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DJ Heather – Apollo Records – (APT) Chicago’s – International – House Music – Summer Series 2018 – (Chicago) Pt.1

With DJ Colette doing a sound check, I sat with DJ Heather instead: Instead, Heather and I had a REAL good chat.We talked about soooo much- from coming of age,to transitioning into motherhood and remaining artistically inspired. I’m glad the interview was split,we had more of a ‘let’s meet for drinks’ kinda chat.She took control of the energy and convo as I’d expected from a DJ and we journeyed through each topic pretty much like her set later on that night at Second City Sessions. Her energy and style are undeniable.

At 20 years in-she’s reflective and is now finally feeling that she is progressing,thriving,comfortable and starting to feel good….she said ‘as an artist you do have moments where you ebb and flow continuously’ So where does this endless motivation come from? ‘There’s an engine inside of you that continues to drive and regardless of what people think about age,gender-all those social mores fall to the wayside’

On coming of age and being a DJ she says one of her greatest moves forward is when she started focusing on herself and all the other chatter just disappeared- it didn’t matter anymore. The people who usually bring up the age or gender thing are those wondering how long its gonna take to achieve a certain status OR they feel that you’re not inspiring as much as you think you are. But along with that-there’s a clichéd phrase that ‘if you’re not inspired you should retire…..’I don’t really feel like I’m at that stage now to do that and there’s been many times through my life as I’ve DJ ‘ed and I remembered that making music hadn’t really been a thing that I grew up with-I never said I’m going to be a DJ, it kinda just happened’

What role has music played for you? Music was always been something that ran parallel with what I was doing with my life. Working for record labels, I was still always in the music industry but not truly focused on the art of DJ’ing. And over time I really enjoyed the element of DJ’ing because of the ability to TRAVEL. There were numerous friends I met and even still today I continue to meet more people and still enjoy what I do. It can be a struggle at times now because I have an added family element to it (just ask Colette) but it still gives me life, it still gives me enjoyment-the literal act of playing music for people is so satisfying but it becomes more of a difficult thing trying to make a living from your art…and I think that doesn’t matter what age you are-whether in your 20s,30s,40s,50s,60s-whatever 70; but in my personal experience I’m a big fan of artists regardless of the medium they choose.

I admire the fact that she has continued with what she does cause you know, it ain’t a regular job. She explains as an artist that ‘the ones who continue to create probably do it because it’s an ever-present thing like a scratch’ and in this case she has to itch……..lol

We are very aware that in accordance to society, even with modernization and some changing values-regardless of what they do,women often take pause from their paths,careers or jobs. Heather re-iterates ‘we do struggle with stuff and even I took time off after he (her son) was born. I was off for five months give or take, maybe three months?…..And my first gig was New Years Eve the following year!’

About how IT (pregnancy) went: I played up until my seventh month- so yeah, I was at the club and my husband was leading me through the venue and I was playing and literally he helped me up onto this stool. But it was a part of my life that I wanted to experience. Being in a relationship with a person (knowing this is the person I’d love to have a child with) and with this  addition it made me change the way I operate in terms of the flexibility of working when I wanted to (that was gone.) Being regimented,being scheduled and disciplined came back-it was like being in college again. (In a strange way.) You still have all this time but you have to learn again how to make that time work for you because you don’t have a lot of it- and between trying to compartmentalize the childcare with everything else, it kind of dampened. I’ve come out of that little ‘baby-ness’ stage. He’s got his own schedule now-he’s got his own feet. He’s in school so that gives me the opportunity to drop him off and I can work as much as I can during the time that he’s at school.

Do you travel with your son yet? He’s yet to come with me on a trip but he’s seen me play at street festivals and stuff. So he feels at home.

Have you noticed his musicality? I see it- but it translates into the fact that he thinks the DJ stuff is cool and he likes to dance. He’s still kind of figuring out what he likes. He’ll pretend to play…We’re just letting him pursue what he wants to pursue and just kinda find his feet. He’s in the studio sometimes, other times he doesn’t want to be in there. Yesterday he came on his own and gave her a sticker installation with labels to be there for her in the room and she put it on a speaker. He left a piece of himself there with her.

How important is it to have a partner that understands what it takes? Has it been easy? It’s been helpful for sure-I wouldn’t say ideal; but it’s great. We’re in total opposite worlds. He’s in corporate construction and I’m in art and music so we’re not really perpetually talking about the same thing. We appreciate each other and we appreciate what we can offer. He’s more in the tactile side of corporate design so he works with colour and fabrics.He’s more on the art side of his business as well. So we still appreciate art in very different ways.

