Updated: Nov 28, 2022
Talking w/ DJ & Curator DJ Jaguar about Rave Culture & Their Artistic Journey
I went to my first rave last year, late 2021. I was living in Atlanta, GA and diving deeper into a genre I knew I liked, but hadn’t yet had the pleasure of immersing myself in completely. Through my roommates, and folks who would soon become friends, I discovered an underground scene in Atlanta like no other. One person I had the pleasure of meeting was Atlanta based DJ, curator, and co-founder of trans-disciplinary rave collective Malware Cafe, Dani aka DJ Jaguar. Last month I caught up with Jaguar to discuss their journey as a DJ, rave music and culture, and so much more.
Can you tell me a bit about how you got started deejaying and what inspires your sound?
For a really really really long time I wanted to be a DJ. I used to go to Lava House and the Bakery, it was really exhilarating to be seeing in that specific time frame, just black people, you know behind the scenes making the sounds as that's inherently what it is. I was 18 or 19 commuting from Gwinnett. I'd drive a whole hour out just to be at these Atlanta parties. To experience them and come back home. So in a way I've always kind of just been naturally tapped into the arts of the underground, so to speak. And I've always considered myself an artist but I've always been too shy to show my work. I grew up on the computer— I'm of the computer era. I think I learned how to talk using the computer, you feel me, like young as fuck. My parents, particularly my Dad, were super into technology, super into video games. So I grew up with all the consoles, you feel me. So I was really exposed to a lot of different cultures that the internet had presented. And through that kind of like, engagement through, you know, the internet, it was lonesome. And I just kind of built a world of my own in my room via my computer and of course that came with also embracing music. And music was like my only friend ever.
With that being said, you know, the internet exposed me to so many different cultures. I had access to music in particular from different interests and I've always grown up with a framework that was global in context. I listened to everything under the sun, I grew up on Japanese Electro. I was a part of the Hallyu Wave which basically was like from 2008 through like 2016, I might be a little bit wrong, but Hallyu Wave was when Korean music started touching the Western hemisphere. So I was part of that wave of music and I listened to Carmen Electro, and J rock, and I like Heavy Metal, and I was going to Hardcore shows up the street. I listened to Bossanova music, and I grew up listening to Neo-soul because my parents like RnB. So, you know, as I'm coming into age and I'm nearing adulthood, I'm like I have all these deep immersive feelings, especially through sound that I wanted to present. I wanted to be in a band, I wanted to be a screamer, you know. I want to be in a hardcore band, I also love electronic music and I also love indie music and really sad, you know, melodic rock. I just had all these things I wanted to express and I did not at the time feel confident to engage in that way. And then before the pandemic I was like, “I really want to be a DJ, I have a lot of sounds I want to showcase”, and on some shit I was going out and it's like I wasn't finding the shit I wanted to hear!
And so as I'm tapping into all these different music genres and finding out about what's happening in New York, and L. A., and Berlin. I'm like, oh there's some hard and heavy shit going on that I'm not finding in Atlanta. So I was like, “I wanna DJ”, but at the same time I was like, “I don't think I can”. And then the pandemic happened and I bought my first controller, like off rip, didn't think twice about it. I’ve only been deejaying since 2020 of the pandemic. But simultaneously have always maintained a sense of what I'm trying to say, I've always dug for knowledge, you know, I keep myself informed. So being a DJ was kind of like, you know, almost became second nature to me.
Dance mixes are notoriously longer than the average 2-3 minute song. So, I wanted to ask how do you structure your mixes and what do you enjoy about creating these longer mixes?
So, structuring a mix is something that changes for me almost every day. It fluctuates, what that outpouring is because it depends on what energy you're bringing, you know. I personally define DJs to be educators. So I’m one of those people where I want to bring you a sound you may have not ever heard before, or perhaps you've never heard it in this way, right? And then, you know, you're defining your mix based off the environment. You're defining it based off the party, the crowd, who's gonna be there, what is it that you want to, you know, say on the floor?
