The dancefloor can be a place to feel free, express the inexpressible, and reconnect with your body. It’s a place where, with the right DJ, people are momentarily united in their pursuit of self-expression. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who understands this more than UNIIQU3. The New Jersey DJ, producer and songwriter views the dancefloor as a great equaliser: a place where the rules and divisions of the outside world are disregarded. With her, it’s a safe space where a variety of identities can harmoniously co-exist.
A self-taught DJ and producer, UNIIQU3’s been organising warehouse parties and club nights for Jersey club scene since she was young. Noticing the distinct lack of feminine energy behind the decks, she felt compelled to create space for herself and others like her. She’s since amassed a cult following, taking the Jersey sound worldwide. Her debut EP, Phase 3, blends EDM with the high octane energy of Jersey club: a four-track distillation of her love affair with clubbing. Tracks like body positive anthem ‘Bubble Gum’ and the sassy bop ‘Do What I Want’ showcase both first-rate production skill and unshakeable confidence. It’s clear that for UNIIQU3, getting people on the dancefloor is a way of paying it forward: a chance to give others a taste of what the nightlife has given her.
Hey UNIIQU3! So you’ve just released your debut EP Phase 3, which I’ve been loving. How long did it take from inception to finished product?
Thank you! I would say it’s taken about two years all up.
And these songs, were they created earlier in your career or all in the last two years?
They were all formed in like the last year, for real.
So Phase 3, from what I’ve read, is about how the club and nightlife more broadly set you on a journey of self-discovery. Can you tell me what it is about clubbing that gave you that confidence?
In my clubbing experience, I’ve always felt like whatever you do it doesn’t matter you know, because there’s no rules when you go to the club. It doesn’t matter how loud you sing a song, it doesn’t matter how hard you dance, it doesn’t matter how extra your look is, like you can do whatever you want and it’s okay. So the club kind of just made me more free to do all that.
I’m really eager to hear you talk through your mission to decolonise the dancefloor.
Decolonising the dancefloor involves giving the dancefloor to the people who really want to own it you know. I feel like now, in society, we have so many people trying to be righteous for the wrong reasons and that’s not what clubs were about. When it comes to things like people trying to curate all female line ups, it can sometimes be more like a marketing ploy. Or just not having equal opportunity for people of colour on festival line ups. That’s just what decolonisation is about—it’s making space for what belongs there you know, and I feel like nightlife things took a dark turn within the past year or so and I really want to help make it fun again.
That’s such an important concept, and we don’t see enacted often enough.
Yeah definitely. We can’t always let these outer world issues affect the places that are supposed to be havens for people.
Absolutely. So let’s talk about Jersey. How would you describe the culture to someone who’s never experienced it first-hand before?
Definitely fast paced. I would say Jersey club is a faster tempo then most genres because it’s focused on making you dance; it’s all about movement. It’s a hardcore dance genre that originated from Baltimore club and Chicago footwork and Jersey house and it’s the millennial’s turn up music. This is our new era of dance music. I would say Jersey club always has clever vocals that pertain to the dancefloor and we have an infamous beat pattern that everyone loves to use. We’re known for a lot of our signature samples because we have a jersey club sample kit that we all use.
You grew up immersed in the Jersey club scene. When you were going to these events and watching these DJs, were they predominantly male? at
Oh yeah, I grew up in it—through high school and even younger than that like elementary school, middle school. It was definitely a lot of dudes and that’s what made me want to start DJing because I would always just go out and dance, that’s my thing I love to dance, but I was like “How come there’s never any girls DJing?” I sought to change that, I felt that it was really necessary.
You’ve kind of broken out of the mould. A lot of women in the club music scene, even if they’re also producers, seem to be regarded as vocalists first and foremost. Why do you think this happens to women so often?
I feel like now, especially since I started my journey, there’s more women. There’s more women than ever right now, especially more women of colour. I think it’s a matter of everybody getting the same opportunities as men because they’re not always offered to us and I feel like that plays a big part. Once you have somebody that’s successful and they help someone else up the ladder, it’s an effect. That’s how I feel about Nina Las Vegas and Anna Lunoe, who are both from Australia. They were the first few females who were not from the US or my scene, two women who I didn’t even know existed you know what I mean, but they just really wanted to support me because they saw that I was doing something cool. We just need more of that. If we had more women in a position of power I’m pretty sure people would feel like there’s a bunch of females in the game because they would get the notice that they deserve, the recognition they deserve.
It’s about visibility.
Yeah! The guys do it, the guys definitely do it. Guys when they get success, they put all their dudes up there. They’re like “Yo, Imma put my bro on.”
