing in particular and somehow always managed to become friends with the DJ at any club I frequented. Of course I was underage when I started going to clubs which was a risk befriending the DJ, but no one gave a crap that much. Besides mostly I went to gay clubs where everyone was caught up in something else so no one really noticed me lol…
In 1995 I relocated to New York City which changed my life completely in every way possible and had a great impact on still how I approach DJing. It was a great training ground for an aspiring DJ and also as a woman in the business enduring all the usual sexist nonsense every time I showed to gigs to play.
Also New Yorkers are a tough crowd to move so you have to be good at what you do. Currently I reside in Connecticut – far removed from the hustle and bustle of the club scene. It works for me because it keeps everything fresh for me and I am able to show up and be excited about playing.
Was there someone you emulated and looked up to when you started out? What about now – is there anyone you admire as a DJ, for their consistency or their selection or skills, or…?
It’s been a while since I got asked that question… Actually, I think when I started I would listen to Tony Humphries mixes from the radio I would be amazed at his skill at blending vocals together to make such a seamless mix. So I would say that is someone that I would pay attention how he put things together. I didn’t try to emulate his style – rather I studied how he did it and tried to put that type of effortlessness in my mixing.
These days there are so many DJs it would be hard to pick one to admire. From time to time I hear DJ mixes that amaze me but I cant think of any one person that inspires me from a DJ standpoint. It might also be a product of having been a DJ for awhile that it makes it difficult to be inspired by other DJs but it does happen.
How many tracks would you say you’ve listened to for the first time in the last month? This is new music, older music, everything – just music you haven’t heard before.
How many tracks? Good question. Probably including promos I get… possibly 50 tracks. I am including in that number tracks I get sent from people wanting feedback or something like that, demos, music I have bought etc. Some of those tracks I merely browse through.
I’m sure your email address has found its way onto a bunch of promo lists. How many would you say you get per month? and how many of those do you listen to?
I get a lot of promo links but it varies by months it ebbs and flows. It seems some months there might a lot more than other times. I would be hard pressed to give you a number but if I had to? Maybe 20 a month… I frankly listen to ones sent by friends and labels who I already love and support.
Unfortunately if its from a promo service or not recommended by someone I know, I put it to the side. I just dont have time and I also don’t appreciate the fact that whoever sends the music doesnt have an idea what appeals to me so I consider it basically spam and treat it as such.
Rick Wilhite waxed rhapsodically (no pun intended) on the experience of being part of vinyl culture – that in every city you go to, you visit the local shops, you put some of your money back into the local economy and share something about music with local heads. Quite a few DJs don’t take part in this anymore – whether by choice or because there aren’t any shops near them. Is this bit of record store culture still a part of your life?
First, I was so fortunate early in my career to work at one of the best house music shops, “Dance Tracks”, which was such an opportunity from both sides of the fence as a consumer and DJ, to experience just how vital that person to person interaction is. Back in the day when there was an abundance of music shops in the United States (not just house music shops – I mean used record stores and or mom & pop stores selling all kinds of music). This was definitely an experience that was part of DJ vinyl culture. I hunted for records everywhere I went, from thrift shops which were one of the best places to find disco for nothing, to places like Tower.
I would give my money any day to a local shop that sells vinyl or anything else. I believe in supporting small business. When I was in Europe this summer, I got to hang in quite a few record shops and dug a little bit and for me its still so vital to picking records because so many records especially now slip through the cracks. I love finding records that nobody has and breaking them. Here on the East Coast there are so few record shops and it’s such a shame. It is so important to a DJ, I think, to have this experience of looking physically for records in a store. I have nothing against digital shops. It’s a sign of the times. I buy a lot of digital music because I can’t get to the record shop. But it will never be able to duplicate the experience of shopping in a physical record store.
How do you organize digital music? Do you have it dumped into a big folder called “MUZIK!” or do you use an application like iTunes or Songbird?
Haha, organizing music… Honestly I organize by making folders manually and then grouping by mood, tempo, feeling. I know what I like and I know how I program music, so I have my own little system that works for me, especially when I am out DJing. Since I put my digital music on CDs, you can’t go by the artwork to know what the track is, so I have to group songs that make sense musically together.
What headphones do you use for DJing? and what about for listening (on an ipod/home stereo, when traveling, or any other time when you’re not DJing)?
I have had a lollilop headphone since the early ’90s made by Ariel the light person for Body & Soul and one of his first prototypes. Point of fact: recently I had him fix it because for the first time this summer I realized I couldn’t hear with it anymore and had to borrow my husband’s headphones which was a drama lol… But I believe its a Sony, and I love it because it’s not all the way over on my ear, which I don’t like when I am DJing – I need to have the headphone a little bit off my ear because I also mix by feel. For at home I use whatever is available, headphones in my household are all over the place because of the kids so honestly I don’t sweat it too much.
I don’t know if you have a “rider” for clubs you play at, but if you did, what would be your absolute ideal/dream gear set-up at an out of town club?
I do have a rider for clubs which has some standards that have to be met in terms of equipment. In an ideal situation, I would love of course Technics 1200s, two Pioneer CDJs, Urei mixer, effects box, perfect monitors not blaring in my ears – balanced, and not ringing in my ears.
And most importantly a sound person closeby to make adjustments as needed so as to not leave you hanging and expect you to fix things in the middle of your set. This is so important these days because a lot of clubs are just expecting DJs to show up with USB sticks or laptops not vinyl so they set up systems this way. It’s very frustrating.
You can reach Jenifa Mayanja via Facebook and bumakorecordings.com. SoundWarrior 002 is out now and available from undergroundquality.com or Juno. Find out more about SoundWarrior via SoundCloud, Facebook and Twitter.