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Written by Jeni C. Wilson
“Not only is DJ Shortee dubbed “The World’s Premier Female DJ!” by the Grammy Foundation, “Queen of the Scratch World” by DJ Times, the only female DJ in the critically acclaimed Documentary “SCRATCH” but she also happens to be uniquely kind, honest, and so inspiring I’m about to step up my game.
Magnetic was lucky enough to get an exclusive interview with the internationally known DJ, skilled Turtablist, published author and owner of record labels 5 Star Records and Heavy Artillery Recordings (these are just a few on her list of accomplishments).
If you are a fan already, her answers resemble her music, vibrant, profound, charismatic (I actually just wrote magnetic, which she is and by the way so is the name of our magazine!). If you don’t know who DJ Shortee is, continue reading, you might find an extra pep in your step today. Don’t worry, it’s not obvious and we promise not to tell you got it from a “Girl” DJ.”
Jeni: HI SHORTEE, HOW ARE YOU TODAY? MAY I CALL YOU SHORTEE?
Shortee: Haha, I’m doing great and yes! My homies also call me Shortness or Shannon, whatever works best for ya.
Jeni: WHAT WAS THE FIRST RECORD YOU EVER BOUGHT, OR RECEIVED, AND HOW OLD WERE YOU?
Shortee: I don’t remember the exact record I received because I was still in diapers but my first collection consisted of Strawberry Shortcake, Alvin & the Chipmunks and Disney records. I was also really into soundtrack records like “Annie” and “Grease” and I would put on shows for my stuffed animals with them. I still have all of those records! The first record I ever bought was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” when I was in the 3rd grade so I must have been 7 or 8 years old I think.
Jeni: DID YOU GROW UP IN A MUSIC PROMINENT ENVIRONMENT, OR WAS IT AN OUTSIDE INFLUENCE THAT ATTRACTED YOU TO IT?
Shortee: I grew up playing music. My dad is a composer and musician and my mom always encouraged me to be creative in a variety of ways including music, theater and art. I started playing drums & percussion when I was 7 and also dabbled in piano, violin & trumpet as I grew older. I stuck with drums & percussion as my main focus and played in all the bands and ensembles up through high school. My favorite was playing snare drum in the marching band. Certified band geek ;O)
In college I played drums in a punk rock jam band which was slightly higher on the “cool” scale but of course I cancelled that bit of coolness out by also playing in my university’s classical percussion ensemble. Band nerds represent!
Jeni: WHAT WAS IT THAT DREW YOU TO THAT VERY FIRST TIME YOU STOOD BEHIND TWO TURNTABLES, AND DECIDED TO MAKE YOUR OWN SOUND?
Shortee: Initially I was just curious. I was into going to clubs and raves and I really enjoyed dancing to hip hop, techno, house and breaks so I was aware of the DJ but I didn’t consider the DJ an actual musician because I thought they were just playing other people music. The first time I stood behind two turntables I was at a house party in college and there were open turntables so I asked if I could try to mix the next song in.
It was probably a combination of beginner’s luck and liquid courage but the song was Run DMC’s Peter Piper and I beat matched and mixed it in on my first try! After that I didn’t feel challenged by it so I wasn’t really interested in it until I was lucky enough to watch DJ Faust scratching records in my friends living room for the first time. I had never seen anyone scratch like that before and it blew my mind. It was extremely complex and percussive and I was instantly drawn to it.
That night Faust came out with us to a house party to watch me play drums with my punk rock band and he told me he was really impressed with my drumming skills. I told him I thought his scratching was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen and that I’d love to learn how to scratch someday. He said he thought I’d pick it up pretty quickly because when you are scratching you are using the turntable is a percussion instrument.
