Off the Grid, our annual fundraiser benefitting Wex education programs, is just days away (on Saturday, May 30, to be exact), and to get ready, we thought there were few better people to hear from than this year’s headliner, Lauren Flax (of CREEP).
One of VICE’s “favorite DJs,” the Brooklyn-based Flax grew up immersed in Detroit’s thriving house music scene—“House music was everywhere. It was really just a matter of time until I would catch the DJ bug,” she says of those early days. After high school and a stint at the Recording Institute of Detroit to learn production techniques, Flax relocated to Chicago in 1999 to live with friends who had a small studio. Her career progressed from there, including work as the Fischerspooner tour DJ from 2008–2011 and the release of her first single, “You’ve Changed,” featuring vocals by Sia.
Portishead, Caribou, The The, Deetron, and Huxley are among Flax’s major influences, flavors of which you can hear in both her solo work and with CREEP, her trip-hop-resembling band with Lauren Dillard. Below, Adam Vincent, program assistant for Performing Arts and Film/Video, talks with Flax about her music and career.
How would you describe the music you make?
Hmm, it depends. I have been creating a lot of deep house as of late. In terms of my band CREEP, if I have to describe it, I would say it most resembles trip-hop.
Have you ever played in Columbus before?
I have but not in many many years. Probably something like 13 years ago?
How would you compare the music you make (in CREEP and in your production and songwriting work) with what you DJ? Are there common elements that interest you in in production and songwriting that come out in what you spin?
I am always a sucker for strings, vocals and melodies so that could be the common thread between the two. I definitely use strings in both the dance music and trip-hop. I love working with string players and having them play live with us.
How do you prepare for an event like Off the Grid? Do you plan out elements of your set or do things mostly on the fly with the feel of the room?
It’s essential to feel the room and read the crowd so I never plan my sets.
You've worked with a lot of big names (Sia, Tricky, Romy xx, just to name a few) and remixed plenty of others, as well. What draws you to an artist you want to work with? And in the same vein, what draws you to a song to make you interested in remixing it?
When creating music, either through my solo stuff or with CREEP, the singer usually presents itself in my head while writing. In terms of remixing, I'm pretty much always open to remixing people, especially those that present a challenge to me. Anything that can help me grow is a huge bonus.
There are a lot of incredible women DJs, producers, and songwriters in electronic and dance music (and beyond, of course), but there's a definite sense of that world still being very male-dominated. You've spoken about this in interviews before (with some choice quotes in THUMP last September). Do you feel like that is changing at all? And do you have any advice for women who are trying to make their way into that scene and bumping up against issues of sexism?
Well, since I am always surrounded by women producers and DJs it’s always a little difficult to even notice, but if I take my personal day-to-day life out of the equation and take a step back, it is still very prevalent—especially at big festivals. I do see things moving in the right direction, however. There seems to be a lot of forward movement for women in the industry. I just hope it continues. In terms of those just starting out, it’s important to just stay focused and hone in on your craft. Learn from others and teach what you know. Find your community and support one another.
Off the Grid benefits the Wexner Center's education programs, which do a lot to connect youths with contemporary art, expose them to new ideas, and offer them resources to explore their own creative sides. Could you talk about how art and/or art education affected you, as a child and as an adult?
Truthfully, I didn't have access to these kinds of things as a kid. I'm so thankful that the youth of today have much more access to the arts. We have the Lower East Side Girls Club here in NYC which has everything from a radio station inside of an Airstream to musical instruments and separate production stations complete with Ableton and Push. It makes me so happy that places like these exist now.
Do you see any avenues of influence between the more traditional art world and electronic music?
Anything that opens up a creative mind go hand in hand.
You released a great new track in the fall ("Pleasure Principle") and a handful of remixes since. What are you working on now?
So much!! I have a bunch of dance singles coming out this summer. I have a song called “In The Night” with vocals by Jo Lampert. She sings in Avan Lava and tUnE-yArDs; her voice is insane! I also have a new single with Nina Sky called “Can't Get Enough.” I teamed up with Blend.io for a remix contest, so if there is anyone out that that wants to give it a shot, they should! I'm also working on a new live show that has both my dance and trip-hop songs all accompanied by a quartet. Really looking forward to the coming year, been working very hard.
Lauren Flax will be joined by DJ Lance (The Remix on CD102.5 FM) and Giant Claw (sound collage/experimental electronic) at Off the Grid, an annual celebration and fundraiser for Wex education programming for children and teens. Dance the night away as you nosh on delicious bites from some of the best restaurants in town, a cash bar, and more. VIP passes get you early access to food and drinks (plus a couple of free ones, a performance choreographed by Nico Garlo (Nicole Garlando), a limited edition tote bag, and more. Best of all, all proceeds from this, the contemporary art part of the season, benefit Wexner Center education programs for children and youth. Tickets are still available; get yours here or at the door the day of the party.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
--Adam Vincent, program assistant for Performing Arts and Film/Video