In 2010, Tokimonsta (aka Jennifer Lee) told Resident Advisor that she and her beatmaking contemporaries in Los Angeles were “just like another small home-knit group.” In the years that have passed, members of that tight community of Dilla-indebted hip-hop producers have garnered international attention for their psychedelic rhythms and low-end experimentation.
Tokimonsta in particular has been touring far and wide, spreading her brand of wonky, tripped-out and occasionally Korean-flavored rhythms as far as Japan and Australia. This year, she hopped on board with Skrillex‘s massive Full Flex Express tour, which featured a hodgepodge lineup that included rising stars like Grimes and Hundred Waters alongside heavyweights like Diplo.
Next month, Tokimonsta will be touching down in New York to play CMJ 2012, so we caught up with her to hear about the travails of the road and what she’s got up her sleeve. Spoiler alert: She’s got a new album in the works for 2013, and she’s decided to leave her home base at Flying Lotus‘s Brainfeeder label to release it.
What have you been up to? You’ve been pretty quiet in terms of releasing stuff. I’m guessing that means you’ve been touring a lot.
Yeah, not as much as some people, but I’ve been flying out on the weekends for a lot of shows. Going back to being quiet on the production side, I’ve always been working a lot on an album, so that’s the reason why—this time I’m purposefully trying to withhold content and compile some really good stuff. Every few months I’ll put out a remix I’ve done for fun on my Soundcloud so that people have something to listen to in the meantime.
When is the album coming out?
I would say late winter or early spring, but I’ll be dropping two or three singles before then, and they’ll have videos and all that stuff.
What can you tell me about the album?
There’s a lot of vocal work on the album. It’s actually going to be coming out on a label called Ultra.
Oh, wow. Same as MNDR and Tiësto.
Yeah, exactly. They do completely unrelated music to my own, but I think they’re making an active effort to be more than an EDM label and more of a well-rounded label. Obviously I wouldn’t have chosen to release on that label at all if they hadn’t given me the confidence that they really believe in the kind of sound I have, because I know it’s not like any of their other artists.
Your sounds were very at home on Brainfeeder. How is the album different from Midnight Menu?
It’s not something super drastic, or at least, that’s what I’m hoping. I think it’s really just a step forward, just different enough so that you know that you progressed but something that relates to the last album, so it’s still a step forward.
How has the proliferation of the L.A. beat scene changed things for you creatively, sonically or as an L.A. resident and artist?
Things are definitely really different. Two years ago, if you were going to a place like Low End Theory, which is the hangout for a lot of Brainfeeder guys, it would be cool. There would be some days when it was really crowded and some days when there were no people. Now when you go there, it’s like it doesn’t even matter who’s playing, there’s a line around the block because it’s so cool and hip. I’ve heard a few people complaining about how it’s different and how it’s changed and this and that, but I dunno.
I feel like people are still pretty good-natured, and I guess at a certain point, everyone wants their music heard. I think it’s an amazing thing because it’s like, “Oh you all blew up together. You’re all growing together.” I have nothing against it, but there’s always a fear of when you cross over, what’s going to happen. What I’m doing right now, I don’t know if it’s crossing over from being very niche, but I feel like that’s kind of what I’m doing—but I want to maintain my underground sound. It’s hard to explain.
I don’t think it would be conceited or inaccurate to say that you’re starting to cross over. Aren’t you playing with Rusko tonight?
I know that seems kind of random but yeah. I went on an entire tour with Skrillex.
How was the experience of playing to Skrillex’s crowds compared to the crowd at Low End Theory?
Oh god, it’s so different. The good thing about being around Skrillex is that he’s very open-minded about music. He’ll try anything; he wants to promote various kinds of music other than what he plays. But, obviously, the issue is that a lot of people that listen to his music only like what he plays, and they’re not very open-minded. They’re very straight-focused, “Where’s the drop?” kind of crowds. They’re not always like that, so when you’re playing for that crowd, you can’t win them all, but you can win a handful over, and they’ll be down. And you have some crossover listeners who will listen to my music in their downtime and his music when they’re going to a party. It kinda works out, but it kinda doesn’t. A Skrillex audience is a little more rave-y versus Low End Theory, which is a little more hipster.
It’s interesting that his tour was so diverse. When you see that bill, it’s a little baffling. How did it all work cohesively as a unit?
It was being promoted as a festival, and as a festival it’s meant to be unique. Instead of doing separate stages at the same time, he wanted everyone to play on the same stage, one after the other, so everyone has to look at everyone else’s set, depending on when they get there.
I think over all, we accomplished what he was trying to do, which was to present something really different and to go against the grain. People don’t like him, but he gets pigeonholed quite a lot into his genre of dubstep, and he’s more open-minded than that, and he was trying to present that. He basically curated it. I think it worked and it didn’t work for his audience because some of his audience probably didn’t want to hear howl-y indie rock or my weird brand of electronic hip-hop or Grimes’s singing style and whatnot. But there were definitely a lot of people who appreciated it and a lot of people who brought it home with them. It was a cool idea to get this really vast audience to try out something new. I really appreciate that.
How do you like trap? I would imagine you’d hear some of that at Skrillex’s shows.
I do play a portion of trap in my set, but the kind of trap I like is like, TNGHT, the Hudson Mohawke stuff. That kind of trap I find really interesting because it still has the big 808 drums, which have existed forever, but it has interesting sounds that are new to it.
It is kinda trendy—I’ve heard people say that it kinda has an expiration date. At a certain point, people are going to get sick of listening to trap and the hi-hats and whatnot. But there is an interesting group of people who are incorporating trap elements into their music, like Shlohmo. They kind of incorporate trap styles of things, but it’s not really trap because they’re doing indie vocals over it and things like that.
We’re really excited to have you at CMJ this year. When was the last time you were in New York?
I was in Brooklyn about a month ago. I can’t remember exactly. I have no way of understanding space and time—I never know what day it is. I never know what time of day it is. I want to just live in my own little window of time and space. It’s kind of trippy. What was I talking about again?