Tokimonsta Mash: Mix and Match
Jennifer Lee doesn’t like being put in boxes. Unless, of course, the box is a sold-out Observatory in Santa Ana on a Friday night with over 500 of her fans, packed up to the balconies.
Tokimonsta, the stage name she’s better known by, though playful as she claps to breakbeats while adjusting an array of knobs on her mixer, is by no means playing around.
“You know I’m not faking up here, I’m really doing this shit!” she said, momentarily cutting out her music to remind her fans that she’s not playing pre-mixed tracks. The DJ/producer’s own cuts off of her latest “Desiderium” are no exception either.
Instead of putting “Steal My Attention,” a track from her new EP, front and center, she instead laid it under an electronic reworking of Ciara’s “Promise” to produce a result that was sublime, especially for someone like me who came up listening to 2000’s R&B slow jams on repeat. Moments like when I caught the “Steal My Attention” sample, it was a hidden gem so subtly tucked underneath Ciara’s vocals that I almost missed it (blame Observatory’s one-size-fits-all sound system that’s too bass heavy), are characteristic of the textured approach Tokimonsta takes to production that results in an obsessive listening experience, demanding the utmost attention in order to locate each contributing sample and loop.
Before Tokimonsta’s music gained traction on BBC Radio and sold out shows, Jennifer Lee was motivated to learn music production by the boredom that surrounds UC Irvine. At a friend’s suggestion, Lee started making music during her first year at UC Irvine, watching YouTube tutorials in the formative music laboratory that was her room in Cascada, the Mesa Court residence hall.
“I feel like when you’re in college it’s a very pivotal point in terms of music, your interests and the things you discover,” she said, citing J Dilla, Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, DJ Shadow and DJ Krush as her top influences, which are also draw from the trip hop movement of the 90s.
As for her roots, Lee is a Los Angeles native through and through. Her biggest musical influence was the city itself. For Tokimonsta, Los Angeles is a unique fashion landscape where she can mix elements from the West Coast hotbed of streetwear with pieces from high fashion labels like Maison Martin Margiela.
Mixing elements would be an apt, if not grossly understated, description of Tokimonsta’s mixes.
As a designation, EDM is an awkward fit. Although her productions are heavily electronic in nature, the end result is a blend of electronica, hip hop and R&B.
“You’re pigeonholing yourself in a certain direction,” preferring to designate herself as a producer and foregoing the constraints that come from attributing a particular genre to her music.
“I always say I make stuff that’s in the same family as electronic and hip hop,” two very broad designations that allow her room to grow and experiment. “That’s the way I choose to do it.”
When asked about the evolution of her music, she was surprisingly candid about her development as an artist.
“You know what? I feel like the soul is the same,” she said of her catalogue, samples of which emerged as early as 2008. Rather, she measures the evolution of her music by the progressive complexity of her production techniques.
“It’s just so many things that I didn’t know how to do when I first started,” Tokimonsta frankly admitted about her starting experience.
“All the music I make now — if I could have made it in the beginning I would have. I just didn’t know how to. I just didn’t have the tools to do so.” According to Tokimonsta, the material she makes is rooted in such a technologically oriented sphere that, for her, innovation comes from learning new tricks as she continues to produce.
Marissa Estonina, a third-year art student from UCI, described Tokimonsta’s sound as geometric. Interestingly, Estonina also characterized Tokimonsta as someone whose performance was almost maternal in nature. Before her show reached its peak beats per minute, with samples and songs weaving in between each other without a seam, Tokimonsta eased her audience into her set, starting off slow with a downtempo reworking of Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push.”
“Then towards the end she cradled us to a soft finish.”