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In Session: Doctor Jeep

Must-see New York City DJ Doctor Jeep goes in with a typically rave-ready mix

  • Words: Arielle Lana LeJarde | Photos: Anushka Menon & Brandon Kim
  • 20 July 2022

Doctor Jeep epitomizes what it is to be an artist in New York City's diverse cultural scene. Born to Brazilian parents, André Lira is a first-generation American who found his love for music when he picked up a guitar at eight-years-old. By 14, he had written his first album and posted it on a now-archived forum called Tabit, which granted him an award for the metal hardcore record. “I recently rediscovered it and I was like, ‘Damn, this is really good. How did I do this?’ I was a freshman in high school,” he shares. “I think I cried when I listened to it. I can’t believe that was better than any music I’ve ever made.” He's since gone on to rise up as an influential DJ, producer and artist, unwilling to compromise his broad spectrum of influences to stay in one lane and making moves across a variety of music styles and creative disciplines.

The jump from metal to dance music isn’t the only example of Doctor Jeep’s versatility. The moniker, taken from a serial killer character in Rayo Casablaca's mystery novel 6 Sick Hipsters, is used to reflect his grim and gritty music style. But the mystery element can also be used as an analogy for his music because you really never know what to expect. His last release, the ‘Reflexing EP,’ spanned from speedy 4x4 to ‘90s breakbeat to dark garage.

“It’s fun party music that’s both dark and light,” he responds when asked to describe his sound in one sentence. “I also like dancing to different types of music as well,” he adds. “I feel like doing one dance for an hour gets kind of tiring. Moving your body in different ways and in different speeds is always fun.”

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On the 4th of July, he also sported his new platinum blonde haircut at Roberta’s, where he performed the first set from his more playful DJ Bark Lee alias and spun Baltimore club, Miami bass, and 2-step.

While his many musical identities can seem frantic, his passion for a diverse array of music can be traced back to his Brazilian roots. Lira spent every summer of his childhood in the beach city of Recife with his family, and was drawn to bossa nova’s unpredictable melodies, samba and Carnivale music’s oscillating drums, and Baile funk’s constant collaboration with emcees—all of which he incorporates into his own music.

14 years later, Doctor Jeep is a New York City must-see, spinning both locally and internationally and proving how well-rounded and talented the city's dance music scene is. Check out his In Session mix and interview below.

Doctor Jeep. Who got the keys?

You know, if you put your mind to it, you can have the keys. Question. Who got the keys? How are we gonna answer this? What is it supposed to mean? Or can just be nothing?

[Laughs] Speaking of names, what do you, Doctor Jeep, have in common with serial killer Doctor Jeep from Rayo Casablanca’s 6 Sick Hipsters.

Not much, honestly. I think. I mean, my recollection of that book is quite bad because I read it 16 years ago at this point. So it's half my lifetime ago. My remembrance of the character was that he is kind of like a mysterious, elusive character. He had this pet baboon and this Gothia style, which I don't necessarily think have. But I definitely do the New York thing of wearing all black—mainly because I'm just really short and I think that black slims you and makes you look taller. I also have a childhood love of metal and hardcore, which I guess this character also did. I mean, there's a song called ‘Doctor Jeep’, which this character got his name from. It’s an ‘80s goth rock song by this band, Sisters of Mercy. But I don't kill anyone. So that's good.

So you’re both New York, wear black, and like metal. But you don’t kill anyone… I mean, you do kill it behind the decks.

There we go. I’m a serial killer behind the turntables.

Speaking of identities, when you dropped ‘Dissociate’ in 2016, you said you went through an identity crisis because you were pigeonholed as a half-time producer. When I went blonde in 2018, I felt the same way. How are you feeling as a newly-bleached blonde?

I feel good. I've been wanting to do this for the past year and I just didn't. Too chicken. I've been asking friends how they enjoy it and they all told me my hair is gonna feel awful, but I don't know. This feels completely the same to me. It’s funny because whenever I run into someone now, they do a double take. I’m like, ‘Do I look that different than I normally do?’ So, yeah, it's been entertaining. And I really like the way it looks. It’s just something different. I've had the same haircut and same look and the same style for a really long time so I wanted to change it up.

