Hey, You’re Cool! DJ Ms. Nix
"I don't program anything anymore—I almost always improvise on the spot"
Ms. Nix isn’t just another pretty girl playing DJ with a laptop. The Toronto native began DJing seriously about eight years ago and has gone on to play parties for a long list of brands and celebs including the New York Knicks, Beats, Drake and LeBron. But before that, she was a meticulous student of the game, programming every minute of every four-hour DJ set that she landed.
Nix, born Nicole Lyn, began her career as an actress, something that she’s been revisiting these days. She grew up in Canada, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. After spending summers and holidays in Jamaica as a child, she stayed for high school, which was strict and academically formidable, but she credits all these experiences with laying the foundation for her broad musical palette.
MASS APPEAL sat down with Ms. Nix to discuss how to rock a party, forming the SAUCE collective with Jasmine Solano and Martina McFlyy, and whether American politics will cause her to hightail it back to Canada.
How did you start DJing?
I found Scratch Academy and just thought it’d be a cool thing to do on a Saturday for six weeks. I was really curious about it and it felt natural to me so I did the next level and then the next level. Eventually my friends and family started to pick up on the fact that it was becoming a bigger thing for me so they would encourage me by saying, “Hey, come play a set at my birthday party or my wedding.” When I started doing that people were like, “You’re really good, you should do this for real.” I had never thought about it as a career path at all but people kept suggesting me to other people and I eventually got a residency at a new club in downtown LA called The Crocker Club. Opportunities kept falling in my lap and the more I started to do it the more I was like, “Okay, if I’m going to follow this path, even though it’s been kind of a happy accident, I’m going to make sure that I am prepared [and] I know my way around the equipment.” I literally used to plan my entire set. I played from 10pm to 2am, so 4 hours of music, I would program every single song that I was going to play, in the order I was going to play them. I’m obsessed with being prepared and not giving anyone any reason to doubt that I could do it. Because a lot of people back then we’re like, “Oh… a girl DJ? ” So I was obsessed with becoming a professional so that’s how it all started.
What do you love about DJing?
It feels like a connection to the people who are at the party as well as to a part of myself that I don’t get to access doing anything else. It’s something that requires me to really embrace being in the moment, think quick on my feet, be observant and vibe off of how people are receiving what I’m giving them, which is really special. In a lot of ways it’s like acting. I don’t program anything anymore. I listen to music and I’m constantly downloading and looking for a new music but I pretty much almost always improvise on the spot now. I treat crafting a set like storytelling in that I want there to be a thread. I want to be able to connect songs and many sets within the set together in a cohesive way. I don’t want to just play banger after banger or B-side after B-side. I don’t want to just throw everything in the pot and hope it makes sense to people. I kind of want to take them on a journey.
What are some of the struggles that you have endured as a female DJ?
The most common thing that I encounter is people still being surprised that I’m as good as I am. There are still times when I’ll be playing a party alongside a male DJ who’s never heard me play and like halfway through my set they’ll come up and they’ll be like, “Oh, I can tell you’re not just a girl with a laptop.” Part of me wants to punch him in the neck and the other part of me is like I can’t really blame them for saying that because there are those girls who are just girls with a laptop out there. I hate to sound like I’m hating on other women because that’s the last thing I would ever want to do and I honestly don’t knock anybody’s hustle but it’s so easy nowadays in any industry to kind of get by on things like popularity or good looks or being just good enough.
What are some of your favorite records to play?
Right now my jam is “Rake It Up.” I kind of lose my mind every time I hear that song and everytime I get to play it I’m like yasssss. I love to infuse soca, reggae and afrobeat into my sets. I’m also loving right now a song on WizKid’s new album called “Naughty Ride.” I love-love-love that song right now. I also love to play a little bit of old school. At our last Body Roll Party, I played Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” and no fewer than 10 people either came up to the DJ booth in the moment or hit me on social media like, “I’ve never heard this song played at a party, ever. This is my mom’s favorite song. I can’t believe you did that!” Everyone was so into it. People were genuinely so appreciative that I took that chance I guess. That’s a great feeling, not only that you can color outside of the lines a little bit and people still receive it, but also when you get to connect with people in that way when it’s not something that they get to hear often or at all in a party setting and it brings all those feelings and memories and stuff back up for them. That’s pretty cool.
Do you feel like the way that you grew up, being in Toronto and also in Jamaica, that it helped shape your ear and develop your musical palette?
