6AM chats with two Arcana Agency artists in the midst of a busy ADE 2017 week.
Desna and Johnny Trika both produce and play techno, although with characteristically different soundscapes of their own. Desna’s path has seen her strive to move away from labels, choosing instead to focus on quality music production of a transcendental nature, inspired by artists such as Ben Klock, Len Faki, and Jeff Rushin just to name a few. She rose from the ranks of one of the world’s most competitive dance music cities, New York, performing at gay parties which ultimately led to launching her own controversial event series.
Johnny’s story is a little different. “Discovered” by Dubfire himself, he has been a Sci-Tec label mainstay for a while now, armed with a minimal techno sound that perfectly fits that of the Iranian-born producer and his label. Born in Montreal, Johnny is a gear aficionado, and it shows both in his studio and live set-up, as well as the mesmerizing and intense live performances he has now been doing all over the world, each one stacked only with original material, both released hits and unreleased gems.
I am here with Johnny Trika and DESNA! When did you guys get into the city?
Johnny Trika: I got in yesterday morning, Wednesday morning.
DESNA: I got in yesterday, around 3pm
First time in Amsterdam? How many times have you been to ADE?
DESNA: No this is my 5th ADE
Johnny Trika: First time here.
We will start with the first timer first. What’s your first impression?
Johnny Trika: I like it a lot, I think the way the city is designed plays a big part. It’s a very unique city and with these parties it adds a cool atmosphere to it.
You being here for the 5th time, what does ADE represent for you as an artist, a party-goer and just someone in the industry?
DESNA: I started coming actually at the very beginning of my DJ career and it opened my eyes to being able to physically meet with record labels, see people face to face instead of just messaging online. You can see all the artists play in tighter smaller venues, you get really intimate experiences… like he played in a pub last night! Just the networking here is amazing.
You being here for years, it has expanded and progressed so much. Can you tell us how it has been for you?
DESNA: This year it feels so much more spread out that I preferred it when it was just at the Dylan and Felix and everyone kind of hung out outside on the street, there was more opportunity for spontaneous meetings I feel but things change and you evolve, and it’s the first year that it’s different and it’s just an adjustment.
As a first time artist coming in and actually playing some parties here, what do you think Amsterdam Dance Event represents for you?
Johnny Trika: I am based in the Canada so for me it’s good to come here because it gives me connection to the European base that I am not really that exposed to. For me it’s really good to be here.
What are some of your can’t miss events here?
DESNA: Last year I did a party here, I collaborated with Nervous Records and we are doing it again this year at the W Hotel. Kenny Dope headlining so that’s gonna be a special event but I also like going to the Drumcode and Hyte parties and those happen on the weekend. I’m going to get all the meetings out of the way and then go for it.
Absolutely. How about you Johnny, besides playing the events here as well are there any other you’re looking forward to?
Johnny Trika: I think tonight is Drumcode, I think I might be going there. There’s Afterlife too. You don’t know where to go because there’s so many parties, but there’s a lot of good parties so you have to strategically place yourself.
I think what I have learned from Miami is that you have to be organized if you want to meet the right people.
Absolutely, which leads into the next question: you both have the fortune to travel for gigs and what not. What are some tips and advice that you guys would give as far as really maximizing your time on tour, delivering music, staying healthy on the road?
DESNA: I actually have a really cool doctor back home. She prescribes me B12 shots injections and I take them every week. I think that helps a lot. I meditate every morning, I have a pretty strict routine of keeping my mind clear. I don’t not drink, I enjoy having fun but there’s definitely the chance of running yourself down fast. You have to pick and choose your battles.
Definitely, especially when dealing with jet lag. How about you, how do you prepare for trips like this one?
Johnny Trika: Balance is key, you have to be smart. Say you’re playing somewhere and next day you have a show. In the back of your head you know you have to catch a flight, do all this stuff, so you have to balance yourself. Take naps at hotels, take it easy before shows. Some people like to go a little harder… (laughs).
Yes. Especially being disciplined and looking at the long-term game in this industry.
DESNA: Yeah, you don’t want to look haggard either. I am a girl and I don’t want to look like I am 10 years older than my age (laughs).
Johnny Trika: It takes a toll on the body.
DESNA: Drink lots of water!
Johnny, in your bio you mention an epiphany you had. I think what you decided to do something I think serious artists should do. Build their foundations and have a certain skill set down cold, and then build it up on the next level, instead of jumping too early. I know you spent a lot of years in the studio and then suddenly there you were, but you didn’t just suddenly show up. Can you talk to us about that a bit?
