A Life Behind the Decks: The Nightlife Culture Interview with DJ Kamala

by Gamal Hennessy

When I began my professional exploration of nightlife culture one of the first DJ groups that inspired me was a trio of ladies that went by the name InJoy. I followed them from APT to SubMercer to Cielo. They captured everything about nightlife culture because they were soulful, sexy and they made beautiful music. All three ladies are still spinning in various venues and one of them, DJ Kamala sat down with me to talk about the life and inspiration of a New York DJ.

                Vital Statistics

  • Genre: Dance Music, House
  • Inspirations: Louie Vega, Timmy Regisford, Osunlade
  • Recent Performances: MOMA
  • Latest Project: Original Production due to be released July 2012
  • Next Local Performance: Thursday at Bath Tub Gin
  • Websitewww.kamalamusic.com
  • Twitter: @DJkamala

NCI: Tell me about the first time you spun in front of a crowd.

KJ: My first time was in the spring of 1998, at one of my favorite legendary New York City night clubs, Nell’s. Even though it was passed it's hey day, it was still monumental in my mind for me to spin there. It was a short set but I got the crowd going with Manu Dibango's "New Bell" and it felt great!

NCI: Wow. You remember the first major song you dropped almost 15 years ago? That’s deep. What inspired you to become a DJ in the first place?

KJ: I was always a music aficionado so at age 11, it became a hobby to collect music and record my own compilations. Being from downtown Manhattan, night clubbing became the thing to do very early on. Going out, dancing, listening to DJs, making friends and finding community. I fell in love with nightlife culture and history, how it related to my own story. I was already a night owl and 9-5 was a routine I struggled to flow with. Djing seemed to me the most fun way to earn a living that I felt I had a talent for and which could potentially become a career. Thanks to it, I've opened up to music production and it's a whole new world.

NCI: Nice. Who are your favorite people to play with? Where are your favorite places to play?

KJ: As a DJ, I've gotten to get to know a lot of DJs and it's always great to come together with talented friends musically. It’s a special treat whenever I get to spin with someone who I perceive as a legend in the business. In terms of places, I love spinning all kinds of environments because I get to feel my range and adaptability to spaces. I get a special kick out of spinning outdoors in public venues and of course anywhere with a big audience. The more the merrier.

NCI: What kind of mood do you try to create when you play?

KJ: My whole purpose as a DJ is to create a mood that evolves through out the course of the night, ideally complementary to the venue and occasion. Personal expression comes across heavily in my selections and I really want to touch the audience on a variety of levels subliminally and outright. I am always looking to turn people "on" with the music. As a woman, there's a natural sexiness that easily comes across which I am happy to exploit if it will open ears but mainly, depending on the occasion, I want to trigger an insatiable urge to respond physically to the music, i.e. dance!

NCI: Where are you playing these days? Do you have a residency?

KJ: It varies month to month the engagements that I play which is fine with me because I enjoy the novelty inherent in the work. A few recurring outlets lately have been Thursday nights at Bath Tub Gin, and the last Friday of every month at the Rubin Museum. I also spin every Wednesday 5:30 - 7PM via a mobile and internet radio site www.handzonradio.com.

NCI: Where do you find new music and the inspiration to DJ?

KJ: Music is the fuel for my DJing, if there were not so many amazing sounds to share, I'd be doing something else. Because of the music that I adore, sharing it, is a pure joy and thrill. I also get into the process of mastery. Of becoming ever greater at the craft I've chosen to express myself thru. Every time is a learning experience that I come away with enriched and it's inspiring to witness my own growth.

I get a good portion of my favorite house beats from sites like Traxsource and Afrodesiamp3. I am forever sourcing for music.  I'll look under any rock to find more songs that excite me.

Have fun.

G

Hip Hop Love from Tokyo to New York: The Nightlife Culture Interview with DJ Mika

By Gamal Hennessy

Being a DJ in New York isn’t easy. In addition to learning the technical skills, you have to navigate your way though bar owners, promoters and patrons who often don’t appreciate you. It takes a lot of passion and confidence to thrive in this world. Many people want to DJ but can’t deal with that kind of stress.

Now imagine adding a move to the other side of the planet and learning another language to the obstacles between you and pursuing your dream of spinning behind the decks. How many of us would be willing to face all those challenges to reach our goals? That is what DJ Mika has been able to accomplish. NCI caught up with this old school DJ fresh from her performance at Hot 97 Summer Jam to talk to her about hip hop and living in nightlife culture.