Definitely. Even in middle school in Toronto, I was known as the girl who was always like, “Oh, did you hear this new group?” And also my stepdad was a DJ, so there was always music around in our house and I think the records that he introduced me to early, early on that me and my mom and my little brother would dance around the living room to impacted me in such a way that they still are sort of my foundation of what my musical palette is. Those are like classic fucking records. That’s good music—music that’s never going to go stale. So I’m always drawn to music that feels like that to me. The stuff that’s hot on the radio or in clubs is great. I’m not, by any stretch, a musical snob. A catchy hook is a catchy hook. But anything that feels like it can stand the test of time, I’m always drawn to those kinds of sounds.
What do you think makes a great party?
Diversity across the board. If there’s diversity in the music that’s played, in the crowd and a if you’re able to build the energy in a way that the night peaks at the right time and people are ready to receive you throwing stuff at them that they might not expect and are willing to go on that ride with you, then you’ve done a good job of curating the party.
What is SAUCE?
SAUCE is myself, Jasmine Solano and Martina McFlyy. Initially, we knew we’d like to do something together and we’re still developing all the ways in which we can embody what SAUCE is. At first we were like we’ll do this party and we’ll call it SAUCE and then people started calling us, the trio, SAUCE. It’s really just our way of celebrating the diversity of our tastes and our experience and the strength of our female friendship which has been a huge source of support for all of us.
You also do these mixes, like HERS. Will you continue to do those?
Yeah, we’ll definitely do more. That was the first one that we put out together and we released it right around Women’s History Month. We wanted something that reflected our belief in ourselves really. We knew that we wanted it to have good music on it of course. We wanted to create a soundscape in a way, something that people can not only just jam out to but listen to and maybe take something away from. We got quotes from some amazing people—Aja Monet, Melanie Fiona—and we were able to create something that was more than just music. There was poetry and there were quotes and it flowed in such a way that it was more like an experience and kind of a reflection of what it’s like to be a woman.
Why is it important for women to form these types of alliances?
Society would rather us compete with each other because if you are divided you are not as strong. Everyone knows at this point that women united are a force greater than anything you can think of to be reckoned with. When you find women that you connect with on a deeper level—women that you trust, that you can be both bossy and vulnerable with and who genuinely want you to win—then yeah, it’s like, okay what are we going to do with this power.
What is your advice to someone starting out DJing who wants to get where you are?
Practice a lot. Go out and hear other DJs. Be the best student of music, whether it was made yesterday or before you were born. And don’t give up. It can get really challenging. I’m still out here hustling. I’ve been doing this a long time and people know me but there’s no shortage of great DJs out there. Find your identity behind the turntables and really embrace that and bring that to everything that you do because that’s the thing that’s going to set you apart. The girl with the most followers or the girl with the biggest brand partnerships, they have their thing. Figure out what your thing is.
What is your thing?
I feel like I am… I’m a unifier. Because of my background, like I come from different places and I’ve lived different places and I’ve had so many experiences that I’m able to adapt to a lot of different environments quickly and comfortably. I think that resonates with people. I’m really good at reading a crowd and being able to meet them where they are. And I love culture. I love learning about new cultures and discovering what the culture is of any environment that I’m in.
Aside from being a DJ, you’re still an actress. What else are you working on?
I had stepped away from acting for a little bit. I was following the momentum of DJing and having a great time doing it and then a couple of years ago I realized that I missed acting. I wanted to focus on it more so I got myself situated in New York and really made a push towards nurturing that side of myself again. I’m in a movie that is coming out in 2018 called Love Jacked. In the last couple years, I was on VH1 Live when it was on last summer and I shot a pilot for the Travel Channel.
Do you envision DJing for the long haul or are you moving on from that?
I think so. I mean, look, there are guys out here who are pushing 60 and nobody blinks an eye. So yeah, as long as it’s fun for me and there are parties to be played, I’ll be there.
With everything going on in the U.S., do you ever think of just hightailing it back home?
I am a United States citizen now so I do have dual citizenship. All my family is between Toronto and Jamaica mostly so it would be easy to pack it up and head north where things are much more peaceful and organized. But I love living in the States and I love everything that I have learned here, everything I’ve experienced here. I’ve grown so much while living here and I’m invested. I’m here to say. I’m going to fight the good fight with everyone else.