For many DJ/producers, 2020-21 presented a period of unfettered artistic opportunity – with no gigs, it was free time to make their best music. But for Mister Lady, the L.A.-based talent came out of the lockdown with musical evolution on her mind.
Known for harder-edged techno like 2021’s “The Feeling” EP, she began the new year by mixing her tougher musical instincts with more melodic flavors to create “Close to Me,” a superb tech-house cut. Still, never too far from more bracing sounds, she recently followed that up with “metalKlangen,” a raging six-song techno EP. Call it balance.
Born in Chicago, educated in Berlin, trained as a DJ in London and currently residing on the West Coast, Mister Lady (aka Jacqueline Jirka) has been cranking out a steady stream of quality tunes since her 2021 debut. Additionally, her weekly “Soundwerks Radio” mixshow on Dash Radio’s Electro City and Radio Eibiza showcases all her musical tastes. We recently caught up with Mister Lady in Las Vegas.
The “Close to Me” single has quite a combination of flavors – there’s an acid feel, a great rhythm, a soulful vocal and a memorable hook. What was the process on this one?
Mister Lady: I started with a partially modular synthesizer, an ARP, and I like working that way because it slightly confines me to a bit of a ’70s sound. But it’s customizable enough, of course, that you can get a lot of unique things out of it.
The track’s got that loopy, Moroder-ish thing going. It’s ravey and ’70s at the same time.
Mister Lady: Yes! So, I tinkered with that a lot because it sounds beautiful to start with, and then I used a tape-delay – a machine that I’ve always been fascinated with. It has an ambiguously nostalgic feel. It was evoking two different eras and, together, it just comes across as otherworldly. I got the sound first and then I went for the hook. I am a drummer originally, so the way that I come up with a lead or a hook is that I just loop it and then I shift the notes until it sounds how I want – and if it means I need to expand it a few bars, fine. I think this was a four-bar… I take breaks and let me ears rest.
Your first EP has a real pounding, Drumcode-like techno vibe. What was the motivation to evolve your sound to something less heavy?
Mister Lady: The first EP, “The Feeling,” was the music I wanted to make in 2021. I like the darkness, the heaviosity to it, the aggression – that’s what I wanted to hear in the world musically, and I still do. But close to me now is a feeling that’s a little bit more hopeful and approachable. And I feel like that’s the music I want to hear now in 2022 where I think humanity is… coming out of the pandemic. It makes more sense to make approachable music that is a bit more uplifting and brings people together. Of course, heavy, aggressive music can make you feel just as good, too. [laughs]
You mentioned that you were a drummer. What’s your musical background and how did you begin to make electronic music?
Mister Lady: I grew up in Chicago and I studied music since I was very young, always a drummer. I was a big band freak, a drumline person. I still do love hearing drumline cadence kind of stuff. And in Chicago, I was immersed in dance music…
Listening B96 on the radio?
Mister Lady: Exactly, Bad Boy Bill and Jumpin’ Julian Perez. I grew up with that stuff all around me and I was into keeping it Chicago, so I was also into Ministry and things like Nine Inch Nails, industrial. I loved that when I was a teenager and in my twenties. Also, I was really into the Chicago rave scene. DJ Keoki would always be playing in Chicago or a rave in Gary, Ind., back when I was being very disobedient as a teenager.
So, for DJing and electronic-music production, where did you develop your chops and get your education?
Mister Lady: I went to DJ school first, at the London Sound Academy. The more I was DJing, the more it was clear to me that I didn’t have access to that music I wanted to play, so I’d have to make it. I knew I’d have to learn production. So, I learned Ableton Live, but I thought I would be a DAW-less gearhead – all hardware…
The hard way – it can take a while to work like that…
Mister Lady: Right, and now everything I work on is pumped through Ableton, so I do both analog and digital. I don’t want to make music that reminds anyone of anything before 2019. It’s a new era. The world has totally just changed and, as an artist, that’s exciting. And I think that computer-based music, because it comes from a completely artificial beginning, that’s most relevant to me.
What’s your main studio gear?
Mister Lady: My main DAW is Ableton Live. I’m a big fan of Native Instruments MASSIVE. I have [KRK] ROKIT 5-inch monitors – and I DJ at home with Pioneer DJ booth monitors. I got the Elektron Rytm [synth] and made all my original music – it’s a mono output. I have an ARP and I use Xfer Records Serum – I have a ton of presets for it. I find it’s a great jumping off point for a lot of things. But MASSIVE is almost a semi-modular synth because it has a built-in good sound. Serum has a such a clean slate that it only sounds like what you program it to do. It doesn’t have any character.
How do you make your kicks?
Mister Lady: I spent a lot of time on layering together two or three different audio samples. It’ll be four or five kicks and then I’ll try to tune it a little bit or mess with the reverb and then I’ll layer on another clean digital MIDI kick on top of it. And I just started working with the Big Kick plug-in, so it’s a work in progress.
