“There is nothing more satisfying to me than playing vinyl” – Interview with Dahlia
Since moving to NYC, Dahlia has become a staple in the electronic music scene. As a lead buyer at Halcyon the shop, a resident at Output, and having recently started her own monthly; She continues to become one of the city’s larger influences in the world of techno.
Staying true to the format, the art of mixing vinyl is an art Dahlia stands behind. With first rate taste in track selection and years of experience behind the decks, she’s a DJ you’ll definitely be hearing more about. Galerie Project was able to catch up with Dahlia to find out what she’s up to now, her beginnings in music, art that inspires her, and how to set yourself apart as a DJ.
Q: What’s new? I hear that you are starting a monthly?
A: Yes! It’s going to be a Tuesday night thing at a bar called Home Sweet Home in the Lower East Side. I’m going to start bringing in one or two other artists to share the block of time with me. There isn’t going to be a formal lineup up or formal time slots – it’s just going to be on a Tuesday night, once a month, and free. The night will be a showcase of deep, dark, and heavy dub techno, ambient dub and different iterations of dub. Also more classic ‘70s or more reggae dub stuff into dub techno. Maybe some Shackleton kind of breaks. Just the kind of stuff that revolves around the theme of powerful dub music. The night will be called “Damned if You Fondue,” because Fondue Tracks is going to be the name of my label that I’m eventually going to start. So anything Fondue is kind of a spin-off of the description I use for really heavy, rich, and deep music. “Damned if You Fondue, Damned if You Fon-Don’t.” So that’s a Tuesday thing and the next one will be on the last Tuesday in June.
Q: What got you into electronic music and what influenced you to become a DJ?
A: I would have to say that electronic music has been an integral part of my upbringing. At a really young age, my parents were really savvy about it and always played excellent music in my household. I also owe a huge part of my musical journey and development to a college radio station called the Metropolis. The host was Jason Bentley on KCRW from the Santa Monica, California radio station. I started listening to it in middle school and every weekday night, he would play the sickest dance music, like next level house and techno. I definitely found a lot of artists through that show. I just loved the sound of it. Maybe it was also because my parents were disco party animals. My mom is Puerto Rican so there was always rhythmic percussive Afro-Latin-based music playing in my house and that’s the kind of shit that sounded natural to me. When I was 7 years old, my mom bought me my first record. It was Technotronic’s ”Pump up the Jam.” We had a turntable in our living room, so I would put the vinyl on there every night and run around in circles. Growing up, I was an isolated nerd and didn’t party with people my age or anything. I just kind of researched parties and learned about different styles of music.
“I’ll always play music, DJ, and provide this experience to people. This is just what I fucking do.”
I started collecting records when I was like 16 or 17 and I didn’t even own turntables at this point. I just wanted to have good music. I had this one friend who I met when I was 13 in the late ’90s; she was 16 at the time, and I thought she was super cool. When I first went to her house, I noticed her DJ setup: two cheap shady decks and a beat-up mixer. But, she had vinyl and was all into the rave scene so I thought she so f’ing cool. We started hanging out but I never really partied with her. Honestly, I was kind of scared going to really big massives with kids I didn’t know. Eventually she offered to sell me her set up for 250 bucks. At that age I didn’t have 250. But from that point on, it never left my mind. It was something I always felt I needed to do. When I was like 20 and working in the fashion industry, I was making a decent amount of money. I finally had enough to get a DJ setup. I told myself that I’m going to buckle down and get this shit. Starting out, I didn’t have DJ friends. None of my other friends were into that music whatsoever, so I was self-taught for the first year before I decided to go out and meet other people who had similar interests.
Q: From what we hear, you are very motivated and can play for hours on end without losing focus. Where did you get this stamina?
