DJ NewLife on His Global Music Party FEX, Chicago Versus The Bay Area, and Upcoming Sets for Carnaval SF

If you’re too low on funds to rent a private plot of grass in Dolores Park this weekend, you might try hitting the streets of the Mission for S.F’s 38th annual Carnaval. This year’s theme is “¡VIVA LA MADRE TIERRA!” or Long Live Mother Earth, and it celebrates “her” manifestations and incarnations in various cultures and how “she” continues to teach humankind and sustain life.

Fittingly, this week’s DJ spotlight is on DJ NewLife, who has spent the majority of his musical career dedicated to a genre called “global music,” a melting pot of sounds influenced by his travels and his love for transnational rhythms. NewLife, whose moniker (in his words), “represents the ability of the human spirit to persevere,” spoke to us about recently moving from Chicago to the Bay, his global party FEX Foreign Exchange, and what he will be playing during his two Carnaval sets.  You can catch him at Saturday, [5/28] at The Carnaval Takeover Afterparty at Slate Bar and Sunday [5/29] at Sazon Libre at El Rio

[jump] Give us a brief history of how you got into DJing.
Back in grade school, a few friends had turntables at their places. DJ culture was very strong in the neighborhood I grew up in. Even back then, everyone wanted to be a DJ. It kind of started as something for me to do to stay out of trouble. There were a number of influences in the house, hip-hop and reggae scenes. Also, I come from a musical family, but never really learned to play an instrument so this became the way for me to channel my creative, musical side.

You often label your mixes as “global.” Tell us a little about that genre, for those of us that aren't familiar.
It’s really an amazing time for music. The internet has exposed people to sounds from all over, but music always has, and always will, transcend continents and physical distances. For example, music in the Caribbean has roots in Africa, but then Caribbean music turned around and influenced some African music. It’s all very cyclical. My mixes and DJ sets always have, and always will, have multiple types of sounds, emotions, and tones from as far out as I can reach. A lot of my musical influences are rooted in my own travels. I really like to throw it around and do the unexpected at every opportunity. I never liked to get too caught up on a specific genre; I just know what moves me and what moves the people. Global is just used by default.

You also are a founder of the global music party called FEX, which is coming up on its 7-year anniversary. What's the aim of this party/collective?
FEX was founded by me and my good man, David Lozano, son of the slain activist and community organizer, Rudy Lozano. It was started as a vehicle to further establish Chicago as a cosmopolitan city and to create a space for people to dance, commune, and to also have a stop for like-minded touring DJs and music acts to perform. It was set in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, which has long since fallen to gentrification and commercialism. This was something that we did on a Saturday night to offer an alternative to the usual Saturday night commercial party. We later added Itzi Nallah, founder of Cumbiasazo, and the world famous MC Zulu to host the party. I can’t forget our West Coast ambassador DJ Mano aka BMaj. As of last year, David and I have moved to California and Itzi and Zulu have focused on their own projects. Although I return to Chicago regularly to do ‘one off’ FEX parties, I’m looking for a new home here in the Bay Area while keeping things in Chicago going in some capacity. Stay tuned.

Who has been your favorite/most memorable guest thus far?
Argh. That’s like asking what someone’s favorite song is. Too, too, many to mention. One of the coolest things about this experience is that we have worked with some of the most talented, interesting, and genuinely kind-hearted people. We not only book them, but we often put them up in my loft and break bread with them. Some of the most memorable are Hiatus Kaiyote, Rich Medina, Los Rakas, Chief Boima, Uproot Andy, Gecko Jones, Nickodemus, Atropolis, Kush Arora, Maga Bo, Canyon Cody, Daniel Haaksmen, Greg Caz, Jeremy Sole, and Julius the Mad Thinker. I could really go on. We have not had one bad guest in seven years. This doesn’t include the insanely talented Chicago acts that have been booked. I could probably write a book going into stories of each and every one of our guests.

You recently moved from Chicago to the Bay Area. What are some differences you immediately felt off the bat, in terms of the nightlife scene?
The differences in the nightlife scenes are palpable. I like them both for different reasons. The dancefloors here in the Bay Area, and in Cali in general, are joyous. People are ready to hit the floor from the moment they walk in the door. It really pulls you in as a DJ to see the smiling faces. It really allows you to easily connect. Crowds in Chicago tend to challenge you a bit more and be more critical, but when you lock them in and connect, it’s a very spiritual experience; extremely powerful and moving. I’ve been brought to tears on a couple of occasions at FEX.

If you could have a DJ rider that could have anything in the world on it, what would it consist of?
I’m pretty low maintenance. My standard setup: Technic 1200s and a solid Rane or Pioneer mixer, depending on whether I’m playing vinyl or Serato. If we’re playing a little make believe, I’d have to say that I’d have a Flying Lotus type light show, Funktion-One sounds and a humongous disco ball. An organic green drink of some type, vegetarian samosa, and a potato rosemary pizza cut into squares (of course) for me and my peoples after the show.

This weekend, you play a couple of parties for Carnaval. What's the significance of the event to you?
My new Bay Area homie, Mr. Lucky, has been kind enough to book me for Sazon Libre, which is a party to benefit the Huckleberry Youth program. That one is very special to me because as a youth, I was an active participant in similar programming and I can’t tell you how much I feel it contributed to my development as a young person and how it was instrumental in me becoming the man that I am. Mentorship is so important to the youth and I want to support that in every which way I can.

The Carnaval Takeover After Party is going to be mad fun — I can already feel it. I’ve been to Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro and I know that San Francisco always comes correct with their functions. I’m really looking forward to meeting a lot of local DJs and people in general. I really like that the Mission is holding this event down.

How will it reflect in your DJ sets?
Good question. I usually let the music select itself but I do always like to prep before my set. I’m working on a Kaytranada Edit of ‘Lite Spots’, off of his latest album 99.9%, that I’m looking forward to playing. It samples Gal Costa’s “Pontos De Luz” and I chopped that up a bit further to highlight some of the more floor-friendly moments. As anyone who has heard me spin can tell you, I have a special place in my heart for Brazilian music so there will definitely be some Coco, Samba, and other Brazilian flavors in the mix.

Are there any mixes you want to share with us and give us a little context for?
I rarely record mixes and I never record live mixes. They are two separate entities unto themselves as far as I’m concerned. My recorded mixes are done live, but are intended for more chill listening. They’re not really meant to be played at a party or anything. My live sets are much different, definitely more festive and aimed at the dancers. You can check out most of my recent mixes and DJ edits, which are free downloads, at my Soundcloud. 
What do you hope to accomplish in your career next?
I don’t have any real expectations, but I may want to establish, or be a part of, a music collective here in the Bay that has a solid purpose behind it. One of the great things about being here is the creativity that exists and I really want to tap into that. I’ve joined on as a rotating resident at a party in Los Angeles called NuTropic and that seems to be very promising. I also have aspirations of taking my music production beyond DJ edits and remixes. I want to really grow in that area.

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