Johnny Trika: I don’t really blame those people. Before I even got signed I had never played a show in my life, so no one knew who I was. I just got on with Dubfire right away, a lot of people were shocked.
But you were in the studio for a while before that, and I am sure it took a lot of patience.
Johnny Trika: Honestly I didn’t think I was ready until one of my friends convinced me to get some of my music out.
Gotcha. A lot of the artists in the beginning phase are shy, wonder if their music is ready or not. Based on your experience how do people get over that? AndDESNA how does that work in this industry when you, as a female artist, are faced with sexism and other similar issues?
DESNA: That’s definitely an issue and we could go on all day about that. I just don’t really fucking care.
Johnny Trika: (laughs)
DESNA: I just don’t think about it. I actually like coming to ADE and there are so many man and you stand out, as there’s not that many women. And it can run in your favor, but it doesn’t matter. Men and women… I don’t look at anyone as competition, this world is huge and there’s room for massive success for everyone.
Yeah, I think some people can be crippled by other’s opinions and to really set yourself free as an artist you have to make some mental changes. Even you Johnny, as you said you didn’t know if you were ready, but maybe you were ready 6 months before that time but you will never know unless you push it out.
Johnny Trika: Yeah, yeah exactly.
DESNA: Yes. I think with my sound… I rebranded. It’s only been shy of one year. I was running under another alias and my sound was different and it took me 5-6 years to realize what I really want in this career. I don’t regret taking time to make all sorts of music. But I have made so much music this year and kept scrapping it as I knew it wasn’t it, and when I finally figured out what my signature should sound like, how I want my music to be put out… I just finished a three-track EP that took literally 8 months. And it’s finally ready! And I never took that much time on music before.
Johnny Trika: I agree with that mentality.
It’s about feeling that what you’re putting out is quality.
Johnny Trika: Yeah, if the artist feels it then the people feel it too.
Absolutely, music is that feeling.
Johnny Trika: Personally I would rather release less, but good quality.
Quality over quantity.
Johnny Trika: Absolutely.
One last question for the up-and-comers in this game. Any advice from you?
Johnny Trika: Take your time. Surround yourself with positive people that will not bring you down, because people can easily bring you down when you’re trying to be creative or different. Make sure you take it slow and do the right steps
DESNA, what advice would you give fellow females who are pursuing this DJ career?
DESNA: I don’t know what for females specifically. I am lesbian actually too, which could even pinhole me in a whole even smaller category, but I don’t even “capitalize” or “try to capitalize” on being gay because it doesn’t matter. Everything is evening out and I think there’s a lot of women who are blowing up right now, especially in the underground music scene. So I think for artists in general the one thing that is eye-appealing aside from the music, with branding and things, always try to come up with things that are your own and not just what everyone else is doing. That will give you the biggest shot at getting noticed because there’s a lot of people now doing this so staying really true to yourself and being an individual is everything right now.
And not getting lazy! (laughs) You can’t be lazy.
Actual final question for you two: what can we look forward from you as far as the rest of 2017 and going to 2018 and beyond?
DESNA: Well I have an event that I have put on some small touring over the summer which went really well, so I am looking at doing more shows. We have something in Tulum January 8th and something big for New Year’s weekend. Risky Business is the name. Aside from that I finished this EP which I have been shopping here at ADE. I can’t say yet where I think it may go but I think it’s gonna go on a great label and I think that will open more touring doors for me.
And for you Johnny?
Johnny Trika: I played yesterday. I have a panel tomorrow at My Cup of Tech, then I have some other shows in Europe. Playing in Italy and Berlin, then I go back to Canada, I play some shows in the U.S. I have a release on Sci+Tec coming out at the end of the month. It’s 10 significant artists from the label with one track each. Dubfire is on that, Carlo Lio, Shaded, Hector, for the 10 year anniversary. Yeah, I have just been grinding in the studio.
Definitely, and I know that last one was a cookie cutter type of question but it does show what the artist is working and focusing on.
DESNA: Yes, definitely. One other thing that I think is important. if you’re in it to chase fame you’re in the wrong fucking business, and if you’re in it because you really love music it will show and I think that there’s a big chance you’ll have at least some sort of career.
It will eventually play itself, being true to yourself and the music.
Johnny Trika: A really good example. A perfect example is Stephan Bodzin. If you’ve ever seen him play he is so good, and people love that. So much emotion. You can feel it, it’s more than music. It’s crazy, it’s strong. And that’s why he has gone to another level.
DESNA: Erick Morillo is another example too, he has been around forever but you see it in him! It’s the passion for the music that makes it all happen.