Mind if I ask how you met? He met me as a DJ, he arrived at my show early and met at the booth. And here we are quite a few years later….. 😉

DJ Heather on relationships: As any relationship goes whether it’s a friendship,marriage or partnership (it is work) but if you both know that your end goal is the same and you don’t want to bail and you’re ready to work through it- that’s half the battle and that’s what’s kept us going and it’s just that awareness. It’s difficult when you’re polar opposites.I wanna be able to do my thing and express myself but I’m also a Mommy and if I weren’t doing this I wouldn’t be the mother I am.Being myself means that I won’t ever have a sense of animosity-so there is a lot of freedom I’m given for sure- and I’m very lucky…..

It’s a powerful conversation to have at this time when women are making bold movements to balance work,purpose,entrepreneurship and identity-This had to have been the highlight of our discussion as the theme running globally is women’s empowerment. There’s no direct path…..I explained my level of concern at this juncture in my own life. She admits ‘I never thought I’d be married, I never thought I’d have a child. And both have happened and I’m still maintaining some sort of career that I’m happy with. I’m still always trying to find out methods that feel organic and natural and very honest. And I’m still trying to maintain that honesty, its very difficult to do. She still feels very fortunate to have people that she can still play records for and can share music with them for this long! And I said surprisingly WHY NOT! Fabric 21 and the House of OM Mix CD were stellar projects-Her insightful breaks from my questions had me looking at her role from many angles.

 

She explained this to me: As a DJ you know that the number of DJs-per-capita has grown. There’s the myth about what a DJ does and what a DJ actually does. Many of those who are discovering the art now are finding that there is no way to kind of ‘break in’ to the scene-unless you have a big record or a ‘team’ or unless you have ‘followers’. Now there are all these other things that you don’t have the luxury of cultivating over time. It’s more instantaneous (Where’s the lie? It’s true-this is one of the industry’s biggest changes!) 

Let’s humanize DJ Heather for a moment: She’s grateful for the opportunity to learn a lot of stuff through trial and error. Hopefully she says,’I’ve built a reputation of being a solid DJ but all the other stuff comes with it. The music stuff is great but hopefully being known as a decent human being and the other stuff falls in line. And of course your relationships should be great. I’ve always tried to make life ‘normal’ and not take it as seriously but only take things as serious because its important to me-this is where I’ve found more balance. It’s about balance. Balance is a good thing.’

It’s about the music: I asked her about new Apollo Records track ‘The Acid’ with Berlin based Detroit producer Lauren Flax (June 8). She’s a great producer,Lauren is one of  her fave persons and can produce her butt off. It dropped June 8th and this ‘Acid’ track Heather describes as raw, to the point and machine based. They collaborated on this track and there are remixes out on her label. (partnered with Dann X and Little Mark) At the time, (May 2018) teasers and promo packs had gone out-the single is now available on Traxsource and the acidity is fresh!

Is there a revival of the Acid sound? There’s a kind of revival but just like Nu Jazz it comes in waves. When people say Deep House is back or Acid Jazz is back-it doesn’t really leave. IT sort of appears in waves of consciousness and you hear these records and they’re kind of throwback but they are also sounds that people really love to hear. There’s warmth,grit and depth.

About Blackcherry Recordings, it says House and Downtempo…….is that something you prefer? Do you like that sound? Yeah, as it pertains to Black Cherry I try to have it perpetuate the Chicago sound-It’s more trackier (polished) stuff as well as Downtempo stuff so it’s a kind of homage to Classic House sounds-let’s say upfront tracky stuff (that’s what I tend to focus on with Blackcherry so I was happy to bring it back with that J-Fader EP and I’ve got something coming out with another artist she’s from Chicago T Mixwell….She’s fantastic and she produces lovely music……the track is currently untitled but its’ coming out before the end of the Summer/early Fall.

For artists on the label are you looking for something specific (sound?feel?) When you receive submissions?You know if I feel something, again-its an honesty thing. It’s like this is right..someone’ll send me a track and a few pieces. I might play it out to see or get a sense of where it could go, if it’s perfect or if I think it’s super hot. I play it and get a response and see the initial feeling about it. That helps me verify in that moment. Its like oh yeah…this is pretty dope. I decide if I’ll make some changes and that kinda thing-I kinda like to test run stuff. I do the same with Apollo Records music as well. I test it out at the club and how a room responds to it spatially. It’s not always in the spirit of House Music. For example Derek Dunbar submitted some stuff and I gave it the nod. It’s nice for people to have it (new stuff) so they can put it out because there’s a market for it.