Vital Statistics

  • Name: DJ Mika
  • Hometown: Ibaraki, Japan
  • Inspirations: DJ C2, DJ Jazzy Joyce, DJ Muro, DJ Mitsuru, DJ Maru and DJ JUNE
  • Last Performance: Hot 97 Summer Jam Interscope booth
  • Next Local Performance: Resident DJ Tues to Saturdays at bOb bar (235 Eldridge St.)

NCI: How were you first introduced to hip hop music growing up in Japan? What is the first artist you remember listening to?

Mika: My older brother has always loved hip hop music. Growing up with him and the music he listened to made me hip hop fan! LL Cool J probably had the biggest impact on me. The first songs I remember hearing were “Jinglin’ Baby” and “Round the Way Girl”.

NCI: What made you decide to start DJing? How did you learn to mix?

Mika: My brother and I spent a lot of time listening to CD mixed from other DJs. At a certain point, I wanted to make my own CDs. I didn’t know how to make them, but I knew I wanted to learn. So, I bought equipment and I started to learn by my self at first. After I came to NYC, I learned DJing from artists who taught me what they knew especially DJ C2. I always appreciated the time they took to help me.

NCI: What made you decide to come to New York? Was it difficult getting a DJ job here?

Mika: After I made my first mix CD, I didn’t think it was very good but I loved it because it gave me the confidence to become more involved in hip hop music. I started to dream about DJing for more and more people.  That’s when I decided to learn more about real hip hop culture and come to NYC.  I’m lucky because the friends I met here helped me a lot to get DJ job and always supported me.  I really appreciate that.

NCI: How did hip hop fans treat you when you began to DJ in New York?

Mika: Most people showed me a lot of respect, but sometimes it’s twice as hard because I’m Japanese and a girl.  It took a long time for me to establish myself. But, I think now I finally get respect for my set and not just because I’m a female DJ. J

NCI: What is the best part of being a DJ in New York? 

Mika: When I decided I wanted to become a street DJ, I knew the best place to do that was in New York. That’s where it all began. Now that I’m here and spinning on a regular basis, I am living my dream. What is better than that?

NCI: Is there anyone you want to shout out?

Mika: I’d like to thank everyone for reading this interview. I want everyone to know how much I love being a NYC DJ.

I also want to give special thanks to DJ C2, DJ Jazzy Joyce, Starshell, DJ JUNE, DJ Smooth, Taq , Mitsuki, and all my friends!

Also, thanks to General, Nadia, from It’s Done Promotions, Rome from Badboy Records, Daniel from Drity  Magazine, DJ Emmo, Harmen, DJ Fortune, Espinoza from Cajo communications, Powaradio crew, ATS from the Rock Steady Crew, DJ Technic, Dreatraxx from Hoodstarz, my Japan Crew, identity bar crew, Rock and soul crew, Jemiho , DJ CHURCH, DJ Rawbetaz, DJ Krazie Charlez, DJ Max Carnage, Malik, George, Greg from bOb bar, Eli, Fred The Godson, Beats by Dre and DUB. (I can’t write everyone’s name but I want to say THANK YOU for everyone who supports me!!!)

Have fun.

G

Must Be the Music: The Nightlife Culture Interview with DJ Herbert Holler

 

By Gamal Hennessy

Music is the heart of nightlife culture and DJs are the people who keep that heart beating every night in New York City. This week, NCI is proud to present three interviews with unique DJ’s filling clubs and dance floors all over the city. We begin with a pioneer of nightlife culture and the creator of the Freedom Party, DJ Herbert Holler.

NCI: You have been involved with nightlife culture for almost 10 years now. What do you see as the biggest difference between the environment you found in 2004 and what you see now?

HH: I’ve actually been involved with nightlife culture for 18 years now, if you can believe it. I started in 1994 promoting Giant Step parties. I was one of those dudes standing outside near the Cube on Astor Place, handing out flyers. (Ahh…The good ol’ days!) The main difference in the culture between then and now is that today, the culture itself has been turned into big business—molded, processed, and mass produced. There are “parties” everywhere. There are individuals calling themselves “DJs” and “promoters” everywhere. They’re pumped off the assembly line like bags of chips, so of course quality of the nightlife suffers. There’s still a culture, though, just not one with as much significance as before.

NCI: You told me that it is harder to figure out why people come to a party than to figure out why they stay away. What are some of the reasons people won't go out to a party and how have you learned to deal with those factors?