That also translates to music, too. I can't be doing the same kind of style for too long and tying back to your question, that's what happened with ‘Dissociate.’ I had two or three EPs of half-time music and suddenly, the only shows I was ever getting booked were half-time shows. I was getting so frustrated. From then on, I kind of decided to try and time it in way that every EP is a different style because I want people to know my thing is being a generalist instead of a specialist. It's so much harder to have a career in being a generalist, but it's what makes me happy. And I think people some people appreciate it. Some people will only want to hear one thing, but that couldn't be me.

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Even though it is the song that kind of blew up and got people's attention, do you ever regret making it because people still strongly associate you with it?

I wouldn't say I regret making it. But I just kind of cringe when I hear it myself. I think that that style of music in particular, like had its moment in 2016, 2017, 2018 — but I just don't really enjoy it as much now. Maybe I'm just burnt out on it because I just listened to it so much. So now, that song in particular sounds kind of corny to me.

Do you still play it live?

Yes, just in a different style. I like changing things up like that. But yeah, I don’t have any regrets. It’s just like, man, really? This is the song you're gonna love? But I can't complain. If someone likes the music, what am I gonna say? Don't listen to that?

I just don't want people to think that that's still where I'm at now, because I've evolved as an artist. The same way that I'm sure people go up to Adam Sandler and are like, ‘Whoa, I loved you in Happy Gilmore.’ And he’s a serious actor now. Like, he was just in whatever the movie he was just in.

Uncut Gems?

Yeah! Didn’t he win an award for that?

I’m not sure.

What I’m saying is I'm sure he gets kind of annoyed that too. He's probably like, ‘That was a lifetime ago, and if you think I'm the same person, then like, you’re sorely mistaken.’

You mentioned you haven’t put out music in a while, but you have been playing quite a few shows in NYC. Would you say you’re a producer first, DJ second, or the other way around? Or does it switch up, depending on what you’re doing more at the moment?

I think they're equal. I think other people would say I’m a producer first. But people do want to come to see me DJ because I don't play that often. I mean, you say that I have so many shows, but I think I play like one show a month.

I feel like that’s kind of a lot.

I don't know, maybe I'm just comparing myself to my peers. Many of them happen to be doing this full-time. I always feel like I like could play more, but then I've had instances where I've played like four or five shows a month and I'm exhausted. I also have a day job and just other stuff going on and it’s hard to balance all that.

Well, you do both, and I see a lot of producers actually call DJs cover artists. As someone who actually played in an ‘80s metal tribute band called Axis of Harmony in high school, what are your thoughts on that?

Yeah, okay. That's interesting. Because—yeah, you're right—the band I played in high school, we did a lot of covers of ‘80s metal songs by bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and stuff. We did do some original music, though. But definitely: being a cover band is totally different to being an original band. And I think I totally see why people say that and think you’re getting famous off of someone else’s work.

People aren't necessarily cheering because of some crazy blend or like a spin back at the exact right moment — they’re cheering because the song itself is good. So I think it's a valid statement. DJs are tribute artists. But it just depends on how you want to pay tribute. Do you want to recontextualize music in a new way by blending it with other things that you think would never have happened? I think that's the best part about DJing. Taking two songs, mashing them together, and making a third totally unique song. The best DJs in my opinion do that. They’re not just playing a song and fading it out. They’re blending elements and make you think, ‘I never thought I’d hear that combination.’

Like Prince x Pinch.

Oh my god. Yeah. I never imagined that blend in my life. But it’s so iconic. Sometimes I go back just to watch it.

But in that video, they did cheer for the blend.

You’re right. That was a moment of cheering because the blend was so unexpected. But I think in most instances, it isn’t. I was going through a wormhole of tech-house DJs playing these huge festivals for some reason and I was watching this one guy play a Disclosure song in the in the build up. Then the drop was the most boring tech-house song of all time and the crowd goes to absolutely insane! I thought they’d be cheering for the Disclosure part, but it was the most basic thing. I was hoping it would be a better drop because it had potential.

In your scene, I think people care about the big blends.

Yes, I think that's totally a thing. Because I think that there are certain scenes in music that prioritized the art of DJing more than the art of the drop, which is more focused on like individual songs and how they progress. But I think the moments that make me the most surprised and giggly are moments when I’m totally surprised by what just happened.

I read that you studied neuroscience in college, and you wanted to find out why people liked certain kinds of music. What did you find out?

