Resonant Frequencies Vol. 3 – nk badtz maru
I find it interesting that you work at a library by day and DJ by night. I see it as this harmonious balance of worlds—a library being a space where silence and introversion are customary, quite unlike a dance floor. Do you find that oscillating between these polar opposites informs your work as a DJ?
I feel really lucky to have a work situation that allows me the mental energy + logistical freedom to really shape my life around music and DJing–the office holds a stillness that gives me the opportunity to do some really deep listening at work, like truly and sincerely hearing my music. Working at the library also lets me reserve all my social energy for nightlife, which is great because then I actually have the energy to go out on weekdays and support friends who are all insanely talented DJs and musicians.
Honestly, dancing at the rave doesn’t feel like the antithesis of being self-contained and alone at the library–in fact, I find these two environments kind of parallel with each other. For me, the dancefloor isn’t really a place to socialize and be extroverted (save that for the dance break, please!). In fact, my perfect night would be where no one interacts with me in any capacity on the dancefloor, save for maybe a small hug/wave hello from a close friend or a quick “I’m sorry” if someone were to step on my foot or bump my elbow (but also I admit, I’m not the best at adhering to my own rules, oops sorry friends). Getting lost by/within yourself at the rave is one of the most liberating feelings, and I really try to take that energy of independence in the music I play out.
How important is silence to your every day life and creative decisions?
Silence is such an intense moment of tension in music, especially on the dancefloor; it’s such a simple tool that I have been trying to play with more, especially while DJing. With every moment of tension follows catharsis, and that release can be as subtle, as confusing, as hysterical, as anything really, as you want it to be. You can essentially erase everything you’ve been building towards during your set with one moment of silence, and turn the mf’ing bus around; better yet, you can erase everything during a moment of silence and then proceed with something so weird and morphed that it recontextualizes your entire set into something completely new, which is an insane, almost three-dimensional way of looking at music.
My parents are both super sensitive to noise, so I grew up in a dichotomy between being both consumed by music and also extremely comfortable in silence. I never realized how much noise was around my body until really recently actually (even after years of living in NY)–now that I think about sounds and noise more deeply, my brain has become more sensitive to all the external frequencies around me. I wear earplugs on the train and bus, and sometimes even when I'm walking around the city (really, really, not a fan of listening to music in transit because it ruins your ears and you can't hear anything). My brain feels scrambled constantly, so sitting still in silence feels like one of the only ways I can process all the scraps running around in my mind and really transform them into morsels that I can actually hold on to and be thoughtful about, instead of letting all my thoughts kind of flow in and out (ty parents for training my brain through mindfulness and meditation).
Your mix unfurls into a number of different styles, from future drum & bass, to grime, to brass-tinged & sunny house. What do you look for in your ideal mix or DJ set?
Nothing bothers me more than a really, really, boring DJ set, no matter how impressive/clean the mixing might be (fuq y'all boiler room chat room bros). A good DJ mix is obviously good selection coupled with skillful mixing, but with the advancements in technology, I think it's easier than ever for people to make stuff sound "technically" good, but have the music be totally lifeless and not very daring. Some of my favorite mixes are the ones where you can feel the energy of someone's mind constantly trying to figure out where to go next, and taking big, weird chances like no one's business–it’s the perfect balance between keeping listeners engaged but not stressed. Nothing is more exciting than feeling the tension of a transition between two tracks almost falling apart, and then hearing the DJ snatch it, save the mix, and have the track land so gracefully and blow the eff up–that's real skill in my book.
Can you speak a bit about your work with the Yellow Jackets Collective? How has dance music and DJing become a vehicle of social progress for you?
Big, big, love to YJC and all the work they do with political education and action focusing on queer Yellow-American identity (Yellow, in order to not erase those populations part of the Asian diaspora who are not East Asian-American). I’m not a member of the collective, but they are my chosen family and I respect so much about them. I met Parissah and Michelle when I was still in college, and luckily we were all little shit heads back then and didn’t become good friends with each other until I/we became more decent human beings later on.
Through YJC, I became comfortable unlearning so much bullshit our fucked up trash fire of a society teaches us growing up (fuck, it’s still hard tho). Being a queer woman of color growing up in a heteronormative white world is not cute to say the least, and the worst part is that no one will acknowledge how shitty you feel because you are not a body that our society cares about, so you end up thinking you’re alone in your anxieties and jesus fucking christ is anyone surprised that Amerikkka is as racist as it was 400 years ago (but also thinking about racism/homophobia within Yellow folks as well, and how as non-black/brown POC we also perpetuate white supremacy in our communities).
Dance music was born from black and queer communities, and no one can ever forget that; everyone else–we’re at best guests, and at worst, appropriators. Dance music has always been, and always will be, political–as a form of resistance and as a tool of power for any marginalized body. Anyone who argues that dance music shouldn’t be political is an idiot who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and they can shove it up their sweet pampered asses.
How long have you been DJing as NK Badtz Maru? What were your formative experiences as a DJ?
It’s been a sweet lil ride, I played my first show out last summer (big ups Plastic Dreams for letting me get freaky in that opening slot). My favorite experience as a DJ is probably a tie between 1) getting to play Tinashe, Princess Nokia, and jungle on a Friday night alongside Max McFarren and Stefan Ringer at Bossa Nova Scuba Club and 2) playing a basically empty happy hour b2b juke/jungle/footwork/140+ set with my girlfriend before we started dating (sappy DJ flirting smh).
As part of our mix series, we ask our contributors to choose one charity they’d like to shine a light on. Do you have a cause you’d like to let others know of?
Yes! First and foremost, fuck Red Cross and their disaster capitalism. Secondly, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance is a non-profit organization that helps provide resources and networking to local organizations fighting for environmental justice in low-income communities of color. It’s kind of fucked up how whitewashed and “elite” environmentalism is portrayed, when poor neighborhoods of color are the first groups of people climate change and environmental conditions will directly affect. I really respect NYC-EJA because they don’t try to be the loudest voice in the room- instead they step back and provide as many resources as they can while letting the people from these neighborhoods take the lead and decide what’s best for their communities.