Her wise words ‘You have to keep evolving as an artist to stay relevant’ rings so true. DJ Icon’s illustrious 20 year career has been touched with elements from the early days of Cybertrance (F-8) to the deserts of Burningman’s bass heavy sonic warriors Opulent Temple. Dark Beauty celebrates the launch of her new EP with Deekline (Hot Cakes) featuring soulful disco funk basslines, breaks and vocal sample hooks galore. It’s our pleasure to bring her story and musical journey to our readers…
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Tragic Glamour Photography
Where were you born and where are you now?
I was born in Kowloon, Hong Kong but grew up in the Bay Area. Besides a three-year stint in New York City, I lived in San Francisco for the last 20 years. Now I’m a proud resident of Oakland.
Let’s go into the early days of your DJ career, when and how did that start?
I look back on the early days with such fond rave nostalgia (rave-stalgia). I started raving in 1996 when I was 16 during the mid-90’s Bay Area underground rave era when there were awesome massives at warehouses — Home Base being the most famous — that raged until 9am. Before I discovered raving, I was into skateboarding, Punk Rock and Metal so I was already identifying with an anti-establishment counter-culture. When I discovered dance music, it opened my eyes, ears and heart to a whole new fabulous world based on dance and P.L.U.R. (Peace Love Unity Respect) that I immediately identified and fell in love with. It gave me a sense of belonging I’ve never felt before. I was going to parties every weekend seeing Bay Area legends like DJ Dan, Garth, Jeno, Carlos, Dutch, but it wasn’t long before I met the F-8 crew. Mars and Mystre were pushing a new sound called “Cybertrance”, which was basically just German Trance, with their record store and underground Trance parties and inspired me to become a DJ myself. I was “entranced” with this genre of music because it was melodic, uplifting, spiritual and fun. It didn’t take long for me to start collecting records from F-8 and my older sister, who was my legal guardian at the time, helped me buy my first Technics 1200 turntables and mixer. I practiced for hours each day and played out in public for the first time in 1997 at an F-8 weekly at an old venue called Boomerang on Haight Street, which is now Milk. I quickly rose in the ranks of the underground, built up my name and following in the Bay Area and before long, started playing nationally and internationally. I eventually “graduated” from playing raves to clubs and festivals. I still love playing at raves sometimes, it brings me back to a happy place in my life. I always say you can take the girl out of the rave but you can’t take the rave out of the girl! :)
Let our readers know the genres of dance music you play and what has been the lure of that sound for you?
I was known in the beginning of my DJ career for Trance/Hard NRG until I reinvented myself as a Breaks DJ around 2000 after playing at a rave in Vancouver and really digging the Nu-Skool Breaks sound that I heard from a DJ named Dig-Dug. From then on I was hooked on Breaks, I loved the rhythm of the broken beat and dirty sound of the 808 basslines. Until around 2008, I was playing mostly Breaks, I think that’s the genre most people associate with me. I expanded my musical repertoire around 2008 with Electro House and Bass Music so now I consider myself an open-format DJ. You’ll hear me playing everything from Breaks to Bassline House, Future House, Electro House, Trap, Twerk, Dubstep, Glitch-Hop. I like to play tracks with vocals, stay on top of what’s current and of course — like any good DJ — always play what’s appropriate for each dancefloor. Above all, I love giving people Bass Face and making them dance!
What are your feelings on the DJ culture in San Francisco, pros and cons:
In my opinion, the DJ culture in San Francisco is unparalleled in the states. There has always been such a strong sense of community and camaraderie between DJs from various crews and factions of the Bay Area nightlife; there is much more focus on inclusiveness than purism. I’m happy and honored to have been invited to play at such a diverse mix of events ranging from the rave, club and Burning Man circuits throughout the years and am so proud of everyone keeping the San Francisco dance music scene alive.
Congrats on an impressive 20 years! You live the dream, follow your passion and do it with such finesse. During your many travels around the globe what has stood out the most for you?
Thank you! I’m very lucky to have been able to travel to many cities and countries throughout my career. I love traveling and experiencing other dance music scenes and cultures. What’s amazing about music is that it knows no language, race or religion. When I play in a different city or country, I really enjoy meeting and talking to people at the parties, even if they don’t speak English. I’ve found that people everywhere in the dance music culture are the nicest, most welcoming and supportive people I’ve ever met and I’ve formed long-lasting friendships with people from all over the world because of music.
