On Aug. 5, 2017, at New York’s Highline Ballroom, DJ Perly made history by becoming the very first female DMC U.S. champion.
After a controversial ending to the previous year’s U.S. Final saw Perly come up just short, the Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based battle jock stood tall that night, taking the generous prize package, and accepting the responsibility (and the plane ticket) to represent her country at the DMC World Finals in London later that year. She would finish fourth there, but she’ll tell you that the entire experience was a life-changer.
Post-lockdown, Perly (aka Natalia Perlz) has continued to thrive as a DJ and, of course, as a battle jock. Though most of those competitions have been online affairs, she’s continued to place high, making the World Finals again in 2021 and most recently placing third in the 2022 DMC World Beat Juggle category.
Away from the battle scene, she’s played private events, mix spots on SiriusXM, clubs, and outdoor park jams. In 2019, she also joined the prestigious Heavy Hitters DJ crew. Earlier this year, she released Turnstyle Breaks, her first battle breaks record. Ladies first? You better believe it.
We recently connected with DJ Perly to discuss the battle scene, its evolution, and her career so far.
DJ LIFE MAG: What started you on your musical path?
DJ Perly: I’ve always loved music as a kid. I’ve always watched MTV as a kid, TRL, Beavis and Butthead etc.. Even when I wasn’t allowed to, I still watched something music-related or had music in the background playing while I was either drawing, playing outside or doing homework, which was a bad idea because I would get lost in the music and sometimes forget about my homework from school and end up finishing it late at night. There hasn’t been a time when music wasn’t a part of my life – it was always there.
DJ LIFE MAG: Was there a song or an artist that caught your attention?
DJ Perly: The artists that got me more into music were probably Joe Cuba, Tito Puente, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and Elvis Presley. I had congas as a kid and I would always play my congas alongside Tito Puente and Joe Cuba songs, pretending as if I was a part of the band [laughs]. But, in reality, I was learning about rhythms and how to play an instrument by ear. With MJ, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles, it was more of an awakening to my curiosity of music and pop culture of the 20th Century.
DJ LIFE MAG: How and when did you become involved in DJing?
DJ Perly: I started out DJing when I was 12. I didn’t know any DJs or anyone with turntables other than my parents’ record collection and turntables. My dad has his record collection and my mom had hers. My mom was the one that got me into music, and she would play music every day. I remember her playing music from her favorite artists and songs from when she grew up – Motown, Salsa, Elvis Presley, Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe, The Beatles, funk, etc.. even some songs that reminded her of Studio 54 and park jams from when she used to go back in the days. To me, my mom was the DJ. My dad was more of the Duran Duran, Depeche Mode New Wave ’80s type.
DJ LIFE MAG: How’d you first get your hands on turntables?
DJ Perly: My dad had turntables, but he was busy working and never really used them. I eventually took over and taught myself how to DJ. I wasn’t allowed to use my dad’s records, so I had to save up and buy my own. Around this time, YouTube was in its early, early stages and there wasn’t anything much really about DJing.
DJ LIFE MAG: How’d you learn?
DJ Perly: I taught myself about mixing and scratching. It wasn’t until I found out about Mark Ronson’s online radio show on East Village Radio called “Authentic Shit” that I heard a DJ mix. I listened to that show religiously every Friday night and learned how to DJ – mix, blend and scratch – from him and Aaron LaCrate, who also was a part of the show. I tried to remember techniques that they would do or a scratch that I’d heard and try to practice it on the weekends. It was like my own version of “The Stretch & Bobbito Show.” As time went on, YouTube started adding more videos and I stumbled across DJ QBert scratch videos and A-Trak’s winning DMC videos. From there, the rest is history! Five to seven years later, I found out about Scratch Academy and Dubspot in NYC and eventually went to sharpen my skills.
DJ LIFE MAG: When you started, did you have any female role models to look up to?
DJ Perly: When I started out, I didn’t know any female DJs, or had any female role models other than my mom and my abuela. They have been my inspiration and an example of what strong women are about. I’ve heard their stories and learned about their struggles, and it made me proud to know that they are examples of strength and courage. And to know that they are fighters and badass women makes me proud to know that it runs in the family.
DJ LIFE MAG: Any on the artist side?
DJ Perly: The only artist I looked up to, and still do, was and is Lady Gaga. I’ve been a Little Monster, a fan of hers, since the beginning of her career. To me, Gaga is the best example of a strong woman in the music industry. Seeing how she overcame many obstacles in her career and how she’s been told “no” countless times and still followed her dreams and came out winning is inspiring. Gaga is has been a beacon of light and hope when there were times I wanted to give up on everything in my music and DJing.
DJ LIFE MAG: Did you see anything that particularly moved you?