He offered to teach me the basics and that’s how it all started. In addition to learning scratching and beat juggling, I also began mixing progressive house, techno, breaks and hip hop. I got really into putting together trick mixes, keeping the energy high and creating a story in order to make the blends more interesting than just mixing Song A into Song B. Its been 18 years since then and although my sound has evolved considerably, the core aspects of turntablism, energy and variety haven’t changed and that’s what still keeps me interested today!
Jeni: THE FIRST TIME I HEARD PARTY ANIMAL, I LOVED IT. I THOUGHT WOW, THAT IS THE CLEANEST SCRATCHING I’VE HEARD IN AWHILE. WHEN I FOUND OUT THE DJ WAS A GIRL, I WAS SURPRISED, THEN BEING A GIRL MYSELF, SURPRISED THAT I WAS SURPRISED LOL. DID YOU GET THAT REACTION OR UNDERESTIMATED A LOT PRIOR TO BEING KNOWN?
Shortee: Haha! Yeah, I definitely got that reaction a lot and still do! At first it was really frustrating to not be taken seriously simply because of my gender and having to work 100x harder than the boys to get the same amount of respect. It was especially tough because when I started there were very few females in the game and people weren’t accustomed to seeing girls getting down and mixing records, much less scratching them and doing tricks.
Nowadays there still aren’t many chicks that scratch and juggle but there are definitely TONS of female DJs that mix so at least people are more used to seeing female DJs. I no longer get frustrated with people’s reactions because I realize that it’s a good thing to be different and it’s pretty awesome to be able to use shock value in a positive way to draw people in to what you do.
But yeah, a lot of times when people hear my scratching on mixes without actually seeing me they assume it’s a dude doing the cuts… even if they know it’s me mixing! They assume that I got some other guy to do the scratching and are shocked when they realize it was me. And to be completely honest, just like you, I would be surprised too! It’s still pretty rare!!
Jeni: WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO SUCCEED IN A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY?
Shortee: We all measure success differently but surviving in a male dominated field has definitely been a challenge. That same challenge is also one of the things that kept me striving to do my best and reach the next milestone. When I started out I literally had to show and prove in order to gain respect because people weren’t taking the concept of female DJs seriously, mainly because there were so few of us in the game.
Shortly after I started DJing I had the opportunity to be the only female member of a DJ crew with Faust, Craze (DMC Champion), Klever (DMC Champion), Shotgun, T-Rock and King James called 3rd World Citizens.
It was really challenging to keep up with them in the beginning but it also helped mold me into what I am today because they didn’t treat me like “the girl” in the group. Either I had to keep up or I was out. I didn’t give up and just worked that much harder to have my own identity in the group as an equal rather than just the “token female”. I’ve kept that same work ethic ever since in order to make my own name in the industry and strive to gain respect in my field like every artist should.
These days there are a ton of female DJs so that isn’t as much of an issue, however female artists are still objectified in a way that men aren’t which can be a bit frustrating. There are also a ton of highly influential and ground breaking female DJs and producers, however, females are still rarely included in the dialog about artists who are really contributing to the scene and at the top of their field. This also just drives me to work harder.
With all that said, at this point in my career it’s really not as much of a gender related issue any more, rather to me it’s more about the struggle to stay relevant in an over saturated and constantly evolving scene. Its really difficult to have a voice in an overcrowded market that’s dominated more by PR and less by actual talent. That is a challenge that I share with most of my peers both male & female.
Jeni: DO YOU APPROACH A NEW MIX WITH SOME SORT OF INSPIRATION OR CONCEPT? HOW DID “PARTY ANIMAL” COME TO BE?
Shortee: I don’t always have a specific concept in mind, it just really depends on the music I’m playing at the time and where I’m playing it. Regardless of theme, the music is ultimately what inspires me to record a mix. I’m always testing out various combinations of tunes to see what works and what doesn’t in a live setting and then I take the best combinations that I’ve created over time and make an entire mix out of them.
