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Daily Inspiration: Meet DJ LA (Layla Alamdari)

Today we’d like to introduce you to DJ LA (Layla Alamdari).

Hi DJ LA, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
DJ LA-it’s just a name, but to me, it goes so much deeper than that. I chose my DJ name instinctually; it came to be the first time someone asked me, “Hey, what do you go by?” It took me a millisecond in my mind to combine both my initials, as well as the name of my beloved hometown of Los Angeles—LA! I grew up in the 818 area, Glendale/La Canada to be exact. My parents both immigrated to Los Angeles from Mexico (my mother) and Iran (my father) in 1969; they both hustled and worked their hands to the bone, as most immigrants do, to create a better life for their children. I grew up in a relatively conservative household, going to Mosque with my father on Saturday and church with my mom on Sunday. I know now that the beautiful, symbolic pageantry and the “stage’ that was set at both locations would be very influential in my future as a musician/performer. There was so much love in our home, but the bar was always set high for all of us. Our parents let us know that whatever we did in life, they would be proud if we did it with all our might, focus, and with intention. Honestly, although my father is silently supportive, my mother is my biggest supporter, loudest cheerleader, that lady is literally an angel. She has driven me to gigs, helped me buy equipment without me even asking, even given me fashion/image advice. She might as well get her 10% because she’s pretty much my manager. She is blunt but does it with so much love. I thank God everyday for her. I initially never believed or had the idea of being involved with music. I was always a wide-eyed spectator looking in from the outside, seeing these wizards and angels performing onstage, controlling an entire crowd’s emotions with the push of a button or by uttering words into a microphone. They all made it look so flawless and like they had so much power.

However, around February 2019, I was working at a psychedelic-themed bar in Glendale, CA called Electric Pussycat; I was a bar-back, bartender, basically a Jill-of-all-trades there. One day we just randomly had a DJ cancel on us last minute. Everyone was LOSING their minds. One of my co-workers stepped up and said “Hey Layla, I think you can handle it. You have pretty good taste in music.” I started thinking to myself, “You know, he’s not wrong…” So I stepped up to the plate. Our system originally was a set of Pioneer CD-Js and a mixer to all of our club speakers. Somehow, those CD-J’s had been destroyed, so the club was working with an iPad hooked up to a Pioneer mixer to all of the club speakers. Now, any DJ knows this is NOT an ideal/professional setup by any means. Looking back now, I smile thinking of how I even made it work. This setup looked like Frankenstein in the flesh! The first night, I dove in headfirst. I tried a few different apps, but finally I settled on one called “Pyro”, a Serato App for iPhone/iPad that connected to Spotify, Apple Music, etc. I was in heaven. I began learning how to set up songs according to BPM and seeing how much that directly affected the ambiance of a party. I also began curating playlists specific to each event/each client for different parties and really having creativity within the booth. It became a seamless experience for the audience; no one could tell I wasn’t using a professional controller or setup unless they came right up to me. Believe me, it definitely did not come without a lot of trial and error. Slowly but surely, I started saving my tip money until I had saved up enough to buy my first little controller, a Numark PartyMix DJ Controller. I thought I was the QUEEN with that thing! I started investing in myself, bringing it into work and really figuring out the technical details behind DJing, what cords do what, where they go, signal flow, and so on.

By then, I had started booking outside gigs, really trying to dip my toes into the music scene and DJing independently. In less than two months, I took the money I had made and upgraded to a Serato DDJ-SB3. Towards the end of February 2020, right before lockdown and the pandemic, our work closed pretty suddenly, I hadn’t really thought about my life after the club. I had been very blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a Resident DJ for over a year as my first gig as a DJ. I’m so grateful not only for the lifelong friends I met at this job but the infinite amount of lessons and skills I gained in this short time. When the pandemic first started, like many people, I was slightly paralyzed with fear. I thought to myself “What will I do now? Who can I DJ for? Where can I DJ?” I just took a few deep breaths and realized that this time, whether it was two months, nine months, two years, could be as fruitful as I wanted it to be. I started studying music like my life depended on it. Any advice that my friends or colleagues gave me, I would inspect from afar, without emotion or taking it personally (which was very difficult at first) and I would just run with it. I gave myself time to actually learn music theory, to break it down to an elementary level and then build myself back up. I already had a lot of knowledge when it came to track and artist selection, so I wanted to start with a solid foundation. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right, I would crate-dig and sample-search like a madman. I still do this everyday! I would re-watch a lot of my tapes or audio and be honest with myself on where I could improve, perfect my timing, and so forth. I always have believed that the more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn.