So for example, you know, Malware Cafe, the collective I'm in, we're known for raves. So say I'm gonna come in, I'm gonna play at a rave, think of Hard Techno. So I'm really big on genre bending. And that these two genres I'm coming in and out of as they touch are cathartic off of one another. And you're kind of using these sounds that you wouldn't necessarily think to go together and I'm kind of fusing them and kind of synthesizing my influences to make that happen. I personally am not too much of a fan of a monogamous set, but I can really appreciate them. So I kind of deejay a little bit more complicated I feel, just cause there's so many elements that I'm bridging together to make into like, you know, an audio dance party. So yes, all about energy for the most part. Also something in Atlanta that I try to do is make them relatable. And that's just not all like hard bass, you feel like "dun dun dun, dun, dun dun dun". I really think about the Black diaspora when I'm spinning too, and then also just whoever is in the crowd on some shit. So I personally like to play things that sound really Tribal, and then I might bring in like a Lady Gaga moment, and bring it back out; and then I might bring in a Chief Keep moment, and bring it back out. Just kind of to, you know those pockets that choose to pronounce relevancy matters because I'm trying to create a conversation on the dance floor, like you can do this too. So I do my best for ,again, my sets to be universal. And same goes for doing club music, or whatever the case may be if I'm doing something more experimental, I wanted to you know— kind of go beyond boundaries, in certain ways. I'm always thinking about myself and everybody else when I'm going to mix this together.
"Be Present, Be Direct, Be Bold"
You talked about this earlier, but raves are about so much more than just the music. Can you tell me about how you curate the safe and accepting environment of your raves and just like, putting that community together?
Yes. Okay, let me collect my thoughts.
Yeah, take your time.
So the infrastructure of the Dance Music industry— if you were thinking about it in more of like macro level sense of dissecting what's happening— behind the scenes, usually despite like raves, you know, being inherently Queer and Black to what we have now and you know, in almost every facet of every type of industry, it's white male, cis heteronormative whatever the fuck you want to call it. And I think I do my best to serve as representation to be in an operating sense behind the scenes, because things don't get safe if you don't have the perspective of other people making these parties happen or these raves happen. The diversity truly matters. Safe spaces cannot happen without admitting, you know, the reality of your given situation. Like your dance floor is hazy, It's dark. The music is chaotic and volatile. Drugs get involved, you feel me. So there's a lot of things that you're actively, you know monitoring and filtering—and not in a policing way whatsoever—but you need people on the floor to be observing what's happening. And constantly redefining what it means to have a safe space because, you know, there's so many unpredictable things that can happen.
I'm really big on having presence on the dance floor. I'm really big on having dancers who are also, you know, kind of like safety units. I think I had a better word for it, but people who are watching your back when you're not realizing. And then clocking things that are, you know, not appropriate. Honestly, rave culture has shifted the paradigm of when you go out to the club in general. Cause I think just recently I had a conversation with a friend, I was like, you know, “I haven't really been groped by anybody in a long time” Honestly, it's about the intention of who's behind the scenes, the knowledge that they have.
Educating one another on how to show up in this space: be present, be direct, be bold. You feel me, but also be kind simultaneously. Your energy transfers. I like to be really personable with people who come to our events. It's important for me to see them and know them and do my best to remember their names, if I can. So they can come to me and find me. I'm trying to install hotlines for people to call, if anything happens. I’m trying to figure out how to install rides back home, I'll take someone home myself if I have to. So it's just about more than just being at the party. You feel me, like how is it truly being handled? I find myself being a caretaker in these spaces. And I love having that role and it could be a really stressful role, but you know, there's not that many people with the capacity, honestly. There's so much work that goes into it. I appreciate rave culture because you kind of have friends who don't realize they're your friend, on some shit.
"So that's something I want Malware to be, to inspire others to start their own parties, to be a part of our parties and to cultivate hyper community that also gives, you feel me."
My framework is essentially to be present. And to hold people truly responsible, especially the people who are feeding these people into this space. It's important to have safe measures and people who know how to handle people who are OD’ing. That people can come and get free, FREE drug testing kits and whatnot. All those things, you know, there's so much work to be done too. I was reading this article by Techno Materialism not too long ago and I'm kind of paraphrasing, I don't want to say out of context, but, they were basically saying that the safe space framework that people try to make is kind of falsified. They basically said it doesn't exist as there's so much that can still happen in between. They said that safe spaces are something that a lot of people attached to their parties to presumably say that it's safe when bad shit can still happen. So my mission is to literally be like, this is genuinely to the best of our ability, a safe space. You can't come back if you do something that is vile. If you harm somebody. If I hear something that has happened to somebody even outside of the club, I'm not about to let you come into the club just in case you might be a perpetrator to do that to somebody else, you feel me. So it's a lot of accountability I have, you know, making sure that I'm remembering what people are also telling me and showing me and making sure that is constant in what we do or else a safe space isn't real.
What are your plans for Malware Cafe? Like with DJ Soap and Vampy and in general, just anything in your own pursuits—— if you're comfortable sharing—— in the future?
