It can be hard to stand out among Brooklyn’s thriving house and techno scene, but JADALAREIGN has more than earned her stripes. A DJ since 2015, she’s been a fixture at clubs and bars around New York City for a few years, but it’s in the past three years in particular that her profile has really blossomed. Yes, her soulful, agile and eclectic DJing has reached new heights, earning her a residency on NTS, but she’s also proven herself a talented producer, with scorching tracks on compilations for Chroma and Haus of Altr and a forthcoming EP we can’t wait to get our ears around.
Jada is also a mentor and community leader who has hosted and curated skills workshops for women, non-binary and trans people in New York and online, and as of this year, she’s a booker and resident DJ at Nowadays, bringing a slew of exciting names into the club and establishing herself as a beloved and dynamic force of Brooklyn nightlife. She's also making her mark overseas, recently wowing crowds in London and Rotterdam.
We spoke with Jada about how she’s balancing her increasingly busy schedule and the importance of empowering marginalised people in music, and she shared a spirited mix that encompasses what she's all about.
It feels like you are super busy and very much in demand right now. Obviously it’s the culmination of all your hard work, but do you feel like there’s anything in particular that has triggered this current boom period for you?
It feels like the next step in the progression of my work over the past seven years. I started DJing in 2015. I was an executive assistant at the time, working for an association in the construction industry; it was a job I picked up in college, something to pay the bills. I had developed a lot of experience at this job so it was comfortable, but I wasn't fulfilled. I always had a musical background. My mother grew up in the church choir, and would sing and play the piano a lot when I was growing up. She also had a pretty expansive music collection, so I was raised around lots of different music. I went on to play upright bass in middle and high school, and there was a brief moment where I was playing guitar with a band of kids from my school. There was also a short period where I was learning to play piano. My mother moved to Georgia when I started high school and my father would always encourage me to go to a good school and get a good job, so I never imagined I could pursue music as anything more than a hobby, and eventually lost touch. While I was in college I interned for an entertainment blog that was run by women as music director and it reignited something in me and I realised, this is where I want to be. I was interviewing artists and connecting with lots of people in different areas of the industry. And that’s when I got into DJing. I learned to DJ on a whim one day and ended up loving it.
Did you take to DJing quite naturally, would you say?
That first day I touched a pair of turntables I struggled, but I was intrigued and committed to mastering it. I was still working for the association, but I bought a controller and was refining my skills at home on my free time. One of my homegirls' friends owned a bar and she plugged me in. I played my first gig at this sports bar in Manhattan, playing mostly Top 40 songs and I really enjoyed myself. At that point I still wasn’t thinking about it as a profession. At the same time, I was miserable at my job, and was struggling to get by despite having been with the company for seven years. I requested a raise and a week later I was let go. I was destroyed at that moment; I invested a lot of myself in that job and I felt used. I decided to get a low commitment restaurant job and invest more time and energy into DJing. I hit the ground running picking up gigs wherever I could. After four years, I got to the point where I was DJing full time, I was able to pay my bills and I was comfortable.
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You say you started learning on vinyl. How long did it take you to get a hang of it?
I feel like I'm still learning, it's such a fine art. Access has always been the biggest problem with that. In the beginning I didn't have anywhere to practice and I didn't feel ready to go out and play records at gigs. And then at one point I thought, you know what you’re doing, and you know you need practice, so just practice at one of these low-key bar gigs. So I started playing out, using Serato at the time. The control vinyl allows you to manipulate a digital track from Serato on your laptop while using vinyl format. I was doing that for a bit and then eventually I bought turntables and that's when I got back into collecting and playing actual vinyl records. There’s a whole different world of music that only exists on vinyl records that you’re not going to find online. Playing records that no one’s heard or that only the heads recognize, it just makes the experience more special for me.
What about the workshops that you run, how did they come about?
I overcame so much to become a full-time artist and by that time I actually felt like I had the knowledge, wherewithal and confidence to really take it by the horns. I went from working 9-5, feeling trapped and like I couldn't live off my art, to living off my art full-time and not having to stress about money. I wanted to empower other people of marginalized genders and identities to feel equipped to do the same. Around that time I had a lot of people asking me for lessons and I was busy, but I wanted to commit some dedicated time and I felt like Women’s Month was the perfect opportunity. I partnered with POWRPLNT, a community centre in Bushwick and did a workshop series centering women, non-binary and trans people of color. It was 10 or so workshops spanning different topics related to DJing and production.
Over the span of a month, 100 or so people attended the workshops The need for a community based educational space became evident, so it became a monthly thing. The workshops were always donation-based, and donations would go towards paying the instructors
I really liked what you said on the In Session site, that it’s not about teaching people to DJ, it’s about giving them the confidence to believe they can.