However, once in a while the stars will align and I will be super stoked with a particular live set as it is and get inspired to create a mix based on that exact set. “Party Animal” is one of those sets. I recently played a show called “Party Animals 3″ in Southbridge, MA for Mutiny Productions and that show inspired me to create the “Party Animal” mix. Its pretty much the exact same set I played at the event, mix points and all, except I added a few more tunes to round it out to 70 minutes.
Jeni: YOU’RE PLAYING NY THIS WEEKEND, HOW IS DJING THERE DIFFERENT FROM ANYWHERE ELSE? DO YOU HAVE A PREFERENCE OR A FAVORITE VENUE TYPE TO PLAY?
Shortee: Well, NYC is definitely it’s own city and there is no where else like it! That said, DJing in NY isn’t much different to me than any other large city in the world. Music transcends borders and people react very similarly to the energy in the room no matter where we play.
I don’t have a preference on places to play as long as there are people in the space digging the music. We’ve played huge festivals, small clubs and everywhere in between. Its really an insane feeling to play in front of thousands of people at once all feeling what you do. As a contrast, sometimes the smaller shows have a stronger vibe than the larger ones because they are more intimate. I love both scenarios for very different reasons.
Jeni: DO YOU STILL GO RECORD SHOPPING? AND IF SO WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE SHOPS?
Shortee: What’s a record? You mean like on iTunes? Haha, j/k ;o) Groove Merchant in San Francisco is one of our favorite shops and thrift stores are the best but we haven’t been digging in a while. We have a huge record collection and we really don’t have space left to add to it! If I do go record shopping I’m mainly looking for old jazz, funk, soul, old school hip hop or classic rock records…or children’s records, those are my favorite to collect :O)
Jeni: WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR 12 YR OLD SELF, OR PERHAPS IF YOU TEACH KIDS, ANY TIPS OR ADVICE TO A CONSISTENT DJ CAREER?
Shortee: Practice your DJ skills like crazy, learn how to produce music, create a solid “brand” for yourself and promote it like crazy. If you asked me that question 10 years ago I would have just said practice your DJ skills and the better you get at your craft the more chance you have of having a consistent career. These days very few DJs can break through without successful production credits.
Nowadays, really the only way to “make it big” as a DJ is to also be a solid producer and even with that, marketing is key to your success and longevity. In fact many of the “Superstar DJs” these days didn’t start DJing first, rather their DJing came second to production as the demand to see them “perform live” grew from their popular releases and most of them have enormous PR machines behind them promoting their brand.
With that said, I still feel strongly that solid DJ & production skills are very important because that’s what people will hear and respond to the most. So above all, practicing your craft and honing your skills are the most important factors if you want to truly gain respect in your field. It’s a lot easier to promote and sell someone that takes pride in their craft and is good at what they do. (Unless you are Paris Hilton, then none of that matters, LOL.)
Jeni: OF ALL YOUR HATS, DJ, PRODUCER, AUTHOR, RECORD LABEL OWNER, TEACHER, TURNTABLIST, WHICH TAUGHT YOU THE BEST LESSON ABOUT YOURSELF? AND IF YOU DON’T MIND TELLING US, WHAT WAS THAT LESSON?
Shortee: There is no way to narrow this down to one thing. Each one of these hats has taught me valuable lessons not only thru the process of doing them but also from the amazing people I’ve met and worked with in each facet of the industry along the way.
The most valuable lessons I’ve learned from wearing all these hats is to keep an open mind, stay humble, ignore the haters and keep learning from every experience. For me it’s been beneficial to see the industry from as many perspectives as possible. I’m continuously learning and that’s what I love most about what I do.
Jeni: Well put! If you’re in New York City on July 27th Shortee DJing along side DJ Faust as part of the duo known as Urban Assault at Glow (powered by Monster) or check out her tour schedule (on her website) for a city near you. To download “PARTY ANIMAL” her latest mix check the SoundCloud stream below.
Jeni C. Wilson is a special contributor for Magnetic and Editor-In-Chief for Crackpop