Interview by Jenkin Au & Alan Ng
Words by Ryan Goldade and Amie Nguyen
Photography by Jenkin Au
The justailhype! Crew met up with a gem from Montreal named DJ Killa Jewel. In an industry that is male dominated, this female DJ has stood up to the pressure and earned her spot amongst some of the best in her class. She has worked with the upper echelons of the DJ realm, including shooting a video for Q-Bert’s Do It Yourself: Scratch editions. From DJ’ing to TV production to music composition, Killa Jewel has never backed down from a challenge and her recent album Saudade demonstrates just how versatile she can be.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is DJ Killa Jewel. I’m from Montreal, born and raised. I’ve been DJ’ing for about 13 years now. Prior to DJ’ing, I had taken classical piano lessons for ten years so that gave me a backbone to what I’m doing now. I started out playing techno, house, drum and bass, and a lot of electronic dance stuff. After a while, I started getting into hip-hop and turntablism. I’ve been doing that for a while and in the last few years, I’ve been focusing on production and working on my record, Saudade (which just came out).
How were you introduced to turntablism and DJ’ing?
DJ Mana was my sensei. He was a DJ long before I ever started and just watching him scratch and watching him play was really inspirational. It was something that got me to buy my own turntables and eventually start practicing. We would practice together all the time. Sometimes six hours a day. I guess that’s how I got good so fast.
How old were you when you started?
I was 17-18. At that time, I was tired of piano lessons and I was moving into a more experimental phase of my life. It just felt like it was a natural progression.
How have the whole DJ, turntablist, and producing scene changed since you started back in ‘97?
It’s definitely changed a lot in the sense that when it started out, everyone was buying records. There were a ton of record stores out there. All my music was purchased on vinyl. I feel like that’s changed a great deal in the sense that a lot of DJ’s, including myself, have moved towards digital. I use Serato for many reasons, but for a long time I was a purist. I was anti-digital, but then I had a gig in Singapore one year and I was taking three of my record crates with me and one of them was stolen. That really made me strongly consider going digital. Serato is great technology. It’s just an easier, more efficient way of DJ’ing.
Tell us a bit about your experience in entering DJ battles such as DMCs and ITF Scratching. How have those experiences helped you better your craft?
Battling really forced me to perfect my skills in the sense that it forced me to practice and perfect what I was doing. I had never been that big into beat juggling and it forced me to dabble in that because a lot of the battles I entered weren’t scratching specific. You had to be well rounded.
I think it helped me obtain a higher level and also made me realize that I could be up there competing with the best of them.
What was it like to represent Canada at the World Vestax Extravaganza in Japan?
It was awesome! It was great to be flown out there with some of the best DJ’s in the world. Each DJ was representing their country. It was intimidating as well at times, knowing that I was out there representing my country. It was an amazing experience though. Vestax was so hospitable. They took us out and brought us into their headquarters and sat us around a table and showed us the blueprints to their new mixers. It was just a really good time. I made some good friends and the food was awesome. It was a great experience showcasing my skills in a completely different country and being surrounded by some of the best DJ’s in the world.
There are not many female DJ’s out there, let alone turntablists. How does it feel to be one of the few out there and why do you think there are so few of you?
Times have changed. When I started, there were only a small number of female DJ’s. It feels good to represent for women. These days, there are a lot more female DJ’s out there though. I feel like we definitely paved the way and made it okay for girls to come out and not to feel like it was only for the guys. There are a ton of great female DJ’s.
Also being a composer and DJ for CBC Radio, what was it like to be working at a mainstream radio station?
I did a TV show for CBC and I scored a season. So I did the music for a season of Suprise! … It’s Edible Incredible. It’s a cooking show for kids. I was also the DJ in the background. At first they wanted to call me DJ Banana and I was like, “No way!” I remember a couple of the kids coming up to me and saying, “You’re a girl! How do you do that?” It felt really good being an inspiration to the younger generation. It was also a good challenge for me because it was my first time ever creating music for a TV show.
How do you think your educational background of Communications assist you in your music career today?
It definitely gave me a lot of hands-on studio-based knowledge. It was the first time I really learned how to use Pro Tools and I’ve been using it ever since. It really helped me gain an understanding about sound and the nature of sound. It offered me a platform to experiment with sound in ways that I had never been able to do before. It also allowed me to be able to critique music in a way that I had never been able to before. Generally, I feel like I had a great experience.
You recently put out an album called Saudade, which is a Portuguese word for yearning. What is the concept for the album and how is that theme portrayed?
My album was built around a handful of different records that I had collected while I was on tour and travelling the world. I feel like travel in itself gave me deeper meaning in life by meeting people from different cultures and experiencing music in ways that I would never had experienced otherwise. Being on the road so much is a lonely experience but at the same time, it kind of opens your mind to different things. These records that I collected along the way are a product of those travels so the name Saudade describes a large part of my life as a musician, more as a musician than a scratch DJ because it allowed me to broaden my view of the world and be able to create something out of what I collected along the way.
One of your goals is to push turntablism and turntablist production into a new territory. With the art form slowing fading with new DJ’s, where do you see it going?
That’s a good question. I’ve kind of removed myself from the turntablist scene for a while because I was focusing on producing music and experimenting. As long as people are still doing it, whether it’s in their bedrooms or it’s out there in front of a crowd, I think the scene will inevitably change because what was popular a year ago isn’t popular now and what was popular ten years ago can be forgotten. I do see people using what’s popular now and bringing it into turntablism and using it in competitions. I think that’s really cool. I think people are always trying to push the limits and the boundaries. Party rocking is a great skill to have and it’s what you need from an entertainment point of view. It’s definitely a strong skill to have, and use my skills to the best of my abilities. I rock it with what I have, the way I know how.
What is HYPE?
HYPE is a lot of positive talk created around something that everyone can enjoy.