Do you ever have people approach to ask you to help them out or hook them up? (a leg into the industry) Sometimes,but it’s not that blatant, the help now people are looking for are things like ‘could you say something about my track or could you chart it? could you tweet about it?..but again I do share stuff that I feel connected to. So if someone asks me and its kinda weird, I’m not sure but if I kinda know them and they need a little push I’ll do it, its no problem as I’d want anyone to do the same for me.  In the past I would usually reach out to people and tell them their track was awesome and because they were so enthused, they would literally help me out and PUT ME ON tour and let me open-but there’s plenty of that stuff that clubs don’t wanna do anymore.

She explains the way being PUT ON works today: They’ll have these tours where the headlining DJ picks their supporting cast…..unless you have a camp like Dirty Bird they’ve created a culture where everyone’s in-house and literally everyone who’s with the label throws their own events and showcases their own artists, that’s a  formula that has worked for them.So from top to bottom all night,you’re gonna see people who’ve put music on the label or down with their crew and it’s worked! And when they’ve put their people on they’ve added a particular flavour. People are trying to replicate that formula-sometimes it works other times it doesn’t. Or you’ve had stages that are set up at one event or big festival….and let’s say  for example you have Green Velvet, he’ll have a stage with people he really likes and it works.

I tried to do that at my Smartbar residency by kinda mixing it up with people who haven’t played at the club before. I want to get them in the rotation-so they can get used to the club setting…..(it helps them build confidence too!) Sometimes the club sees the new DJ’s potential and they might want to put that person on. By doing that-new people bring a network of friends OR FAMILY, that’s what it should be about! She’s passing the torch in a sense…..Having friends & family who come out to her events gave Heather confidence back in the day. In an encouraging way she says ‘they can put these on their resumes,get other gigs or put that flyer aside as part of their archival information’ It’s almost like passing the torch……

Imagine what kind of advice she’s going to offer which such an in-depth interview…..Must read. 

  • Don’t be limited with what you think you should be doing versus what you truly want to do. Take risks when you feel like you should. Even now- She still feels nervous before a show and (the fear factor is good.)
  • Never assume what’s going to happen at a venue-even with a sound check (you may have an idea of what to expect but you never know…..all those things are nice to know, but you won’t always know)
  • Make sure you have all your tools (part of your arsenal) to rock the crowd. There might be people at a club, festival or rave who have no clue who you are….its a reality. Don’t forget that you’re there to entertain, to bait and switch…. sometimes it’s okay to give people something that’s relatable. That’s where the balance is.(Starting out as a primarily HipHop DJ gave her another tool to use-because Hip Hop audiences usually only dance to shit they know (truth lol) and that’s the commercial aspect of it. But she was able to squeeze in stuff during sets back then- she really understood the art of DJ’ing, whether it was with Downtempo or Hip Hop

 

What about the way women connect on an emotional level with what they do musically and artistically (Production/DJ’ing/Music?)  I shared with Heather  recording artist Kelela’s Opinion piece from earlier this year at  Resident Advisor and it  then spurred a whole conversation on how to proceed beyond that context. She clearly has had different experiences but the future is here. She says, ‘All Women, Women of colour,Transwomen and LGBTQ groups- these are the voices in vogue now…how long will this platform be in place? Will it stay a trend? Being in the industry for as long as she has been-she doesn’t really feel that it’s no longer about the ‘shine’ on music or artists that has changed-it’s just something people are used to now. After all IT IS entertainment. But women have always been behind the scenes and contributing for a long time. From management, to artists, to DJ’ing, to production and just now we’re seeing women as par for the course. Her advice with these changes is to take advantage of this platform, the visibility, the people paying attention and to not be afraid to ask questions and speak out-especially within a learning capacity. If people think you’re being ridiculous it’s okay….don’t worry about the boys club. There are plenty of women,spaces and places where you can find help, get questions answered, obtain resources from blogs, online and printed media outlets and even platforms like YouTube tutorials for example to learn production, DJ’ing techniques and still maintain anonymity. Feel free to learn your craft the way you’d like.

Just like any other city in the world Toronto’s tempo has changed and what people enjoy has changed as well. DJ Heather from sister city Chicago is excited to still be able to play from a fresh spectrum and it sounds like that! Second City Sessions is a collaborative project that was born from their (DJ Colette and DJ Heather’s) House of OM CD release back in 2006 when they toured and traveled with Fred Everything and Andy Caldwell. Fans love to hear Colette and Heather spin together and they deliver the synergy that works between them whenever they play. DJ Heather will be playing alongside Gene Farris, Jason Hodges,Teeloo and Mike Gleeson on Saturday July 27, 2018 after the lunar eclipse at Toronto’s CODA-it’s gonna be an electric one!!!

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