It’s about awakening that ability. In Session came together around May 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Vanessa Newman, Sam Law and I had he idea to host a virtual production camp for women nonbinary and trans aspiring producers of color. It was quite a big undertaking; we programmed an entire week of classes, enlisted instructors from all over the world who shared their knowledge on different topics related to production, had some community building elements like group critiques, and so on– it was great. There were about 300 people tuning in each day from all over the globe and I learned a lot from it too.
Who did you learn from?
Each of the instructors brought uniquely valuable perspectives to the program. Suzi Analogue’s Black Music History lesson connected dots from Ancient African drums to negro spirituals to modern production techniques. It was informative, but also empowering and affirmed that music making is ancestral and innate within the Black community. Riobamba did a session on publishing and provided a lot of great insight from the perspective of a label owner. Tygapaw shared some resources that they utilized to advance their music making practice. DeForrest Brown Jr. led a really powerful session on Radical Technoculture Theory. I’ve found it’s super important to learn from your peers and members of the community with like minds and interests, and it felt really special to share this experience with so many members of the community that have laid so much of the groundwork for future generations to continue learning and growing in their respective journeys with music production.
[All these sessions are available to view via In Session’s Patreon.]
Tell us about your work at Nowadays.
I joined the booking team at Nowadays in July 2021 as the lead for Friday night bookings. I have a bit of curatorial experience from programming for radio, booking line-ups for my own parties and curating Community Skillshare and In Session programs, but this is my first role as a booker for a nightclub. I’ve certainly learned a lot in the past 15 months. As a partygoer, you get a sense of each nightclub’s essence, but as a booker you learn how to cultivate that essence from the backend. You get a better sense of musical trends, what people want to hear, and what types of line-ups work. Each of the clubs in New York have their own personality, what they’re known for and the type of crowd that frequents there. Nowadays is different from an Elsewhere or a Public Records, for example. I spend a good amount of time expanding my knowledge of DJs and music in general. I also started a residency at Nowadays at the top of 2022 which has allowed me to play with some incredible DJs like Acemo, Fauzia, Julion De’Angelo, Shyboi, Mez, Donis and Bored Lord.
Have you had to make any lifestyle changes as you become increasingly busy with different projects and responsibilities?
I do my best to prioritize wellness. Making sure I’m not neglecting my obligation to care for myself first and foremost, working out, nourishing my body, resting, sleeping until I wake up naturally, taking lots of naps. Also, establishing firm boundaries and learning how to say no has been really helpful. Honoring my capacity for things, and budgeting my energy wisely. I think these are all important principles for POC creatives, especially in the age of capitalism. There’s a lot of pressure to work hard, and be exceptional, and it’s easy to neglect your basic needs.
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Which producers do you look up to?
I’m really inspired by my peers, it feels like there’s been a Black music renaissance in the American underground over the past few years. Producers like Devoye, WTCHCRFT, Acemo and MoMA Ready, Huey Mnemonic, Ash Lauryn and The AM, Russell E.L. Butler and Black Rave Culture to name a few. Also really been enjoying productions from Ali Berger out of Pittsburgh, Jackson Ryland from DC, and Force Placement in LA. It’s the ability to preserve the classic essence of American house and techno with their own modern flair, but also the work ethic. Certainly something I aspire to.
How important is it to you that your music has a message?
It’s definitely important. Having a message, a certain intention, or distinct theme is what separates good from great. It’s how you forge your identity as an artist and really resonate with the audience you’re serving.
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I noticed another tweet where you referenced the book Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself. As someone who’s also read this book (in part), I was curious to know what you thought of it.
I enjoyed the author’s writing style, it was thought provoking. It empowered me to feel capable of anything, but on a scientific level. It all starts with you, and your energetic responses. You can say you want success, but it’s deeper than that. Do you truly believe you can be successful, despite the odds against you? Do you feel it on an emotional level? If your mind and your heart can be in alignment, then you can open your world up to whatever possible outcome you desire.
Can you tell us about your Impact mix?
This mix is a snapshot of my signature sound, including some of my most favorite records from my collection. It encompasses my passion for classic American house and techno spanning my home in New York, the East Coast and Midwest. It’s a love letter to obscure cuts, ravey synths and acid basslines, queer themes, expressive vocals, and getting free on the dancefloor.
Annabel Ross is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter
The Look feat. Franklin Fuentes - March (Club Tip Mix)
Byrd Bardot - Bardot Swing (Ralphi Rosario’s Cha Cha Mix)
Smack Productions feat. Tina Terry - Kiss Me (Vocal Tribe Mix)
House Factor - Movin & Groovin (Original Thump N Bump Mix)
Newbody - Moi Honey (Original Mix)
Exit 9 - I Love You (The Go Straight Mix)
Eddie S - Party Jumpin
Drewsky Phase II - Wigged Out
Party Crashers - Come And Get It
Goodpussy - Them Tittys
33 1/2 Queen - Searchin’
Diva - Get Up (Club Mix)
Triple Fat Systems - Comfort Object
Armando feat. Sharvette - Don’t Take It
Steve Poindexter - Mental Problems
L.A. Williams - It’s My Time To Jack