One of the scene’s hardest-working people, the hip hop influenced “GO Magazine” multiple nominee DJ Avg Jo is far from “average.” Let’s find out what makes her tick, where she’s been, and where she’s going!
Thotyssey: Hi Jo, thanks for talking to us today! How’s your summer been so far?
DJ Avg Jo: So far my summer has been very productive. Not as much vacationing as I’d like to have had… but it’s been good so far, thanks!
You’ve certainly been busy DJ’ing all over. Lots of people assume that being a DJ is a non-stop party, but it actually is a ton of work and it means living completely in the moment, right?
So true. And a downside is that it’s difficult to plan time off. But the upside is, my life is never boring! Being a DJ is a fun career–but in my case, I spend a lot of time alone practicing my sets and finding new music/remixes every day. There’s always new music coming out that I have to keep up with.
When you’re creating and planning mixes, do you start in your mind with one song, or a specific transition between two songs, or something else?
When I’m practicing a set for the club, it usually starts off with whatever jams I’m feeling that week, and any new music that came out recently that I want to break to my audience.
If I am making a mixtape, I usually start with a collection of a few songs that I feel are speaking to the topic or story I want to tell. For example, sometimes I make mixtapes to help deal with times of sadness or loss, or as a way to express myself and vent some emotion. So for those mixtapes, I always have songs in mind that I want to use, and edit them in whatever way to tell my story.
For live mixes at the club, however, I often end up improvising due to the vibe I’m reading from the crowd. Or if the promoter is giving me shit about playing too much trap or dancehall!
So let’s get a little background on you. Are you a native New Yorker?
I was born in upstate New York, but I grew up in the Poconos, PA.
Oh, that’s a nice area–but very peaceful and quiet. You must’ve made a lot of noise growing up there!
I was actually a pretty quiet and introverted kid. Definitely a quiet area, but scenically beautiful.
I understand you performed in a hop hop group early on.
Oooh, you know your history! Haha! I founded a hip hop collective in Ithaca, NY named Rare Faction. I made beats, wrote lyrics and emceed for the group. This was before I knew how to DJ, or I probably would have done that too.
How did that ultimately evolve into a DJ?
Two members of Rare Faction were DJ’s, and I picked up a little skill from watching them and their process. When I moved to NYC, I became friends and started making some electro hip hop with NYC native musician, Angelica Rodriguez. She was teaching herself how to DJ at the time, and she taught me how to use the DJ software.
I bought my first piece of gear from her, and my first gigs were performed alongside her. We got booked together to perform and DJ as a duo a lot. We had a monthly residency at Metropolitan Bar, which really launched a lot of future gigs for me.
These days, do you prefer DJing lesbian parties, more mixed dance floors, or something else?
I really love DJing for my queer and lesbian community, because they raised me. But I need to DJ for all groups of people. It keeps things interesting for me; I get to learn what kind of music all different types of people like. I feel like it keeps me on my toes, and learning and challenging myself.
I guess in that way I am lucky, because I get to share my talents and learn from–and meet and have fun with–so many queers and lesbians and straight people, people of every race from every walk of life. I love interacting with people through music. I have no preference for space. I just enjoy making people feel good and free to move their bodies.
I also am the DJ and music producer for The Dance Cartel–which is best described as a hype dance performance that straddles contemporary and club styles,–and “Shasta Geaux Pop”, which is an immersive music theater experience.
Working with The Dance Cartel for the last five years has been a really rewarding experience. I get to be creative, and work with professional dancers. Djing for “Shasta Geaux Pop” has also been incredible in terms of flexing my creative muscle, and working with professional singers.
That sounds pretty amazing! I see you also spin pretty regularly at Henrietta Hudson, Manhattan’s last standing lesbian bar. What do you think the secret to Henrietta’s success is?
I think the key to their success is creating a space that doesn’t exclude anyone– where older and younger lesbians dance on the same dance floor. I notice age variety at Hen’s more than any other lesbian or queer party I spin at. Also, the owners are great people, and are keeping a vital part of NYC history alive by remaining a lez-owned and operated space. I think a lot of us value what they are doing for the community.
Cheers to Henrietta! Another outfit you spin for frequently is Hot Rabbit, a nightlife events production collective that makes its home every Friday at Boots & Saddle, and once or twice a month at Lot 45 Bushwick. Hot Rabbit has really become known now for producing very successful mixed events. Do they give you a lot of freedom as a DJ?
They give me freedom as far as not telling me exactly what to play, but due to perhaps the age of the crowd that typically attends Hot Rabbit, I know I’m expected to play Top 40 or at the least, recognizable stuff. I can get away with less Top 40 at their Bushwick party, though.
I tend to lean towards spinning hip hop anyways, and I can get down with some Top 40 hip hop. So I make it work.
What do you think of the state of hip hop today? Maybe I sound like I’m 87, but to me it’s all just pop choruses, and maybe a rap bridge here or there.
Mainstream hip hop is basically pop music now. I like it, but it doesn’t affect me the way underground or golden-era hip hop does. But there are a few current rap luminaries I really enjoy that are keeping the essence of, what I believe is, classic (intelligent) hip hop alive. The ones that are witty with their rhyme schemes and rhymes, making beats from dope samples and going outside the structured pop mold (pop chorus here, rap bridge here or there).
Are you a Lil’ Yachty fan??
Lol, not really. He’s okay, and I will spin a track or two of his, but not my fave.
He is definitely hip hop that sounds like pop to me.
Speaking of yachts, next month you’re gonna be spinning on the Hot Rabbit boat on Sunday, August 20… FLOAT! Boat parties have been big this summer. Are you a boat person?
A boat person, lol! I have actually only ever been on one boat party, last summer. It was a Danny Teneglia boat party, and it was epic.
I guess “boat person” is a fun way of saying, “do you not throw your guts up on the high seas?”
I didn’t know if I was gonna be sick or not before I went last summer because I do get motion sickness, but I was fine! Cruising around the NYC harbor on a boat listening to music you love in the summertime with friends is fun AF. There needs to be more boat parties. Super excited to spin for Hot Rabbit’s Float party. I think it was a genius idea.
And before that, this Saturday to be exact, you’ll be with the ladies of Spice NYC and host Crazy Maria to spin the season’s final Bikini Blast girl party at Lovage! Have you done a Spice NYC party before?
Yes! I DJ’ed their May party at Lovage. Really fun Saturday afternoon party with the sickest rooftop view.
Anything else coming up for you?
NYC’s longest-running BDSM party for women and trans people), & Henrietta–and Hot Rabbit’s Float party.
It’s my birthday month, so I’m doing a bit of traveling as well.
I’ll be finishing my next mixtape, “In Loving Memory of What Could Have Been,” during my downtime, so look out for that. Then I’m back to production for Shasta Geaux Pop in September for a tour we have in October.
Happy birthday and good luck with everything! Okay, last question: If you ever had the opportunity to open your own bar or club… what would you call it, and what would it be like?
I’d want it to be a space where anyone who loved music felt free in their body to move and dance, and not be judged on their age or body type. I’d want DJs from all over the world to spin all different genres of club music. I’d have professional dancers around the club in the crowd and onstage, and it would be a place where people who love music would gather to dance and feel free. I’d call it Everyone Only!
Love it! Thanks, Jo!