ORANGE talked to Joaqu.n about Austin’s growing club scene, and his trajectory as an up-and-coming DJ and producer.
Story by Anaya Green
Photos courtesy of Joaqu.n
For decades now, Austin has marketed itself as the “live musical capital of the world,” and by all intents and purposes, that moniker is rightfully owned. The bar and club scene is incredibly lively, and many establishments rely on the work of DJ’s in order to distinguish their venues amongst the vast sea of bars and nightclubs scattered across Austin’s social landscape. This observation led us to ask, what role does the DJ play within Austin’s live music culture? In what ways do they (and the patrons that support their work) push the culture forward, and in what ways might they be playing it safe?
ORANGE spoke with up-and-coming Austin DJ, Joaqu.n, about his take on the DJ scene and how he developed his craft over the last several years. He tells us a bit about his creative process, his influences, and his personal take on what it means to be a DJ in this city.
Tell us a bit about how you got into DJ’ing.
I was really a photographer first. About 3 years ago I started taking pictures while I was living in Houston. I had been photographing events for over a year a half, until one day… my camera broke. Instead of buying a new camera, which is what I saved up for, I bought a DJ controller.
When did you play your first set?
I was throwing a party for a friend, and he couldn't find a DJ that he actually liked, so I decided to play the DJ set myself. I had a Macbook and I was using Ableton. I was playing music on my laptop and everybody got drunk, myself included (laughter). An hour later, I come back to my computer and it was soaking wet, so I lost everything I had ever made. I had been producing music for almost 6 months at that point. I remember being super sad, and I stopped making music for awhile. But I've always wanted to produce, that's really my main focus. I eventually started making music again, but I was finally making the music that I really liked.
From your youth and your upbringing, what kind of music where you into?
Well, I'm Venezuelan. I've been here for 10 years, (I'm 25 now). My brother listened to a lot of American Pop like NSYNC and Britney Spears, a lot of Disney music, but also of course a lot of Venezuelan music and Venezuelan hip hop. As I got older, right before I left Venezuela, I started to really get into it. The culture is crazy over there. So when I moved to the US, I naturally got into American rap and hip hop.
Tell us more about the hip-hop scene in Venezuela.
Over there, the culture is super underground. Like, the biggest rappers are broke as fuck, they'll just get together and beatbox. Venezuelan hip hop is very street, it's very rock. The country is in a very shitty situation. It's very insecure, and very very dangerous, so it's that real favela life. The beats are still boom bap. The rappers there really exercise in terms of flow. And there's really no mainstream over there. It's very raw compared to here in the US where hip hop is very accessible.
What are some artists, producers, and DJs that you're really feeling at the moment?
I’m really into this 19 year old Houston SoundCloud producer called Days Away. I also like Skepta, Toro y Moi, Kaytranada, Anderson Paak, Future, and Buddy. I love Kaytranada because he can produce so many different sounds. He can make a hard-ass trap beat and dance music as well, and he also makes, sample based, low fi boom bap, extraterrestrial shit. Kaytranada’s “99.9%” album is great. Every time I listen to that intro I wanna go make new beats. The intro from that album is mind blowing every time.
On the topic of making beats, from both a technical and creative standpoint, what does that process look like for you?
It's either me sitting down at the computer for hours and coming up with the shittiest stuff I’ve ever done, or me snapping in a random moment, I drop everything and finish three songs at one time. I strictly make music on my laptop, no media controller or anything. I usually start a track by laying down the chord progression, adding drums and just going crazy on it, or I'll chop a sample and put it on there. It has to be organic. Every time I tell myself that I've got to make music, it never works out. It always happens when I’m not expecting to make it.
You recently got a new residency at The Eastern on Saturday nights. Congrats on that! What was the process of getting that gig? Do you feel like you have to prove yourself as a DJ?
100%. I've been DJ’ing for about a year now, and I've played at a lot of the bars in Austin, so I began to grow an audience that I was comfortable with. Playing at the Eastern is a little more difficult because I can't come every weekend with the same set, and the hardest thing is having an engaging set. I like to keep the audience on their toes, hit them with shit they don't expect. For example, I will never play “Back That Ass Up”. I will never play the old club hits. There are some of course that you've gotta play though, but there has to be a balance. I'm gonna play what I want. I don't take requests, I don't conform.
As far as getting that residency, it took a lot of hard work but I really got a lot of support around Austin. One day I posted on my Instagram story saying, “These clubs need to stop sleeping on me, I need to get a residency,” and I got a message from “When Where What” in my inbox right away asking me for a list of places that I wanted to DJ, so they pulled the strings for me, and it all just worked out.
Tell us about your set “The Nu Wave.”
The Nu Wave is new energy, it's the coolest dance party happening in Austin right now. I just wanted to play music that doesn't get played, but that people still react to. I'll play anything from Kaytranada, to Skepta, Playboi Carti and mixtape era Lil’ Wayne, Three 6 Mafia, and N.E.R.D. It's just a dope dance party with dope visuals.
You mentioned your use of video as an enhancement to your set. How do you create that intersection between visual art and the music you're playing?
I made a fake “TV” channel, a 30 minute video segment that includes music videos and interviews or shows that I like. I use fake commercial breaks that advertise the event as if it were a TV show. I make a different one every week. I feature local artists in these videos and I record it on a VHS quality camera. During the set, I have a big flatscreen behind me playing these videos in conjunction with a projector that shows cool visuals that add to the music.
What did you think was missing from other Austin DJs that you wanted to bring with this particular project?
I think what a lot of DJs are missing is the ability to take risks... You walk down sixth street and every bar is playing the exact same playlist. And the sad thing is, I think a lot of Austin DJs are super talented, technically. I know how to mix a little bit but I'm not really a “good DJ.” But that's why people fuck with it. That's why the venue gets packed every weekend, because people want to hear something different. I think I just knew what Austin needed, not to say that I'm the only one who could bring that.
I plan on leaving Austin next year and moving to New York and I hope to leave the energy here. I want to put other artists on. I just wanna help grow the scene while I'm here.
Ultimately, what role do you think DJ’s play within the Austin bar, club, and/or music scene?
Our role in Austin is to, and I don't want to sound like a snob, but to make sure that the culture isn't so commercialized. If you're gonna play the same shit that you can hear at any club anytime, you're really just hurting the culture.
What advice would you give to someone interested in DJing and gaining a following?
Taking advantage of the internet is so important. If your social media isn't on point, if you don't have cool pictures, if you look like a regular person, chances are, your work is not gonna stick. You've gotta be appealing, you've gotta catch the eye and you've got to do it quick.
So really, it’s not just about the music anymore, it's also the persona behind it?
Yeah, definitely, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. You've just go to be captivating in every way.
You can hear Joaqu.n’s set at The Eastern on Saturdays 10:00pm - 2:00am.