SXSW 2015: TOKiMONSTA Talks New Label “Young Art”
We caught up with SXSW featured artist, TOKiMONSTA to discuss her new label, giving corny EDM bros a new perspective on electronic music, and her fighting philosophy. See her perform tonight, March 17 at the Empire Show Room, or be sure to catch Young Art’s showcase on Wednesday March 18.
Abeline Cohen: Congratulations on your new record label! Having transitioned between Brainfeeder and Ultra, how does the experience of founding Young Art compare? Can you talk to me about your experience with the different labels?
Tokimonsta: Yeah, so I had made a few records before I released my EP on Brainfeeder, and that happened because I was in Los Angeles and Flying Lotus asked me if I wanted to release on his label—
A: Was that crazy for you?
T: Well, at that time, nobody really knew who any of us were! My EP came out in 2010, or 2011, and I had already agreed to release something with Flying Lotus years ago. I respected him a lot, because he was already starting to kill it, and it was around the time that he released his album on Warp, and he was picking up so much steam, and the whole Los Angeles music scene was getting a lot of attention. I mean, if it was 2015, and I had nothing to my name, and Flying Lotus asked me to release on Brainfeeder, I would be super, super ecstatic. In 2010, I was very stoked, but at that point it was just family; like a part of this family network of L.A. labels who released music like ours.
A: Right, that makes sense.
T: So I did that, and then I released on Ultra. That’s obviously a very different move. People were really confused by that, but I thought it was pretty logical. I thought it’d be something cool to try, because their audience is kind of corny. I mean, they’re known for having people who like four-floor, big-room, intense house music, and I thought it’d be interesting to give them another perspective on electronic music. They didn’t pressure me to put anything I wasn’t comfortable with, and it was actually a very eye-opening, educational, pleasant experience. So I had experience releasing on an artsy niche label, and a huge, mainstream, electronic label, and now I have the chance to raise up artists that I believe in. It’s less so about me, rather than the opportunity to curate the kind of sound I’m looking for.
A: And so is a big aspect of your work the kind of people you’re surrounding yourself with?
T: Well…I collaborate with a lot of vocalists, but I very rarely collaborate with other producers.
A: Why is that?
T: The one thing I can’t do on my own is sing, and even if I can write a song, it’s not in the voice I would like to hear. Working with a vocalist is great because they can’t step on my toes, and I can’t step on theirs. With another producer, it’s more of a compromise—
A: Do people like working with you?
T: Yeah, I think so, I don’t know…I guess if they didn’t, they wouldn’t tell me! [Laughing] I think vocalists appreciate that I’m never like, ‘this is really shitty’…I’m very much a person that will chime in now and then, but I don’t want to take anyone’s creativity away from them. I don’t want them to feel like they’re only a vehicle for me. I want people to feel comfortable enough to express themselves. I really, really like working with vocalists and songwriters because I’m so in awe of their ability to write music with words.
A: You know, I went to your show at the Ace this summer and got extremely drunk.
T: Oh yeah dude, everybody was pretty hammered that night. It was a fun show though, a really interesting environment. Also, that building is really beautiful.
“It’s important that people know that a girl who is pretty can also be creative and talented.”
A: It is! It was the first time I’d been there, and I was like, wow, this place is insane. Anyway, you’re doing something with Young Art for SXSW, right?
T: So I’m going to be doing a label showcase at SXSW. It’s going to be cool to be doing this stuff, ‘cause running a label is a totally new realm for me. It’s a learning experience for me, as well as my manager, who is helping me run the label. I want the Young Art label to be an experience that’s separate from me. I’m curating it of course, but I want the label to be a fully functioning entity that brings fantastic music to people.
A: Will it only be electronic music? What artists will be releasing on the label, and who are some musicians you’re listening to right now?
T: The next two artists are vocalists coming out with my production, so that’s about as electronic as it’s going to get. I want the label to be cross-genre, not just electronic, so like Anderson Paak, who does a lot of R&B and rap. I’m on the search for a producer, but I’m really picky because I’m a producer. When I do find one, they’ll have to be ground-breaking and really special. As far as what I’ve been listening to?
T: This album came out last year, but I just started listening to it. It came out on Ninja Tune, it’s the Dorian Concept album, called Joined Ends. It came out last summer, but I’ve been listening to it a lot this week. It’s a super, super beautiful album. Dorian Concept is a keyboardist that toured with Flying Lotus in Europe. Oh, I’ve been listening to the Drake album.
A: How do you feel about that?
T: You know what? I can’t hate on it. I don’t know. I kind of want to say I don’t like it, but I actually do enjoy listening to it.
A: Are you generally not a fan?
