Occupation: DJ, producer
Current release: Julianna teams up with Matias Aguayo for EP/mini album Que Si El Mundo on Cómeme.
[Read our Matias Aguayo interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Julianna and would like to find out more about her, visit her on Facebook, Instagram, and twitter.
Tell me about your first DJ gigs, please. How did you approach them and how do you look back on them with hindsight?
Ha! My first DJ gigs were absolutely naive. I never thought about the possibility of being a “professional” or trying to improve my living with this. By that time I usually practised with my best friend, she had those Denon 4500, at a certain point you felt more like playing a game than actually playing music. (laughs)
It was a very hostile time for this music in Colombia, and actually my family was kind of afraid that as a woman I was playing at some possibly dangerous parties, arriving pretty early in the morning. I did this very alone, and also I think it was very important for me to reinforce a kind of character and reaffirm what are the kinds of things that I want for me.
What were some of the artists, technologies and clubs/events that changed your perspective on what DJing could be?
In 2010 I left Medellin and started studying animation film in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Argentina in South America has been a very special country, like this first connection with “the first world” since they have a lot of influence and immigrants from Europe. There, I got the chance to listen and learn about other kinds of music, especially UK Bass, ambient and techno. Artists like Appleblim, autechre or the local heroes like my friends from aula magna. By that time Cocoliche still existed, and there I got the chance to see for the first time many techno DJs like DVS1 and Rrose and local artists like Chancha Vía Circuito.
[Read our Appleblim interview]
Also I remember that there was an experimental festival focused on visual, noise and ambient named Panorama. It was a full extension of my mind by that moment.
How would you personally rate the potential for expressing yourself with DJing compared to producing? What can be expressed through these two different disciplines?
Oh! I'm a very sensitive person so both for me are a channel to express myself, different kinds of ways but still a very important one. They have a similitude since at the end there is always a listener, but the approach is completely different. I think that’s why the music that I do is not related to the kind of music I would play in a club.
Sound has always acted as a metaphor for mystical revelation, forbidden desires, the sinister, the unformed, the supernatural and the unknown. For me DJing and producing music are all of these things - like a little ghost that we cannot see but feel.
How do you make people dance? That's the kind of question I always ask myself when I'm in a new place, so at the end I just translate and try to let people in on the kind of things that move my body. Both things DJing and producing have a huge potential of expressing yourself.
DJing has always – at least partially – been about presenting exciting music. In a club, however, people are dancing and in a community with other guests while they're listening rather than sitting at home or listening on earbuds while travelling. How does this change our perception of the music, do you feel? What makes the club experience unique?
I think that for many years we have forgotten the full potential of our bodies. All of us are huge listeners, but how can we use the potential of the sound we are listening to everyday? The club experience is unique because it's a body thing, a full body condition of how we can connect, it’s like another kind of listening, you know?
Dancing and moving our bodies translates another view of our experience in the world, and for me that’s why it's important to present exciting and different ways of music during a DJ set.
In the end, life is a cycle, a full ride of ups and downs that we have to learn to walk on. Those cycles can be translated to bpms, rhythm conditions, slow and fast moves, silence … dancing is beautiful and I think people right now are very disconnected with that.
Composers and songwriters combine notes and sounds. DJs combine entire songs. Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening and perhaps also, if applicable, your work as a producer?
DJing has influenced me a lot in the way I approach music. Especially digging different kinds of music that let you in on those little details of listening. It started as an auditive practice and then it became like a method to produce sounds.
For me, even if I'm not doing club music at this moment, one thing is related to the other. Almost related to that trance that you can have while you are in silence, meditation or whatever. It's a compromise with sound, noise or whatever you want to call it. How do you even find and feel attached to a little noise in a song that's in another spectrum, maybe burried deep down and you always found it? Well …
I always look for that in the music I mix and always try to look for that in the music I do. I have more experience DJing than making music, but definitely it's a goal for me.
What role does digging for music still play for your work as a DJ? Tell me a bit about where and how you're looking for music that excites you and music that will work in a set?
