Interview by Shannon Lawlor
Jennifer Lee, better known as TOKiMONSTA, is an American producer and DJ currently based in Los Angeles, California. Her intricately vibrant sound could be described as a rippling stir of emotions and different genres, from dark, driving electronic instrumentals to sophisticated, pop-induced danceables. Initially exploding onto the scene in 2010 with a sonically mature debut titled Midnight Menu, released via Flying Lotus’ wonderfully eclectic imprint BRAINFEEDER, TOKiMONSTA has since seen further success remixing and collaborating with some of the world’s most respected artists including Kool Keith, Justin Timberlake, Shlohmo, Gavin Turek, Mariah Carey, Beck and many more.
In 2015, Lee was diagnosed with a rare medical condition called Moyamoya, of which she has since undergone two life-threatening surgeries and has since endured a lengthy, yet steady recovery. This then prompted the release of Lune Rouge in 2017, TOKiMONSTA’s fifth, heartened record, encapsulating on the whole arduous process, and inevitable hope for the future.
In preparation of her latest release, Lune Rouge Remixed, out on April 6th, we caught up with TOKiMONSTA on industry woes and celebrating life:
For anyone unfamiliar to TOKiMONSTA’s radiant overflow, how would you personally describe the music you create?
I have tried to describe my music time and time again, but it’s become more difficult to narrow down. It can be soulful and organic, but can also be upbeat and energetic.
Your latest enchanting album Lune Rouge was released on October 6th 2017 via Young Art Records. Could you perhaps detail this recording process and how it may have differed sonically to your 2016 album Fovere?
To some degree, Fovere is the prequel to Lune Rouge – like a taste of what was to come. Lune Rouge came together after undergoing two brain surgeries, which lead to a difficult recovery process. That whole experience forced me to face my own mortality. From that point onward, I vowed to make music that was true to me and brought me joy. So there was no particular process – I can just say that each song on Lune Rouge is a celebration of life and passion.
Lune Rouge has recently been remixed in it’s entirety by the likes of Felix Cartal, Qrion, Hugo Messian, Sofi Tukker and Ouri, to name but a few. What did you take from this experience, and how did you recruit such an eclectic ensemble to remix your work?
It was exciting to see how other musicians I respected and revered interpreted my music. I was blown away that these friends were down to do the remixes
You have recently recovered from a potentially life threatening surgery, how have you embraced this whole ordeal? And how does it feel to be back on top of your game once again?
It has taught me that any human being, even one as basic as me, can overcome incredible odds. I occasionally face moments where I am reminded that I still have Moyamoya (although the surgeries haven’t negated any serious possible complications – there is no cure). So every moment I get to do what I love and show the people around me that I appreciate them is a big deal.
As a woman in the music industry, do you feel that your current working environment is egalitarian? And have you ever faced discrimination in the industry?
Not entirely egalitarian, but I see each moment of awareness in the media and through individuals as an advancement. I have probably faced more discrimination than I am actually aware of. Who knows what festivals, album ratings, or other opportunities were not given to me on the merit of my music?
If so, how would you like to see this change?
Systems need to change, which means lots of things need to change. It has initiated with the general awareness that there is an unevenness in the distribution of opportunities given to men versus other genders.
Are there any ways in which you’d like to see the electronic or hip-hop communities evolve?
I think women need to be shown in the spotlight. I am not saying mediocre female artists being given token opportunities because they are a rarity. I mean that there are talented women, that are equally and more talented than some men out there, that need the chance to show the world who they are. This will be up to those in power and influence to help pave the way.
There is a lot of collaborating going on in the world of TOKiMONSTA, from Gavin Turek, to Anderson .Paak, and Suzi Analogue to Yuna. But if you could work with anyone on the planet, who would your dream collaboration be with, and why?
Bjork and Missy Elliot. I always mention them when I am asked and really hope one day they will ready these interviews and notice me. I’m still crossing fingers!
Was there any particular inspiration behind writing ‘Bibimbap’, and where do you usually like to find inspiration when producing music?
I always enjoy incorporating part of my roots when creating. I used sounds and influences from traditional Korean music when making ‘Bibimbap’. These sounds are seldom used in modern music without the song being intentionally “worldly,” or somehow exoticizing Asian culture. So basically, I like incorporating these elements in practical and complimentary ways.
Are there any certain pieces of equipment, hardware or software that you feel is absolutely essential in creating TOKiMONSTA’s original and distinct style?
Not really sure. I try not define myself with the tools I have and would like to think I could maintain my “sound,” given a completely random set of tools. I will say I use Ableton and really enjoy a lot of Output Kontakt libraries.
What does the future hold for TOKiMONSTA?
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