Interview With DJ Ultragrrrl, There's A New Grrrl In Town Set To Give The Boys Some Competition

by ROBYN ROWE · February 13, 2009

    Ultragrrrl is an ultra-smash on the dance floor. DJing only music she "loves" the old fashioned way (aka with CD players) she has accumulated an eclectic night life following. Watch for this grrrl pumping beats everywhere from weddings to the hottest clubs. A new face to give DJ Nick Cohen and DJ Mess Kid some competition. We wanted to get a look into who Ultragrrrl is in real life...

    I think that most people know that you are a local, raised in Tenafly, NJ, and that you are often described as Jewish-Egyptian. But what is your musical geneology or heritage, i.e. what do you remember hearing while you were growing up? I come from a family of very independent thinkers. My brother's rarely agreed on music and my parents never listened to anything popular, so I was always around so many different genres. I could go from dancing to Madonna in my oldest brother Albert's room to hearing Echo & The Bunnymen coming from my brother Lawrence's room to riding in the car with my mother as she listened to her Arabic music tapes and lots of Claude Francoise. Independent of my family, the first bands I got really into as a kid were REM and the Beatles -- nobody in my house liked them. Actually, the only band my entire family could agree on liking was the Pet Shop Boys.

    By the way, I think that since I listened to so much Arabic music growing up, I really took an immediate liking to Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin."

    Can you identify a song or band that initiated your love affair with music? Yes! The Pet Shop Boys!!!! My brother Lawrence spotted me dancing in front of the TV to a Michael Jackson video while were were on vacation in Paris when I was 8 years old. He grabbed his Walkman that had a cassette tape of their album 'Please' in it and shoved it in my hands. I listened to that tape non-stop and couldn't believe that music was so amazing.

    What is the current status of Stolen Transmission -- both the label and the weekly party? As far as I can tell, your blog indicates that you've been flying the DIY flag in the face of adversity and running things from your apartment, just as you began. How and where can fans hear you spin on a regular basis? To be honest, the experience with the Stolen Transmission label really exhausted me. Having a label -- in any capacity -- these days is heartbreaking and basically a great way to throw money into a bottomless pit. When we severed our ties with Island/DefJam, the whole process was supposed to be immediate, but actually cost tons of money we didn't have and took about 6 months to complete. By the end, we were all exasperated and my partner, Rob Stevenson, went to become President of Virgin Records America, which I think is awesome. Stolen Transmission is now a management company and the artists include InnerPartySystem and the Audition. There's another artist that might get added to the roster in the next month, which I'm excited about.

    As far as the regular party goes, we're looking to relaunch it soon as an all ages party with bands and DJs that kids from the outer suburbs don't typically get to see because of so many indie-style venues' age restrictions. Growing up in Tenafly, NJ, I was so lucky to be so close to the city and everything it had to offer -- but I got a fake ID when I was 19 just so I could see Interpol play Mercury Lounge.

    As a producer and promoter, what does helping an artist develop mean to you? It basically just means helping them see who they are. I find that a lot of times people are being told to be something they're not and it never really helps because that makes everything insincere. But if you basically help an artist discover who they are, and magnify that aspect of their personality, you really get a chance to develop and artist.

    I read that you prefer to use a CD player hooked up to a mixer than to use DJ software. Is this strictly out of a practical preference for manual control over the mixing, or is this a conscious decision informed by your indie ethos? As a DJ, how would you describe your relationship to the music you play? You know, I've tried so many times to DJ via a computer with Serratto and all those other DJ programs, but I just can't get excited over them. I love DJing from CDs still, just because of the tangibility of it all. I think my eyes stare at a computer screen all day and when I stare at one to DJ, I can't think straight. Looking at track listings on CDs and stuff is something my brain is happier to process in the evening. The only annoying thing is that CDs get scratched or ruined when people spill drinks on them!

    As far as my relationship with music goes -- I only like playing music that I LOVE. I want to enjoy and dance to the stuff I'm DJing -- and sometimes I think that helps get the party moving.

    Do you ever switch between records and cds? I used to DJ exclusively vinyl about 8 years ago. I had this incredible collection that I inherited from my brother Lawrence that was filled with rare things and just about everything, plus all the vinyl I had collected. One night when I was DJing some fun party, about 25 pieces of vinyl were stolen -- all wonderfully rare shit. I was pissed and decided to not DJ with records again.

    Do you prefer to play at private parties or at clubs? How open to requests are you, and how much does your playlist change in response to your audience? I love DJing just about anywhere. Weddings are great because there's always an open bar and people love dancing to Dexy's Midnight Runners or Beyonce since they're wasted. Clubs are wonderful too because my sets are typically shorter and so I don't have to worry so much about spacing my hit songs out -- which you do end up having to worry about when you DJ for 4 hours at private events. Whenever I'm DJing a private event, I like to have a sitdown with the coordinators to discuss what kind of music they want to hear. I get that I am being hired because of my taste ... but a lot of times people just want a human jukebox and when I'm getting paid nicely, who am I to argue that?

    Despite your relatively eclectic band list on myspace, your profile on ultragrrrl tells me that your favorite band is Interpol. You seem content to be identified with the indie rock scene. Is this true? how do you feel about such labels? Yes! My favorite band is Interpol. Well, them and Radiohead, and Arcade Fire, and the Killers, and the Oohlas, and I absolutely love past two Britney albums. I think it's fine that people identify me with the indie rock scene. Labels are labels, and just like with my clothing, i never get hung up on labels.

    Tell me more about The Pocket DJ: Ultragrrrl's Guide to Building the Best Music Library, Pocket Karaoke, and The Tarts of Pleasure.

    The Pocket DJ was really fun to write because I love enhancing people's lives with mix CDs. I used to make so many mix tapes as a kid and this was sort of like, my mix tape to anyone with $10. I'm not really snobby when it comes to music -- good music is good music, and it really doesn't matter if it was recorded in the woods of Canada on a super rare sound system, or at Jim Hensen Studios in LA with Max Martin.

    The Tarts of Pleasure is a DJ duo that my friend KarenPlusOne and I started for fun because we got into a fake fight with our friends Alex and Ryan and decided to have a DJ battle. Their DJ duo's name was Death+Destruction and we came up with ours while getting wasted at Carlos D's birthday party -- it's a play on the Franz Ferdinand song "Darts of Pleasure." Franz Ferdinand knew of us using their song title as inspiration and thought it was pretty funny... they've also come to see us DJ quite a few times and that was nice.

    Your blog mentions two photoshoots. Is this something you will do more of? Any other projects on the horizon? I'm totally up for getting my picture taken! It's not something I do often for for anything other than for fun when people ask me. I wouldn't mind doing a nude shoot since I'm 29 and my boobs are in really great shape and I can't imagine them looking like this forever. I'd love to be able to show my kids the photos one day and be like "look at how nice your mommy's boobs were before you came and destroyed them."

    And now for the obligatory music interview questions:

    What are you listening to right now? The new Lily Allen album, the new Trouble Andrew album, the Killers' "Day & Age", and Britney Spears' "Circus." I've also been listening to a lot of Big Country but that's not totally by choice.

    What do you listen to when you want to relax? Bat for Lashes does the trick. As does Sigur Ros.

    What are your favorite opening and closing songs for a playlist? Favorite opening is "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division or James' "Laid" since those are two songs that anyone knows me well enough knows that those are kind of my signature songs and so when they get played, that means I'm DJing. And favorite closing is "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners since it's really hard to follow up.

    Which three songs would you want a DJ to play at your birthday party? See the ones above!!!