What’s your AMMO?
My ammo as a female DJ comes from representing women in this industry. I’m striving to build our reputation in what has been a boys’ club for way too long. Unfortunately, girl DJs are still sometimes seen as pieces of pretty furniture and not true talents. Too often it seems that female DJs are lacking a voice next to their male counterparts in terms of the kinds of gigs they can play and the kinds of careers they can have. Women who have beat those odds, like DJ duo NERVO, get me so amped to go out there and crush my sets every day. In this way, I get my ammo from not just incredibly talented women already in the industry, but also from those who still need to see we’re a force to be reckoned with!
When did you realize you wanted to be a DJ? What was your first gig?
I had a bit of a revelation while preparing for my final opera recital in college. I was studying classical vocal performance, but one day I realized I was way more excited about discovering and sharing music with other people. At the time, I was hosting a radio show for the student station, and was surprised to discover that people were actually listening to it! I bought some DJ equipment on a whim, knowing I could sell it if things didn’t go well. I was lucky enough to have a friend hook me up with a club gig in the area, so I invited everyone I knew and decided that I was going to make this happen.
The day of the show, my mixer completely crashed. I spent all day with a friend from class trying to fix it with no luck. I called the venue to cancel the gig and apologize, but the guy just said, “Why don’t you come down here anyway and we’ll set up all this old equipment we’ve had back here for ages.” I had no idea what I was doing! I’d never used anything other than my own mixer, but I was determined to make it work. I ended up onstage with ancient equipment I had never seen before, my laptop, some funky lights, and not a clue what was going to happen. By the end of the night, the place was completely packed and I was up there with a bunch of strangers and college kids screaming my name. It was surreal. When I got home, I sat on the floor and called probably 4 people to tell them that this is what I wanted to do with my life.
For aspiring DJs, would you say it’s a learned skill or are you just learning as you go? Is it more about knowing and loving music or studying the technique of mixing, or both?
I strongly believe that music selection is more important than flawless mixing. You can be the most talented DJ technically, but if you can’t read the crowd or get people on the dance floor, that talent is irrelevant. My advice to young DJs is to constantly expose yourself to new music, whether it’s emerging talent or an older genre that you aren’t as well versed in – the mixing chops will follow. I started out with absolutely no mixing knowledge, but I’ve learned a lot on my own and met some really inspiring people along the way. My love of music is what got me here, but the skills I’m learning are what will keep me going into the future.
At some point being a DJ became a rite of passage in the entertainment world, is it hard to be taken serious as a DJ if there’s no “celebrity clout”?
Sadly, I think there is some truth to this. There are a million DJs, especially in NYC! That does make it hard for people to believe you’re really a DJ, let alone making a living doing it. Luckily, there are also a million venues to hire all of us fools. Lately, I’ve seen people care more about how big your following is before they hire you, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Part of being a DJ is building your fan base, while getting people out to have an awesome time. The other side of this coin is that celebrity musicians are now doing DJ shows separate from their pre-established musical career. I won’t name names, but I recently went to a DJ show to see a member of one of my favorite bands spin. He completely bombed. I don’t think he had any clue what was going on, but there were people there just to see him! That’s more of a concern to me than anything else. So many smaller DJs would have had that crowd rocking, but instead this guy cleared the dance floor.
Where do you play most? And what was your favorite gig?
I never really know where I’m going to end up on any given weekend, but that’s how I like it! With spring is approaching, I’m working on some new projects. The past few weeks, I’ve been building a Friday dance party with some friends at Union Square Lounge (30 East 16th St). I’m part of a couple DJ collectives on the side, and this party in particular is the brainchild of Junior High, my most recent collaboration. My partners are two other DJs, Good Goose (djgoodgoose.com) and Monte (thisismonte.us). We started in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but moved to Union Square for the time being- come out and dance with us!
My favorite gig so far was the recent reunion of my first collective from college, Cocaine Mortgage, just before the new year. We threw a huge dance party for our school’s homecoming, which is a show we do annually. I dressed up as Spaceman from KISS and acted like a complete maniac. Even with the venue filled over capacity, there was still a line around the entire block. Some of my friends waited for two hours just to get in! Big Meadow Sessions is actually releasing a documentary about that show this spring, so keep a lookout for that. I vividly remember looking down into the crowd at one point and seeing every hand in the air, bouncing to the beat. It was madness! That was a cathartic experience for me.
Top 5 tracks on your heavy rotation list?
“Are You That Somebody” – Aaliyah (Hucci Gurl Remix)
“Ring My Bell” – Anita Baker (Kill Paris Remix)
“On Top” – Flume feat. T.Shirt
“Don’t Stop (Version 2.0)” – Gigamesh
“Grammy” – Purity Ring
If you could be anything; human (dead or alive) or animal or… other; what would you be?
A dead human is an option?! As in, I’d be a zombie of that person? Kidding. I’m a wolf girl. It started out as a joke, when I bought one of those awful tacky wolf tees from elementary school; this is before the “three wolf moon” amazon phenomenon; and decided to take it out for a night on the town and see what happened. I brought my flip cam and everything! It’s definitely developed into me having a wolf-girl reputation, so I need to continue this running joke. Being a wolf would be pretty badass…even better if it’s like Animorphs!
Where can we catch you next?
You can find me at my residencies every other Friday at Union Square Lounge, and most Thursday’s at the Flatiron Hotel. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook to find out about other gigs! Next up is Pianos on March 29th. See you there!
You can catch up with DJ AK-47 at dj-ak47.tumblr.com