TOKiMONSTA doesn’t need you to give her music a genre
Since first cutting her teeth in the vibrant LA future beats scene and signing to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, TOKiMONSTA (aka Jennifer Lee) has built a rep as one of the most innovative producers in the game.
Her live sets are a smorgasboard of styles, influences and off-kilter samples, while her albums (from 2010’s Midnight Memories to last year’s Fovere) take as much from hip-hop history as they do from modern electronic music.
Before she lands in Sydney next week to headline Boiler Room and Budweiser’s ‘Discover What’s Brewing’ party, inthemix asked TOKi a few questions about her ever-changing sound, her push into working with vocalists, and what the gradual collapse of genres means for dance music.
You started out on Brainfeeder and later released an album through Ultra Records. Now that you run your own label, do you consider yourself an underground or commercial artist?
I don’t really think there is any artist that is completely underground or commercial. At least, it’s difficult to dictates what those labels mean. I think of myself as an artist that makes music — if it is considered one way or another, I’m cool with that so long as I don’t have to change what I do.
You work with vocalists on most of your singles now. Is that the plan for all your music moving forward?
Not necessarily. I definitely make it a point to always have instrumental music in all my projects. The singles tend to pick themselves and most times the vocal tracks end up being the ones that are noticed first.
Your sound is famously genreless, and you’ve spoken about not wishing to box yourself in by categorising your music. Has that ever been hard when working to promote your own brand of music?
It definitely has been. Especially when I’m constantly asked to describe my music — I have no idea how to answer that question. I think by existing as I have been, people have begun to inherently “get” that I’m not any one way.
Moving on from that – the boundaries between genres seem to be collapsing more and more, particularly between hip-hop and dance. Where do you see that relationship going over the next few years?
“If I am a woman of colour and my music was shit, I don’t expect a headlining spot at Coachella.”
I totally agree. I think music is getting homogenised to some degree. However, the general public is becoming more open minded and the melding of any genre is possible now.
Your new album Lune Rouge is out in October. What’s been the biggest change in your sound between Fovere and this one?
I think taking a step forward and trying to keep true to what I see as my vision. It’s hard not to get swayed by large trends in music as you grow as an artist, but I’m proud of this body of work and I really didn’t have to change all that much — just advance.
There’s been a lot of discussion over the last couple of years about women in dance music, how have you felt watching that play out?
It’s great! There are more woman producing than ever before and recognition of that is happening. If anything, the issues surrounding equality in this sphere is being publicised and there is more awareness. I’m looking forward to seeing where this will go.
Do you think festivals and promoters do enough to further diversity in the industry?
I believe they try. I’ve always believed that respect is earned and not expected. If I am a woman of colour and my music was shit, I don’t expect a headlining spot at Coachella. However, if my music and credibility is the same as some dude and he’s booked and not me, that would be suss. Recognising talent and art is up to bookers.
You’re very familiar with the local Aus scene, and I know one time you were working on music with Ta-Ku. Are there any other Aussie collabs on the horizon?
I’m not sure. There are many Australian musicians I regard highly and I’d be down to collaborate with any of them.
“The general public is becoming more open minded and the melding of any genre is possible now.”
You appeared on DJ Hanzel’s One Deeper Talks earlier this year, what was it like shooting that scene?
He’s a weird guy. The whole thing was weird. I mean, cool weird. Just kidding, just normal weird. Weird is fun, so there’s that.
We run a series on artist’s disaster gigs. Is there a gig that sticks out to you as being a massive disaster, or where something went really wrong?
There was this time I had left all my gear in an uber four hours from this festival I was playing. I had to borrow someone else’s gear and computer to play my set, but then the controller wouldn’t work. It was awful. It was the first time I cried after a show.