Mija is intent on not doing the same thing twice. The producer and DJ born Amber Giles called an early tour “FK A GENRE,” which she’s more or less made her artistic philosophy. After cutting her teeth among a small community of ravers in Arizona, she quickly rose to international acclaim via a series of skyscraping singles and sets in and around the orbit of Skrillex’s speaker-shredding label OWSLA. It was pure pleasure stuff, the sort of tracks that my old buds at THUMP named among the Best EDM Songs of All Time. But “EDM” was always a basically useless category for organizing sounds, something that Mija’s larger body of work singlehandedly proves.
Over the last couple years, she’s covered a lot of ground. She’s made tracks that feel like footwork and anime soundtracks and happy hardcore all at once. She’s played sets that demonstrate a deep abiding love for house music, drum & bass, and disco. She’s even offered tender covers of Radiohead hits and Tegan & Sara flips, proof that her take on techno tropes is always intertwined with an abiding emotional intelligence.
This is an exciting thing for those who—like me—believe that music is at its best when it is unpredictable. There are few things more exciting to me than when a DJ can draw throughlines between tracks or forms that have previously been stored in separate parts of my brain. Those fresh synapses and new pathways are what I’m always seeking as a listener. What connects this sound to that one? What links the past and the future? These are the questions that Mija seems to orient herself around as both a DJ and as a musician.
So it’s with incredible excitement that we close out our first year of Noisey Mixes with an hourlong set from Mija. Like almost everything else she’s done, it’s unlike anything else she’s done. As you might expect, it goes some places; it starts with some low-key ambience, before blooming into a set of dancefloor rippers and technoid trippers, taking detours through shimmery disco, cowbell exercises, and even some lost demos from her own archives. For those who haven’t checked in since those high-gloss early days, some of the stuff she’s playing might seem like a bit of a surprise, but that’s become the joy of following her. You never know what you’re going to get. Approach with an open mind and you’ll be rewarded.
Alongside the mix, Mija also answered a few questions about where she sits in her career right now. We met earlier this year at the VICE office for a chat for our Beats 1 show just before she released a curveball house EP called Just Enough and embarked on a tour where she was set to deliberately play smaller rooms than she usually plays. Over the last couple of weeks—amid more gigs and releasing cinematic videos for recent singles—we caught up via email about what she learned from that run, and what she hopes to bring to her dates at the top of 2019, in which—never content to repeat herself—she’ll debut a live set. It has to be hard to figure yourself out when you’ve built your identity around being in flux, but Mija seems to have come to a good place—stable and centered in the midst of the whirlwind.
Noisey: How are we meant to enjoy the mix? What's the perfect setting?
Mija: I think this mixtape would be best enjoyed in a traveling setting—ideally during a road trip with a bunch of freaks.
Is synesthesia a real thing and if so, what color is this mix?
I don't see why it couldn't be. All of our senses are entangled with each other in some way or another. If this mixtape was a color, it could probably be a spectrum of blues, oranges/pinks; oscillating back and forth.
Was there any specific concept to the mix?
I didn't try to overly conceptualize the mix, but rather make it feel like an experience or journey which moves gracefully through different human emotions.
Do you have a favorite moment on this mix?
Honestly, my favorite section of the mixtape is the first 10 minutes. I made this intro without any beat matching or warping, which gives it a raw, experimental feeling. I was even able to include a very rough demo of a song that I wrote with my friend Zach over a year ago that up until making this mixtape, I had completely forgotten about.
When we last spoke you were about to go on a tour that had some smaller rooms than you usually play. Could you talk about why you chose to do that and what, if anything, you feel like you took away from that experience?
Yes! That tour was such a dream for me. For the past few years, my routing has always been based around the offers I receive, but this one was a bit different because I literally sent my manager/agent a list of clubs that I wanted to play and they reached out individually to make it happen. Some of my favorite rooms on the tour were Barcelona (Austin), Smartbar (Chicago), Dolphin (Philly), Black Flamingo (Brooklyn), and Floyds (Miami).
Doing this tour was an important reminder to me as to why I even started doing this; which is to become fully immersed in the underground music scene/communities; to give people what they want, but also to give people what they need. It was incredibly inspiring and really changed the way that I view DJing and how I see myself moving forward with that part of my self-expression. I love DJing, but I know that DJing is not my final form. Moving forward, I want to be selective and intentional with my DJ sets. like, I would rather do small/local residencies and build up individual communities over a period of time, rather than follow the rules (and the money) of a typical club-routed DJ.
When you talk about being involved with communities and the underground, is that something you feel like you've missed in recent times? Aside from that tour, how have you stayed in touch with that kind of energy? How do you hope to going forward?
It is something that I've missed greatly ever since I moved away from Phoenix. It's something that can take years to find and develop in. I actually had a huge moment of clarity last time we talked at the VICE office when you asked me about LA's underground scene. I realized that I have no fucking clue. I know that it exists, but off the top of my head, I wouldn't know where to go or who to hit up about it. I guess when you are touring as a DJ nonstop, the last thing you want to do when you get home is go to another party. So yeah, you could say that I had lost a lot of that energy. but after our conversation and that tiny ass show at Black Flamingo, I have been deeply inspired to get back into it. Moving forward, I would like to use my DJ sets as a tool to to hone in on specific cities/towns that have the energy and desire for underground music, but are maybe lacking the community aspect of it, or perhaps have been over-run by huge festival markets that they can't afford or compete with. Not to say that I have any desire to compete or even become a promoter, because I don't. I mostly only care about the "weekday-ers"—you know, the kids who don't just party on the weekends because it's something to do, but the ones who will gladly trade sleep for a night of authentic music and companionship. I care about those people, the local DJs, and the true heads. Those are the types of people it takes to build a healthy underground scene imo.
