[Interview] Crankin’ It With Mija
Sitting in front of me is Amber Giles, better known as mija, one of the newest members of the OWSLA crew and co-producer of the chart-climbing track “Crank It.” I’d like to say I felt overly prepared for this interview, as I’ve been in love with mija’s sets since her breakout b2b set with Skrillex at Bonnaroo, and even went so far as to espouse the transcendental nature of her “fk a genre” mix, but my preparation in this instance still felt immensely lacking. Running fifteen minutes late for the half-hour interview before her first New York City show, I finally locate the elusive green room and am welcomed by a smiling mija, ready to grant an interview to OnlyTheBeat, but more importantly, willing to have a conversation with a die hard fan.
So I’ve just sat down with an artist who, no doubt, will be a rising star throughout 2015 and beyond, and my mind kind of turns to mush. What am I supposed to ask? There’s tons of generic information out there already that doesn’t need to be republished in detail simply because she said it to me. We all know about the Skrillex thing. We all know about her working with co-producer Ghastly (and featuring Lil’ Jon; what?!) on “Crank It.” And no one wants to hear the decreasingly novel, increasingly cliché, question, “What’s it like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry?” (For the record, I would assume she takes a stance very similar to Annie Mac given what she has said in the past, though she did not directly tell me this.) So I needed to figure out some questions that people would actually care about. And fast. (Though more realistically, I needed to simply remember the questions I had written down.)
As a preface—before we get into the more interesting stuff—the interview was not recorded. Well, it was, but it mostly consists of the omnipresent thumping bass of local DJ Alex English performing outside and that sounds like it was recorded on a potato. This style of interview is not unheard of however, and some artists even require it (like Prince!).
First things first, I had to know what new collaborations or tracks she might have in store for 2015. Of course she has plans for more of both in 2015, and even plans to start incorporating her own vocal work in tracks. But if I thought I’d get many details at this point, I was out of luck. Just know that from a production and collaboration perspective, mija assures us there will be more to come. Given her work on “Crank It” and her remix of Diplo’s “Biggie Bounce,” she has set the bar pretty high for herself, but I’m excited to hear how she will top those works.
Knowing her affinity for free artistic expressionism, I ask if she has anymore artistic outlets outside of music. Aside from a brief dabbling in fashion early in her academic career, she quickly found herself drawn to DJing and dropped out to pursue her dream (one can only hope for some potential mija designed merch). From there, she spent years playing local gigs; Sheraton Hotels, small bars, and the like. But one doesn’t go from illustrious Sheraton parties to Bonnaroo with Skrillex overnight.
“So was it all just a great stroke of luck?” This was the most stupid question of the night, but she most definitely took it well. Of course it wasn’t luck. It was her passion for the music, her dedication to doing what she loves, and the resonance that created with those around her that accounted for her success, she assured me. While it was true she was performing at one of those local gigs when someone booking the “Artist’s Card” at Bonnaroo asked her friend “who is this girl?” but that was simply the recognition of the work and passion she’d put into her art from the start. It was not “just a great stroke of luck.” Well, now I felt like a dumbass who hinged her success not on her talent, but on time and place. Shit.
Now that she had this platform, I was curious as to where she would go next. Particularly, I was enamored with the fk a genre concept and asked her if there was any way she could make a positive argument for genres (My angle was that genres familiarize people with a certain subset of music on a general level and then provides them with the opportunity to branch out and find out what they like based on those characteristics; she was not having this.). She took an intriguing, Steve Jobs-esque approach to her music and DJing. It’s not about what you think you like for mija. That concept seems to be rooted in that notion of genres and staying comfortable within your self-defined musical parameters. Its about being shown you like something that you had no idea you liked. For Jobs, this meant redefining and introducing multiple concepts for the market at large, like the process of buying and distributing music (iTunes) or physically interacting with a piece of technology through touch (iPhone/iPad). There was no market demand for these specific products, but as we all know, once we knew we wanted them, we REALLY wanted them. Jobs said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” This is the exact approach mija takes to her music, especially now that she has such an elevated platform.
Her knowledge about various styles of music has been developed throughout her newer exposure to touring. After her experience at Bonnaroo, the opportunities that followed allowed her to expand her tastes and connections to artists she wasn’t as familiar with. She mentioned working with Alesia (who’s unique style of dark techno is absolutely remarkable, as heard in this OWSLA After Dark Mix) and Etnik (the emergent German producer who mixed OWSLA’s Eggnog Vol. 1), who brought their particular flavor and influence to her musical creativity. The ability to translate these varying artists’ tracks in ways that not only introduce them to a new audience, but defy typical genre definition allows mija to develop her unique style, while still maintaining the integrity of the original artists’ work. This is a tough feat to achieve and mija proves time and time again she understands the nuances that tie styles together.
It’s not only about showing people her ability to play a diverse set as a DJ, inclusive of trap, tech house, g-house, melodic dub, and many others, she tells me, but showing people that one genre of music you may prefer truly connects and resonates with another that you are unfamiliar with. You can see this with almost every set she has made publicly available. It even personally affected me, as before her Bonnaroo set, few sub-genres of house appealed to me. But with her guiding hand and taste, she’s exposed countless new musical affinities otherwise unknown to the listener. If guiding people towards new music with which they would otherwise be unfamiliar isn’t the job of a DJ as an artist, I don’t know what is.
Part of me wanted to test this theory, to watch the effect in action. She had told me that all of her sets are spontaneous, and at best, will have a playlist for the particular party or set she’s playing, from which she can draw various tracks to fit the mood of the room. That night at Webster Hall, she was opening for future house icon Tchami, so I expected a heavily future house flavored set. Reaching back to her ability to show people music they didn’t know they liked, I remembered a track she dropped in her Bonnaroo set. Titled “Breakfast,” the track is a 2010 remix by Mercury, taken from the 2008 album titled “Flage” by electro-pop trio Le Le , and features a vocal track about breakfast foods. How could anyone possibly hate that? I had to ask her to play it.
“I hadn’t planned on it,” she responded, “but I’ll see what I can do.” Somewhere around three quarters of the way through her set, I heard the familiar bass line, and truly realized the power she has not only as a DJ, but as a guide for diverse music. A song that was unknown to me a couple months ago, had the entire crowd moving and chanting with the lyrics. The sound guy pulled out his phone and started filming. The pushy venue photographers took a breather and let the beat take control for a minute. For a brief moment, through all the sound and movement, everyone got to hear a new song and grow their artistic tastes as a consequence. Moreover, she showed just how spontaneous her sets were, not sticking to any sort of standard formulation, but growing and molding itself to the crowd.
All in all, mija has consistently shown that she knows her music. More than that, she has consistently shown she might know your music, too. Luckily for us, she isn’t confined to a genre. She isn’t confined to one idea, one style or one talent. She is an artist we can trust, not only to guide us to great music, but to represent how we feel about our specific musical culture, unconfined by conformity, undue influences, or corporate pressure. We all have a choice now. We can trust mija to guide us to the top, with her seamless integration of genres to create a post-genre world in dance music, or we can try and figure it out for ourselves. Regardless of your choice, you won’t be able to ignore mija and you will feel her influence in time.
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