Digging is everything, like I said before it lets you in on another kind of listening. It’s very important for me to bring new things to every DJ set, a new experience, my experience …it's like recreating little moments of joy with things that are not so related to the dance floor.
Over the years Discogs has been my source,and now old records from record stores from here … it’s hard to find interesting things … and you learn to find them in different types of music.
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?
(laughs) I have the same question. I have good friends that can remember the producer, label even year that some album was made. (laughs) They are super organised … I'm more visual to be honest, so actually I work with colours:
yellow: energy transition
blue: introverted…(laughs) I also use that when I play vinyl. Crazy how the brain works isn't?
Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like, from selecting the material and preparing for and opening a set?
Well I've learned this over the years. When you live in a very diverse country like Colombia it’s not the same in every city and town you visit. So my first question is: What's the kind of music people here listen to? Are they more open? Strictly techno or hard sounds?
Then I try to find something in my music that can match with this, and to be honest, I always try to start from zero (especially if I think that my music is very different from the DJ before me).
How does the decision making process work during a gig? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
Absolutely zero. There was a time I used to plan my DJ sets. I don't do this any more … almost 4 years now since I don't think about that. And it has been an amazing ride!
What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit?
I like to play tracks in groups of three, so I always look up for music that can complement each other, like playing a little puzzle. I play with percussion a lot, textures and atmospheres, sometimes DJ tools and small edits I do …
These layers of music can recreate another experience or the listening I’ve tried to talk about during the interview … like a new interpretation … I think that's one of the special things of music. How you can re-interpret the music you play.
That’s why I think that even if you have a full tracklist of another DJ and try to mix it, it would not sound the same.
Kode9 once said: "Many DJ sets go from drop to drop, so the biggest part of the track is always when it comes in. That kind of DJing I find pretty boring and that kind of DJing would be better done by a machine. I prefer to hear tracks in the mix together for extended periods of time, and I like to hear the tension between two tracks." What's your take on that?
I'm in complete agreement with this, I think the same. For me a DJ set full of drops is completely boring and mediocre (sorry). Drops are like direct doses of dopamine for the public and some DJs, they don’t recreate anything more than ephemeral emotions, like the excess of filters you know? I hate those as well.
For many people DJing is just matching songs, for me it really isn't … how can you recreate those same sensations without incurring on those cliched things? It's not for everyone to be honest.
Even if tension between tracks is not a goal for you, pieces can sound entirely different as part of a DJ set compared to playing them on their own. How do you explain this?
Because music is another language we have learned to speak and write. Re-writing this in a DJ set is one of the most beautiful things.
In terms of the overall architecture of a DJ set, are you looking more for one consistent level of energy or a shift between peaks and troughs – and why?
I prefer the shift between peaks and troughs and I think it's also because of how I live music and life. It's not always hard, in daily life you have silence, stops … introverted moments, changes …. I like to take this to the dancefloor.
Many DJs have remarked on collaborating with the audience. Others rather want to present their vision without external input. Where do you personally stand in between these poles?
I'm definitely not a DJ for the public. I never like to play to convince them and this has given me a lot of haters too. (laughs) But I don't care.
A DJ gig, just like an improvisation, is a fleeting experience which can not be repeated the way listening to a record can. How has DJing affected your view on life and death and the importance of memories?
I would not say that only DJing, but music in all its aspects can affect our view of life and death. That’s why this record I made with Matias is very important for me. We did this album during 2020 - 2021, a lot of things were happening, there was uncertainty, a global pandemic, in my country a lot of poverty and deaths.
I remember that I made the chords for “Que si el mundo'' while I was packing my house, during my last week living with my ex husband, without work, at that moment it was absolutely devastating, sad … now I listen to the song differently, even having those memories, I think I recreate those chords with a certain hope of a new beginning.
Now, listening from another shore, I think this song is beautiful and hopeful. This kind of situation can be recreated in everyday life, DJ sets, music and even meals … the smallest details of life.