It’s an exciting time to be a witness to the expansive genre of EDM with an entirely new beat-making generation producing forward thinking and audacious electronic music.
Los Angeles native and Red Bull Music Academy graduate ToKiMONSTA is at the forefront of the innovative movement taking the world by storm. Synonymous with the LA beat scene, having emerged as the first female producer signed to the esteemed Brainfeeder label, TOKiMONSTA aka Jennifer Lee emerged as a producer back in 2008 with the release for her debut EP “Bedtime Lullabies”.
Her classical music training serves as a bedrock to understanding that her song structure deserves an emotive story. What sets here apart is her diverse glitch-hop production, experimenting with off-beat jazz time signatures, R&B, pop and classical music to blend compelling sounds and expressions uniquely her own.
With 3 albums under her belt, several remixes for artists including Jessie Ware, Lupe Fiasco, Kilo Kish, Daedelus, Tinashe and the release of her own label Young Art Records, TOKiMONSTA will be returning to Australia as part of her AUS/NZ tour commencing this week.
We caught up with TOKiMONSTA to discuss what’s on her radar.
1. Who is TOKiMONSTA and how would you describe your sound?
I am TOKiMONSTA – a music producer and live performer. I try to avoid describing my sound with too much specificity, as my music varies from song to song and project to project. Loosely, I can say that’s electronic with a soul foundation.
2. I read that your first production equipment utilised Fruity Loops and SP404? Do you still use either one of the two?
I do not use Fruity Loops anymore as I transitioned to Ableton several years ago. However, it is a great DAW and has one of the best internal sequencers. If they ever port it fully to OSX, I will definitely use it and rewire into Ableton. I don’t use my SP404 much anymore, but I still like its sound.
3. What’s one equipment you take on tour with you (besides your laptop) just in case something sparks an idea for a track?
Lately, I’ve been bringing this little AKAI MPK Mini with me. It is a midi controller with some drum pads and keys—mainly, it is very light and compact. It’s been really great while on the road. I also like keeping my IPAD with me and using my music and synth apps.
4. How do you think your background in classical piano helped cultivate your eclectic music production?
I think my background in piano allowed me to understand song structure, how to create a mood, and tell a story. Of course, there are many aspects of classical music theory that I find limiting and rigid—it’s been great being able to produce my own music while using ideas and concepts from everywhere.
5. What perspective do you come at when starting a track fresh off your dome? Do you think philosophically first and then apply thought into a track? For example, what would desire sound like? Or do you have a specific sound in mind and expand upon there?
I do not have a go-to method or formula for starting a song. Each track comes about for different reasons, maybe a mood I’m in, a sound I want to achieve, boredom, etc.
6. You’ve said in past interviews your biggest influencers were DJ Krush, J Dilla, and DJ Shadow amongst a roster of others. Looking back at your musical trajectory from 2008 when you first released your EP “Bedtime Lullabies” to 2015, there has been a strong evolution of maturity in production. You can hear the influences from your favourite producers and that trip hop/hip hop cross-over in your early years. Which producers do you look up to now since your sound has evolved?
I look up to the same producers as always, that will never change. I definitely have modern peers I respect, but it’s not the same as “looking up” to an artist. Now that time has progressed and my work has evolved, I created my own strong identity that I can draw from.
7. Back several years ago, the LA music scene was a melting pop of genius instrumental beat makers, where this revolutionary beat scene and the sound it produced crossed over around the world. A lot of incredible music and beat makers spawned from the Low End Theory beat scene days. What’s happening in LA at the moment that you’re excited about?
LA is thriving in so many ways. Now, I can see the next wave from the initial Low End Theory scene. The people that used to attend are now paving new paths and musicians from all different scenes are working together—it’s amazing. I can’t say LA music will stay like this, but it’s having its golden moment.
8. Which artists are you feeling at the moment and whom would you like to work with?
I’ve been feeling Tink, Kali Uchis, Sam Gellaitry, and Howie Lee. I’d love to work with any of them.
9. You’ve remixed for various artists including Jessie Ware and Tinashe featuring Schoolboy Q, amongst others, what does remixing give you that an original production doesn’t give you?
I think remixes are a way to tell a story in a different voice, with a different perspective. You hear a song and think it’s melancholy because of the production. If the production changes, the song may suddenly have a sense of irony or you may realize the lyrics were never that sad to begin with. Music is a funny thing in that way—lyrics and production work together to create a feeling.
10. I first came across you when I stumbled upon ‘This World is Ours‘ on YouTube after spending some time going over Nujabes’ music. It would have been a few years ago, and I remember not being interested in who YOU were but wanted more music, more sounds from this person called TOKiMONSTA. I was blown away! Then it would have been a few months later that I found out you were a female. In your experience, do you need to prove yourself more to keep on par in this male dominated industry especially being the first lady of the infamous Brainfeeder label?
I try to give very little focus on me being a female producer—it’s what I am, but that fact is irrelevant to my craft. That being said, I am very strongly opposed to people treating female musicians (or female whatever) unfairly because of their gender, but let’s keep the playing ground equal.
If a female’s music is poorly produced, so be it. The worst thing someone can say to me is that my music is good for a girl. People should not be categorized or asserted in terms of their gender, to be labeled as special because they are an abnormality.
11. What can we expect from your Australian/NZ tour?
Lots of music and, hopefully, [a] great shared experience.
12. One last thing, what legacy would you like to leave this world with and why?
I’m not sure. Haven’t thought about this before—don’t think I’m ready to answer this one quite yet.
TOKiMONSTA‘s Aus/NZ tour kicks off this Wednesday. Check out all the dates below.
*Special thanks to TOKiMONSTA and The Operatives.