Q P & A (Pelonkey & Alkimist) with another of our fave DJs, DJ Alkimist. She's classically trained in viola, and didn't you know formal teaching translates nicely into rockin' deep house parties? Read on.
P: How long have you been DJing?
A: Professionally, for about five years now. I’m actually a classically trained musician. I’ve been playing viola for almost my entire life, and I taught myself violin shortly after that. When I moved out to DC [from Washington state] I had for whatever reason stopped playing. I missed music. The Beat Refinery had just opened; I took classes, and I learned from other Pelonkey DJs; Stylus Chris & As-One taught me how to DJ and how to get back into music.
It's totally different from the classical scene. When I moved out here I was just looking for adventure. Getting into the artist and DJ scene, those have been so fun. The more I get involved with it, the more people I meet... it's a really solid good group of people.
P: How did you go from taking classes to playing professionally?
A: I had a job in DC - I was an executive assistant and hated it - but the timing worked out really well. When I was finishing up my education at Beat Refinery I got fired from my other job. There was a moment of me sitting in my apartment thinking Wow, I have no job, and I’m living in one of the most expensive cities. With nothing to fall back on, what if I just try the DJ thing? I’m going to roll with it and see what happens. I put myself out there. I was writing my information on napkins for people, crashing gigs, crashing places where corporate people were, saying "If you need a DJ for your party, call me!" Stuff like that. For some crazy reason it all worked out.
P: What was your first official DJ spot where you realized, "I’m making a name for myself"?
A: I got an opening spot at Josephine for DJ Impulse, which was really cool, and I booked a company holiday party.
This is a wild story: It was my birthday, and I was celebrating at the 9:30 Backbar, and there was a guy there who had heard of Beat Refinery. I said, “I’m a DJ!” and he said "Really? Our company is looking for a DJ for our holiday party." I wrote my email address on a napkin and gave it to him. He asked me what my rate was, I named a number that at the time I thought was really high, and they said, "Great! You're hired!" That's when I thought, Woah, I could make this work, but I need to organize it better.
P: Have you been able to combine your viola training with DJing?
A: DJing is all music theory. Everything I studied as a classical artist has come into play. In terms of combining the two, it's still an experiment. I have an electric viola, and it's been fun to plug that in to crazy pedals, loop pedals, and beats - I also produce music - and I’ve been thinking of putting together beats that I’ve made and doing crazy effects and viola stuff on top of that. Maybe adding in a vocal element too.
P: DJing is music theory?
A: A really good DJ, whether they’ve been trained or not, has a good understanding of keys that sound good together when you’re mixing or blending songs, keeping things in complementary keys, and all of the counting and phrasing and beat matching. All of that is music theory.
P: What genre do you play?
A: Right now I play everything. I have a lot of open format gigs, so depending on the crowd, you could literally be playing everything from reggaeton to EDM to hip-hop. For a year and a half to two years, I had a deep house party that was a weekly thing that was really cool.
P: What do you love to play most?
A: I really love super underground stuff that people hear and go, "Oh my God, what is this?" and you’ve been digging for weeks to find the coolest tunes that no one has heard before. I really like bass [jungle bass] and new funk, alternative R&B, some latin music, future house, all of that stuff.
P: What kinds of gigs do you play?
A: I do a lot of clubs and bars, I’ve done fashion shows and artist exhibitions, a lot of private parties, corporate parties, birthday parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, divorce parties. Just everything and anything. In-store gigs. I love just watching people come in, and they’re grooving and dancing. You never see people dancing while they’re shopping; it's so fun.
P: Anything crazy that has happened that stands out?
A: Recently I opened at Soundcheck for Anevo. I'd never spun at Soundcheck, and I rolled in and they had this huge LED screen. They put my logo up there, and the crowd was amazing. They were all loving it, having so much fun. I don't know if I’ve ever played for a group where 100% of them were super happy, wanted to be there, loved the music. I didn’t even know how to contain myself. I was really happy with the whole thing. Then Anevo showed up, and he was like, "Hey, do you wanna keep going for another half hour?" He could tell I was out of my mind having so much fun. And I got to play all deep and future house, so that was fun, too.
P: What's it like hunting for new songs all the time?
A: Oh man, I love it. Before I had lots of gigs, in the beginning days when I had one gig a week, I would spend 40 hours a week getting music. I’ve become more efficient with how I find it. I'm part of a couple record pools, but for the cool underground stuff, you have to dig for it. I scour music blogs, Soundcloud, cool YouTube channels that will put up artists that nobody has heard of but are making cool music. I look at sites like beatport, but mostly I just have a list of blogs I go through.
P: Do you plan out your set before your gig?
A: [Laughs] No, I usually roll in and do it all on the fly.
P: Even with thousands of songs?
A: My organizational systems need some work, but I start with the venue; sometimes they’ll give you guidelines: 'we want to hear these genres,' but if it's an open format, I already know like 5,200 songs that are good party starters but aren’t bangers, so you won’t be giving everything away in the beginning. A lot of times I'll sneak in stuff that I like that's still dance-y to test it out. I squeeze it in between two good songs that I know they’ll love, so just in case it fails I can say, "Just kidding!"
P: Favorite song right now
A: The Major Lazer remix of Nobody Has to Know by Kranium - I love listening to it, dancing, playing, watching people dance to it. I've been addicted to it ever since I heard it first come out.
Ready to book DJ Alkimist yet? We know, we know, she's fantastic. No really, we know. One of our featured entertainers and a sweetheart to boot, she will rock your party socks off.