Over the years that you’ve been releasing and playing music, you’ve played around with a lot of different sounds and styles. Obviously, I know that’s because you don’t want to tie yourself to any specific thing, but have you run into any resistance to that either from fans or “the industry”?
This is a complicated question....because streaming music and live music are two entirely different things. I think it has been easier for me in the live-setting because starting out as a DJ, my job was never to play my tracks. My job was always to provide the best soundtrack for each individual party and do so with style and grace, dependent on whatever the fuck I happen to be into, plus what's popping off in any particular scene/city at the time. In a live show setting, that is easy because I am in control of the entire night. I curate that journey.
However, taking our modern-era approach to listening to music online, which is essentially one giant clusterfuck of dopamine hits and instant gratification, it can be very difficult to harness the attention of any particular person at just one glance. Our patience threshold has grown very slim. And for the record, I'm just as guilty as anyone else. I know what I like, I know what I want, and I seek it out aggressively. Unless you're an artist who has specifically curated records/albums to flow seamlessly into each other, there isn't much of a story. So to answer your question, yes. I struggle more along the lines of online streaming because at that point I'm no longer in control. The consumers are the ones in control.
And my story, my sound, has gone through so many dynamic changes over the past few years that I can't expect anyone who has never heard of me to understand what's going on or what I'm about. I'm hoping that as I release more music, that line will become less blurry and more distinct. Last thing I will touch on this—I think it's really fucking important right now for all artists to stand their ground and not submit to the algorithm approach of how music should be listened to or enjoyed. Don't change the story to fit someone, or something else's. Otherwise, we will become the algorithms rather than the artists that we intend to be.
Relatedly, because the music that you make and play falls into so many different lanes, I’m curious if there’s anything that you feel unites the stuff that you love the most. Are there sounds and feelings that you’re immediately drawn to?
I find myself drawn to specific sounds, defying any genre. For example, I love heddy feedback, lo-fi breakbeats, 8-bit tones, fucked up vocal fx, and thicccc high hats. Doesn't matter what genre the song is. They are simply elements I spend the most time on in my own tracks and happen to notice the most in other people's.
Do you feel like there’s something within you that pulls you in all these different directions as an artist? Is it just trying not to be bored?
I mean, boredom is always an underlying issue haha. but mostly, I think what happened to me specifically is that I gained too much popularity too fast, and in doing so felt a pressure to really figure out who "Mija" was. So while most producers get to spend years privately figuring this out, my experience was very public. I'm also kind of a brat, so if someone tells me what they think I should be doing, or what I can't do—I will most likely go out of my way to do the exact opposite in order to prove myself beyond anyone's expectations.
In doing so, I feel like I've gotten to try on a lot of different hats. I've gotten to work with and learn from a lot of different people. I've experienced so much in the past few years and now I feel as if I've come full circle and finally have a grasp of the type of music I want to express. Plot twist, it still has nothing to do with a genre. The sound, the story, the emotion, and the delivery are the most crucial elements that I am focused on.
Tell me about the new thing on the horizon, this live tour. I feel like as your voice became more a part of your productions, this was probably inevitable, but what made you want to do this now?
My upcoming live tour is the most exciting (and terrifying) endeavor I've yet to embark on. For a long period of time, I felt caught in liminal space between who I am as a DJ vs who I am as an artist. I would get up on massive festival stages to DJ and feel bad about myself, like I wasn't putting enough of myself into my sets; like I wasn't utilizing enough space. Now that I've built up my music catalog a bit, I'm using this new live tour to experiment with my own sound, my voice, my stage presence etc. I think that you have to be OK making sacrifices/becoming smaller, in order to grow larger and more articulately in other directions. But honestly, my main goal right now is simply to jam out with my friends, have a good time, and get closer with my fans; giving them a better insight as to who I am, how we relate to each other, and what my intentions are as human being.
One of the overarching things that's come up in a couple of these questions is, like, the struggle to figure out who you are in a confusing world. Have there been any big landmarks (positive or negative) on your way to answering that question?
It's really difficult to pinpoint any particular moment, when you're caught in liminality. I would say that it was more of feedback loop that I felt trapped inside of. The larger the feedback became, the easier it became to notice all of the excess static and noise that I no longer wanted in my life. Social media was incredibly unhelpful in figuring out what I wanted because I was only consuming other DJs content/announcements 24/7—and then comparing myself to it, while feeling disconnected from it.... ultimately leading to anxiety. So I unfollowed everyone, including a lot of my friends, not because I don't love them, but because I wanted to take control over my content consumption and feed myself things that I am personally and truly inspired by. So I guess that could be considered one of my landmark moments. (It's been great btw, highly recommend!)
Mija Band Practice Tour Dates:
February 22 - Washington DC - Rock N Roll Hotel
February 23 - Philadelphia - The Foundry
February 28 - Brooklyn - Babys Alright
March 1 - New York City - Mercury Lounge
March 16 - Seattle - Barboza
March 17 - Portland - Holocene
March 21 - San Francisco - Rickshaw Stop
March 27 - Los Angeles - The Echo
March 28 - Los Angeles - The Moroccan
Colin Joyce is an editor for Noisey and is either on Twitter or the dancefloor or both.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.