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Thursday, March 20, 2014

DJ Umami on the Key to a Fulfilling DJ Career and Playing Music at Marathons

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 11:15 AM


From door girl to DJ, Bay Area DJ Umami's rise to fame was guided by one simple word: practice. Instead of using programs or software shortcuts, she used a few records and the solace of her bedroom to perfect her craft. "I'd like to publicly apologize to my roommates and neighbors in my early stages of my career," she laughs. However, the patience has paid off, as now you can find her behind the decks of the Nike Women's Marathon or at many residencies around the Bay. We spoke with Umami about her goals, her residencies in Oakland, and the origin of the stage name Umami. She plays tonight, March 20, at Skylark for Peaches, and Saturday, March 22, for the CAAMFest at 111 Minna.

Where did the name Umami come from?

The name "Umami" came from my good friend and chef Matthew Close. He was explaining what the word "umami" meant in Japanese -- the fifth flavor -- and I kind of thought to myself how the same thing can apply to your taste in music. Especially soul. You can't really pinpoint what makes something funky or soulful, you just feel it. Same concept with Umami -- you just taste it. Shortly after, the burger joint became popular and I considered changing my name, but I didn't.

You started out DJing a lot in SF but now have a lot of residencies in Oakland. What prompted that change?

Last year I started doing more events in Oakland, and now have three residencies there. The crowd in Oakland is pretty great to play for. I mean, I will always jump on the opportunity to play out in San Francisco because it's always a good time, but I definitely dig calling Oakland my home. If I were to compare the two crowds... San Francisco is so diverse and there's a party for everyone. With that said, there's definitely a format for each club, or each promoted night in S.F. In Oakland, everyone is just out to dance and have a good time. It's really more about the vibe and playing feel-good music, familiar or unfamiliar. And there's nothing like dropping "I Got 5 on It" by The Luniz out here, they're the proudest when you drop the beat, after the song says "Where you from, Oakland? Smokin."

You also DJ a lot of Nike Women's events. What's the most fun about DJing fitness events?

I've DJed workouts for their NTC events and DJed the starting line at the Nike Women's Marathon. I've come across so many inspirational stories from other women and their journey through fitness, it's inspired me through my own, and made me want to create mixes for awesome trainers who I've come across. Music is such a large entity of fitness, and it's always fun to be a part of people's personal journeys, even for a workout.

As a mother of two, how does the music your kids listen to differ from what you listened to growing up?

I definitely respect the music choices my children make [they're 11 and 14]. Growing up, I remember my dad making fun of the music I listened to, so I try not to judge their song selections. I still roll my eyes when I hear them listening to certain music that makes me want to throw their iPad out the window. But other times, I'm surprised with how musically inclined they are. My older son is in high school band, and all he does is watch videos of other bands and drumlines doing their thing as he practices on a drum pad. I respect that. He's even put me up on music that has blown my mind. Like "Encore" by Nicolas Jaar. I didn't even know 14-year-olds had the capacity to care about music with such complexity. So it makes me proud that, no matter what, they are appreciating music and incorporating it in their lives.

You're part of the Peaches crew. How has the party evolved in the past couple of years?

This year Peaches will be five years old. I'm so proud of what we've accomplished, with five mixtapes out and how we've grown from a group of four lady DJs to a group of seven, going on eight. Peaches at Skylark will always be home base to me, no matter how I grow and where I go. And I'm proud to be part of such an amazing collective of beautiful and talented women. It's empowering to see the female DJ community grow, because we work together and empower each other.

What has been the most fulfilling moment in your DJ career thus far?

The most fulfilling moment in my DJ career has to be a plethora of moments combined: When someone comes up to me and tells me I've made their day, or they love my music selection, or even just [gives] a high-five or props. It's why I do what I do, to make others happy through music. I think that can attribute to anyone's success: doing something because you genuinely love others and want to make them happy, as opposed to doing things for your own ego.

What do you hope to accomplish this year?

This year, The world is my oyster, and I guess this year I'm gonna add all the fixings and slurp that shit down (laughs). No, but 2014 has already been amazing, and I'm always thankful that there are opportunities for me to play and do what I love for a living. I think my next goal is to dabble in production. It's an ambitious one, so we'll see.

-- @ChrisxtinaLi

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Christina Li


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