Yes, so I have a lot of secrets for sure, but what I can definitely share ——I also want to say that Malware Cafe was originally called Wasted Fuckers—
Yes, we were Wasted Fuckers, It was so fuckin’ funny. That was so our livestream we used to do. And we all technically co-founded Wasted Fuckers, Malware Cafe formerly known as Wasted Fuckers. It was DJ Soap, Vampy, Hubert— rest in peace—, Cyn, Dread404, Logan, Nora and a bunch of other niggas, you feel me. We all were part of making that first livestream happen. Since then, so much has changed. And since the beginning too I guess the chain of command with —— I'm softly using the word command—— who's organizing Malware is DJ Soap and myself. We've been organizing the parties for the past whole year since I think last November by ourselves.
I want malware to genuinely feel like a collective and we're obviously a collective now, but I want to start doing work that incorporates everybody that's in it. I want to start doing , you know, monthly, if not bi-monthly raves and dance parties that incorporates and highlights the talents in Malware. And also my intentions originally with Malware [were] to platform and sustain other artists and inspire artists and DJs, specifically Black and Brown Queer folks. I want Malware to be a platform for newcomers. I want Malware to sustain artists for real.. I think dance and rave culture has a lot of interesting dialogue around money and financing parties and stuff, but for me, I think the pandemic really showed me, especially now with the recession, I'm like niggas are struggling. And I think the stigma, I guess I should say, of defining an artist and that they are inherently poor, or they have to work incredibly hard to receive recognition years later or perhaps dies before they actually get to a certain level of security. I just like, I fucking hate that. So for me it would be really nice to create a community and a hub in Atlanta where people can not only share what they love with a dance floor and meet new beautiful people, but everybody behind the scenes is taken care of to the best of our ability, you feel me? That's really important to me.
I want to cultivate appropriate recognition in Atlanta. There's so much talent and there's so much fertility here. I just don't think that we take up enough space. I personally don't think there's enough Black and Brown Queer DJs who spin more niche music. Spin Hard Techno, spin all this little shit, you know, Hardcore Club, you feel me whatever the case may be, like, I want to see more of that. So that's something I want Malware to be, to inspire others to start their own parties, to be a part of our parties and to cultivate hyper community that also gives, you feel me. I want it to be more than parties, I want to do workshops eventually, I want to teach people, you know, like building skills and business skills and how to DJ and you know. Even basic shit like how to fucking write a check on some shit, like how to be an adult, like I want niggas to be okay, essentially. I want niggas to be able to find pleasure in the nightlife because we deserve that.
And you know, come out of the night into the sun the next day and be boss bitches. Be, you know an artist, if you want to be an artist and that you're respected for that and sought after for that, you feel me like you have to pass the torch. I also want Atlanta to be taken more seriously when it comes to electronic music and that's definitely happening all over. But, there's a lot of artists and talents from all over that, you know, I love and embrace and when I go to other cities to see them play, I'm like, you should come to Atlanta because again. Producers, DJs, performers, they are educators of sound and history and I feel like there's a lot of things that skip over Atlanta. So I would like for that to change. I would like to kind of just show people there is so much wiggle room to be yourself, by bringing out these talents that are themselves.
"I want niggas to be able to find pleasure in the nightlife because we deserve that."
That’s very exciting. Well, is there anything else you wanna say to Tonitruale readers?
I don't know, I love being [a DJ]. Honestly, one thing I've always struggled with, not to be more personal, but one thing I used to struggle with heavy that used to make me like nauseous [was] trying to figure out what my purpose was, and that's the thing that the majority of us find ourselves struggling to grasp is why are we here? What do we like to do? What is our calling, especially for myself, I just can't be a part of just anything. And I've grown up in the most eccentric way possible, like who I am today is the same bitch I was when I was fucking three years old, you feel me. I've never been different. But, I've always felt like an outsider. Being behind the decks and having these beautiful people in my life and being a part of rave culture and Queer culture, being unapologetically Gay as fuck and weird and fearless I found myself not asking what the fuck my purpose is anymore since I've been doing this. It's kind of crazy because it used to really rock my world, it would make me almost sickly depressed. My future feels expansive more than ever before. Music again was my only friend. And it's like my best friend is still my best friend today, and it showed me what I'm supposed to be doing you know and inspiring me to inspire others. I think that's really what is the most satisfying thing about this.
I can't tell you how much of responsibility I feel I have in what I do. I feel like it's more than just me, it's bigger than me. I guess I say that to say I want people to be unapologetically themselves period. That's it. And I'm excited to see where Malware goes. Honestly, I would like Malware to have a club, I would like Malware to have a warehouse or be a part of a community warehouse, you know, be a part of something that incorporates a collaboration, you know.
Amazing, Thank you so much.
Yes, of course.