DJING AS A FORM OF EMBODIED KNOWLEDGE
By: Lola Lilac
“In “What About,” Janet Jackson does not practice the classic “call and response” tactic used in the blues…This opens the space in the song for Janet to be both the one delivering “the truth” and a listener in the audience because she is, and will be, in need of some truth as well.” – The Velvet Rope, Ayanna Dozier
“The communicative act of bearing witness to traumatic events not only transforms traumatic memories into narratives that can then be integrated into the survivor’s sense of self and view of the world, but it also reintegrates the survivor into a community, reestablishing bonds of trust and faith in others.” - Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of the Self, Susan J. Brison
When i started djing, spring of last year, it was really just me. it was a tough time; i was mentally spiraling thinking about the worst shit (the trauma that leaves you silent… body and memories displaced). i always loved music, had a radio show in college, and had been thinking about making my own mixes… wound up with a controller in my room the day after my ex ended shit with me. i was hurt, but about the bigger painful shit that wouldn’t leave me no matter how hard i tried. however, what happened that spring between me and my dj controller has changed the way i think about control and agency.
i spent a month planning my first mix. i found this zine by mother cyborg on the internet that shared the essentials of djing (bpm, key, effects, etc). i knew i wanted to tell a story. from feeling the sweetness of a new love, to being stabbed by past triggers without even realizing how much they were impacting me, closing off with this spiral that was dictating the way i saw the world around me at the time. i felt if i could capture that whole experience in words that weren’t my own (because it’s quite fucking difficult to speak), it would put an end to the shit in my head. i made the mix: survivor distortion mix. my main bitches listened, loved, and acknowledged. however, the hurt stayed, as it usually does. what i didn’t expect to come to me though, was knowledge.
janet jackson, an artist who i’ve been feeling insanely connected to these past couple months, rearranges the call and response tactic used in the blues so that it only sonically and spiritually serves her own subjectivity in her track, “what about”. she calls out her abusive ex-husband in a way where his abuse holds no space in her own narrative. in dozier’s analysis of the track, she highlights the dual nature of jackson being a receipient of her own knowledge. this is how i felt when i was hitting the studio on my own. whatever i was creating, was returning back to me.
the nature of djing being a sound that returns immediately back to you, casts itself as a form of embodied knowledge that prompts the individual to interrogate it. i understand every dj mix as a form of embodied knowledge. whether it’s a mix intentionally curated or not, the act of selecting sounds, and merging them with other sounds, to create something new, that sounds ‘right’ (to the light inside of you), is a language of its own. it holds information, one that you create and take in at the same time. there is something incredibly resistant about producing an art while being the one to consume it at the very same time – a creation that defies time and sonic expectations informed by capitalism, gender, and other tentacles of violence that often times dictate how we create.
after i made my first mix, i was listening to it sitting on the train (the train test), and felt tears form in my eyes. this momentary union between janet jackson’s “let’s wait a while” and the opening of junglepussy’s “arugula” was not only speaking to me, but was a feeling that was inside of me. i got that shit out. through this blended microcosm of sound, a universe of feelings that were blocked from me were unleashed. i could hear echoes of my own truth. i was ready to listen to that truth -- my voice as a dj -- and learn from it over and over again.
when i was getting into djing, i was reading a lot about the history of dub reggae music and i couldn’t get over this reoccurring idea of outer space being tapped into through these buttons on these fucking sound machines. that shit is insane. the boundless, unpredictable, and enchanting nature of what lies beyond in outer space was symbolic of where i imagined myself to be thriving. all i really had to do was let myself hit those buttons, without fear. in this soundscape, pain was not centered, but if it was there, it’d be holy and wise. i started imagining how our society would (i use this next word with absolute intention), heal, if everyone who has been denied a voice, could release echoes of their truth through djing.