Quarantine taught me to break all the rules I thought I knew on how to network as a DJ. There was no in-person events anymore, so I pivoted. I started reaching out, without hesitation, to all levels of musicians, DJs and performers that inspired me. I felt very powerless during the time everything was happening for the Black Lives Matter movement, around last June. I did march of course, but I wanted to do more. I reached out to my friend Jocelyn Harris, founding member of Mommies for Mary Jane (@mommiesandmaryjane), and asked if I could DJ their virtual event for B.L.M. I was honored that she trusted me with such an important event; she definitely didn’t have to, but I believe she knew my intentions were pure. I was determined to take my feelings of powerlessness and turn them into fuel. I did what I knew best and utilized my skills to help connect with others that felt the same way. My time as a DJ gave me the experience and knowledge to take everything I was feeling and channel it through the healing properties of music. Through the many virtual events we have done together at this point, I know that we have created a friendship out of a moment of immense pain and turmoil in our country. Jocelyn (as well as the community she has created) have truly opened me with loving arms and always put their trust in me, and words cannot describe what that means to me. These days, I am always going through my vinyl and expanding my music collection as a whole. Frequently visiting my neighborhood favorite, The Last Bookstore, and rummaging through their vinyl selection. I love experimenting with and playing around with different styles of music. Not only for DJing, but I am dipping my toe into Music Production as well, and very excited about that. I see no limits to where my career will be able to go in the future and am excited to see where hard work will take me.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It has been a very rewarding journey for me, all my struggles have been turned into blessings. When I worked at the psychedelic-themed bar (it was known as Electric Pussycat) for my first Resident DJ gig, I did encounter my share of misogyny and sexism. I literally had a drunk guy come up to me once and say “You’re a female DJ, who allowed you to do this?” I froze up a bit and faked a laugh, but I truly didn’t know what to say. I had a few more comments like that, but honestly, I just learned to let them roll off my back. Luckily, a bit later on I had security with me, so that was a huge blessing. I’ll never forget: his name was Leon and he was like a guardian angel to me. Anytime I gave him that side-eye, he would politely escort whoever was bothering me out of my vicinity. As for the insults/sexism, like Katt Williams said in one of his stand-up specials, “If you don’t have any haters what the f&*k is you doin’?!” That always stuck with me. I think if you’re trying to be in any sort of public arena, whether you’re a pro-Basketball player, DJ, Singer/Rapper, even a Politician, you’re going to need to learn quickly how to let hate not even come into your universe. Block that noise out. Look ahead on your own journey, and don’t focus on all the noise around you. Also, I must add that although I have and continue to experience sexism, I have an overwhelming amount of support from my friends, family, random strangers all over the globe. They have no end of kind words that propel me forward, constantly lift my spirits, and add fuel my purpose as a DJ.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am a DJ, proudly. I love to see how creative I can be as far as my sample integration. Sometimes I even surprise myself with what I find! I love finding what songs use what samples and then putting those two together seamlessly and cohesively, that is my passion for sure. I believe that is also what sets me apart from other DJs—I don’t just play “bangers” on command like a jukebox. My playlists are carefully combed through with love. My favorite app is called WhoSampled, I highly recommend it for anyone that is into music at all. I am most proud of being a child of immigrants and being a homegrown LA native. This city, all of its’ beauty, diversity, colors, textures, vibrance, showmanship, have all been the building blocks not only to who I am as an artist but as a person, I have the pressure of my city on my back and I’m ready for it.

What’s next?
I am currently in the process of stepping into Music Production as well. I have a project that will be released on all platforms in time for my birthday, May 31. It’s a passion project for me, but also will almost feel like a cathartic release, a diploma, the culmination of a lot of work, experience, and pure love coming together. I am working with a lot of extremely talented individuals doing features or even helping me with production for this project. I feel so lucky and blessed to have such a wide network of talented, kind, and generous friends that have uplifted me and given me the confidence to pursue this undertaking. I have a home studio that I designed and put together during quarantine where I will be producing everything on my album. I’m also looking forward to getting to do more in-person gigs (safely) as society slowly begins to reopen and revive itself.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

All photos, styling, editing by: Layla Alamdari

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