DJ Perly: I never forget the time at her Fame Monster Ball Concert at Madison Square Garden back in 2010, that she told a story of her struggles and how she never gave up and ended up selling out MSG. She was basically telling everyone in attendance that nothing is impossible. That struck a chord within in me and, ever since, I always think of her speech as motivation to keep going. I haven’t met her yet. But just by being a Lady Gaga fan for so many years, I’ve learned so much from her and I’m truly proud to say that Gaga really changed my life and made me become that unapologetic badass artist that I am today and forever. Pssstt… Gaga, call me!
DJ LIFE MAG: Was there a DJ scene where you grew up?
DJ Perly: I was born and grew up in The Bronx and upstate New York. In The Bronx, well, every block in the city was playing music. From the cars passing by the street to a part jam in the parks, I’ve always been exposed to various genres of music. I didn’t specifically know all the genres exactly, but to me it was all good music. There were DJs at the jams and then there were times it was just people playing their CDs on their boombox at the parks, and everyone had a good time. While upstate, nothing was going on – just a quiet and dull – the complete opposite of what I was used to.
DJ LIFE MAG: What are your best music memories in The Bronx?
DJ Perly: My best memories as a city kid was seeing that every block had something different playing, one block salsa being blasted out someone’s apartment window to someone with a pimped-out car and bass-boosted speakers blasting hip hop on Hot 97. To me, the people were my DJs. And to me, that made me excited about music. I was just inspired by being a fan of music, an observer of what was going on around me. Just being in the moment and listening to what’s being played out loud while walking around the blocks was the best part about New York City.
DJ LIFE MAG: What gear did you start DJing with?
DJ Perly: I started out on vinyl and my setup was a Gemini TT-02mk2 turntable and a Gemini PS424X mixer. It was originally my dad’s set-up, like I said, but since he was busy working and never used his set-up, I took over. I saved up and bought my own records and a couple years later, I used Serato Scratch Live for a good amount of time. Then the crossfader on the mixer started to bleed out from the scratching I was doing, and it was just not working out for me. I eventually saved up for a Rane Sixty-Two mixer and upgraded to Technics turntables. Since then, Technics and a Rane mixer has always been my go-to.
DJ LIFE MAG: Anything else?
DJ Perly: If I’m at a gig, the Rane Twelve turntables set-up or sometimes Phase. Using these set-ups at gigs really saves time and headaches with setting up and troubleshooting. You have no idea how many times a ground wire messed up my flow in setting up for a gig. I know a lot of people don’t like embracing new tech and want to keep it old-school, which is fine, but honestly, when something goes wrong and you don’t have time looking for a back-up turntable with a working ground wire… Phase and Rane Twelves are truly a life saver.
DJ LIFE MAG: Outside of battles, where are you playing?
DJ Perly: Yup – I can party-rock! I’ve DJ’d at Donuts Are Forever, Summer Stage in 2019, Tools of War Park Jams and DJ’d with other DJ friends in NYC. Since lockdown, I’ve done guest mixes for SiriusXM, and did some live guest mixes on Twitch for some of the fellow DJs I know, Soul In The Horn, Club House Global, etc. Basically, I like to mix it up. I like expanding outward to other genres and just get lost in the good vibes. I’m an open-format-type of DJ and I like to mix the classics with today’s jams. But I do have a soft spot for house, funk, and disco – Studio 54 vibes. I guess it’s because my mom used to go to Studio 54 often and that’s the kind of music I grew up listening to as a kid when my mom used to play her records and CDs at home.
DJ LIFE MAG: How did you prepare for corporate events, like the HBO Max party?
DJ Perly: For the HBO Max Party and events like that, I put myself into the listener’s point of view and asked myself, “If I was attending this party as a guest, what would I like to hear?” I try my best to get a good collection of various genres of music and make sure I’m prepared for the unexpected request. Like any DJ prepping for a gig, I do research and make sure that the songs I’m gathering will be a good fit. At the end of the day, it’s all about having a good time and everyone goes home with a smile on their face.
DJ LIFE MAG: How do you prep for a competition?
DJ Perly: Before a competition, my main goal is to practice, practice, practice. When it comes down to the performance side of it and the message, I think about what I want to say through the music. The songs that get chosen basically become my voice – an extension of my soul and spirit. Whether it’s intentional or not, each song/routine has a message behind it in some shape or another.
DJ LIFE MAG: So, what’s the overall message?
DJ Perly: All of my routines come from my heart. As cliché as this may sound, but everything is made with love. I just basically want to show how badass I am through my skills and love for music. My main focus, overall, is to be my unapologetic self and to make sure that I’m having fun performing my routines on/off stage, and that people like it. For example, my Amy Winehouse routine, my message in that was, basically… I like to do interesting things with songs and flip it in unexpected ways. Overall, I’m an unexpected type of DJ, I like to keep the listeners on their toes wondering, “What’s next?”
DJ LIFE MAG: What do you think impresses battle judges?