i went to a couple of dj sets afterwards, but the most important one was the gum show on juneteenth of 2021. it was a powerful day, i’ve come to realize; many people that were in that space are now a part of my sound community, specifically, anusha, aka, april7th2002. we connected over zines and the next thing i knew, i was sharing the barebones of djing that i knew and we were mixing sounds together. i had my first monthly slot at playground coffee shop’s radio, but was too nervous to do it alone. here was this other girl with a completely different dj style as me, but we shared similar truths.
what happens when two individuals, each with stories to tell, select songs and mix into each other? what happens when it’s not about a smooth transition, but about controlling our environment, ensuring it’s a safe one, and having a fucking good time?
i believe it’s something beyond just a mix. when we went to the studio to practice, shit was weird. we were doing weird shit. like two kids sitting on top of the monkey bars at the park, the terrain was ours, and our imaginations were overflowing. we laughed a lot. new knowledge was being created.
on october 29th, me and april7th2002 threw our first dj set at mayday space in brooklyn: “DJing against violence: drinks, dancing, merch, and inner peace”. that night was really special for me. we had no idea what to expect but we made t-shirts, bought too many cans of modelo, and invited all our friends. i knew of the icarus collective before the set and anusha said they were gonna help us set up. i remember tyler, aka, akira, pulling up with a whole VHS camcorder and stickers that read me and anusha’s names on them.
i didn’t even know tyler or the icarus collective like that but that blind faith in our story is something that has challenged and rebirthed my own sense of self in a very radical way – a way that only love can do. that night, i knew i was going to play lukewarm’s song, “happy feet runtz” – something about that chaka khan beat carrying hazy broken body words really spoke to me. little did i know, playing that track was not only the start of a new friendship, but we were going to drop a fucking jungle remix tape three months later. on some whiteboard that was in the space, one of my homies, tyrell, wrote: “we basked in the darkness, no longer consumed by fear or anger. now his demons empower him”. yeah. that’s exactly what was happening. we were basking in the darkness.
a lot has happened since: two self-made zines about djing, poetry, and healing, a bunch of playground b2bs, my own mini mixes about stupid shit like my TMJ issues, a rave at LES skatepark where i met another now dear homie, swami, being at the studio mixing between the icarus collective’s beats and tracks, fuck, producing lolawarm: the grunge jungle remix tape vol. 1 with lukewarm… new history is being written.
i see the future different for myself, and it’s not about the amount of production. fuck no. after i went through tough shit (the shit that got me silent), i started skateboarding. there was power in being the one who was beating myself up physically, not someone else. i had a couple skater friends and would most often hit up fatkid, but never LES skatepark. was too scared. fast forward four/five years, april7th2002 is mixing with long ass neon blue acrylics on and making these people mosh like… crazy. the act of djing is an exhibition of a multidimensional and time-transcending consciousness. listening to someone else’s narrative [dj mix] reforges our relationships with each other; it “reestablished bonds of trust and faith” that i believed were inaccessible for me. i’m listening to her mix, riding some kids loose ass skateboard drunk as hell after my own set, thinking to myself, i made it to les skatepark. and i didn’t do it alone. even if i wasn’t the one djing in that moment, april7th2002’s dj consciousness was in my knees while i was skating. healing doesn’t happen in isolation. dj, aka, anti, who i rekindled a friendship with over tekken, bollywood, and jungle music at some other rave, got that shit all on camera.
besides this piece of writing being a deep statement of gratitude for everyone who has been a part of my own personal reclamation, i hope this can offer an alternative tool of access into ourselves as individuals and collectives. djing is a form of consciousness, that i believe, if everyone has the tools and access to tap into, can possibly change the course of how we communicate, learn, and imagine ourselves and each other. i learned how to dj from a zine and taught my friend. shit needs to be a skill taught in public schools and libraries, but i am grateful for these tools that community and friendship has nurtured me with. yeah, healing doesn’t happen in isolation.
if you know how to dj, teach a friend. make mixes for your crush. make one for your mom. beat the shit out of your abuser(s) in another. throw your friend’s music in there. make your own song and throw that shit in there. archive your mixes. revisit them. yeah. djing is most definitely about the community before the sound.