Illexxandra and DJ Shakey are a pair of Brooklyn-based jocks who’ve rocked America’s underground party scene for years. Spinning at clubs, festivals, one-offs – even some mobiles and roller discos – they’ve mastered a variety of dancefloor genres and built their individual profiles nicely.
But more recently, they joined forces in the studio create a superb debut EP, “Bass Arithmetic,” on ill.Gates’ Producer Dojo imprint. Filled with quirky, funky flavors, like the title track, “Nutty Queen” and “Bubble Rap,” the EP drops twisted synth basslines and head-bobbing breaks with ease. It’s quite a joy ride.
But getting to a point of mutual creativity wasn’t so easy – it took a pandemic to put them together in such a space. We recently caught up with Illexxandra (aka Lexi Ferguson) and DJ Shakey (aka Julie Covello) to discuss their latest project and much more.
What were your first musical influences?
DJ Shakey: My mom loved Donovan, Mississippi Delta Blues, Bob Dylan, and Bebop. She was actually a jazz DJ when she was in high school in the ’50s! My dad was a sax player, an orchestra conductor, and avant-garde composer. I took piano lessons since I was very young and was in all the school musicals. However, I grew up in an African-American neighborhood and everyone listened to soul, funk, disco, and hip hop. So, combine all those things and you get my roots!
Illexxandra: Skipping over young childhood and adolescence, I studied opera and musical theater in college. I moved to New York for grad school and to continue pursuing singing. Long story short, I chose to move away from that life and I fell into the underground nightlife scene. I made friends with DJs and starting buying dollar records all over the city. What first hooked me was funk, soul, disco, and weird rarities. Digger culture. I’d already been pursuing music as a career, and DJing felt so much more immediate and rewarding than what I’d been doing with singing.
What made you pursue music seriously?
DJ Shakey: The very first parties I went to as a teen were hip-hop parties in my friend’s basement. I liked parties and dancing so I just kept doing it. I went to film school and worked in the film industry for years. At a certain point, I realized that my all films were about music, and the places I worked were music-industry companies, like RockAmerica/MTV, and that I should really just commit to the music.
Lexi, I understand that you’ve got music in the family, right?
Illexxandra: I do! My mom was a singer in L.A. in the ’70s and ’80s and had a Vegas nightclub act. My dad is an accomplished studio guitarist and guitar teacher. My grandfather was a composer and arranger who wrote big-band charts, TV themes and film scores. One of my brothers is a talented bassist and drummer, and the other one conducts and plays in jazz bands. The rest of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents are enthusiastic music fans.
How did you survive the lockdown? Did it inspire you to be more creative, or was it more difficult?
DJ Shakey: Lockdown really pulled the rug out from under me because the entire entertainment industry was shuttered, and all my gigs were cancelled. The industry still hasn’t recovered, and it’s been almost two years. I’m still barely working. Thankfully I had some money saved and we got government PUA. I also started selling some of my records and vintage clothes. I made use of the downtime by studying production, DJing regularly on Twitch, Zoom and in VR, and working on this EP.
Illexxandra: It was both creative and difficult! I lost and found myself a few different times over the past two years, and my motivation to stay creative has ebbed and flowed accordingly. The “Bass Arithmetic” EP was actually born from needing to flee the city. I was getting pretty squirrely after the first wave and hard isolation, so I went to Shakey’s house in Nyack, N.Y., for a sojourn and we started the EP.
Creatively, how did you two approach the EP? You’ve got some really funky flavors in there – what was the process?
Illexxandra: We made these songs in a more fluid way than I do alone, with lots of jamming and experimentation. As for the funkiness, that was very much on purpose! We intentionally set out to meld heavy bass music with groove and bounce.
DJ Shakey: Lexi and I have made lots of fun pieces of music together in a number of genres, but this time our heads were really in the realm of bass and sound design because we’ve been spending a lot of time in online workshops with the artist ill.Gates in his Producer Dojo program – also our label – and mastering engineer Seth Drake and his right hand man Clint Moody in his Approach Institute classes. The name “Bass Arithmetic” was a dedication to those mentors. Additional flavors came from our background of being music heads and NYC DJs for many years. Personally, any music I make is going to have the funk involved – funk is the way.
What’s your main studio gear?
DJ Shakey: When we first started the tunes at my place, we used Ableton Live on a Macbook Pro, Mackie HRM 824 monitors, a Novation MIDI keyboard, and inspiration from my record collection. From that point on, we used Lexi’s set-up, as she has a mighty collection of plug-ins and software instruments.
Illexxandra: I rely heavily on certain plug-in suites, including Arturia, FabFilter, iZotope Ozone, and MeldaProduction. In these projects, a lot of the sound design was done with sine waves and distortion via stock Ableton plug-ins, as well as UVI Falcon.
Which producer/remixers do you most admire?