How has the passing of David Bowie impacted you and what did he mean to you?
When I found out David Bowie passed away, I immediately hoped it was a hoax and that he was still alive. As any child of the 80’s, I remember watching his videos when I was a kid on MTV and thinking he was so cool; I’ve pretty much held him up to idol status ever since. It’s especially sad because each innovative, iconic artist that leaves us also leaves a big hole that can’t be filled with just any cookie-cutter pop megastar.
I remember watching you on MTV as the DJ on an internationally syndicated MTV series. What were the high points for you during that time?
As you know, I was the DJ on the MTV dance competition show, The Wade Robson Project. It was a great experience and opened a lot of doors for me in the music business. I had never been on the set of a TV show before that and all of a sudden, I had my own trailer, stylist, hair stylist, makeup artist; I was meeting the celebrities who were guest judges and getting driven around in limos! It was really cool to learn how TV show production works and have that experience under my belt. After that I was signed to a big talent agency named Chaotica (now defunct), they booked me on some of the biggest shows, festivals and lineups I’ve ever played to date.
How have you grown and what have you learned from the early days of your musical journey?
Well, besides age, in the past 20 years I’ve grown so much as a person and an artist, and now as a mother. I’ve learned you have to keep evolving as an artist to stay relevant. The game has changed so much since I first started out, it used to be that DJs could have a big name just being a DJ but now you also have to put out music and have a big social media following to keep up with the kids who are killing it right now. I’ve had some good releases on Illeven Eleven Recordings and remixes out on other labels like Rat Records but now I need to devote more time into putting out music especially after taking a 6-month hiatus from music altogether when I had my son, Xander, who was born very prematurely and is now 18 months old. Taking a break was necessary so I could devote to being a Mom but I never planned on giving up music, which has defined who I am for more than half my life, so I’m more determined than ever to stay in the game.
What advice could you give to our younger readers?
Don’t be a purist and remember that dance music isn’t just about the “Drop”. EDM is a term that was recently coined for the mainstream but there are so many other brilliant genres of electronic music out there to explore.
I love a variety of foods but Sushi definitely is my fave. I can eat it everyday and try to eat sustainable fish when I can. Here is a great guide for sustainable seafood from Greenpeace.
What’s in your ipod?
I am always listening to music and have very extensive and eclectic taste. I listen to a lot of Bass Music right now but I also listen to Chill-out, Alt, Punk, Metal, Hip-Hop and R&B. It’s funny looking through my recent history on Spotify because it’s so random but that works for me: different sounds for different mood! Some music I’ve been listening to: Puscifer, Tool, David Bowie, Deekline, KMFX, Wuki, Crywolf, Kill the Noise, DJ Krush, Martyparty, Ellie Goulding, Little Boots, Dub FX, Ignite, Pennywise, Flux Pavilion, Husky Rescue, Faith No More, Purity Ring, Too Many T’s and Bloc Party.
With so many accomplishments under your belt what will you be focusing on now?
Like I mentioned before, this year I am focusing on putting out more music and DJ mixes. I have a new EP with Deekline coming out on his Hot Cakes label on February 15 that I’m super excited about. It has two Breaks tracks and one Twerk track, they are all FIRE! We’re also in the process of bringing back another Illeven Eleven party in San Francisco since we haven’t done one in a few years and the last ones did so well. I’m about to launch v.6 of my djicon.com website, which I’ve neglected to do for a couple years but it’s definitely time for a new look and feel. Lastly, I’m working hard with my Burning Man camp, Opulent Temple, of which I am a core team member and board member for our non-profit entity. This year we want to focus on doing more charity work in the community while we plan our annual fundraiser events. You’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more from me this year!
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
I’ve always appreciated beauty in all forms, but especially in the non-traditional sense. I have always loved body art and have a lot of tattoos, including a full back piece done in beautiful traditional Japanese style. I believe that the standard of beauty isn’t what the media tells it is; it comes from within by expressing yourself through music, art, fashion, body manipulation or whatever makes you feel fierce and powerful, regardless of your body type or color of skin. I think it’s great that the Alt-modeling scene has really taken off to give a platform for beautiful women of all shapes and sizes that don’t fall into the media’s unrealistic beauty standards. In many ways, we still live in a repressed society so I think it’s beautiful for someone to break the mold and channel their inner darkside without inhibitions; the photos in this set were so much fun to take because I did just that and I’ve never felt so fierce!