That’s spot on. I think women can be really good at that too though. Like you said, it’s about getting more women in those positions of power: that’s what will affect change. Going back to Nina Las Vegas—you’re signed to her label—how did that connection come about? Why sign to an Australian label?
Well Nina and I have known each other for a minute now. She took me on my first tour to Australia for her NLV Presents series when she was doing that, and we just kept in touch ever since. She saw me working and she knew I was trying to put out more official type work. When she played Coachella she brought me out and just said, “Hey I want to help you release your projects.” And after that I decided to sign, and since then she’s just been guiding me, she’s been a great mentor. I was very verbal about wanting to do it myself but she’s definitely provided a lot of guidance. I like that she wanted to make a label because she wanted to help people make music she thought was cool. There’s not a lot of cool music out. When it comes to big dance labels that have the tools to really help push something, there’s just a lot of mediocre music coming out. So I think it’s dope that she’s taking the chance on new stuff that people have never heard of.
You went on a cross country tour with rapper Dai Burger earlier this year, which you organised and curated yourselves. I think that’s really indicative of your DIY spirit.
I feel like I’m partly a control freak, I grew up in a DIY youth culture. Everything that I’ve done in Jersey club culture has trained me to be the ultimate party guru that I am today, because back then we were like 16 and finding YMCAs and houses to throw parties in. It was a very different culture, we were definitely paying dues and just doing the most, we were like little business people as teenagers. Organising my own tour just took me back to that younger UNIIQU3 who did all of that with her friends to try and make money—because who wants to work when you can make money off of parties! It was also about proving to myself that I could do it myself, because I’ve done a whole bunch of tours where other people booked me. Whether they sold out or not, I wanted to prove that I could go out on my own and try to tour and curate the line ups I felt should be out there: where everybody is either a female, or if they’re not female they’re femme or just LGBT. We went on this tour together because we felt like there was never a lot of cool alternative girls touring together anymore. We missed that era where Kreayshawn would tour with Rye Rye, we just didn’t have that anymore. We would never get Trina and Cardi B together, you know? so I was like you know what let’s curate a tour where we do the whole thing and and that’s what we did for the whole tour. Now we’ve got Rico Nasty touring with Maliibu Mitch, and I’m starting to see Charli XCX grab people like Cupcakke and ABRA. Now I’m seeing more of the girl movement touring wise, which I think is dope.
On top of all that, you’ve made history in the last few years, being the first black woman to DJ four different music festivals in the US. I know that you’ve been curating stages with the intention of bringing visibility to a variety of different underrepresented groups. What do you look for specifically when you’re curating a line up? Well firstly, it has to be something that wows me. They call me UNIIQU3 for a reason, because I’m kind of into everything. The last line up I curated was for my EP release party and I did that because I really wanted people to see the variety we have to offer in Jersey club: it’s everything from a rock band, to a punk band, to solo singers. I just really love different ass production, something that’s kind of like a signature. I always look for someone who is a really good performer live. I love when people go hard live. I love a good live show. So many people record you now—you want to make them put their phones down real quick because you’re that good.s.
I’m a big fan of the makeup and hair looks you showcase on your Instagram! Talk to me about how beauty factors into the creation of UNIIQU3?
Oh my god! Well, first of all, I have to have my nails done—hence the name of our previous tour, Nailz N Ponytails—cause I’m a DJ and nails are a part of my job. That’s definitely a big part of my beauty aesthetic: I have to have my nails done. Sometimes I’ll go for neon colours because they glow in the dark, but sometimes I’ll get the bling. It depends. I sweat so much onstage, but my eyes never do! So I love eyeshadows, and I’ve just been playing around with them a bit more lately. I just bought a whole bunch of them coloured mascaras, that’s my new thing. It’s so tight! It’s kind of modest but it pops. I want to get into doing more dramatic, drag-like makeup but for day time. Honestly, travelling so much and doing shows day after day has got me so good at doing makeup. I had to really learn how to do my makeup. For the most part I do my own makeup.
Would you be open to a makeup artist doing your makeup, or has it become an important pre-show ritual for you?
Yeah I’m so open to that! That actually happened on the Nailz N Ponytailz tour, a girl reached out to do mine and Dai Burger’s makeup, so we let her go HAM. It was so dope. We also teamed up with Floss Gloss, which is a nail polish line, to do our nails at the kick off show in New York city. I love cute stuff like that. I feel like in a world full of dudes, it’s cool to have a girl DJ be extra obnoxious with all that.