HH: There’re lots of reasons why someone may not come out. It could be location of the party, costs associated with attending (admission, drinks, food, transportation, etc.), what they’ve heard or not heard about the party, the kind of music played, maybe they’re tired, maybe they have to get up the next morning for whatever reason…The list goes on. I never know what’s going on in the minds of potential patrons, so I just try to make it as enticing as possible by taking away these obstacles. I choose venues that are easy to find and get to, I don’t charge a lot of money to walk in the door nor do I fuck with venues that hit you over the head at the bar. I make sure the music played is the BEST music in town (of course). I do my events on weekend nights so everyone can come out. I make sure I get the word out as much as possible, build as much buzz as I can, so people get excited and everyone’s talking about it. Etc., etc..

NCI: Explain the philosophy behind the Freedom party. What were you trying to create when you started and what have you learned about people and music as the party has developed?

HH: Freedom was created to, basically, help preserve NYC nightlife culture. Marc Smooth, DJ Cosi and I felt the BEST way to do this was to bring music back to the forefront. Make it about the music and the dance floor, and that in turn would work everything else out, from vibe to price. (Music is the answer!) Parties were mostly about attendees and how much money was spent. Freedom is about what’s being played. We completely flipped it around when we started in 2003. Today, we’re learning that a “classic” record’s excitement depends on what age group you have on your dance floor. “Funkin’ For Jamaica” was a big record for us when we started 9 years ago, and now, we barely play it. Most of our big records are from the later 80s, early 90s, and that has everything to do with how old the people dancing are.

NCI: You described the music that you play as music that has stood the test of time or will stand that test. What do you hear in a song today that tells you that song will last? Where do you find your new music or your musical inspirations now?

HH: For me, it’s pretty easy to determine whether or not a song will stand the test of time: Does it have soul? It’s that simple. Does the record have a soul? A heart? A spirit? Melodies help, but melodies alone don’t make classics. The song has to have an identity, tell a story, DO something other than pull out pop devices and clichés. Most people think Isaac Hayes or Al Green or James Brown when they think of soul. But I think soul can be in anything. Dubstep, electro, commercial dance music, pop…All these things CAN have soul, and I find when they do, they stick around a lot longer. (Adele, Gotye, etc.)

NCI: Where do you see nightlife culture in the next 10 years? What will social entertainment look like in 2022 and will you still be a part of it?

HH: That’s too big of a question to answer on just one page. Shit…You can do a whole thesis paper on the future of nightlife culture. In brief, I guess…Nightlife culture will still be here, and perhaps it will find new breath, a new raison d’etre. Cycles play a big role in lots of different things. Perhaps we’ll enter a new cycle and see a revival in the respect and preservation of the culture. Maybe we’re entering one now. Regardless of where it will be, I will most likely be there with it. After all these years of spinning records and putting together parties (soon-to-be operating/owning), it’s safe to say that this is my calling.

Links:

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/herbertholler

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/herberthollerpage

Soundcloud: http://www.soundcloud.com/herbertholler

Vimeo: http://www.vimeo.com/herbertholler

Subsriptions: http://www.tinyurl.com/subscribe2holler

Web: http://www.herbertholler.com

Have fun

G

21 Essential Websites for New York Nightlife Culture

 

There are so many blogs and websites for New York nightlife that if you tried to read them all you’d never have time to go out. This list collects some of the best and most up to date writing online. This isn’t a list of sites about the industry side, venue reviews or a list of purely self promotional sites. There are plenty of good ones in both those categories, but this list focuses on the sites with a cultural focus. Some of them will be familiar, others will be new. I hope all of them will help learn more about New York nightlife culture go out and have fun.

 

Music/ DJing

Ear Drum NYC

Frequency

New Music Daily

Village Voice Music 

 

Nightlife Tastemakers

Elite Daily

Good Night Mr. Lewis

Guest of a Guest

NY Nightlife: @NYNightlife (on Twitter)  

Societe Perrier

 

Bartending/ Drinking

New York Barfly

Shake and Strain

The Truth about Bartending

 

Restaurants/ Eating

Eater New York

Grub Street New York

Zagat New York

 

Fashion/ Style/ Photography

The Dandy Project

I Rock the Shot

Paper Magazine

Young, Rich and Faking It  

 

Wine

DomaiNYC

 

Beer

The Beer Friends

 

Nightlife changes over time, so this list will change with it. If you think I left someone out that needs to be here, or you think someone is here who shouldn’t be, let me know.

