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Most people don't think of New Jersey as a huge source of inspiration and cultural output in terms of the arts: and yet it's the world of Jersey Club music that has become one of the biggest influences on contemporary hip hop and dance music culture. After almost two decades of existing in the underground, The Jersey Club scene exploded internationally within the past few years, drawing the eyes and ears of mainstream producers like Brenmar, Baauer, and Diplo. This new young generation of Jersey Club DJs have become surprising forces of positivity in the EDM and hip hop worlds. At the forefront of all of this is DJ, producer, and vocalist UNIIQU3. An outspoken proponent of female and LGBT collaboration, UNIIQU3 is paving the way for future generations of dance enthusiasts.
What is Jersey Club, exactly? In UNIIQU3's words: “Jersey Club is an offspring of Baltimore Club music and house music, derived from Chicago back in the day. There's some Ghetto House and a little bit of gogo in there. It was made in Jersey and comes from the clubs. The things that make a good Jersey Club song: it has to have the right beat pattern, the right kick pattern. A lot of vocal chops that are dance-floor focused. The vocals will encourage people to dance, like 'Let's go!', 'Get up and dance!', and whatnot. The beat ranges from about 135 to 145 right now.”
Jersey Club has certainly gone through a lot of transformations since its inception; UNIIQU3 remembers the beginnings of the style fondly, recalling late nights in warehouse basements and YMCAs where youth-oriented parties often occurred. “I was like 16,” she told me over the phone. Despite her age at the time, UNIIQU3 giggled as she described the parties as “really raw, really raunchy.”
Starting out as a dancer, she eventually noticed a lack of ladies on the turntables and took action. “I was just a party girl on the scene … I wanted to be that different girl. I wanted to see more female presence and energy on the decks rather than on stage. My ex-boyfriend was a DJ and I took from him. I caught on really quick. I just started going to parties, trying to play. Just bringing my book, being like 'Excuse me, can I hop on?'”
“It was definitely [hard]. I started off as a dancer before I DJed. A lot of the guys didn't take me seriously. They were like 'That's that girl that dances, right?' I didn't have a DJ name or anything. They really didn't take me seriously until they started to hear how good I was. I would just bombard everybody.”
By the time UNIIQU3 became widely recognizable on the scene, Jersey's influence had already expanded outwards, first in the tri-state area, then throughout the world. “It was YouTube that really did it,” she explained. “That whole viral-ness of Jersey Club spread all over. Kids from PA, New York, sometimes Baltimore were coming. The scene just started getting bigger and bigger.”
And when the genre started being covered by major music outlets like Vice, Pitchfork, and MTV Iggy – all of whom noted the influence of the genre on mainstream EDM worldwide – the original Jersey Clubbers were ready to celebrate. “I think it's awesome! I didn't expect it. When I first got introduced to the fact that Jersey Club was international I didn't believe it. But I think it's really cool. It's always been something that was amongst us and the internet wasn't as big as it is today when Jersey Club started. The internet introduces everybody to everything instantly. It was a pleasant surprise, though.”
With the spread of a homegrown, grassroots movements always comes concerns about cultural appropriation and the watering down of the original spirit of the scene. But while other people find themselves trapped in these semiotic debates, UNIIQU3 is largely unbothered: “At the end of the day, it's still just music. It's just something that happens. I just thought [those arguments were] silly … I didn't really pay it no mind.”
As positive as she is about the spread of her music, it's not always easy for female DJs to make it big. “It's just such a male-dominated field,” she stated sternly. “A lot of people aren't used to seeing a woman up there, [but] I'm kind of seeing a lot of it now more than ever. I'm excited about that. It's just the start. I think it's because we're all working together.”
UNIIQU3 also noted how unfortunate it is that men who hate on women end up getting more press than the women actually putting in work. “People just need to talk about what females do. They need to talk about the positive stuff rather than just the negative stuff of guys bashing girls -- and then everybody wants to care. Hear what I'm saying? People just wait for dudes to say something negative, and then everybody wants to talk about it and act up on it but it's like: why aren't you just blogging about more females doing dope shit? Ya know? Then we won't have to air out douchebags because it won't matter.”
UNIIQU3 by Devi Desire
It makes sense, then, that a huge part of her work has been collaborations with other female artists and collectives. Recently, she joined up with The Factory Girls and Discwoman and has been performing at a handful of LGBT event. UNIIQU3 is certainly hoping to be the bridge between the often segregated club world. “Everybody listens to the same shit. I've been saying this, like, forever. Just because you have a different sexual preference doesn't mean you don't like the new Baauer song or the new Waka Flocka track? Why should you be separated at a club just cause of that? I'm all about the togetherness.”
“Females and gays – we're both kind of like minorities. We're both fighting for respect. That's why there's definitely a bond. But I'm excited about that. We need to be represented more, on a bigger platform. I'm all for that. Just making good music.”
With an almost endless list of collaborators, UNIIQU3 has dropped fire on track after track for a few years now, but one of UNIIQU3's biggest projects in the past few years was planning an ongoing night at one of New York City's biggest party spots, Webster Hall, marking her success as a mainstream artist. Hoping to bring in a broad range of talent from all areas of the dance world, she's been a uniting force in an often divided genre. “I feel like Webster always has this standard of hip hop and dance music but there's just something I haven't seen there yet. I'm trying to be the one that pushes it. We're just mixing in whatever the f*ck we want to play … they need to have some vogue and ballroom stuff there too!”
UNIIQU3's fans have been clamoring for more new music for a while, and she assures us that she'll be dropping fresh material this month. "It's well worth the wait; I feel like I'm entering a new era of my career," she said. She also just signed with the newly founded NLV Records, fronted by fellow club pioneer Nina Las Vegas.
As far as other projects go? UNIIQU3 is keeping some of her upcoming endeavors under wraps. She was constantly careful about not revealing too much when we chatted. So, instead of asking her about her future, I asked her to give some advice to younger DJs: “That's hard cause I'm always the one to ask for advice!
"I would just say: trust your gut! Have good vibes. Watch your back. Plain and simple! I'm trying to keep it real.”
Featured image by @AlmostAlwaysVintage.