It’s been more than half a decade since Amber Giles left Arizona’s biggest metropolis behind for the City of Angels. Testament to the wealth of subcultural communities flourishing in that infinite Californian sprawl, she openly admits that six years on she’s still finding feet in this adopted hometown.
Nevertheless, the woman better known as Mija arrived in Los Angeles with her reputation already firmly in ascent. By 2015, Billboard magazine was ranking her one of ’15 Female DJs You Need To Know Now’, which isn’t surprising considering around that time she was off touring Asia’s nascent dance scene with US heavyweight Skrillex.
Since then she has launched her own touring brand, Fk A Genre, the fashion house Made By Mija, released for institution labels like OWSLA and Fool’s Gold, and last year finally dropped her debut album, Desert Trash, on Never B Alone. But as she explains when we grab 40minutes, this journey began in an unlikely place — the defunct British nightlife website Don’t Stay In, once a bible for rave kids in Phoenix.
“It seems the only people that used that website were in the UK, and Phoenix, Arizona, for some reason. That’s just what we used to list all of our events. I started as a promoter because all of my friends were throwing parties,” Mija replies when we ask how she first got acquainted with electronic music culture. “So that was the first introduction to rave politics, or even just Internet thread politics, you know? That was a huge immersion point.
“The Phoenix scene back in the day, let me describe to you the people that were on this website,” she continues with a warm smile. “They’re outcast kids that have found this rave scene, which makes sense because they can’t get into clubs, they can’t go out and do anything. The only thing you can do, if you want to go party with your friends and be rebellious, is go to these under-age raves. They don’t have any alcohol, they don’t have anything. But my God, we would pack like 3000 kids into these warehouses, like every single weekend. It really built the underground community.”
It’s not long before our trip down memory lane hits the the first party Mija put on as a promoter herself, which kickstarted a run of events that began successfully, but would wind up like so many raves and nights — financially unviable. “I borrowed $1200 dollars from one of my friends who I think had a banking job. So we flipped that and then were like; ‘Oh my gosh, we can make like actual money doing this’. So we kept doing it for a while until eventually I lost money. Then I was like; ‘Alright, screw this. I’m gonna be a DJ, I don’t want to be the promoter anymore’.
With a juxtaposition of rose tinted spectacles and genuine relief, Mija recounts hours spent passing out flyers in venue doorways in the dead of night, or early morning, and the perils of “date stomping”, where parties are booked on the same day as other events — considered by many to be the height of bad manners. “And then there’s all the regulations — how many porta-potties do we need for this many people? How many off duty cops do we need to hire so we don’t get shut down? Basically, what’s the absolute bare minimum needed to keep this party going all night long,” she recounts. “To be honest, we found it pretty easy in Arizona to work the loopholes, and I think it’s pretty similar in other cities too.”
“This is probably around 2007, and it was all happy hardcore — Hixxy, Sharkey, Brisk, Ham, Darren Styles. I think we had Basshunter come through, that was a really fun time. A lot of hard dance as well, like Angerfist, Headhunterz, that was really big… but my world started very much with hardcore, drum & bass, and gabber,” she continues, explaining that around this time more mainstream styles like house music were also taking root in Phoenix.
Despite “wanting to DJ drum & Bass”, the frenetic BPMs meant Mija’s first forays in the booth were often defined by punchier, slower and more accessible tracks. French and filter house get a mention, along with crews such as Rebel Disco, a Phoenix collective responsible for intimate rooftop parties on Wednesday nights with a revolving door of on-point guests including The Blessed Madonna, long before she blew up globally, let alone changed her name.
After those formative days, throwing parties like Yoshi’s Island (her strong nod to the cartoonish world of Super Mario), it wasn’t long before the rest of the US began to catch up with what kids in Phoenix already knew. Rave culture, already long-established in regions like the UK and Europe, was about to explode Stateside. Suffice to say, though, bare bones gabber in abandoned warehouses is a long way from the multi-million-dollar EDM industry that would soon dominate America.
“For me, it always felt like I knew that it was going to blow up from the beginning because I saw that it was something so much bigger,” says Mija, recalling how Phoenix only really started hosting festivals as she prepared to move out west to Los Angeles. “I think the only difference now is that it is a lot more mainstream and commercially acceptable. And easier to find. It’s easier to get into those types of events. But the ethos of rave, for me was like — and this is so cheesy — but it’s literally just ‘play’. It’s all about inclusion and being a freak and hanging out with a bunch of people that are different, like you. I think that’s still there.
“It’s more commercially saturated, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I think that events just invite more people, some that wouldn’t typically be drawn to those types of parties,” she adds, making it clear that from where she’s standing, the so-called overground and underground not only co-exist, they are co-dependent. “People who are more inclined to fall into that underground mentality, like that purist type of personality that really wants to dig deep into something, they’re able to do that in whatever category and whatever sub genre they want to find. And they’ll find their people.”
Mija is familiar with this treasure hunt, having searched out like-minded heads to share dance floors, studios and booths with since her teens. Some appeared with her at Beatport x Ballantine’s True Music in Los Angeles this summer, where Dirtybird alumni J. Worra and Justin Jay joined local hero Pennywild to showcase next level beats. With memories of her upfront breaks and warm house grooves still fresh in our mind, we ask how she’s found living, or more specifically partying, in the city.
“Honestly, I think Phoenix is similar to LA on a much smaller scale. People know each other more in Phoenix compared to LA where there’s so many different crews, there’s always something going on, there’s all these pockets of sub genres, parties, and whatnot,” she says, quickly explaining the difference in size is balanced by comparable levels of passion around sub and counter cultures. “I’ve been to a couple of really cool parties, but I never really know how I got there, where they came from. One second you’re at Exchange LA, the next second we’re going back to the arts district where there’s a warehouse roller skate party.
“Someone rented a bunch of roller skates so it’s just an empty warehouse with everyone zooming around. There’s just a lot of crazy things happening in LA,” she continues, soon rationalising the claim through the city’s famous reputation for luring dreamers and aspiring makers. “I attribute it to the vast amounts of artists that are living out here. There’s so many creatives, so there’s going to be a lot of cool stuff going on. But I never know if something is legal or illegal in Los Angeles… I guess it’s kind of hard to tell until it gets shut down.”
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