You went to production school in Berlin. What it like living there as an artist? Music, especially techno, is everywhere.
Mister Lady: I was always fascinated with Germany and its culture growing up. German is my second language. I speak pretty fluent German. People thought I was crazy for studying that. “You’re never going to use that, unless you live in Germany.” Well, I guess I better live in Germany at some point [laughs].
But it can be a pretty useful language in the electronic-music world…
Mister Lady: Yes, exactly! I really felt a sense of legacy going there and surprised what I found when I got there. I have fond memories. Berlin, to me, is very much like San Francisco. But in Berlin, everyone is poor people; in San Francisco, everyone is rich people. In Berlin, everything is: “How hard is your music?” In San Francisco, it’s: “How smart is your start-up?” They’re very specific cultures. They are incubator cultures and there’s a respect for the dancefloor when you go out.
How did the Berlin club scene impact you?
Mister Lady: I lived around the corner from the KitKatClub. The double life that people have in Berlin is just fascinating. When you go walking around during the day, you’d never know anything was going to happen at midnight. But people live their lives around it. It’ll be Saturday and you’ll see someone reading a book at the bar and they’ll stay there until Monday. It’s a pretty extreme party culture. They party with an extreme passion. Then, all of a sudden, they’re back to their ho-hum lives, then it’s back to the weekend…
Who are three producers that you admire and why?
Mister Lady: Skrillex and Knife Party… that early 2000s electro-house sound before it teetered over to American dubstep. The flow of it with the sound design from Skrillex and Knife Party was one of the most exciting things that happened in the last 20 years. I’m a fan of acidy-sounding synths, so particularly what Skrillex does is a currently relevant sound. Even Dog Blood, the side project on Owsla – I’m a huge fan of that. Orbital’s “Halcyon” at Glastonbury – we still listen to that. Amaze-balls! And the joy that they have for making music… just great. My current techno producer is Ramon Tapia – I like the heavy darkness, the epic reverb in his kickdrum sound – clear, succinct and euphoric.
What’s your DJ set-up?
Mister Lady: I have three Pioneer DJ CDJ-2000s and a 4-channel DJM-900 mixer, plus the DJS-1000 – that’s my fourth channel – and an RMX-1000. I play off USBs – I don’t stream my music. It doesn’t make sense to me that the companies are trying to pump that. Anyway, three CDJs, and I’m good. No Allen & Heath yet…
Which DJs do you dig? What moves you in a club?
Mister Lady: Here are two totally opposite DJs. The musically literate answer is Kai Tracid – my fave to see live. I was blown away with his phrasing and how he approached his set. He’s like half-techno/half-trance – that’s close to me. Also, DJ Coco from Barcelona – he’s a ridiculous Spanish version of retro Top 40. He closes out the Primavera Sound Festival every year. It’s music and not pretentious – he doesn’t care about how smart the music is, he just wants to make people happy. So, that kind of priority of joy… yeah.
Give us three tracks that are favorites…
Mister Lady: “Last Step” by Ramon Tapia, either the original or the remixes. That’s just been my anthem for the past six months or so. “Children” by Robert Miles, the remastered version. Every time I play that live or on Twitch people go apeshit. You just have to hear the opening, and it’s electric. Also, “Halcyon” by Orbital. The club mix of this is iconic.
Getting through the lockdown – was it difficult for you to be creative?
Mister Lady: I don’t think it was fun. I think it was laborious. But I think it was a very good creative experience. We were at home, time on our hands. If I was going to get through that with my own sanity, I was going to use my time doing a deep exploration of myself as a musician. I spent so much time recording mixes and live-streaming during the pandemic that I was really alone with my own thoughts.
What were the benefits of streaming for you?
Mister Lady: I did a live-stream takeover for LP Giobbi at one point because she found me on Twitch and she was releasing her single back then. So, in that way, I got exposure. I was in touch with my listeners in a different way because my Twitch listeners would wait for me – I did the stream at the same time every week and my partner would be monitoring the Twitch chatroom, while I was doing my thing. During lockdown, people would be sharing things like, “Oh, I haven’t left the house,” or “I’m going crazy.”
Sounds like you were providing a service…
Mister Lady: I guess [laughs]. It was like I was a coping mechanism for people and that’s a lot to ask from watching a DJ set. I mean, I wouldn’t go out to a club and think that I’m going to unload all my problems on the DJ. It’s an interesting way to consume DJing. It re-arranged our heads and it made me re-evaluate why I loved it so much, and I know I’m not alone in that.
What’s next for you?
Mister Lady: I am looking to play more gigs in 2022, now that the world seems to be opening up. I’m going to put out another EP with “Close to Me.” I’m going to do a remix EP of my first EP, “The Feeling.” I have another techno EP called “metalKlangen,” and other than that I’m trying to stay flexible on what I want to do creatively. “Close to Me” was a big turn for me and I feel really good about it, so I want to do more music in that vein.
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