TOKiMONSTA On Being A Female DJ In A Male-Dominated Industry

Just as she steps onto the red carpet to pose for a row of photographers, what had been a light sprinkle suddenly turns into a downpour. A member of the press rushes to grab an umbrella, but TOKiMONSTA, one of the four stars being celebrated that night for the premiere of the Mnet America reality show Alpha Girls, laughs and says, “Good thing I have this hat on.” A black fur-trimmed hat sits atop her shock of blond hair — she’s been known to experiment with color over the years, mixing blues and purples at one point — and though a pair of oversized black shades cover 50 percent of her face, TOKiMONSTA stands out. It’s a part of a life she’s become used to, especially now that she’s one of the few well-known Asian American female DJs in the music industry.

Jennifer Lee, better known by her aforementioned stage name, has risen to the forefront of the electronic dance music scene with two albums, a number of EPs and high-profile appearances at festivals like Coachella and SXSW. The Torrance, Calif., native, who is of Korean descent, was ranked by LA Weekly as L.A.’s top female DJ in 2010 and was a part of the Full Flex Express Tour in 2012 that had her performing alongside electronic music gods Skrillex and Diplo. Not too shabby for a girl who began producing music in her college dorm while studying business at the University of California, Irvine.

In a crowded L.A. beat scene, Lee’s music stands out, like the recently remastered “The World Is Ours,” with its softer, chiller beats (it’s the stuff midnight dreams are made of). But what also makes Lee unique is her success in an industry that has always been dominated by males, and non-Asian males at that. It’s what made her the perfect candidate for the Asian pop culture channel Mnet America’s new web reality series, Alpha Girls.

Alpha Girls, which premiered in February, follows Lee, Korean artist and illustrator Mina Kwon, Korean American supermodel Soo Joo Park and Filipina American fashion designer Lanie Alabanza-Barcena in a series documenting their journeys in the worlds of art, music and fashion. “I joined [the show] because I loved the idea behind it,” says Lee of her Alpha Girl status. “Alpha Girls shows the rest of America that, hey, Asians can choose careers outside of the medical field, and they can still be successful.”

TOKiMONSTA (Jennifer Lee)

Lee’s segment on Alpha Girls follows her as she takes South Korea by storm, performing in her motherland for the first time. She jets around the country in stylish streetwear and looks completely at ease performing in the middle of jam-packed, ear-numbing clubs. “It was scary because I didn’t know whether Korean audiences would be used to my music,” she says, “but I ended up having a blast. I hope girls can watch this show and see us all doing our thing and know that they can succeed at whatever they want to. I didn’t discover the underground scene until college, and now here I am in Korea playing my own music!”

Catch full webisodes of Alpha Girls on Mnet America’s YouTube channel or at alphagirlstv.com. 

 

–Story by Taylor Weik

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here

 

FIRST U.S. INTERVIEW: DJ Rocky Rock is Ready to “Rock The World”

“In and out.  Shake it all about.  Let’s go!” Those are the wise words from the poetic, lyrical master DJ Rocky Rock.  In his first US interview, Rock divulges on his hardships as a kid growing up in the Philippines and trying to stay afloat as a newcomer in the States.  Majorly influenced by his cousins, Rock discovered the world of music as a kid in junior high growing up in the Bay Area.  He even DJ’ed at his high school prom much to his prom date’s dismay.  With an urge to learn more and master his craft at the turntables, Rock went on to participate in DJ competitions, including one sponsored by Linkin Park.  It would be this competition where he would win and begin his life transforming friendship with Joe Hahn of Linkin Park.  Hahn pushed Rock to eventually move to LA where he would get discovered by the owner of the hip-hop music festival, Rock The Bells.

In 2002, Rock entered a DJ competition called Koolmix where the actual prize was the opening act for the Black Eyed Peas.  Rock formed a unique friendship with fellow Filipino, apl.de.ap who would ask Rock to work on a single with him (“Bebot”, followed by “Monkey Business”).  After working with the Black Eyed Peas, Rock found himself on the road again with the band, Sublime with Rome and then on his own tour in Europe.

With a strong conviction of his style of music and a flair for knowing what the crowd and his fans want, Rock is now ready to “Rock the World” with his new EP as DJ, rapper and producer.  Audrey sat down with Rock to get inside his mind to find out how he got his start, what’s next for him and what keeps him grounded.

AM:  Tell me all about your, your background, where you’re from?

DJRR:  I was born in the Philippines. My Grandma had her own restaurant under the house. She left something on and our house burned [down]. The first three years of my life was a disaster, my mom told me.

We got petitioned by my Grandpa to America in 1983, so I flew out here.  After that, we lived a hard life.  Music was a big part of my life.  I had uncles that were breakdancers back in the day. My mom re-married again and it was my dad’s second cousin.  It was crazy because I was wondering why my dad wasn’t visiting me.  And then, throughout the years, I got to know his family and my cousins from his family.

