Jennifer Lee, better known as dance music DJ and producerTOKiMONSTA
, may be the rare woman in a man’s world, but she’s faced bigger battles than just breaking into the boys’ club.
She’s also a survivor of Moyamoya disease – a rare neurological disorder in which interior blood vessels in the brain are constricted, increasing the risk of stroke.
Not only has she survived, but thrived. After brain surgery to treat the disease, and without the benefit of a major record label behind her, she was nominated for a Grammy Award for best dance / electronic recording for her 2017 self-released album, Lune Rouge.
“I have no idea what exactly I did to get this nomination. That’s probably it – I didn’t aspire to be a Grammy-nominated artist; I aspired to be an artist and the ‘Grammy’ part is the cherry on top,” TOKiMONSTA tells Pollstar.
“Being authentic and embracing your unique talents will get you seen. Being and sounding the same as anyone else may not get you as far.”
The electronic and dance music scene is notoriously top-heavy with male DJs and producers, but that’s not been a hindrance for TOKiMONSTA. She’s learned to adapt on her own terms.
“We can look at all the numbers and see that there is a lack of diversity in electronic music,” TOKiMONSTA says. “However, this doesn’t mean things aren’t changing because the progress is palpable. I navigate this world by trying to be the most authentic version of myself as a person and musician. Leading by example will show other non-male gendered people that they can also have a presence.”
TOKiMONSTA, a classically trained pianist, brought her music and perspective to bear as a rising young star in the underground music scene in Los Angeles. She learned the art of performance and honed her craft during late-night competitive beat battles at the city’s Leimert Park, and in pop-up clubs.
“Low End Theory was a weekly club night in the Lincoln Heights part of L.A. that existed for about 10 years until they ended it about a year or so ago,” TOKiMONSTA explains of the nurturing scene. “It was a place where playing unique music was celebrated. Genres did not matter. It was a place where artists like myself,Flying Lotus
and more would frequent as our place to perform and hang out. As it grew in notoriety, people such as Thom Yorke, Erykah Badu, James Blake, Skrillex, and others DJed.”
Flying Lotus added her to his Brainfeeder imprint, where she released a debut album, Midnight Menu, and soon earned the attention of Paradigm Talent Agency’s Lee Anderson, who is now her agent. She’s also launched her own imprint, Young Arts.
“Lee found me as I was starting out as a touring artist,” she says. “I believed in Lee because he was excited about the music. At that time, the music I was making and the ‘scene’ I was a part of was fairly experimental. As far as what he saw me, I’m not sure, but I’m glad he saw something!”
She continues in her experimental milieu, with her latest release, Oasis Nocturno, released March 20 and originally to be accompanied by a tour – however, like everyone else in the touring world, that’s on hold while TOKiMONSTA rides out the storm at home.
Prior to the shutdown, her headlining club shows averaged 657 tickets sold for a gross of $14,332. But she’s been in front of larger audiences at festivals including Life Is Beautiful, Outside Lands and Osheaga, and has toured as an opener forZhu
Her manager, Lewis Kunstler of 2+2 Management, says TOKiMONSTA is active on social media to keep the conversation alive about Oasis Nocturno, “and the current situation we’re all going through,” he says. “TOKiMONSTA [scheduled] a run of summer festivals, a fall tour in Europe, and is planning on rescheduling her album tour to another period.”
She’s also hosting a livestreaming show called “Lost Resort,” [sponsored by Beatport] which is a conversation between artists about music that they feel got lost over the years. “The first show was with TOKi and rapperDumbfounded
; they went through the new TOKiMONSTA album track by track,” Kunstler says. More information can be found on TOKiMONSTA’s Facebook page.
TOKiMONSTA did offer one piece of advice for young women aspiring to the world of dance music, whether as producers, DJs or both. “Don’t focus so much on your gender and focus on the music you are creating and sharing. If you are a talented producer, musician, DJ, and you have the drive – the world is your oyster.”