‘I’m all about saving space’: Talking Tech with DJ Minx

DJ Minx is one of Detroit’s most pioneering forces. An advocate for levelling the playing field within the music industry, through her roles as DJ, producer, label owner and mentor, she’s dedicated her time to providing a space for and championing emerging Black female and female-identifying artists.

Cutting her teeth DJing in the late 80s, Minx went on to host radio shows on WGPR and CJAM, as well as holding a residency at Club Motor every Saturday night. Coming up alongside other Detroit veterans like Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins, she’s played a pivotal role in the city’s rich musical history.

Her Women on Wax label has served as a space for her own productions over the years but has also been an incredible source for music made by Black artists, including Diviniti, Animal Trax and Viermalair. More recently she’s used her music as a vehicle for important, charged messages: her ‘Blind Amerikkka’ single in response to police brutality, and her EP for He.She.They, which saw her come out publicly to celebrate PRIDE.

This year she’s adding more strings to her bow by taking on the role of curator at one of Detroit’s most important annual music events: Movement Festival. Having been a fixture there since the millennium, she’s now been given another opportunity to showcase the wealth of talent that’s on her radar.

Following the release of her newest single for Planet E’s 30th birthday celebrations, she sat down with us to talk through her production process, her cosy home studio set up and where she finds inspiration.

What’s your musical education? 

I played the violin in kindergarten when I was just six years old. I loved the sound and was good at it, but lost that love when I got into the second grade – mainly because I didn’t have the class anymore.  

What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music? 

I started off with a Mac G4, two small computer speakers, and Reason software. I’d heard that Reason was good for beginners in the production world so I grabbed it and got busy!

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

The first piece I purchased was the E-MU Proteus 2000. After talking with Kevin (Saunderson), he suggested that module because of the sounds it delivered and he was right! The drums, percussion and synths are what I pulled from it for the most part.

Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components? 

I have the iMac that I use to run Logic Studio (my DAW). The Native Instruments Maschine Studio sits off to the right, next to my mini Akai MPK.  Then there is the Roland keyboard and Drumbrute drum machine that were graciously supplied by Carl Craig. I have two JBL monitors that I use during production when I am not wearing my Pioneer headphones. I have two Technics turntables, two CDJ-900s and the Pioneer DJM750 mixer.

Where is it located and do you share with anyone else? 

My studio is in the comforts of my own home, east of Detroit. It’s in the basement, in a 10 X 28 foot space. 

Was there any method to the way you’ve laid it out and have you made any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?

Upon entering, there’s a space to sit and chill or get up and dance. There’s a shelf of all Prince, Vanity 6 and Morris Day albums with a vintage turntable on top to play the music.  That area is set up like the home I grew up in – cozy.  There are paintings on the walls as well as a huge, framed poster that Cornelius of Underground Resistance created for me. It reads “DJ MINX” in huge letters and is made up of flyers from parties I did some time ago. My production desk is closer to the turntables, in case I want to sample sounds from the ton of vinyl I own. Then there’s glitter here and there – because I love a bit of shine. It’s all the comforts of home, so when I get into things, I want to be here all day.

What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?

I’ve picked up gear over time, but we just moved into our new home so I’m finally pulling together what I’ve accumulated along with a few new pieces.  

Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change? 

There are modules that do one thing and some that do several. I’m all about saving space, so if I can grab something that encompasses all the sounds that I need, then I will trade in the old and grab the new. I do love my setup, so I’m not changing it often unless it’s necessary. 

If money were no object what would you add?

I’d love to have the Roland JD-XA Analog/Digital Synthesizer. I could make some really good shat happen with it. Also, I’d add insulated soundproofing to the entire space. I’m always aware of my levels, but sometimes I don’t wanna be!  

You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?

My turntable(s). Music soothes the soul and I have a ton of vinyl, so they would keep me going for decades. 

How do you condense your studio set-up for your live sets? 

I’ve not gotten to the space of playing live sets. That may come in time, we will see. 

Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace? Definitely.  

I do my cardio workout, freshen up, steep my green tea for 12 minutes, have breakfast, some fruit or a protein bar and head down.    

What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?

I usually have a thought in mind when producing. Depending on how it all goes, it could become freestyle.  

Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’ve worked on before putting it out there, which is why I have a ton of tracks that no one has heard. Sometimes I go in, do a track and finish, other times I’m working on one for hours or days.

Where do you go or what do you do when you have writer’s block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?

I take a break. Run errands if needed, or think about what I want to have for dinner. A change in music is a good idea sometimes, so I shuffle my jazz playlist. I get some ideas on musical elements from other types of music.

What inspires you outside the world of music?

Being around friends or going to visit with Mom for a week or so. She is in quiet, sunny Georgia. Watching other people create is inspiring, I love that.

What would you say was the most important piece of kit in the making of your new album, and why?

My Maschine Studio. It has every sound imaginable in it, and I have been able to use it for creation along with my DAW. 

What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?

I have a new residency at Spot Lite in Detroit. I’m looking forward to playing that open to close set. I am doing a European tour, playing Movement 2022, and my new EP is heating up nicely. I cannot wait for you to hear it.

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