Jessy Lanza: “If you love the track you’re playing, you can convince the crowd to love it too.”
The latest installment in the prestigious DJ-Kicks series is from DJ, musician and vocalist Jessy Lanza. She’s an artist influenced by a wide range of music including soul, funk, footwork, garage and R&B and her DJ-Kicks mix, a mix she describes as “in pursuit of the bleary 4 am feeling” deftly bestrides a number of different genres and styles. The album just dropped on !K7 on November 19th and – besides a few tracks from Lanza herself – includes a brand-new collab with fellow Hyperdub artist Loraine James. Her mix also features music from DJ Swisha, TAH, Lolina, Gant and Secret Werewolf.
Who Is Jessy Lanza? She’s an award-winning Canadian musician, DJ and vocalist. She has completed a year long BBC Radio 1 residency and released a series of EPs and three albums on Hyperdub. Lanza has just put added her name to the list of DJs who have released a prestigious DJ-Kicks mix album, a list that includes DJs like Peggy Gou, Jayda G, Daniel Avery and Erol Alkan.
We spoke with Lanza about putting together her edition of one of dance music’s most prestigious DJ mix series and her approach to DJing.
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Here’s a live DJ set by Jessy Lanza from last year. Press play, settle in and get to know Jessy Lanza’s unique DJ style.
Thanks for your time today! First off, tell us a bit about your DJing. What format/kit do you usually use? What style do you play?
Thanks for the chat. So I use 2 Pioneer CDJs and a DJM 2000 NXS2 mixer. I play lots of different dance music styles and connect them using vocals, like acapellas or my own voice. I like to improvise with hardware and FX pedals when I DJ, too – anything to make the set more live.
In terms of equipment, what do you bring with you to gigs?
I bring my USBs, a mic, and a delay pedal – as well as my Toraiz SP16 for live drum loops. I have a SoundBite looper too, which is really fun to improvise with when I’m DJing. It’s a sampler and a looper that can detect BPM, which lets you experiment with the tracks you’re playing.
What’s the worst technical hitch you’ve ever had DJing? How did you deal with it?
I’ve come across mixers that have had drinks split on them, so the faders and knobs are all sticky and the headphone jack is only coming in on one side. Sometimes the booth monitors will be blown to bits and I won’t be able to hear much. In those situations, you just gotta go with it.
You were a musician before DJing, is that right? Was there a particular moment, artist, club, or track that made you decide you wanted to get into DJing?
Yes, I play keyboards and sing. I saw Kode9 DJ at Mutek in Montreal and he really inspired me to try DJing myself. He used a lot of samples like dialogue from movies and TV. I’ve seen him DJ a few times since then and I love how he layers the samples with the tracks and creates a collage effect. Each time I’ve seen him play, he always makes his DJ sets really fun and unique.
Can you tell us one of your very best DJ moments?
They’re all pretty sweet moments, to be honest. A memory that sticks out is one time I was chatting with the person sitting next to me on the plane on the way to the show. I told them I was DJing at this club and they asked if I’d put them on the guest list. I honestly thought there was zero chance this person would show up to my gig since I went on from 3 to 6 am, but I put them on the guestlist anyway. When my set finished at 6, I looked out at the crowd and I saw this person standing out there – which was a pretty awesome surprise. I never saw the person again, but I thought it was sweet they came.
Tell us about putting the DJ-Kicks mix together. Did you work out exactly what you were going to play, play it by ear, or a bit of both?
I had decided what tracks I would include in the DJ-Kicks, but not the order. I experimented with the track sequence and recorded a few different passes of the mix. It came together when I reassembled the live takes afterwards and sang over the mix. Sequencing my vocals throughout the DJ-Kicks mix really helped me to tie it all together. (Editor’s note: you can listen to the DJ-Kicks album, as well as buy the digital release, record/vinyl, or compact disc on Bandcamp).
There’s a nice wide range of genres on the mix. Lots of newer DJs can find transitioning between different tempos tricky and often end up playing it safe. Do you have any practical tips on mixing between vastly different tempos or styles?
It’s fun to do something people might not expect, so I like to bring an FX pedal (I find that the Memory Boy or Eventide Time Factor are both fun to use). Sometimes I’ll use the mic input on the mixer and sing along with the tracks, or improvise vocals and create a new sound collage to play with in the mix.
Do you use the EQs and filters much? Any tips for young DJs?
Filters and EQs are nice for getting out of a trainwreck situation. It’s also fun to layer acapellas over percussive loops that may be in different keys. This is where the EQ comes in handy because you can cut out all the low end to reduce tonal clash. My advice is to be confident and don’t shy away from filtering your way quickly out of a bad mix.
There’s some re-editing and FX on the mix – can you tell us about this, and share how you’ve put your personal stamp on a DJ set?
I am a singer and I’m drawn to vocals and melodic hooks, so it felt right to have my vocals tie my DJ-Kicks mix together. When I DJ out, I use a Toraiz SP16. It’s a really powerful sequencer and sampler, and it’s very fun to get drum loops going and improvise while I’m DJing. It also syncs really easily to the CDJs if you bring an ethernet hub and a few extra cables. That way, you can get the BPM on the Toraiz synced with whatever tempo the CDJs are at.
Do you have any general DJing FX tips or tricks you could share with our readers?
To practice a lot and have fun experimenting with all of the parameters on whichever effect you decide to use.
What’s the best DJing advice you’ve ever been given?
Commit to your track selection and really get to know the songs inside and out. The more you re-listen, the more you’ll hear. It’s also easy to get overwhelmed by flooding your Rekordbox with too many tracks. Commit to the tracks you love, practice over and over with them, and you’ll find lots of ways to mix the tracks together so they sound different each time.
What is it that makes a tune work on a dance floor?
I think that if you love the track you’re playing you can convince the crowd to love it too.
When you’re playing out, in the mix, how do you choose your next tune?
If I’ve practised enough before the set, a pathway will usually form in my head of how to get from one track to another. Sometimes it’s fun to just go on a whim, though, and see what happens.
And finally, what does DJing mean to you?
DJing to me is about being a music fan. I really just want to share the music I love with other people and get them excited about the artists and music that I’m excited about.
Jessy Lanza’s DJ-Kicks album is available digitally now, and physically at the start of December. You can listen and pre-order it here.
Feature Photo: Jenia Filatova