Breakfast with DJs: DJ Yamaho

DJs loom large in the dark realm of clubs. We’re interested in seeing DJs in the bright light of morning, so we chat with them over breakfast in this ongoing series. This installment of “Breakfast with DJs” has us hanging with DJ Yamaho, a.k.a. Natalie Gunnarsdottir, in Reykjavik, Iceland.

First, listen her latest Soundcloud mix as you read through this exclusive interview:

Where?

At her apartment/studio and later at Prikið, both in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland.

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What was on the menu?

DJ Yamaho only drank coffee, since she was recovering from a stomach flu. I had the same coffee, but added an order of eggs and bacon.

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Where’d you get the name “Yamaho?”

It’s a music instrument company. It makes drums, synthesizers, and all kinds of equipment. It came out of a birthday trip to a summerhouse, a long time ago. There were a bunch of creative minds and spirits. We just hung out, talked and made music and the Yamaho moniker emerged from that.

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How’d you get your start?

My grandfather was a musician and I was brought up with a lot of instruments around, a lot of people making music. I feel like I’m continuing my grandfather’s legacy.

A friend convinced me to enter this local DJ competition in Reykjavik. He said, “You have to do it. You are the only girl. There has to be some kind of representation.” I was like, “No, I’m too old for this,” but he talked me into doing it and I won.

This was in 2013 and the final was at Pacha in Ibiza, Spain.

We went there for this crazy weekend in Ibiza. It was very good for me to see other DJs, see people doing something that I enjoy, but doing it full time. They were making a living doing it and I found it inspiring. It made it seem possible.

After that, I came home and decided, this is what I want to do. I want to make music for a living.

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Your work as a female DJ of color in Iceland, is it inherently political? How is the scene?

Women have to struggle more than men. Even here, in Iceland, where supposedly we have the best gender equality in the world.

In the world of DJs, it is all about an alpha male attitude. So, I just embrace it, I’m working alongside these guys and I’m holding my own. It’s possible that since I’ve only been surrounded by this male-dominated world of DJs, I’m used to it.

I recently started working with a female DJ collective, called, “Affair.” It’s a bunch of women DJs, who came together and we now have a weekly night on Wednesdays at Boston, in Reykjavik. There are female DJs in Reykjavik, but we’re pretty spread out. I’m a little more experienced and have played out more, so I’ve joined them to help get the word out. It’s a way for female DJs to support each other. There are 12 of us that are active.

The “Affair” has one night we all play together at Boston. It’s the only all female DJ night. It been a huge success and it’s giving a lot of women an opportunity to see females spin. It’s showing other women, that the DJ booth is not only a man’s world. I’m very happy and proud to be a part of this group. It’s very important that there’s a woman deejaying at least once a week in Reykjavik and now you can find that at Boston. I think very exciting things are going to happen with “Affair.”

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What are some of your tools of trade? 

I grew up deejaying on vinyl. All of my collection today is on vinyl and so turntables are my roots. Because it’s my profession, because it’s something that I love, I want to keep it fresh and exciting. That’s why I am getting my turntables tuned and going back to vinyl. I would rather buy fewer records and have the records that I want to play, than go all digital.

But I do use Traktor for smaller gigs. It’s easy because here, we don’t have an option to get all the latest music straight away and it lets me be current and DJ right away. Traktor is a very interesting format, but it’s only interesting if you really know the basics. It’s very sad if you just rely on the software, the technology. If it fails you, can you still call yourself a DJ?

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These are questions that I ask myself.

Spinning vinyl allows me to keep up my skills, I feel like I can get lazy using Traktor. It’s important to know how to sync using only your ears.

What keeps you motivated and growing as an artist?

Last year at Sonar was the first time I sang in public. I did it at Harpa. And this year, I sang again.

My grandfather had cancer and it made me consider what happens at the end of a life, will you feel happiness or remorse? My thought recently has been, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, I cannot live this life, by anyone else’s rules.” I have to live it by my own. Because of that, I’ve been able to perform.

Follow DJ Yamaho on Soundcloud and Facebook for more updates!


About the author: Based in SF, Mai Le deeply obsesses about music, fashion, art and social justice. Chances are high she’s photographed someone you know for her seven year old street style site, fashioni.st. More info than necessary can be found about her, here: about.me/mai.

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