Occupation: DJ, producer
Current Release: DESNA's IN Hz is out via Frequency Made Music.
Recommendations: One up-and-coming painter I believe is super talented is Sarkis. He is like a modern-day Van Gogh in how he expresses himself.
Two inspiring pieces of music for me are Tin Man's track ‘Evaporated Acid’ and the Hector Oaks x Coco-Paloma track ‘No Hay Mañana’. Both tracks are beautifully emotional while staying true to industrial techno.
If you enjoyed this interview with DESNA and would like to stay up to date with her music and current DJ dates, visit her on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for DJing? Which DJs, clubs or experiences captured your imagination in the beginning?
It all started as just a fun thing to do for my friends. I valued knowing how to spin on vinyl, so my first purchase was turntables.
I loved going to raves because it was so liberating and free. I grew up a little bit sheltered and had no idea what electronic music was until I was old enough to explore myself.
I was also in a dance group when I was 18. We always went to clubs to let off steam, and usually, they were venues playing breaks, drum & bass, or trance. Techno wasn't that popular in the South at the time (I'm from Texas).
What made it appealing to you to DJ yourself? What was it that you wanted to express and what, did you feel, did you have to add artistically?
I started creating mash-ups and reworks and really enjoyed finding two songs that blended perfectly together.
It's something I still value more for layering, doing less full on mash-ups now that I'm playing techno. But the concept is the same where I love to layer three tracks along with my drum machine together to add layers and different variations in the music playing. That's the fun part for me.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to DJing? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or lineage?
I have always wanted to add value in some way. I found that in the pandemic. I created a sub-genre (frequency made music) which is electronic music made with healing frequencies. This has never been branded in faster music. Only in meditations or ambient/chill-out stuff.
Healing doesn't have to be only for relaxing. You can get extra benefits in the club by listening to healing Hz in faster-paced music. I believe this will gain a lot of popularity over the next 2-3 years. The spiritual community has already caught on. I want to leave my mark by making something better.
Even if I influence just a few people, I've always wanted to pave a new way with an authentic purpose in my music.
Clubs are still the natural home for DJing. What makes the club experience unique? Which clubs you've played or danced at are perfect for realising your vision – and why?
Output was home for that. I used to play there regularly and felt the sound in both the Panther Room and Main were treated so perfectly.
The sound in clubs vs an event space is very different due to size and purpose. So, whenever I get a club booking, I get excited to enjoy proper sound!
I play at Musica on November 10th, and have heard great things about the sound there.
There is a long tradition of cross-pollination between DJing and producing. Can you talk a bit about how this manifests itself in your own work?
I took a six-week Ableton course when I started deejaying in clubs to see if I would like it. I've learnt the most from my own trial and error and countless hours in the studio.
I'd say DJing and producing are two very different crafts. I know live sets are very popular these days but for me, having a computer destroys the art of DJing. That's just my personal view.
I like the suspense of beat matching and looping etc. It keeps me busy on stage, which is something I enjoy.
What role does digging for music still play for your work as a DJ? Tell me a bit about what kind of music you will look for and the balance between picking material which a) excites you, b) which will please the audience and c) fulfill certain functions within your DJ set.
I've never been a track-to-track type of artist. I pre-plan or outline a lot of my sets because of how I play. I try to evoke an emotional experience like, say, playing two harder / faster tracks followed by something really pretty to take the sound somewhere else for a little bit. Then, into a breakbeat etc., so that everyone's ears stay stimulated.
If you max out sound and one direction repeatedly for an entire set, it all kind of starts to sound the same, and that's something I try to avoid.
I've always wondered: How is it possible for DJs to memorise so many tracks? How do you store tracks in your mind – traditionally as grooves + melodies + harmonies or as colours, energy levels, shapes?
I don't add too many new tracks at once for each set, so I do know my music pretty well. I always look for quality over quantity. The repetition over the years just allows you to know your music. It's the practice, I suppose.
I can see how an outsider would feel that way. I always get asked, "how can you stand for hours playing music?" It becomes second nature, though.
Using your very latest DJ set as an example, what does your approach look like, from selecting the material and preparing for and opening a set? What were some of the transitions that really worked looking back?
It depends on where I am placed on a lineup. If I am opening, I start sexy and soft and slowly build the set forward. From there, only allowing a few harder peak moments so that I am memorable without outshining who's next.
If I am closing, that is reversed. I would start hard and slowly wean off as I close the night.
How does the decision making process work during a gig with regards to wanting to play certain records, the next transition and where you want the set to go? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
It really depends on where I'm playing. Like, in New York, I know my crowd for the most part, so I can pre-plan my set more.
When I play in a new city, I have to be more flexible, so I'll categorize a few sets and see what the crowd is leaning into the most and go with that.
As a DJ, you can compose a set of many short tracks or play them out in full, get involved with mixing or keep the tunes as the producer intended them, create fluent seagues or tension. Tell me about your personal preferences in this regard, please.
If a track is really amazing, I will play it through. A lot of tracks I like one section only, so it's a layered part in the set vs playing it through. I do this often and find it helps make my set more authentic.
Pieces can sound entirely different as part of a DJ set compared to playing them on their own. How do you explain this? Which tracks from your collection don't seem like much outside of a DJ set but are incredible effective and versatile on a gig?
Usually, it has to do with a powerful breakbeat or a unique driving beat which is easy to layer and loop. But, if I played the track entirely would have a very different effect.
Example - ‘Apricots’ by Bicep.
I like to loop the beginning of this track and layer it with harder music which has a totally different vibe compared to if I were to play the full track by itself. It would bring the set to an entirely different place.
In terms of the overall architecture of a DJ set, how do you work with energy levels, peaks and troughs and the experience of time?
Usually, I use my 2-3 rule. Playing 2-3 tracks of a similar vibe or style before switching to something else.
This way, people stay more entertained with the sound changing instead of bleeding into a repetitive theme for too long.
Online DJ mixes, created in the studio as a solitary event, have become ubiquitous. From your experience with the format, what changes when it comes to the way you DJ – and to the experience as a whole - when you subtract the audience?
Any stream I've done from home has been vinyl only due to the subtraction of the audience; I want to showcase other styles of music I collect and enjoy, which is either really hard industrial techno, house, or minimal. It has been a platform to play differently to my audience and give them something new from me that they never see when I play out.
I recently pre-recorded a stream with a layer of morphic fielding in the set sent to me by Sapien Medicine (a famous medicinal youtube channel) to help add benefits to the audience from the set.
Nothing like this exists on the internet. I can't wait to showcase it on November 11th.
Advances in AI-supported DJing look set to transform the trade. For the future, where do you see the role of humans in DJing versus that of technology?
I do believe we will have to conform to the metaverse somehow. To evolve, which is sometimes hard to do when something is new.
I don't know how I feel about it yet, as I haven't tried to do anything in the metaverse. I do feel it will become a popular space for concerts and performances, though. We will have to adapt to that.
Let's imagine you lost all your music for one night and all there is left at the venue is a crate of records containing a random selection of music. How would you approach this set?
I would love this challenge. Thankfully, I play records and would love to try to pull this off some time. It should be a competition for established artists to see who could do this best. I would absolutely sign up and give it a shot.
I would approach this by trying to keep the energy going and hoping that I wasn't left with a stack of ambient records, lol.