Well, I got into it because in high school, the music I predominantly liked was shred metal and hardcore, but I also had a soft spot for really chill folk music. And I was thinking about why is it that I can enjoy the spectrum of the lightest possible acoustic guitar to the most insane Norwegian black metal, and everything in between? Because there are some people I met that would only listen to The Beatles.

So in college, I did my a work internship at Goldsmiths College, which is part of the University of London. I worked for this place called Music, Mind and Brain Group, and we were studying a bunch of different facets of music psychology. One of them was about what aspects of music gets stuck in your head. So my job was to get the top 40 songs from every year for the past 50 years and transcribe them into MIDI and then export that. Then, we'd create a computer program that will average it all out. So you've got an average note distance and melt melodic phrase or whatever. The goal of that was to sell that information to advertising agencies or whatever to make catchy jingles. Which is funny because I now work at a company that makes audio logos and jingles for companies.

Speaking of earworm factor and psychology. Can you tell me why I can’t stop listening to Burial?

I mean, obviously, Burial is just an amazing musician and producer. He has a really good ear for a hook. It's funny because I actually made this playlist for my job of songs that get stuck in my head and ‘Archangel’ is on one of those.

There's just a way that he manipulates vocals. He just knows the formula. I don't know. He has that factor. And I think that there's also a lot of emotion in those tracks. I don't think I can make music as emotional as Burial does. I don't know if that guy's just super sad or what but it translates really well into his music. It has a very melancholic quality that makes it stand out because I think so much music doesn't have any sort of emotional quality to it. Having a strong emotion will help it cement it in your brain in the same way that when you watch a movie that was the saddest movie you’ve ever seen, you'll remember it forever. So I think that's kind of why his music tends to hit people so hard. It just has that ability to grip you.

Do you think that’s why the album you made when you were 14 was the best album you ever made? And there was not as much emotion in ‘Dissociate’ so when you look back on it, to you it’s cringey?

I'm not comparing it because it's totally different. With the first album, I was moreso impressed by how good it was at a young age. I've been trying to recapture that kind of authenticity. When you’re first starting out, you don't feel like you have to impress anyone. You’re just doing it for the love of it. I think most artists’ really early works are some of their best because there's no outside influence. I think when the outside influence comes in, you start feeling like you have to delete these weird elements because no one's gonna like them.

I cringe at ‘Dissociate’ for different reasons. I don't think I was consciously doing this, but when I looked back at it, I think I was trying to make a banger.

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You’re a long way away from just being pigeonholed as a half-time producer now. Your sound is hard to describe, but I think the common thread is that it derives from a lot of subgenres in UK bass.

I lived there for six months when I was in college. I played there a few times. But people are often surprised I don't play there more often. And I think the reason is that there is such an insane amount of talent there. I know this isn't the case at all times. But why would they fly out a guy from America when there's like 20 other DJs who do the same thing there. It’s a little frustrating because I feel like there is some element of uniqueness and difference, but I can't knock them. It's also like, what I if I was throwing a party, and the scene in New York is really good. There are like a million DJs I would want to book here.

QRTR and I actually spoke about that a few months ago. We talked about homegrown artists not getting respect unless you get the co-sign abroad.

That's actually totally, totally right. I think that there are a lot of New York artists that I really respect and there are other ones—who I also respect—but because they play in Europe pretty often, they're seen as better for some reason.

It is a little BS to me that just because you play at some festivals in Europe, you're seen as being better than someone else. I don't know, I don't try to think of music as a competition. Art shouldn't be a competition, right? You should do your own thing and if people like it, great. If they don't like it, so be it. If YOU like it, that's the main thing that should matter.

Aside from music, one of your most recent creative endeavors has been getting into visual art, particularly generative design. What drew you to this medium?

When the pandemic happened, all the clubs closed. And I'm very much the kind of person that my bursts of inspiration in terms of making music are having a mix coming up and I want to make something special for the mix. Or I have a gig coming up and it'd be cool to have some super crazy VIP. It's very rare that I can make music just for the hell of it. So I think when the environment that music is supposed to be heard in didn't exist anymore, it almost felt futile to make music. All 2020, I didn't make a single track.

