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DJ Automaton Interview: “Any Event I DJ Is A Queer Event” | Hershe

Posted by Mandy Randhawa on July 9, 2019

DJ Automaton is a Portland, OR-based DJ and musician. 

He is also a trans man navigating the DJ industry as a queer artist, and made history as the first trans male DJ to ever play at Dinah Shore. 

Read on for his story as a queer DJ, how he got started, and flashbacks to some seriously ancient technology. 

Flygirl: First of all, please tell us a little bit about yourself! How did you get started with DJing?

DJ Automaton: I started DJing because, as a musician, I was drawn to learning the turntables as an additional instrument. 

I loved dancing and being in queer spaces and I really admired the people I saw DJing as a young queer person. Plus being a musichead I was always making mixtapes for friends (on CDs and actual tapes!) So I bought some used Technics on Craigslist and began to teach myself for hours a day. 

I started playing a few gigs out, and amazingly, I was offered to DJ and throw my own night at a club—I had a residency at a local lesbian bar in Portland when I wasn’t even 21! I fell in love with it from there. It has taken me to many places and enabled me to do so much! 

Very grateful for DJing and I’m always pushing myself to learn new elements and formats—the gear and music styles have changed so much over my career.

Flygirl: What makes you unique as a DJ?

DJ Automaton: I think there aren’t enough trans male DJs, so one could say that separates me from the pack. Also maybe my background of playing in bands, and being a fan of music from so many eras and genres I believe contributes to my unique sound.

Flygirl: You were the first transgender DJ to play at Dinah Shore, what was that like? 

DJ Automaton: That was amazing! As a queer youth I dreamt of playing there, so living that dream was really incredible. Add to that the fact that I was the first trans DJ to play there and it was almost surreal. Very grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to represent the community in that legendary space!

Flygirl: What’s it like navigating the music industry as a trans DJ? 

DJ Automaton: Wow, this is a tough question. I can’t compare it to a cis straight person because I was always a queer DJ. But it can be challenging, as well as highly rewarding as a result of the hardships. 

I feel extra pressure to perform because I know I’m representing so many underrepresented folks, and also that the people hiring me might be facing their own prejudices. It can be frustrating to feel seen as a gimmick and not an artist, but usually as soon as I start to play I can feel people’s walls coming down and it’s extremely satisfying. It’s the power of music!

Flygirl: You’ve played at a lot of queer parties. What’s your favourite thing about those events?

DJ Automaton: My favourite thing is how many folks have come and felt safe in sharing community with others and dancing together. It’s such a privilege to be a part of that happening in so many cities and through so many years. I still am in awe of the fact that I’m able to do this for a living, because it brings me so much joy! 

I often say any event that I DJ is a queer event, because I feel so strongly about making space, in all ways I am able to, for other queer and trans folks. Really, I would not have it any other way!

Flygirl: Favourite memory from DJing? 

DJ Automaton: Playing for your Pride event in Vancouver the first time was my first international gig and it was so fun! Also the live shows I have been playing over the last year with The Last Artful, Dodgr have been really dope because I haven’t had the pleasure of DJing for an artist live at shows before, and the music is fire! 

Also, in LA  throwing The Grind on The Standard downtown rooftop balcony in the summer is an unparalleled good memory.

Flygirl: Favourite genre of music to listen to? Is it the same as your favourite genre to play when you’re DJing?

DJ Automaton: I listen to so much hip hop and it’s my #1 DJ choice. But honourable mention goes to riot grrrl and ‘80s/’90s jams.

Flygirl: You’ve been in the DJ scene for a long time, and in different places. How has it changed since you started? 

DJ Automaton: Yes, it’s been 15 years! #OLD. The entire game has changed in that time. I started doing gigs in 2003 or 2004 and clubs were still on turntable and/or CD only for my first few years. 

You had to find and own a physical copy of every track and sample you were going to play, and bring them all to the job. This is before you could just order it online. Plus, you had to clock your own BPMs! As you can imagine, lots of time was spent digging for music in shops. Serato came out, and digital downloading was already happening, so I made the switch over. At the time, this was controversial in DJ circles, but quickly became the industry standard. Then controllers came out and I adapted to those as well. 

Flygirl: Sounds like technology really transformed the scene.

DJ Automaton: I almost can’t imagine anymore what it was like lugging those record crates and turntables to every gig, and I can’t imagine ever going back, but I am grateful I started there. I expect many more things will emerge as technology continues to advance. 

Flygirl: What do you think the DJ scene will look like in the future?

DJ Automaton: I could see people sending song files to a DJ that then would be in a request folder or something in Serato in real time. Or the questionable road of “SYNC” (which is basically the software mixing for you) becoming the prevalent method. Or maybe lots of songs playing at once live instead of 2, you might be DJing or sampling from 3 or 4. 

Or going to 30-second snippets rapid-fire song play. Or including drum machines / instruments live in your mixes. Possibilities are truly endless and I’m excited to see where it goes!

Flygirl: You’ll be playing at Hershe this year, to close out Vancouver’s Pride. What are you most looking forward to? 

DJ Automaton: Being in your lovely country and amongst my extended queer and trans family! What an honour to get to play music for you and share space. Vancouver is so beautiful, and some of the kindest most thoughtful and genuine folks I have met were in or from your lovely city. Plus, the delicious food!

Flygirl: You have to try the sushi here! Okay, last question: what are you excited about? Doesn’t have to be music-related!

DJ Automaton: I’m excited that so many folks are working to push society forward in terms of equity and justice. So completely impressed with those who are working every day for this. Y’all are the real MVPs! 

Thanks for chatting with us, DJ Automaton! To get to know him better and check out his work, head over to his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud. 

And don’t forget to get your tickets for Hershe Vancouver Pride Closing Party!

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