Have fun.

G

Nightlife Icon Danny Tenaglia Steps Away from the DJ Booth

Legendary DJ Danny Tenaglia wrote his fans a long resignation letter  on his Facebook wall earlier this week. The DJ who has played at the Winter Music Conference 26 years in a row and performed sets in Ibiza every year since 2000 is now looking to stop grueling schedule that has taken him around the world for the better part of three decades.

From the time Tenaglia started going to spots like Paradise Garage in 1979 until this week, he has been responsible for dozens of albums, hundreds of remixes and thousands of performances. His name is mentioned in the same breath as iconic DJs like Tiesto and Little Louie Vega. They were superstar DJ’s before everyone with an iPad could claim to be a DJ. He helped raise the act of driving a party through music to an art form.

Danny outlined much of his longevity and work in the letter to his fans, but house heads don’t need to be told what he has done for house music and nightlife culture. After his final party at Pacha on April 28th, we can only hope that one of his fans is inspired by his work to create new music and leave their own mark on New York nightlife.

If you have any memories of music or performances from Danny’s long career, please feel free to share them with us.

Have fun.

G

How to be a DJ

 

One of the current clichés in modern nightlife culture is the idea that anyone can be a DJ. Digital technology has taken an arcane and underground art and opened it up to the masses, leading to very mixed results.

There is a heated debate within the DJ world about technology, skill, celebrity and other sensitive topics. I’m not here to push a particular aspect of those battles. I want to offer some advice on how a novice can actually become a DJ and contribute to the creative aspects of nightlife culture. Whether you use Technics turntables or Numark CD-J’s, Serato or Abelton and whether you carry crates or computers here are some tips to get yourself started.

  • Love Your Music: Being a DJ is very similar to being a musician in the fact that very few of either group ever makes it to the level of Tiesto or Grandmaster Flash. In the beginning at least, you’re going to need something besides fame and fortune to get you through the sometimes frustrating world of nightlife performance. If you don’t love your music you’re going to burn out fast.
  • Learn Your Craft: There are two main ways to learn DJing; classical and formal. The classical method involves learning on your own or under a professional DJ who is willing to work with you. While this method use to take 5-10 years, now with online tutorials,  YouTube videos and books like How to DJ Right you can cut down that time considerably. This can be a stressful way to learn, but if you want to follow in the footsteps of the masters, this is the way to go.

The formal method involves learning DJ skills in a structured classroom workshop setting. There are several DJ schools currently in operation, including Scratch Academy and Dubspot. Because the skills have been synthesized into a curriculum, what used to take years can now take 6-8 months. While it doesn’t have the rebel cache of the classical method, it saves a lot of time and frustration.

No matter which method you use to learn, keep in mind that you will still need to practice to master the art form. You can try to fake it with an app, or software or other shortcuts, but there is no substitute for technique and professionalism.

  • Get Experience: At some point, you’ll have to get out of your apartment, go out in public and play. This could mean playing an open turntable night at a local bar for you, the bartender and a few friends. It could mean being the warm up DJ at a lounge, department store or house party. There is a skill to dealing with unfamiliar equipment and unfamiliar people that you can’t get by making mix tapes at home. Go. Out. and Play.
  • Develop a Sound: If you play the same songs that every other DJ plays, then you can be replaced by any other DJ. Unless you create your own party, most of us will have to deal with the musical styles of the venue, promoter or event organizer. However, you need to be known for something other than just a generic, cookie cutter vanilla DJ. This goes back to loving your music. The key is to be able to play everything but be known for something.
  • Grow: Being a DJ means being an artist. To be an artist, you have to expand your horizons in terms of the music you play, the people you play for and the things you are able to do. It also means not being left behind as the art evolves. Your collection of music, whether analog or digital needs to grow. Your relationship with venues, promoters and other DJ’s needs to grow. Your abilities not just to play music but to promote yourself and express yourself needs to grow. If you can do that, then your interest and love for the art form will give you back far more than you put into it.

This isn’t a comprehensive article, so if any DJ’s out there think I left anything out, or if anyone has a specific question, leave a comment and let me know.

Notice I left out discussions about buying equipment, industry practices and the pros and cons of one type of DJing over another. There are a lot of other people out there with more experience, knowledge and perspective than me if you want to read stuff like that. All I want to do is show you that there is an art and science to being a DJ and that if you put in the effort to become one you can have some fun, try something new and listen to some good music in the process.

Have fun

G