DJ Perly: Honestly, it’s hard to say, really. Every judge is not the same and each one has their own likes and dislikes. So, it’s really up in the air. But if it’s one thing that judges look for, it’s creativity. To me, in my sets, I’m just being myself and doing and giving my best in a performance that’s entertaining and fun to perform for everyone. Plus, I also like to try to do the unexpected and keep everyone on their toes in a short amount of time as much as I can.
DJ LIFE MAG: What did it mean to you to win the USA DMC title in 2017?
DJ Perly: It meant everything to me in 2017! The year before, in 2016, was a crazy whirlwind of confusion from the mix-up in scores, that I don’t like talking about still,
but that moment, and moments after that, kinda made me feel like I wasn’t worthy or good enough to win and rep the USA in the World Finals. It was a rough moment in my life. But then to hear that I had the opportunity to battle again in the USA Finals that year was like a blessing… a moment of the utmost gratitude to show and share my skills with everyone again. It was almost like that moment was a way for me to show everyone that I have the skills to do great things. Until this day, I’m forever grateful for that opportunity that I was given.
DJ LIFE MAG: And then, moving onto the DMC World Finals, what did it mean to you to finish so high?
DJ Perly: I don’t think there’s a word to describe the feeling I felt placing 4th in the world! [laughs] The feeling was a mixture of excitement, tears of joy and a healthy mix of adrenaline added. On the flight back to NYC from London, the adrenaline was dying down, jet lag was kicking in, and I was in disbelief that I was at the World Finals and had made it, done something that a lot of people doubted me that I couldn’t do, but I did it. It was, and still is, the fire I needed to keep working hard and never giving up on reaching my goals. Fast-forward to 2022 and I placed third in the DMC World Beat Juggle category, and I’m just overjoyed with gratitude! Hard work and determination pays off.
DJ LIFE MAG: DJ competitions have really evolved – from straight vinyl and a 2-channel mixer to software and tricked-out mixer options. What’s your take on that?
DJ Perly: Yes, indeed the competitions have evolved with technology. With technology evolving and forever growing in the music world and overall in the world in general, I think in terms of creativity, how can we grow as creatives? I see the new technology as an extra extension of our creativity. There’s still nothing wrong with the traditional way of classic vinyl, a 2-channel mixer, and Technics turntables set-up. I just see the use of technology as a natural evolution for everyone.
DJ LIFE MAG: So, you’re not stuck in the past…
DJ Perly: It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come! The techniques and love for the music is still the same, but with an added push from the new tech. Now since we have all the advantages of the new mixers, equipment, etc., we can now, in my eyes, take our ideas and expand them to new heights that we’ve never thought of before and possibly get those ideas out faster. Plus, you don’t have to worry as much about if you’ll be able to find another copy of the records.
DJ LIFE MAG: Do you still dig for records and stay connected to the old-school?
DJ Perly: Yes, I still go digging, collecting vinyl, and using traditional Technics turntables, but that won’t stop me from learning new things and learning how to grow with the technology and improve my skills. As I see it, no matter how much I think I may know about something, I’m forever a student and always excited to learn new things, even if it’s about new technology. I am also excited to see how other DJs embrace the new technology in their sets.
DJ LIFE MAG: Have you ever done a RedBull 3Style competition?
DJ Perly: I haven’t done a RedBull 3style battle yet. It does sound like fun and maybe someday I’ll enter – who knows? I just love seeing the party-rock side of DJing and how each DJ has their own ways of connecting with the audience with their style and taste within a short amount of time in their sets. Seeing other DJ competitions online does inspire me to learn and grow as an artist with my own sets and ideas.
DJ LIFE MAG: Which DJs do you appreciate the most?
DJ Perly: Mark Ronson, A-Trak, Craze, the late DJ AM, Jazzy Jeff, and Shiftee. These DJs are not only an inspiration since my start in DJing, but, to me, a good example of DJs wearing many hats. From watching them throughout the years, I’ve learned that DJs can do many things and not just be DJs. From the production side to the entrepreneur side of music, you can be skillful on the decks and show that you can also produce with other artists, headline a festival to maybe also win a Grammy to having your own record label to basically doing anything you want with music. Nothing is off-limits and anything is possible.
DJ LIFE MAG: Tell me about joining the Heavy Hitters crew.
DJ Perly: I became a member in December 2019, months before the pandemic lockdown, and I was excited and truly in awe to officially become a member. I heard my name being announced on Hot 97 by DJ Enuff and Pretty Lou. I was elated with joy and, of course, speechless. During my time as a member, I’ve learned a lot so far, and still learning a lot, about everything music. What inspires me the most is seeing Heavy Hitter members’ passion and love for music. There’s not that many people that I’ve crossed paths with that have that “chutzpah,” that drive that you can see it in their eyes, the determination and love for what they do.
DJ LIFE MAG: What’s next for you?
DJ Perly: What’s next for me is to just keep creating and keep going. I’m just inspired to just keep working and growing as an artist. Stay tuned!
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