I was hanging out with them and they were all really into music.  They’re all DJs.  And they’re like, “Hey Rock, we’re going to dentist school.  Jerry’s going to be a nurse.  You want this equipment?”  I said, “Yea, sure”.  So they gave me the equipment.

After getting all the equipment, I started practicing in my junior high years.  I was DJ’ing my high school dances.  Even my prom date was mad at me.

 

AM:  Who influenced you as a kid, musically?

DJRR:  My cousin, Jerry.  He was one of the main DJ’s.  Our DJ group was called Abstract Vibes. I was always the guy trying to learn behind-the-scenes.  So, when they gave me the turntables my high school year, I became a crazy guy.

I started joining competitions like DJ Battles.  I won my first major battle at Guitar Center in 2001.  They were promoting like – the first DJ to win a car out of two thousand DJs in America.  And I was like, ‘Really?!?’  So I joined the competition, signed up and just had to win two or three battles until I got to the finals. I beat everybody there and then after that, I went to the US Finals at the Key Club.  It was four minutes out of ten DJ’s [battles].  It went from two thousand [DJs] down to ten.  And then I just took that in four minutes, won a car and thought, ‘This is crazy.’  I’m winning cars.  There’s something cool here.

 

AM:  What’s it like when you go back home [Philippines] and perform there?  I know that the Asian market is huge, they love their music, and they’re loyal fans.  What’s it like when you go back?

DJRR:  They seem to be very amazed when I DJ for them out there.  But again, it’s like, as a person, when you meet me, I’m totally just a normal guy.  So, its like when they see how hard I really put into my music and DJ-ing, they go crazy.  They’re like what the hell?  What’s going on?  This guy is crazy, phenomenal.  Like Superman on the turntables. They find it really cool and exciting.

 

AM:  Do you ever feel like it’s been more challenging to rise above as an Asian artist?

DJRR:  Yes, of course, but that can only get so far because the hard work usually pays off and it shows.  I had a lot of struggle with that.  And I still do, at times.  But it doesn’t affect passion.

 

AM:  Have you had to overcome any other struggles to get to where you are?

DJRR:  You have to go through a lot of struggles to actually get to where you’re at.  As far as for me, DJ-ing was a very experimental thing for me.  And I figured out – what does a DJ do?  And actually in the game, you realize there are four big parts of being a DJ.  There’s a Radio DJ, or you’re either a Turntable-ist, which you’re just the bedroom DJ, scratching in there, or you battle sometimes.  And then there’s another one where you’re a crowd rocker, where you’re rocking clubs consistently and killing it.  And that’s the big thing, that’s where the money is. And then you’re this other DJ that produces, makes the beat, and just packing up arenas.  I’m already on that arena. And now, there’s one thing that a DJ never did, and that’s actually get off your turntables and rap your song

 

AM:  Before you get out there and you’re about to perform as a rap artist, do you get really nervous, do you have any rituals?

DJRR:  No, because I practice the song so much.  And you won’t even tell because if my song isn’t your favorite song, then your favorite song will be coming after that.  What’s kind of cool is that I get to play your favorite song plus me as myself.  Which is kind of cool because people get a concert right there while the club is happening.

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AM:  As a producer, do you also produce other performers, artists as well?  Or is that something you want to build on?

DJRR:  I’ve actually been doing that.  I scratched on and helped out on a song called “Bebot” with Black Eyed Peas.  Sold millions of singles.  “Bebot” means hot girl or it could mean your auntie, too.  I actually have an Uncle called Bebot, so it’s weird. I was like, what was your mom thinking?

 

AM:  What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

DJRR:  Just being patient.  Just inventing yourself.  Create yourself.  You see it.  You figure it out.  I always try and be different.  I don’t want to be the same as everybody else.  The way I see it is to stay humble.  That’s always the best.

 

AM:  How do you stay humble?

DJRR:  Just hang out with the family.  I’ve got a daughter so I try to spend time with my daughter.  I haven’t seen my mom for awhile so I’m excited to see her.  I always look up to God at the same time. I grew up Christian and in the church, so that’s important.

 

AM:  And what do you tell those that want to be you? What advice do you tell them?

DJRR:  My advice is – well, if you’re trying to be a DJ.  Just stick with being original and at the same time, just keep your head down. Keep doing what you’re doing.  You’ll find your way.  Your passion will see if it’s really for you.  You just gotta keep striving.  That’s it.

 

AM:  If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would it be?

DJRR:  That’s a good question.  Marilyn Monroe.  One time.  I want to just stare at her mole and just look at her and just drink.  I would just want to talk about why she’s so beautiful.