A: When I first moved out my dad’s house I was 17 or 18, I moved to Hollywood. That’s when I first acquired my equipment. Through a pretty fast progression, I started meeting the right people. I met a few key people who had been DJing longer than I had. I was definitely the youngest person in our group and it was then when I met one of my best friends, Olivia. We would have these marathon four-day sessions almost every week. Musically we all discovered each other. One weekend we had a big rager at my apartment. Our setup included two big Yamahas, a super ghetto amp, and my decks in the living room. We were young, fearless, and had developed a reputation for having good music. I lived in a warehouse within a commercial area of east L.A. I didn’t hear the music I wanted to hear at parties so I would bring people back and we would just play our music.
My friends had amazing records and we would all just school each other. I would play for 17 hours at some points and would need a bar stool so I could play for an additional three or four more hours. We were all just super in love with each other and we would just go for days on end. I learned from the best. Eventually, I took a one-day workshop course for basic scratch techniques. Everyone there was hip hop DJs and I was the only girl house DJ, but I learned a lot of essential skills from them. After that I felt confident and continued to explore other techniques to refine myself. My favorite bookings are long after-hours sets. As a DJ, I want to tell a story with peaks and valleys. One hour just doesn’t suffice. Even though I’m trapped in that time schedule frequently, because that is how a lot of promoters hire, it’s not my preference. I need a little wiggle room and that is how I’ve been doing it.
Q: Vinyl sales were up 32% percent last year despite a general downturn in the music industry. As a buyer what can you tell us about this trend?
A: It’s interesting because even in the short amount of time that I have been in New York working as a buyer, I’ve noticed this increase. I think that it ties into a much bigger concept. When the digital craze took over the scene years ago, I had already been playing vinyl records for two or three years. Of course I was immediately freaked out because it wasn’t natural for me. I always knew, though, that it was going to come back around, so I stuck with vinyl while holding out on any temptations to go digital. There is nothing more satisfying to me than playing vinyl.
“If you can mix with vinyl records, you can do anything else in terms of DJing”
People just needed time to discover that nothing beats it. It takes more time and money to release on vinyl than a digital release on Beatport. In order to release something on vinyl, it needs to be good. As a consumer, you also want to make sure you’re buying something of quality. Releasing digitally is only a fraction of the cost, so there is less risk. Also the sound quality of vinyl records are richer. The DJs are the people who know the sound and also know that there is more meaning to it. You can’t replace vinyl. Watching somebody mix records not only looks better or sounds better, but it’s more entertaining. If you can mix with vinyl records, you can do anything else in terms of DJing. I think it’s proof that you actually know what you’re doing. It’s a rite of passage because you put in the effort and sweat for it; it’s satisfying. I think that it’s a trend more people are down with.
Q: Do you see the trend continuing?
A: It’s definitely going to progress for a while until new technology is invented that is more exciting. I can’t remember the last time I went to a gig and saw someone playing off Serato. Nobody really wants to do the work anymore. The vinyl record is the only media that has persevered compared to other musical media over the years. Vinyl is the one thing that’s prevailed and you cannot replicate the warmth that vinyl creates. I don’t see it going anywhere as long as I’m around.
Q: What releases are you into right now?
I’m really into this label called Home Invasion. It’s a stamp series label. Franck Roger does all the production on all of it. The tracks are all very housey, techy, and dubby versatile. It’s also supposed to be a more dubbed-out-and-stripped-out-dance-tool kind of label. Mosaic, Geigling…God Particle which is my friend’s label out of Chicago. Their most recent release by Karina was amazing, super great record. But, I have a lot of old “new” stuff that I’m digging for.
Q: Anything old that you have found that pops out?
One of my favorite records that has been on my radar is an old Grant Dell record on Worship Recordings. It’s a classic uppy dub techno. Every time I play it out at parties, people come up to me asking what it is. Another release I’m into right now, have you heard of Oliver Ho? He’s kind of old-school now. The release is from 2000 and it’s a double pack from Meta Recordings. It’s really good house. I also just rediscovered a track that I forgot about from Rekids. The artist is Veinte Tres and the track is called Serpiente Cosmica. It’s 14 minutes of epic gnarly deep dub. My track of the summer is “Find out Why,” the alternate mix, from the Thor release on Sushitech. I love Sushitech. I love them because they have a very timeless and elegant sound. They are based in Berlin but their roster of artists are mainly Detroit- and Chicago-based. So yeah, that is what I’m into right now.
