There’s a reason DJ Shortee is known as the world’s premier female DJ - it’s because she is!
She is capable of mindblowing turntable tricks on top of keeping the floor moving. She juggles, beatmatches and mixes quickly through many genres. On top of having mad DJ skill, she runs her own label (Heavy Artillery) with her husband DJ Faust, produces music for their DJ duo Urban Assault, plays out constantly, and is one of the go to DJs for Playboy. She has written a book, made DJ instructional videos and has made YouTube turntablism videos with hundreds of thousands of views. Shortee kills it, which is why I was stoked to have a Q&A with her. We talked about her journey to becoming a turntable wizard, the tunes she’s currently digging and what she has coming up, both solo and with Urban Assault.
K. Lea: You used to play drums in a punk rock band … what was your band called? Do you still follow punk rock?
Shortee: Our band was called “Food.” The band was originally an all guy band called “Hair Club for Men” but their drummer graduated at the university we were at and they needed a replacement. Since I was a chick we changed the name. I actually wasn’t as much into punk rock before I played with them. I was more into heavy metal, rock, jam bands, hip hop and electronic dance music. I was a total hippy/raver who went to rave parties and followed the Grateful Dead and Phish on tour throughout high school and college. I was a total hippy. Other bands I was into ranged from groups like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Megadeath, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Steve Miller Band, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam, Primus, Green Day, Nirvana, Rush, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Cyprus Hill, Salt n Pepa, Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets etc … and then of course loads of house, techno and breaks music from the rave scene. In fact, when I started playing drums for our band Food., the band’s music sort of changed from straight punk rock into a fusion of punk rock, funk and hip hop with a jam band feel as a result of my influence on them.
K. Lea: When you learned to scratch was it a quick transition between punk to turntablism? Or did you somewhat linger between both for awhile?
Shortee: Well, there was a short time where I was playing in the band and learning how to DJ at the same time. My husband Bobby (DJ Faust) was the one who was teaching me and he would bring his turntables to our band practices and jam out with us. However most of our band members were graduating (or in my case, transferring schools) so the band broke up shortly after. That’s when I put all my energy into honing my DJ and turntablist skills.
K. Lea: Did you go straight into “EDM”, or did you go more traditional and follow hip hop first?
Shortee: I did both at the same time. I was already into both, although I was actually way more into EDM than hip hop before I met Bobby. Bobby was into EDM a little bit but way more of a hip hop head so we were reversed. I schooled him on the EDM and he schooled me on hip hop. So right from the beginning I was playing both EDM raves and hip hop gigs. Learning to scratch and beat juggle kept me tied to hip hop, however my passion was still more into the EDM music, playing a lot of breaks, progressive house and techno. Even the hip hop we played back then was more instrumental based, obscure beats and rare grooves, and b-boy breaks along with classic hip hop beats and current hip hop from that era. We weren’t into playing rap or top40 at all back then. That came later out of necessity when the entire hip hop scene went completely mainstream and there wasn’t a market for the rare groove stuff any more.
K. Lea:What was the first record you ever bought? Better yet, can you remember the first beat juggle you ever pulled off? Tell me about it if you can!
Shortee: Oh man, well the first records I got were when I was a kid. Lots of children’s records: Strawberry Shortcake, Wonder Woman, Free to Be You & Me, Disney Fairytales & Characters etc. I still have all those records and that collection has grown over the years. Children’s records are some of my favorites to collect. I think the first music based record I got was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” when I was like 7 or 8 years old. After I started DJing, one of the first record I bought was a breaks single produced by Bassbin Twins, although it was among like 20 records on my first record shopping trip as a DJ.
First record I ever beat matched was Run DMC’s Peter Piper and I think that was the first one I learned to juggle with too.
K. Lea: About the beat juggle – a lot of turntablists I know say that’s why they prefer Serato to vinyl now, you only have to buy the track once. Do you have any thoughts on the long debated Serato VS Vinyl topic?
