DJ J-ME LEE
Photography by Samantha Allen
Interview by Esme Carty
I: What was your introduction to DJing?
J: I had an interest in it for a long long time, it really peaked when I had the opportunity and freedom to roll on my own. I was going to school at ASU Downtown living in the dorms, then I transitioned out of that and started living on my own on Grand Ave–which is legendary for living downtown. Don’t even get me started on the price, it was a while back, in 2015/2016. It was really cheap and really nice because I got the opportunity to be close to the downtown scene. I had just turned 21 so I would check out everything: 602’s day was one of those things I’d frequent, it was right up the street from me.
I: Is there any type of music that you’re drawn to in terms of mixing?
J: I feel like it’s always going to be rooted in my culture. Recently the mashups I’ve been cranking out have been more RnB, but there is the goal of expanding and showing more of the range I have.
I: I was able to see you play at Valley Bar, which was super cool. My sister and I, the whole time, were talking about how you got everybody in the room to move and connect to the music. Is that something you're aware of at the moment, controlling these people and how they feel?
J: I’m definitely aware of controlling the room, ultimately I just want to provide an experience that makes people feel good and is going to be memorable.
I: At this point in your career, have all your shows been held in Phoenix?
J: I have done a couple shows in Tucson, recently I did the Tucson Museum of Art out there. I’m actually going to be playing in Prescott in a couple of weeks.
I: Is there a dream destination to play a set?
J: Definitely somewhere overseas, I’m thinking London or the Caribbean. Out of the country for sure. My dream is definitely to have a boiler room where I can just be in my DJ era.
I: Is there any other creative aspect that you’re into that you find intertwines with DJing?
J: Absolutely! Before all of this, radio was a passion of mine, which is funny because it definitely merges with DJing but also diverts from it because a lot of people are not fans of what is on the radio. I think I got a different aspect of music and how that whole world works overall because I had the chance to be a music director which led me to schedule music in the system and learn about how that algorithm works as well as people’s perceptions.
I: I guess with the radio it is much more technical.
J: Yes, there’s a lot of aspects that coincide with programming, and creating a balance of music that doesn’t leave too much of one or the other. I had to be very mindful of the artist that was playing and not playing them again; making it so that I’m not doing two crazy ass songs next to each other, balancing it out. The radio gave me the skill of how to read the room better and what people would enjoy.
I: Is radio something you’d ever go back to, or was it a chapter in your life you learnt from but will continue moving on from?
J: The door is always open for me when it comes to opportunities, but I feel like right now I really enjoy DJing and the freedom it gives me. I like what I’m doing now and would like to dive deeper into that and produce actually, even looking at the idea of what it would be like to be a music supervisor or playlist curator at a place like Spotify. That’s only if I would want to transition into a job, but at the moment I like being my own boss.
I: That’s so exciting when there’s something you’re doing that you love but there are still doors to be opened, if wanted. Even if you were to work for a company, you would still be able to do this, there’s no shutting off of anything. With producing, would you like to produce people doing music you’re more geared toward listening to or would you be open to other genres?
J: I definitely have the pull to be a little selective with my sound and who I work with. I think with anyone investing energy into something, it is precious. It would be nice if I could work with artists that I enjoy and are still accessible to work alongside.
I: Was there a point where you realized you were in the creative community here in Phoenix?
J: It’s almost like a fire to a match. Man, I feel like a lot of places have closed down since that time, but I know for sure going to those places I got to meet a lot of people who would introduce me to more people. I would make the most of that experience being by myself, living alone at that age.
I: How did that change your perspective of life, living by yourself?
J: It’s crazy, I pride myself on the fact that I’ve been living by myself out here with no family for like at least 5-6 years, maybe even 7 years. I really feel everyone should do it, it feeds into your growth as an adult and just the way you can be curious about what you want to do with your life. My biggest battle was when I was trying to do school and I was being pushed and pulled by my family of what I should be doing with my life, and being criticized for not figuring it out. When I finally got to be by myself, quote unquote a bachelorette of sorts, it opened my eyes to the reality of the world. Who you are by yourself is the reality of who you are, I think it’s always good to have a period of your life especially when you’re an adult to experience that.
I: You’ve been DJing for six years, do you ever look back on old songs and think about what you would change?
J: I do that often. I’m always listening to my mixes; when I’m grocery shopping, working out, or driving–that’s my favorite time because I’m really experiencing it, I don’t know how to fully explain it. With my mixes I can see the growth and progress, and I look forward to seeing how I’ll sound in the future.
I: That reminds me of when an artist told me that while he was listening to his own music, someone came up to him and asked what he was listening to and when he replied that it was his own music, they thought it was weird. Which leads me to ask, when you make music, what percentage of it is for you and what percentage is for other people?
J: Hmm interesting. I’m not going to lie, especially in the day and age of Instagram, I always feel paranoid about the algorithm and my stuff slipping through that. I’m trying to learn how to be okay with not getting the reception I expected when I first put it out there. How much of it? I would say half and half. I want it to sound good, I want to be proud of it but I also believe being with the times and knowing what is trending is beneficial. I want to create a balance, if I can.
I: Have you ever created something that has gotten a better reception than you thought, or do you have a pretty good idea on how it will go?
J: It’s crazy you say all of this because it’s been more of the recent times that I’ve felt more confident in my work. I would say in the past year or two–because that’s how long it’s been since I started consistently putting out work–that I’ve been impressed with the reception. Even though it’s not a lot to many people, it’s a lot to me; I look at 300 listens as 300 people in the room with me.
I: What are the different venues you’ve done?
J: Considering this is something I’m avid on making a living out of, there have been venues that I’ve been booked for by an agency where I’ll play in hotels, bars, or different things like that. I’ve done warehouse parties, sometimes I’m doing places like Valley Bar, Crescent, Churchill. There was a point where I was DJing in a ball pit at a ball pit art installation. I did one with Complex and Hot Ones, and Oikos the yogurt brand–they had an event at Crescent for Super Bowl weekend.
I: Super Bowl weekend, what was that like?
J: Oh my god, that was crazy, I felt like I was jam packed with gigs. It was nice because I had a really broad range of different places I was playing at, like retail stores: I played in a Dolce & Gabbana. Of course there were also the private parties and day parties too.
I: Is there a show you strive to play?
J: In terms of something that already exists it would be anything happening in New York or LA, the hot spot places. I also want to try and curate something that highlights Black DJ’s that gives us a platform to express ourselves in a way that’s not the same as what you’re hearing normally at Valley Bar, it’d be dope.
Thank you so much to J-Me for taking the time to talk with us! Check out her on Instagram!