Korean female DJ smashes stereotypes in club scene

Though she's only been a professional DJ for two years, DJ Navi says she hopes that she and other female DJs can break down current perceptions of women in the DJ world.

"I believe all those DJs and myself, we have to break those perceptions. Even my friends who are DJs, we get a lot of that. 'Oh, they look pretty, but their music isn't good enough,'" she said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald. "So that's why female DJs, my friends and me, will work much harder to break those perceptions."

And it seems as though Navi is well on her way. She is the main DJ at Itaewon club Move and is the first Korean female DJ to represent Vestax, a world-famous DJ equipment company. She said she's also made films with them, which is an opportunity that not many female DJs get.

While her home base is Move, she plays at clubs and parties all over the city and festivals. A normal work week has her spinning from Wednesday through Saturday during the summer season, playing at least three shows every weekend. Next month, she will be opening at a festival for one of her favourite artists: Dutch DJ Sander Kleinenberg.

And when she's not playing, she's working on her sets, mixes and producing.

She said she plays a genre of music that is not so popular in Korea: house. Although most clubs in the country play EDM, Navi said house wasn't considered mainstream here.

"When I started becoming a professional DJ, I was playing house music and I didn't think that many people would like this music," she said, though surprisingly, there are a fair amount of people who seek out house music. One moment in particular that stands out to her is the night French DJ Falcon showed up at club Move.

"He was cheering hard at my music," she said with a humble smile. "It was really good."

Navi started out pursuing DJing as a hobby. She was a nursing student at Ewha Womans University but had been interested in music since she was a child. So she decided to be a DJ.

It took five years of being a hobbyist for her to finally catch a break. In that time she said she would practice at little-known Hongdae lounge clubs, since she didn't have all the expensive equipment required to DJ. She also played at small parties and built up relationships with other DJs who would frequent the lounges. It was those DJs who helped her find her first gig as a resident DJ.

She said it was hard, and she even quit for a bit when the realities of the job turned out to be much different than she had imagined.

"All these people cheering for me ... it looked really glamorous. But behind the scenes, you really have to put a lot of work into it, into your music," she said.

But her desire to make good music overrode the difficulties, and soon she was back to the grind.

Today, Navi runs her own house music party at Move once a month. She is also venturing out into other genres of music like dubstep and drum and bass. She is known as a house music DJ, but said she hopes people realise that she can play more than just that.

She is also starting to produce her own music, something she says is a natural progression for her.

"It's only natural that when you listen to music, you want to make your own. I want to make music for people, not only for the clubs, but something for everyday life," she said. "Through my music, I want people to hear my feelings. That's why I wanted to branch out as a producer."

She said everyday life is what inspires her, and those feelings that everyone has, such as liking a person, are what she uses to make music as well as put together mix sets.

However, as with many DJs, she said she struggled with finding the balance between playing music that will get the crowd dancing and music that she likes. As an artist, she wants to play music that is to her taste, but as a resident DJ at a club, she also has to keep in mind what the crowd wants.

She said there are many ways to overcome this, and one she often employs is choosing a melody that everyone likes and mashing it up with her style of music, sometimes adding in a bit of a disco flare, which is a sound she said she was particularly fond of.

Her goal is to be the top female DJ in Asia, but more than that, she hopes her music brings people cheer.

"I want to be accepted as a DJ," she said. "I really want to show you good music, so look me up!"