Shortee: For beat juggling, I also prefer Serato Scratch Live using the control records on turntables instead of actual records. The instant double feature is great, but the main reason I prefer it is because you can set Serato Scratch Live to “relative” mode which makes the beats skipless. In addition to that you can tailor make your beats to fit your routines rather than the other way around. When you are juggling with just vinyl records, you are tied down to whatever the record does. If you want to jump to a different part of the song you have to work your way there or pick up the needle and put it elsewhere etc. Whereas with SSL you can remix the beat or create your own, and make it exactly how you need it ahead of time in order to pull off your routine any way you can imagine it. The possibilities are endless. With SSL You also have access to all sorts of looping, sampling and effects capabilities, and you can even beat juggle video & audio at the same time.
Same goes for straight mixing, I definitely prefer using tools like SSL instead of being tied to a minimal amount of records that I can carry with me to a gig. And even more than the unlimited music library, the software’s features add so much more to the mixed sets too just like they would for beat juggling. It’s also great for playing our own original tunes and remixes. Before we had to press up vinyl dub plates just to test out a song in the club since we weren’t using CDJs back then. Now we don’t even have to burn CDs and we can remix on the fly and then play it immediately after during our set.
Scratching is a whole other issue though. I still very much prefer scratching with actual vinyl records. I enjoy scratching with SSL too, especially with the skipless mode, however there is still a tiny bit of latency which is annoying to me and effects my performance. In my opinion, nothing is more precise than scratching with a vinyl record so I still use vinyl for scratching most of the time.
K. Lea: What kind of stuff do you like playing right now?
Shortee: When it comes to EDM, I prefer to play multi-genre sets if the event allows. The EDM genre’s I’m playing at the moment include electro house, dubstep, drumstep, drum & bass, trap and glitch hop.
K. Lea: Any particular producers you’re into?
Shortee: Producers I’m currently into include Far Too Loud, Pegboard Nerds, Doctor P, McMash Clan, Arkasia, Nero, Noisia, Knife Party, Pyramyth, Safra, Sub Focus, Zeds Dead, DEvolution, Pendulum, Secret Panda Society, Slogun & iOh, DC Breaks, Kairo Kingdom, Artem Zolbin, Charged & Volatile Psycle, Basto, Wolfgang Gartner, Reso, Skrillex, Savant, Zomboy, Skism, Taiki & Nulight, Dada Life, Figure, Hectix, Sigma, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs….and a ton more!
K. Lea: I read you were the official DJ for Playboy’s 50th anniversary … would your style differ quite a bit in a situation like that rather than in a club or festival?
Shortee: Oh totally! That is a completely mainstream crowd. The music I played on that tour ranged from top40, hip hop, rock, pop, funk and soul etc. Corporate events like that are usually mainstream. If they ask for “techno”, the don’t really want actual techno music, rather they want commercial house music. House remixes of popular top40 and hip hop songs or the most popular house music that has broken through to the mainstream markets. About 30 percent of the gigs I play are mainstream gigs either in nightclubs or corporate events and tours. I don’t have a passion for that music, I literally just do them for the money to help supplement our income and then put it towards what we are really passionate about such as our own EDM production and our EDM label Heavy Artillery Recordings.
K. Lea: How do you read the audience?
Shortee: Well first I try to get as much info about the event’s target audience so I’m not going into it completely blind. If the event is top40, I’ll also research the local radio charts of that region to make sure I have all the songs that are popular to the people who live in that area. As for reading the audience, I just watch to see if they are responding or not to various songs and act accordingly. If I’m playing earlier in the night and no one is dancing yet, I’ll play songs to get the ladies on the floor cause once you get the chicks out there the guys will follow. For edm gigs it’s a little different because I am being booked on my reputation as an artist and the energetic sound that I am known for producing and DJing so I have a lot more freedom. I’ll still watch the crowd to make sure they are digging it, however I can usually just play whatever I want and the crowd responds well since they are anticipating that sound from me anyway.
K. Lea: Also, did you get to meet Hef, and if so did he make a move??
Shortee: Yes, I’ve met him and no, he didn’t make a move, haha! At that time he had eight girlfriends, all of which were busty playmates, but even without them, I seriously doubt hitting on me would have ever crossed his mind! I’m also always one of the most clothed females at those Playboy events, not really into wearing bikinis while I DJ!
K. Lea: I get the feeling genre isn’t too important to you. It’s more about the flow and keeping the floor moving. Is there any truth to this?
