Photography CHRISTOPH NEUMANN
Interview JUSTIN ROSS
TOKiMONSTA aka Jennifer Lee may sound like a monster but she is really a star, and a gorgeous one at that. This Los Angeles native has found a fan base that spans the globe as she continues to push boundaries with her unique musical style. Her collaborations rack up listeners, and rightly so, as she effortlessly and harmoniously blends a myriad of styles and ends up in a class all of her own.
The nonstop pace of a globetrotting lifestyle with back-to-back bookings, playing in a different city each night can take a toll, yet the uplifting qualities of her music overshadows this fact, as her own effervescence clearly shines through.
TOKiMONSTA joined us in Berlin while on her European tour. In town to play at the club Gretchen, she stepped out in an early spring to show off the latest entries from Leisure Society and Etnia Barcelona. The photos captured her with her favorite new accessories in all their gilded glory. And when she sat down with us, her genuine character really came through. As a DJ and producer she may bring in the crowds, but what they certainly won’t forget is her totally rocking sense of style.
How did you get in to DJing and producing your own music?
I think it was a natural progression from being a fan of music and growing up playing the piano. Then, when I entered college, a friend of mine suggested producing music and he showed me a few things. I got really into it, and it kind of just took off from there.
I started doing research on how to do even more things with it. After I started developing a bit of a reputation as a producer and musician, I started DJing because that is the way people can see you perform. That’s why I started performing live.
Producing is a bit nerdier than DJing, are you a nerd?
Kind of, actually. I’m a pretty straightforward nerd at times. Once I get into producing I’m really in it, so I’ll spend 8 hours straight in the studio, and not eat or drink anything, or even go to the restroom until I’m done.
Where does the name TOKIMONSTA come from?
‘Toki’ means rabbit in Korean, and ‘Monsta’ was just a way to say monster, because I thought it was super cool! It was my screen name from way back, I guess that’s another way my nerdy side comes out… using a chat screen name as my artist name as well. It was a little arbitrary in the beginning, but the name definitely means more to me now and I’ve come to embody it and it has come to really signify the type of music I make.
You create fresh sounds with a lot of pretty classical influences, who are some of these influences?
As far as musical influences, I think there are so many, but the type of music that has made the biggest impact on my production is really hip-hop and rap, and R&B. I guess to point to a few big influences, DJ Shadow would be one, J Dilla, the producer. I really like Aphex Twin, and just random rave stuff I’ve listened to, like drum ‘n’ bass when I was 14 and sneaking out of the house.
What brings you to Berlin this time?
I’m playing tonight at Gretchen. This is going to be my third time playing there, I think. It’s a great venue. Berlin is one of my favorite cities to play in, or even just be in.
Is it different playing for crowds in Berlin?
It is kind of different than other places in Europe because a lot of people who come to the show are young expats or transplants from other parts of Europe. I always feel like people who are brave enough to move and live in another country, they have something in their head that makes them more adventurous in a way. They are really open-minded. That’s a great thing about this city.
What elements make a great clubbing experience?
Because I play out a lot, a good sound system makes a big difference to me. I like a venue where it is a little dingy and dark, but the sound is great, I’m really into that. The people also make a big difference, but I like a place where you can go out alone to hear a great musician or DJ and still have a good time.
How about as a DJ, how do you know when you are really on it?
My approach to DJing isn’t like a typical DJ. People go to see me because they know I’m going to do something that is very me… I’m not just going to play all their favorite jams. The crowd is great when they understand what I’m trying to do even if it is something a little bit esoteric.
You also have an independent look and style. What are some of your signature items?
For me, right now especially, a lot of hand jewelry and statement necklaces, and always sunglasses. Those are the main things. I like the idea of accessorizing, especially with an outfit. It makes a big difference. I could wear the same thing as someone else, but the accessories are what really set you apart.
Do you wear sunglasses at night?
Every now and then if I have some sunglasses that I love, like these ones that I have with green lenses, I can wear those at night and feel pretty okay about it.
What is your favorite pair?
These Henry Holland and Le Specs collab with green lenses and a clear frame. I wear them a lot because they are also very durable and I haven’t lost them yet!
How many sunglasses do you own?
I don’t even know… too many to count!
Your go-to jetlag cure?
I wish I had one! If someone has one please let me know!
Do you have any days off?
I had four days off in Paris. Usually I end up sleeping, eat a lot, drink tons of wine, and go shopping.
Four things you can’t live without:
Music, good food, good friends, my cell phone!