ON HER SIGNATURE SOUND AND ECLECTIC INFLUENCES
Professor-Wrecks started out making juke and footwork before realizing that sound couldn’t contain her ambitions. We talked about her new EP, moving away from sampling, Lil Nas X, and her signature sound “double-dutch”.
What sparked your interest in making music?
I believe I started DJ-ing about two-and-a-half years ago. It started with remixes, just some light rearranging of sections in Ableton, but it wasn’t until I wanted to sample some Pam Grier movie in a song that I started curating my own sounds. I had a background in music, playing saxophone in high school too, so I understand music theory and stuff. I still know how to play saxophone too.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up? What formed the basis of your musical taste?
I’m the youngest child, so my taste was formed by listening to everything my sisters listened to. I remember specifically my middle sister really loved the first P!nk album when it came out - and this is when people were still confused, before people knew she was white - and I stole that album all the time. She always had to come snatch it back from me. And then my mom always had Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill on repeat…I was just old enough to start paying attention when all these classic late-nineties albums came out.
I had a very musical family around me and they all had great taste. My aunt went to college and would record music videos on a VHS. My sister and I would watch these hour-long VHS tapes with Janet Jackson videos, Monie Love videos…picture a mixtape but with videos. And they’re all gone now! It’s the saddest thing. That would have been sick, to have those in 2019.
But that was the background of my musical taste. I had really great black women in my life with really great taste. But on the flipside of it, I was also a loner as a kid so I found my own weird taste. I ended up getting into Gorillaz, random stuff like Sugar Ray, I was into Creed for a second…and then Linkin Park came out and blew my mind. I remember my older cousin - who I thought was really cool - peeped me watching a Linkin Park video and started talking to me about Korn and Slipknot and how he thought they were really cool. It was cool that he was validating this weird side of my taste.
Do you agree with the idea that genre is dead?
I love that movement and seeing that happening. I’ve come around to that idea more since I’ve been trying to get on streaming platforms, on editorial playlists and things like that. When I noticed how I had to tag my music for genres, I was only seeing “dance”, “house” and “electronic”. All of the sub-genres underneath that kind of get whitewashed. Juke and footwork aren’t considered a sub-genre of dance or electronic. I couldn’t tag my music as what it really was, and had to kind of shoehorn it in to a space where it didn’t belong. It’s messed up because even as I was working on this new project I started thinking “What genre will I have to place this in on streaming platforms?”
I think even Lil Nas X is shattering people’s expectations of genre and the idea that you have to stick in one lane because he’s making songs that are country and hip-hop and pop. I mean, no one cared about Post Malone and they’re pretty much doing the same thing, but the fact that Lil Nas X came out of nowhere with so much popularity is forcing the conversation. And it shows the power of fandom too because so many people in so many walks of life love [Old Town Road] and they don’t care what genre critics or streaming platforms are trying to place it in.
All the eight-year-olds losing their minds to that song don’t care if it’s country or hip-hop.
Exactly! And it’s kind of opening younger people’s minds to the point where they’re not writing something off based on what genre they think it is.
What annoys you that people request at a set?
Just in general when people have requests. The way I get booked at this point is based on my sound. So I come prepared to deliver what the promoters are expecting, and when people request stuff I’m just not able to make it work. People think because everything is streaming that it’s so easy for me to drop anything in but it’s not how that works. Like, I’m not even connected to the WiFi! I remember one girl drunkenly being like, “I want you to play Despacito!” but there’s just no world in which that’s gonna happen.
I know that you have your own signature style called “double-dutch” - how did you develop that?
It was kind of accidental! I was trying to make juke and footwork but I wasn’t having much success. I feel like since I was trying to do an imitation of an established sound, it came off like a cheap copy. So I started consciously thinking “Why try to make a bad version of something that already exists when I can do my own thing instead?” I was calling it double-dutch for fun because I would make these throwback double-dutch videos.
What differentiates juke and footwork from double-dutch?
Double-dutch will still have the high bpm, 140 to 160bpm, you’ll still have the short vocal chops and the polyrhythms…but I’ve moved away from sampling. The short vocal chops are mostly my own. Juke and footwork are sample-heavy genres.
The thing I like about juke music is how gritty it is, how low-tech or low-fi the sound can be. You could have an old-ass drum machine and a basic four-on-the-floor pattern and it could be a banger. How many of us are still listening to old house records where the sound quality is sketchy in 2019, but we’re still turning up to it? I also love the dirty vocals, but when I’m DJ-ing a women-centered or femme-centered party and I want to play juke music but then I’ll have a man’s voice come on saying something so derogatory! I’m like, this was sexy in the 90s maybe when people weren’t paying as much attention to this stuff, but in 2019 it cuts through so sharply. I was like, I can make dirty music but make it less offensive and less abrasive. That kind of pushed me into the sound I have now.
How has your the double-dutch sound developed since you started working with it?
I wanted people to be able to listen to my music in multiple settings. Like, my stuff has always been fun and my friends have said they listen to it at the gym. Sometimes you can’t always just sit and listen to some of my older tracks. I want my stuff to be in that middle-ground and very versatile so I can pull in people who don’t always want that high energy. That’s where I’m at right now. Monte Booker is a big influence production wise.
Why don’t you tell me more about your new EP 21 Cent?
It’s been delayed because I keep starting new tracks and not knowing where I want to go with it…I have all these weird beats and songs that were at one point going to be included on this but eventually I decided I wanted a consistent project and I didn’t need to put out eight tracks or ten tracks…there’s no demand for that yet, but maybe I can give a short three-track introduction to myself. It’s almost like a sampler. It has it’s own sound thats separate from my remixes or other stuff I have on Spotify too.
I know you have your own visual aesthetic that goes along with your music - what inspires you
A lot of Retrowave and Outrun and all of that - I don’t know what it is about that weird throwback 80s Miami Vice style aesthetic. Last summer, I kept seeing all these visuals and downloading them for fun which led me to a community of people making music with those visuals too. I have a bunch of Outrun radio stations that I listen to. So that all inspired the artwork I was making for my cover art - I sometimes think of my music as Chicago juke and footwork meets Zenon which is where the futuristic aspect comes in. It’s futuristic meets retro. I love the idea of space exploration with that cute and feminine edge to it.
Where do you see your sound developing?
I want to be a flexible producer like the lovechild of Monte Booker and Kenny Beatz or something. I have a huge respect for Kenny Beat, because he has his own style but molds it to the artists he’s working with. I would love to be able to do that. I want to be able to work with an artist in a way where we sit down and they can tell me like “I want to make some earthy trap song” and I’ll be able to give them that while also staying true to my own style. I would love to collaborate more, I want to work with more vocalists, I want to get better at mixing…I want to do it all.
by Stevie Logan
Photos by Shea Petersen for Bops & Flops