ABOVE: DJ MESS KID. IMAGE COURTESY OF ERIC JOHNSON
DJ Mess Kid doesn’t care about being cool, which only makes him cooler. The Latvian-born DJ/producer has been making big waves as of late, thanks in large part to a prime spot DJing at the highly anticipated party following Alexander Wang’s Spring/Summer 2014 runway show (he’ll head to Paris Fashion week soon to play a soiree for Balenciaga, of which Wang is creative director). It doesn’t take much to see why Wang chose Mess Kid for a bill that also included Nicki Minaj and party patrons like Rihanna—his style is a mix of timeless suave, seamlessly combining elements of vogue, juke, house, hip-hop and much more. He plays to the audience, not at them, winning over crowds while on tour recently with acclaimed rapper Le1f, during which the two played alongside M.I.A and Just Blaze. His production is a rare breed of eerie, energetic sounds and pulsating bass that echoes the dark shadows of a smoke-filled basement bar. We spoke to the rising star about his first forays into DJing, his wildest party experience, and his upcoming EP. He also created an all-vinyl mix exclusively for Interview, which we’re thrilled to include below.
REAL NAME: Artem Emelianov
HOMETOWN: Latvia (born), Detroit (raised)
CURRENT CITY: New York
DJ OR PRODUCER FIRST: I feel like I’ve been making beats longer than I’ve been DJing. When I was younger, I would make beats with my friends who would rap, and then I convinced my dad to buy me some turntables and I started mixing. When I came to New York, I was making beats, but I’d stopped DJing—I just did it when I was young. But I was always kinda bummed out with the music that was going on—I moved here in like 2005, so it was like the height of bottle service and promoters and it was just kinda crazy. Someone was like, “You should start DJing,” and I decided to try it out again. I took a different route and started buying records, playing my stuff on vinyl only at a lot of clubs where people would be like, “What are you doing? Get Serato.” And that’s kinda how I got noticed at first, because I was playing vinyl at places like 1Oak when it first opened—funny stuff like that. But I also played gigs at places like Submercer, Socialista, The Beatrice.
THE VINYL DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE: Growing up, my dad was huge on vinyl; he collected, and something about it stuck with me, I guess—the whole artwork, listening all the way through, something about that was amazing. Being able to play them out and mix them was more fun for me than just selecting the tracks and dropping them. It was kind of like I was curating the night, in a way. I didn’t have a set playlist and could just go off what people were feeling in the room.
GOING HOME: I’m from Detroit, but I wasn’t born there—I moved there when I was like 6. I’m originally from Riga, Latvia—I just got to visit for the first time in 20 years while I was on tour opening for [rapper] Le1f. We had three days off on this two-month tour, and he was like, “Where do you wanna go?,” and I was like “Latvia?” Like, I haven’t seen my family for 20 years in my country! I just kinda dipped out and ran away. You can’t just come to America and live here, you gotta kinda hide out, get your green card and stuff like that. But yeah, we got to go back and we stayed with my grandma—it was so fun, she’s so cool. I haven’t seen her in like 12 years, she came to America once and at that age I was so young I was like, “I’m not trying to hang with my grandma.” But it was cool to get to know her—it’s my dad’s mom, and it was interesting to see who she was since I never got to. We did some crazy shit. She took Le1f and I to this amazing beach, the first thing she did when she got there was pour us double tequila shots; she had cured salmon on the table, I was like, “What is going on?”
THE MESS KID SOUND: I don’t think I get inspired by people, or people in my kind of world—I think I’m more inspired by my regular friends and people I meet randomly that listen to some random shit that they show me and then I’m like, “Wow.” I guess just traveling and meeting people inspires me. It’s just life—living in New York City, traveling. A lot of the time I just sit down and go—I don’t really have an idea, unless I’m working with someone, and then I’ll treat it a little differently. Most of it is just me figuring out sounds I like, or I’ll hear something and then just go in.
WORKING WITH LE1F: We were playing a lot of the same shows, maybe two or three years ago. I was always really into his set, and he was always really into mine—he was even joking around on Twitter one time like, “Yo, man! We’re going on tour!,” like way back, and I’d be like, “Let’s do it! I’m packing my bags!” You know, just fucking around. And then like a year later we were playing this show again and he was like, “Why don’t you just DJ for me?” And I was like “All right,” and that’s it!
ON LE1F’S “PSY LOCK“: I made that beat like 2 years ago—I had vocals on it, I didn’t really intend for it to be for a rapper. But then I went out to see him perform at 285 Kent, and I heard one of his new songs and the way he was flown and was just like “Damn, I have this beat for you.” He came over the next day, I played it for him, he went home and worked on it, I got the track, and that’s how I heard it.
PLAYING THE ALEXANDER WANG PARTY: He came to one of my shows randomly, and he had someone from his team contact me—they said he walked into the office and was like, “I found my DJ!” And I’m like the biggest Alexander fan in the fashion sense. I had gotten an e-mail that was like “Hey, just reaching out again on behalf of Alexander, not sure if you missed it.” I just look at it like, “Okay,” and then I look at the e-mail more and it says “Alexander Wang” and I freaked out. So there was a number at the bottom and I called and was like “Hey! I want you guys to know that I’m not ignoring your e-mails, I’m down!” For a second I thought I fucked it up. At the party I played house, some Jersey club—it was fun, the room was crazy packed and I love playing to the crowd. I love when everyone is having the best time. I got to play some vogue stuff, it was cool. I saw Nicki Minaj perform—she went on right after me, it was crazy. Alex [Wang] was dancing on stage, it was mad funny. I brought my mom as my date to his runway show because he’s her favorite designer. She was so stoked, she’s never been to a fashion show, let alone his.
WILDEST PARTY TO PLAY: I played this candy rave in Queens on top of a Laundromat a few years ago, in a pitch-black room. It was crazy. There was a hallway with different colored lights that just led to dark rooms—there was one main room where they only played hardstyle all night, it was amazing. It was so deep in Queens. I don’t even think I got paid, but I was so into DJing I didn’t care. I was like “Yes! A candy rave!”
CURRENT PROJECTS: I have a bunch of stuff that I just finished over the years that I’ve never put out—I’ve just been kinda stacking it up. So I’m about to start putting out a bunch it, because I make edits for my sets to just play out, but I wanna put them out so kids can play them too. I did an official remix for Astro Nautico that’s coming out in October. I’m gonna put out my EP soon, some production I have for people coming out. I have a couple EPs that I have finished, but I feel like the first one is so important to me and I just want to make it perfect for me, not for everyone else. I don’t want it to be like “super cool,” I just want it to be what I want it to be and I wanna present it properly. I’m like a track away from getting there, I’m excited. A lot of kids are making things for the moment, but I feel like it’s a little important than that, and that that’s gonna slow down and that it’s all about good tracks that can last through time.