T: No, I am. Sometimes I just don’t want to be on that Drake bandwagon…but then I like his music, so then I guess I’m back on it. I’m also really into Majid Jordan, the two guys that Drake signed to OVO. I’ve been listening to that a whole bunch. As far as other producers—Sam Gellaitry, this kid from Scotland. When I say kid, I mean it, he’s like 17. He’s on Soulection, and he’s really good. It’s cool to be surprised and in awe of other musicians, and we’re doing similar things, you know, just making beats—I’m really in awe of this guy.
A: Would you have wanted to sign him?
T: Well, I want to find someone that has not ever been heard of. That’s going to take a lot of dedication. I know I’m really going to have to go through a lot of music for like a week, but I’m excited to do that.
A: Do you feel like it’s important that you look for a producer that’s a female? Is that a priority for you?
T: No, I’ve always tried to not pay a lot of attention to that aspect of my being. I find it to be a crutch for people, as well as a novelty, and a gimmick. At the same time, I can’t ignore it, because I’m a female producer. I’m really proud of the fact that there are significantly more female producers than when I started. My whole thing is about actual creative talent, and about finding someone that’s really good. I’m going to give girls an extra effort to show them I’m hearing them out, because I feel like women in the industry are undermined. I mean, I’ll definitely listen to people’s music, but I’m not going to sign them just because they’re a girl.
A: Is it really a thing that will people will be a dick to you because you’re a girl in the music industry? Has that been a big part of your experience?
T: Well, not really—
A: Maybe if you were ugly it would be more of a problem.
T: You know what, I actually think that being a good-looking girl works against you more. I’m not talking about me specifically, I feel that I’m a very middle-of-the-run type of person. But I have seen that when some girls are very talented and also attractive or cute, it’s almost like people take them less seriously.
A: [Laughs] That’s so shitty, oh my god.
T: But listen, this isn’t common. It’s only been a couple times, or like a guy friend commenting on that, and I’ll check them and be like, ‘No, you’re wrong, listen, and ignore the fact that she’s pretty,’ or whatever. It’s important that people know that a girl who is pretty can also be creative and talented. But for me, I haven’t felt judged too harshly—at least with the people that matter. There might be some random guy at a venue who might, you know, belittle you a little bit, but…
A: Yeah, at that point, who cares, because there will be a guy at a venue harassing you, regardless of if you’re a musician or not.
T: Yeah, but they’ll be like, ‘oh, you’re the girl DJ, huh,’ and I’m like, ‘shut the f*** up, whatever, you’re a dumb person’. You know, at the same time, I’ve experienced this with girls too, meaning that they don’t take me seriously because I’m a girl. There’s the idea that people who make music in this genre are some kind of dude, or maybe a girl who dresses really crazy and has very little clothing on—
A: Right, like the idea that if they are a female DJ, that it’s a part of a “thing” she’s marketing herself as, and it becomes more about that than what she’s doing.
T: Yeah, exactly. I’ve always tried to maintain my integrity to the best of my ability. And I don’t want to say I’m a staunch feminist, because I always want to disregard that part of myself, but at the same time, I think the way I come off only helps the cause more for other females. Like I want to lead by example, and just be really dope.
A: But you know, it’s okay to feel the things that would identify you as a feminist, or put you on a Drake bandwagon, without necessarily keeping you stuck in that label. There’s so much energy and time devoted to making people, and especially girls, feel bad about the way they identify themselves…
T: Yeah, that’s true, and that’s the philosophy I’m about. Because I don’t want to talk about these things, but I kind of have to. The whole idea of a box or a category that you put people into can affect anyone. Even with guys, you know, I was talking to a friend of mine, and we were thinking about rappers, and about how if there’s a rapper who is really clean-cut, or looks really good, then he might be too pretty to sell records, you know?
A: Yeah, that’s so true.
T: Yeah, so then people would disregard the fact that he’s a good rapper.
A: You know, I was just thinking about this in terms of myself recently, so I wanted to ask—what would it take for you to fight someone? What would somebody have to do for you to attack them?
T: Attack? Oh man, let’s see.
A: Like maybe if someone insulted one of your friends?
T: I’m the kind of person who is more likely to get into a verbal altercation, rather than a physical one. But…I think if someone pushed me I would react? I’d like to think I’m a tough person, so I could say like, ‘If some bitch pushes me, then I’ll f*** her up,’ but I don’t really know! I’d like to think that I’m kind of a badass, but usually if there are situations where people are getting heated around me, I’m the one being like, ‘okay go to your corners and chill out, be adults’. That’s usually my tactic. I think I’d be able to hold my own. I think.
A: Are you strong?
T: Well, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know that if I tried to defend myself, that I’d make it through unscathed. I’m pretty sure I’d get f***ed up by someone. But I could handle that in a badass way as well.
Photo courtesy of René Omenzetter