Allow us to introduce you to ballroom, and one of the top producers who has made it what it is today.
MikeQ is ready to unleash the subgenre into mainstream, and he’s not doing it alone. He’s got a label Qween Beats, a support system, and strong self identity that makes it all possible. We got to talk to him about what makes him tick before his show at MoMA PS1 this summer.
How did you choose your DJ moniker? Is there a meaning behind it?
That’s actually a funny, interesting story… My DJ name actually came from my AOL screen name, back when that was hot. My name was ‘MikeQ7000’, and the ‘Q’ came from infinity cars, because all their models had Q and a number… When I became a DJ, I kept the screen name, dropped the 7000, and never got the car. [laughs]
How was growing up in East Orange? Did you like it?
It was pretty cool. I was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, which is in Bergen County. I moved to East Orange when I was four years old, and have pretty much lived in the same house my whole life. I just moved out a year ago. Living there was cool — it wasn’t alway the safest place, but I enjoyed it, and I’m still there.
Is there a big music scene there?
Definitely. All of the Jersey club scene is from there. There’s a lot of house music too. It kind of laid the foundation for the kind of music I would be making.
What kind of clubs do you frequent?
Clubs… Jersey doesn’t really have “clubs”. Back then, I was going to a party called “The Globe”. That was the first place I ever went to, and it wasn’t a real club. It was more of a DIY venue, and most of those are closed now. Most people go to [New York] City to party now.
Do you have favorites in the city?
I like to go pretty much everywhere. Lately, I’m in Manhattan on Mondays at Vogue Night, or Fridays I usually play Ghetto Gothic or anything else that’s happening. I just started my own party in Brooklyn at House of Yes called House of Vogue. It’s not Vogue Night, but they’re similar. We play music and then there’s a little competition at the end. That’s been fun.
Going back to growing up in East Orange and Newark, there are a lot of people of color in those neighborhoods. Do you find that influenced your musical direction and your outlook on how you grew up?
As far as my musical direction, definitely. Growing up listening to Baltimore club, Jersey club, house music, that all contributed to it.
In terms of your other identity, being a part of the LGBTQ community, how did you find navigating that from where you grew up?
I started when I first went out to The Globe — it’s the club and party in Jersey. I’d say that was the first club and maybe LGBTQ experience I had, aside from personal things, and that’s where I found my DJ self in those club spaces. That brought me to where I am today.
Did you have a lot of room to do that in New Jersey?
No, not too much room. [The Globe] was pretty much the only space. It was kind of our safe space where you could go and pretty much be yourself. Outside of that, everyone would go to the village in New York City. When I would go there, that was a whole other awakening I experienced in myself.
Do you have some favorite memories from The Globe?
All of them! Those were some of the best nights of my life. They were where I came across ballroom culture: the music, the dancing. I don’t think I would even be standing here now if I’d never found that.
What is ballroom to you?
Ballroom is this amazing culture of creativity and family. It’s based around competing, but it’s an amazing place you can be whatever you want to be and live your fantasy for a night.
What attracted you to that when you first started?
The music and the dance. Those two combined — seeing people throw themselves on the ground. I’ve never seen anything like that before. This was dance music but different.
What do you think you bring to ballroom personally?
Personally, I bring my own sound, touch, and flavor to the genre. It’s not too developed, there’s only a few of us that produce this music. I have become one of the top producers, which is amazing and really special that I’ve been able to come across the genre and excel in it.
In terms of the ballroom scene today, what kind of places do you think are representative of the genre?
Definitely Vogue Nights. New York City is the epicenter, the mecca of ballroom. Vogue Nights are mini-balls, or a mini version of major balls, which occur on an annual basis. Vogue Nights are weekly, and have mini-balls at the end of the night. They’re good for practicing.
Do you see ballroom transitioning into more mainstream venues?
I do. Dancing has already been used in a lot of mainstream media. Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, Ashanti, Chris Brown have all done moves and the like. I myself have been in a lot of clubs globally. The UK has been my favorite — they’re into everything from the beginning to the end so in tune with the music.
Ah, yeah. That’s a lot of big artists dabbling in ballroom. Do you have any dream collaborations?
That’s a tricky one. I’d have to say maybe Timbaland or Missy Elliot. I have a funny story about her — she hit me up on Twitter one time, asking for music. I guess she was looking for music for one of her artists. She went with another producer, so she did a favor to me and did a minute of her recording over my produced music, and I play it at my shows.
You just went on tour. Tell me a little bit about that. What’d you do that was special?
I traveled all through Asia and got to stop in Hong Kong for my own private vacation, so I could take pictures, which is my hobby on the side. There’s an apartment complex, the Yick Fat Building, that I’d seen in documentaries and on Instagram, and I really wanted to explore that.
How’d you get into photography?
I got into photography just through traveling. I was going to so many amazing places and I didn’t want to simply document them on my iPhone anymore. I got a DSLR. Then it kind of spiraled, and now I take more photo equipment on my DJ trips than I even take to DJ with.
Now, I’m starting to take trips outside of music just to go take pictures. Maybe when I have time I’ll make a book or an exhibition, but for now it’s mainly music.
Back into the music then. What kind of advice would you give someone looking to break into the industry?
Definitely don’t look too much into the internet. Don’t look at your peers and what they’re doing, people get too discouraged because they always compare themselves. Just do you and be yourself.
Anyone up and coming you’re excited to listen to?
Byrell the Great, Ash B, Amorphous, Beek, Jay R, Buddah.. Everybody on Qween Beat is great.
What’s in store for 2017?
Make more music. I’m going to put out another EP with Fade to Mind, and I’ll be working on my own label Qween Beat. We’ll be releasing the first vinyl record with Byrell the Great. I’m taking a trip to Phoenix to shoot pictures of the Milky Way for a personal trip.
Did you catch MikeQ at MoMA PS1? Let us know on Twitter!
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