DJ Shakey: I am a fan of U.K. producers like Sam Binga, Chimpo, Dj Zinc, Phibes, Congo Natty, Mungo’s HiFi, Pinch, The Allergies, Flava D, Fracture, Prince Fatty, I could go on and on…
I also love Gabriel Roth and the Daptone label, GRiZ, Soohan, ill.Gates, AC Slater, Bass Droppers, Dirt Monkey, Yheti, Funk Hunters, DJ Assault…
Remix legends that inspire me are Wuki, Gigamesh, The Reflex, GAMM label, Todd Terje, Krafty Kuts, and A-Skillz.
Illexxandra: Sam Binga for keeping bass music cool, yet unpretentious; DJ Zinc for always bringing the vibes; VHOOR for impeccable mixes and nailing a unique intersection of elements; Ticklish for keeping people on their toes without losing anyone’s interest; people like BRLLNT and Naken for amazing edits; people like GRiZ and TroyBoi who make bass music with broad appeal; and the countless underground bass producers pushing the envelope and keeping things weird. Other random faves include Sinistarr, Shades, Halogenix, OAKK, Homesick, Starkey, Chimpo, Fracture, Samurai Breaks…
In the DJ booth, what gear do you use?
DJ Shakey: I started DJing with vinyl and then incorporated CDs, but now mostly play using Serato DJ Pro. Stability is priority No. 1 with the high-pressure events that I play. I like all the ways you can be creative with cue points, loops, samples, and sound FX. A huge plus for me is the search functions as I get super-nerdy with metadata, I get ideas on the fly and need to find tracks ASAP. Another plus is that Serato positions its waveforms side by side. I’m excited to explore Serato’s subscription service with Beatport and Soundcloud.
Illexxandra: We’re heretics in our part of the industry for sticking with laptops over USB sticks. I love Serato and have used it for 15 years. As a multi-genre, multi-context DJ, I can’t live without the ability to freely sort my tracks any way I wish with a few keystrokes. The more I move into life as a touring artist and a widely known entity, I expect to streamline my sets and play them off USB sticks. It’ll be fun and it’ll make some things much easier, yet a part of me inside will be sad!
How would you describe your style of DJing?
DJ Shakey: Currently, I’m focusing on bass and sound-design-oriented music. My DJ style reflects being a music lover and record collector since I was a teen. I am a fan of many genres: jazz, extreme metal, house, Latin boogaloo, hip hop, D.C. Go-Go, dubstep, jungle, bass, soul, funk, disco, etc. Whatever set you hear me play you’ll be able to hear those influences sneaking into my selections. Another huge factor in my DJ sets is that I want all the party people to feel included – that means choosing tracks that speak to a variety of demographics and orientations. I always try to include music by women producers, artists of varying ages, music from different parts of the United States or other parts of the world, some older music, some very new, POC, LGTBQ, and both pop and underground.
Illexxandra: As a touring artist, I’m focusing on bass music, jungle, and footwork. In the rest of my DJ life, and in my heart, I’m passionately and professionally devoted a huge range of music. I started with soul 7-inches. I threw a global music party in D.C. for eight years. I’ve had disco residencies for disco heads and hip-hop residencies for hip-hop heads. Shakey and I regularly get flown to Chicago to play house music in the city where it was born. What “’style” does that amount to? Hard to say!
What’s the weirdest/wildest event you’ve DJed?
DJ Shakey: Hard to choose, but I’m going to go with playing for the Burning Man “Critical Tits” ride after-party, which entailed DJing on top of a convoy of decorated buses for several-thousand topless women and their friends.
Illexxandra: Like Shakey says, it’s hard to choose, and like Shakey, I’ll choose Root Society at Burning Man in 2012. The DJ booth was overflowing with colorful and distracting characters, as I played to 1,000-plus people at sunrise!
What’s next for you two?
DJ Shakey: We collaborated with Liondub on a remix of a track by Bluntskull & Blackout JA that’s coming out on Blackout’s upcoming album. There are a few tracks that didn’t make it to the “Bass Arithmetic” EP and we have some works-in-progress that will be forthcoming releases. I have a residency at a roller disco in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn. We work on the Balloon Chain crew at Coachella. I designed some merch that I really love and I want to design more. We are booking some festival appearances, so keep an eye out for our names on line-ups. Over the years, I’ve shot a lot of video of music scenes – and I still do – and I have some of my material appearing in the documentary “Meet Me In The Bathroom” by Pulse Films, which is about the early 2000s rock scene in NYC.
Illexxandra: In addition to what Shakey said, I’m booked at the BigFoot Electro festival in Tennessee in May. I have some private events lined up, and some DJ gigs in VR. Optimistically, I expect Omicron to be the last intense wave and I think things will generally smooth out from here. So next, I plan to start attending events and soliciting gigs, since my usual circuit has been completely gone the past two years. I want to prioritize my festival career, so I may be more selective with my gig schedule going forward.
To check out more interviews, click here.