But in 2021, I realized I hadn't been creative in a while so I had to do something. It was great to take time off and not be so stressed about music, but I needed something to get those creative juices flowing. I start teaching myself Adobe After Effects and then I discovered this medium called generative art. A co-worker of mine name dropped this artist Zach Lieberman. I started watching YouTube videos of his and he was doing more philosophical like TED talk kind of stuff about what art could be. I was just fascinated, and I realized a lot of generative art is making art that no human could really do via traditional mediums, but like with the magic of technology, this music can exist.

So I learned a bit of coding C++, Python, and a few other programs. The main one I like using now is called TouchDesigner. It's funny because TouchDesigner is normally a program for doing real-time live visuals. There's an integration with Ableton, so at some point, I could do like a live set of my own music and all the MIDI can be triggering visual stuff. I wouldn't need to use someone else like a VJ. I want full creative control over everything. I like collaborating with people too, but I've had situations in the past where it doesn't really feel like it represents me. So I just decided I have to take matters into my own hands so that I'd be perfectly happy with every element of the experience.

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What are the similarities and differences in your approach to creating a new audio piece and creating a new visual piece?

With visuals, I have much more of a concrete concept in mind of what I want to make. And then it's the problem solving element of how do I make it? Whereas music, I feel like, at this point, I feel like part of the reason it’s not as exciting to me is that—not that I could do it well—but I could probably figure it out. With the visuals, the process of figuring it out would be really interesting to me because this is a new thing. I've only done it for a year and a half, versus 14 years with Ableton. Because it's so new, it's more exciting.

I think a lot of new music producers have that joy of making music every day and maybe I'm just burnt out. A lot of music feels like work to me nowadays. With visuals, I actively want to do this all the time because there's so much to learn still. I think that's really beautiful. I think that's why if someone's in a creative slump, my best suggestion for them is to do something else for a while and you'll come back to it.

But now, my love for music making has been reinvigorated because I'm thinking about it in a similar way to the visuals. It’s like, how can I link these things together? How can different elements play off each other?

I’m glad that your newfound love of visual art has reinvigorated your passion for music. What are you giving us in this mix?

This mix was actually the first practice take I did - very off the cuff and perhaps a little rough around the edges, but I thought it would be a better representation of my current DJ style than meticulously planning every moment and transition. Generally speaking the only guide rail I had for it was a desire to do a bit of a reversal of the usual “chiller music and then build the intensity” style and start off with some juke-y, ravier elements and end the mix with a bit more of a heads-down psychedelic 4x4 moment. There are a number of forthcoming bits from myself in there to showcase what’s coming in the next few months, plus brand new and unreleased music from some friends like Hodge, Nick León, and Erik Luebs.

Doctor Jeep’s upcoming ‘VIP EP’ will be out everywhere via Hardcore Energy on August 13, get it here. He also has a remix for Nick León coming via TraTraTrax on July 29

Arielle Lana LeJarde is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter

Tracklist:
Nick León - Grito (Doctor Jeep Hyperactive Mix) [Forthcoming TraTraTrax]
Coffintexts x Monstergetdown - From Another Planet [Observe Participate]
Ebb - Blue Energy Drink ft. JD Loom [Forthcoming Par Avion]
Sun People - I Fell For You [Sun People]
Landlord’s House Coat - Start Movin’ [Medallion Sound]
Hodge - Amor Fati (Doctor Jeep 160 Version) [Unreleased]
Doctor Jeep - Temple Run [Plush Recordings]
Fluid Haunts - The Sun Is Dark [Forthcoming Hardcore Energy]
Doctor Jeep - Laff Trak VIP [Forthcoming Hardcore Energy]
Doctor Jeep - Icy Lake VIP [Unreleased]
Visages - Lunar Eclipse ft. Strategy [1985 Music]
Bitter Babe x Nick León - Tu Castigo (Simo Cell Remix) [TraTraTrax]
Ngoni Egan - Difaqane [United Identities]
Hermeth - Black Gojira [Brainwaves]
606SUPA - Hydro [Forthcoming Hardcore Energy]
Suki & Sniper1 - Rhythm Export [Holding Hands]
Pariah - Caterpillar [VOAM]
Hodge - Sub 100 [Unreleased]
Nick León - Xtasis ft. DJ Babatr [Forthcoming TraTraTrax]
Rene Wise - Lakota Fox [Mote-Evolver]
Erik Luebs - Untitled Acid [Unreleased]
Danny Daze & Jonny From Space - GT (Day Mode) [Omnidisc]

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