Q: How would you describe the Output experience?
A: I’ve experienced it both as a party goer and a DJ. As a DJ it’s amazing, you can’t top it in terms of the equipment and comfort. The booth is like driving a Ferrari. Everything is amazing and how it should be. I would have to say that it’s awesome and satisfying. As a party goer, it sounds great but there is so much security as well as a lot of people, because they pack it full. It’s an awesome entity because it puts Brooklyn on the map. They cater to different crowds and there are so many people in New York that are party animals. I’ve noticed a huge influx of rave culture getting popular because of it. I avoid it on my off time because it’s exhausting and expensive.
Q: You’ve played at Chicago’s Skybar. How do you compare Chicago’s scene to New York’s dance scene. How was your experience playing there?
A: This is one of my favorite topics because I’ve talked about this so many times. I love Chicago and I love playing there. It’s smaller scale than New York, but I love going there because the people are so enthusiastic and down to earth. They have a lot of stamina and enthusiasm. They aren’t very jaded, they’re positive. I feel so much love from the crowd when I play. The gigs are awesome and always packed. The people there have really good taste. When I announced I was playing there, their response was awesome. I’ve had opportunities to move there, but I would honestly stick with New York because in Chicago there are many more mouths to feed and not enough food. It’s cut-throat and competitive. That energy can be frustrating. Skybar is great; they treated me well for a Thursday night. The turnout was good but was smaller than I thought it would be. I have no complaints besides the snow. I’ve only been there for the winter, but would like to get down during their summer. I’m actually playing there again on June 12th with Olin and Sven Weisemann at a party called Slack.
Q: Is there a story behind the DJ name modesty?
A: Not at all actually. Before I officially started DJing and playing out, I had gotten that name as a nickname from friends through an infamous experience of mine. It was basically based on irony, I won’t go into detail. Back in that era, I was still kind of a raver. DJs had DJ names. It wasn’t trendy to go by your real name. That was the thing back then. I thought it had a nice ring to it. I loved the idea of having an alter ego and, as an artist, to slip into this different persona when you are on stage. Ultimately, DJing is a performance. Playing good music goes without saying, but at the same time people are paying to go to a show. Stage presence and an experience is a very important factor about it. Fast forward years later, I always went by that name. I didn’t like my real name for the longest time. Having a name that I performed under was super cool to me. I had a chance to not have to use my real name. Upon moving to New York, I thought, ok this is the next step in my career. I want to be taken seriously and I’m ready for the big leagues.
“The people who are meant to DJ do it because they are talented, have a story to tell, and a message to give, they will prevail.”
Some advisers and people I trust outright told me that I have a beautiful name and I should go by my real name. People don’t have to make that connection that you are the same person as that Modesty DJ they saw the night before. Initially, I was very reluctant but also it seemed like a graduation process. This is just me in the real. This is who I am. The music that I play is what I say. I’m not trying to hide behind a guise of something else. I’m Dahlia. I’m the girl who sold you those dope records you got. I’m the person playing that party you went to. When I introduce myself to you, there is no confusion. This is who I am.
Q: We are living in a world where everyone is a DJ. How do you set yourself apart?
A: Natural selection. Keep doing what you are doing. There might be surges in trends that make everyone really into something for a short amount of time. There are very few people who do this because it’s their natural drive, they can’t help it. I’ll always play music, DJ, and provide this experience to people. It’s not a trend or a phase. It’s not because it’s cool or I’m trying to get attention. This is just what I fucking do. It’s the only thing I’ve stuck with for almost a decade now. The people who are meant to DJ do it because they are talented, have a story to tell, and a message to give, they will prevail. If you are talented and know what the hell you are doing, other people will notice that and not let you disappear. There are so many DJs. Still to this day, I can only name five or six that I actually remember, respect, and follow. I think I can say that about a lot of people in the industry. If you are meant to do it, you will stay in it and be successful. You will have the right ingredients to keep going. You just gotta love it and play the shit you believe in more than anything. That basically does the talking for you. Have integrity, be genuine, be down to earth, play really badass music, have skill, and you will be on the right path.
