Callie Reiff is on summer vacation. Rather than spending two months at Camp Lokanda in the Catskills or folding clothes at Forever 21 though, the 16-year-old New Yorker will be playing shows across the city. These high-profile sets include a EDC New York pre-party and opening for acts including Brillz and OSWLA's Snails. Although she admits to being nervous about these gigs, the stage is a familiar space for the former New York City Ballet Company performer-turned-model, blogger, and most recently, DJ.
"I started playing drums around the age of 10 and taught myself watching YouTube videos," Reiff tells THUMP over the phone. "This music producer I was talking to—my friend's dad—recommended that I try out DJing. It was [starting to become] super hot and everyone was talking about it."
Three years later, she enrolled in acclaimed New York electronic music production and DJ school Dubspot, where she had her first lesson in vinyl mixing. "I wanted to learn the same way that they teach older people. I didn't want my age to be the reason I learn differently."
Today she has her underage toes firmly planted in the city's nightlife scene, sharing the stage with artists including Ed Sheeran, GTA, and Madeon, despite the fact her parents still have to accompany to every performance. With her spastic bass-driven new single "Wobble" with Dapp—released on A-Trak's Fool's Gold Records—blowing up the charts, we found out what it's like to be a teenage DJ in one of the dance music capitals of the world.
THUMP: What challenges do you encounter being an underage DJ that other DJs wouldn't face?
Callie Reiff: I obviously can't go to a lot of shows because of my age, so when I am playing, I always try to stay for the headliners. The bouncers don't really believe I'm there to play. They always do this double take, but it's never that hard to get in. Sometimes, I'm even on the marquee. They have to give me these huge X's on my hand. I think it's funny when they give me a hard time, because of course I'm not there to do anything but DJ. That's just New York City. It's so difficult sometimes.
How do you make your music accessible to your fans who can't see you in a club?
My teacher, JP Solis, founded TPA Studios, which is literally a club in a classroom with light-up floors and smoke machines. I do live streams from that studio. My friends and other people my age from all over the world can tune in to hear a mini-version of what I play in the club.
When you started DJing, did your friends understand what you were doing?
When I was starting out at 13, my friend group had never really heard of DJing. I was like, "Yeah I'm playing music and there's this thing called DJing," and they didn't know what it was. No one in my friend group knew about it. I introduced them to all these different genres and DJs that they never heard of, like Skrillex. Then once Skrillex collaborated with Justin Bieber, everyone got into the genre.
Your career in the arts began as a ballerina for the New York City Ballet Company. How did that help you prepare for becoming a DJ?
When I stopped the ballet, I said, "You know, I love the performing, but not the classes." I feel that ballet got me into performing—doing something with a big audience and engaging with a crowd. With DJing, the whole point is to engage with the crowd. The first time I got on stage [to DJ] people were like, "Who is this?" They were so confused because I was so involved with the crowd. I was hugging them, turning down the knob so they could sing, and laughing. That's something you can't really teach, it has to come naturally.
Do you ever get bothered by your parents coming to your shows?
They have to. The clubs in New York will be like, "You're underage, so you have to bring your parents." Of course if my mom is coming, then my dad has to come. The famous DJs are always so shocked by them, but they think it's the coolest thing that my parents come to shows. When I got into electronic music, my dad totally fell in love with it too. He'll come home and say, "Callie did you hear that new Chris Lake song? It's like really bumping." My parents are my most supportive fans.
Your latest track "Wobble" was released through Fool's Gold. How did you link up with them?
Fool's Gold is a huge label in New York, and I've known about them since I first got into dance music. When I was learning how to make music, I would spin their vinyl a lot, and my team sent them the demo. I've been wanting to send something to Fool's Gold, and I was confident that this should be it.
Have you met A-Trak yet?
I met him briefly at a fashion event. He was DJing and I went up to him and said, "I'm a DJ, but I know you hear that a lot." He was super down-to-earth and just really cool. I look up to him because he started DJing when he was around the same age as me. He would do all these beatmatching and vinyl competitions against trained 40-year-olds, and he would win. That was really inspiring for me.
Anna Lunoe played "Wobble" on her Beats 1 show, and said she met you and your mother when she played in NYC. What advice did she give you about breaking into dance music as a woman?
My team introduced me to her at Webster Hall. I have to admit, I was a little nervous to meet her, but she was so nice. She told me to keep doing what I'm doing and push hard to do what I love. Girls in the music industry have to be supportive of each other because there's not a lot of us. Even vocalists and girl groups. Girls just need to be together.
What can we expect from you this summer now that school's over?
I've got a few shows lined up. The Fool's Gold release is doing amazing. That's something we're excited about and we'll have remixes for that soon. I'm also working on new music with my older sister, who's a singer-songwriter. When we come out with that stuff, it'll be a pretty big thing. And of course, I'll go to the movies and all that.
Rebecca Krauss is on Twitter.