Shortee: Yup! That’s exactly right. No matter what genre I’m playing, or what market I’m playing in,commercial or underground, it’s all about the energy in the room and keeping it fresh and exciting. People have short attention spans (myself included) so I usually mix songs at a faster pace and also don’t like to stay in one genre too long if I am able to perform a multi-genre set.
K. Lea: You are a busy, busy lady. You’ve written a book, you run a label, you produce, you DJ … what else do you have on the go right now?
Shortee: I produced an instructional DVD series a while back as well as taught DJ classes and private lessons before I wrote that last book. So now, I’m working on a brand new series of instructional books and DVDs to follow up the first book that was published last year. I’m also really into acting so I attend weekly acting and improv classes as well as go on various auditions for TV and film etc when my schedule allows. I also love acting because it has nothing to do with my music career and is a complete release from all things music. I’ve booked a few things here and there, but even if I just take classes and do plays for the rest of my life, I’d be fine with it because it’s so much fun and a great stress release from the music side of things. In addition to music and acting, I also design/maintain our websites and do graphics for our label and ourselves.
K. Lea: Is there one part of your job you like more than the others?
Shortee: I definitely prefer the creative and performance side of the job. That’s the best part! Making the music, DJing the music and meeting the people who dig our music. I also enjoy discovering new artists and music to release on our label.
K. Lea: Give me a quick rundown on your label, and what you guys have going on right now.
Shortee: Heavy Artillery was founded in 2006 by myself and my husband Bobby (DJ Faust ). Our label is a multi-genre electronic music label focused on dance music ranging from dubstep, drumstep, drum & bass, glitch hop, electro house etc and is distributed to over 100 outlets worldwide. We are approaching our 200th release on Jan 15th 2013 and so far we have signed over 150 artists from all over the world. Moving ahead, we have a full release schedule for 2013 and are also licensing music to various clients for film and TV as well. This year 2 songs from our catalog will be featured in the upcoming film Elysium staring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. We put a lot of effort into continually improving the quality of our releases, breaking new and exciting artists and we couldn’t be more excited about what we know is going to be an amazing year!
K. Lea: When’s the next Urban Assault or Shortee and Faust release?
Shortee: Our next Urban Assault EP drops on January 15th, a 3 track EP entitled “I Need You”. This EP will also mark the 200th release for our label Heavy Artillery Recs! After that we are releasing a full length album sometime in March.
K. Lea: For those that don’t know, can you explain your Urban Assault project?
Shortee: When Bobby (DJ Faust) & I produce or perform as a team, we are Urban Assault. The music is all EDM and dancefloor oriented with tons of energy, usually on the harder, grimier side of things. The genres we currently focus on are electro house, dubstep, drumstep, drum & bass, trap and glitch hop. When we DJ we usually perform together on four turntables with fast paced mixing, scratching and tricks. Occasionally Bobby will perform solo as Urban Assault (Faust set) if I am booked elsewhere, but usually its us together either tag teaming or playing on four decks.
K. Lea: Is there a difference between an Urban Assault set and a Shortee set?
Shortee: Urban Assault only focuses on EDM. When I play solo, I’m booked for a wide variety of genres ranging from really mainstream (top40, hip hop, rock, commercial house, funk, soul, jazz etc) all the way to the really underground edm (electro house, dubstep, drumstep, drum & bass, trap and glitch hop.) Our edm sets our similar since we are playing a lot of the same music and both performances have the same energy, however and Urban Assault set is two people, usually on four turntables with one or two laptops so we are able to do way more as a team then either of us can do as a solo act, simply because we have four hands on four decks. There is usually a lot more scratching and tricks in the team sets because while one is mixing the other can focus on the scratching and layering.
K. Lea: What’s next for you? What can we expect in the rest of 2013??
Shortee: Our next EP drops January 15, followed by a full length Urban Assault album in March. After that we will continue to release EPS throughout the year, possibly followed by another album later in the year. Also, I’m working on my new book/dvd series which tentatively will begin releasing this fall/winter on Hal Leonard Publishing. I will be touring all year as well, some corporate tours as well as normal one off weeklies at nightclubs and festivals.
A big thanks to Shortee for all the inside info! To keep up with her visit www.djshortee.com, www.urbanassaultmusic.com, www.heavyartilleryrecordings.com. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and subscribe to her YouTube channel. Get their new EP out today on Heavy Artillery Records!