Q: What makes a good DJ and what DJs do you think have mastered that art of DJing?
A: I’d say hands-down Daniel Bell and Amir Alexander are amazing DJs. They not only play really great music and program their sets in a manner that is ”whoa,” but the two of them deliver such a good performance and demonstrate so many styles in such a cohesive way that you don’t even realize that it’s happening. But it’s across-the-board quality dance music. The last time I saw Amir, he was working three turntables like it ain’t no thing. They always impress me every single time. And on that note it’s important to realize the fact that just because you produce amazing tracks, it doesn’t mean you’re a bookable headlining DJ. I do feel it is important to make music because that’s another way of expressing yourself. At the same time, the skills necessary to DJ effectively aren’t exactly unanimous. Not every producer automatically possesses that charisma. You have to have that swag.
“The crate digging aspect of a true DJ, they have a way better grasp on diversity.”
I think the DJ’s role is very important. It isn’t replaceable or dead. There are a handful of DJs who just DJ and are excellent. They are successful so it can be done. I will make music when I feel like I have some important content to give the world and not just contribute to the massive pool of mediocrity on download sites. I will release tracks when they are worthy of a vinyl pressing. The crate digging aspect of a true DJ, they have a way better grasp on diversity. They are creating texture. I can tell when I hear certain tracks that somebody knows how to DJ. You hear when they bring things in, it’s a certain rhythm. You need to know what you want to play, what other DJs want to play. I’m all about long mixes. I like to blend and melt textures together. A long track is a preference for me. I’m not trying to do quick fast cuts. I want a nice long track to fuck around with. I like to hang out and let the mix ride, that’s DJing. Making a third track out of two tracks. It’s like mixing and blending sounds to create a magical alchemical moment in that one time and place from these two tracks. It’s not playing one after another.
Q: Are you a fan of the arts?
A: Hard core. I’m a massive visual arts fanatic. It ties heavily into my passion for music. My interest in visual arts has far predated my involvement in techno. My mom is a fine artist and I’ve always been exposed to really good visual art. Both of my parents placed heavy emphasis on this when I was growing up. I used to paint a lot. I don’t really create visual art anymore but I have such an eye for it. I’m a visually-driven person. I think that is probably why I love playing vinyl records. Because I catalog visually. By the label color and the graphic on the sleeve. I’m very drawn to things that are aesthetically pleasing, not just sonically, but visually. I owe a lot of that to my mom.
“Visual art and music are super integral of one another. I don’t think you can really separate them.”
I like really dope street artists because they have a lot of the same passion that really good DJs have. I know it’s a really stereotypical pairing. The urban artist and the DJ. But I think it goes hand in hand. Visual art and music are super integral of one another. I don’t think you can really separate them. Visual art inspires me musically. I’m such a huge fanatic of the ‘80s aesthetic. Like Chola art. All those visual art styles are represented sonically in my music because they are huge influences on me. I grew up in L.A. Graffiti and low-riders are my upbringing. I love art that is centered around that and I love music that sounds like that. Art culture and street music are passionate. I love dance music that comes from a place of strife. Detroit techno and good Chicago house, those people are looking for a place to get out from where they live. They needed an escape and they found that in music.
Q: Do you have any favorite artists?
A: One of my favorite street artists at the moment is Hot Tea from Minneapolis. He does really amazing work because it’s super unique. It’s basically yarn threaded through fences. It’s street art like graffiti pieces but they are made of something that is removable and not permanent. He uses really dope typography and I’m a font nerd. I love that stuff. It straggles that line of legality. It’s super impactful and very creative. I also love Revok. He did a series of work in Detroit. They are more graffiti pieces on canvas, but were very inventive and different. There are so many, I could go on and on. I’m always digging around for new artists that inspire me. The most amazing Brooklyn-based artist, if you don’t know about her now you need to check her out, is Esther Ruiz. She does multimedia sculpture.
Make sure you follow Dahlia on Soundcloud as well as Facebook!
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