“The dance floor is a shared space where each person can express a personal connection with the music. It’s a non-judgmental area because dancing isn’t about moving a certain way. Dance is about letting go, shaking the blues away and connecting to mind, body, spirit, and your community.”
–DJ Simone DuJour
Before I interviewed Simone I was swayed to consider myself alone when it came to frequently feeling uncomfortable in crowds at live shows. I often feel like my connection with live music is disarrayed by the nous of other commotion and speculation of the people around me.
There’s the token drunk dude that steps on your foot each of the seven times he goes back to the bar, or the pack of girls that scowl at people who come close to their exclusive group bubble, and you can’t forget the guy creepily peering behind the shoulder of every female, in search of a partner to grind his midsection on.
My discomfort with concert crowds became real earlier this summer when I attended a Flux Pavilion show (I afterwards entitled my ticket as, “My Resignation to Dubstep concerts”). At first I felt somewhat comfortable with my locale in the audience, and was freely moving to the songs. It seemed like we were all there for the same purpose – the music. Then, I watched a shirtless guy in cargo shorts pounce on a tiny girl dancing in front of me, and in one fluid motion they began ardently grinding with one another. His perspiring torso had swallowed this young woman completely out of my sight. I turned to the girl dancing on the other side of me, hoping she had also witnessed this epic turn of grindage. She had also been swallowed by a sweaty torso, which she was now making out with.
We were no longer all there for the same purpose.
For the remainder of the show I continued to scan the people around me and wonder if they were actually connecting with the music, or just bidding time before someone came along looking worthy of dancing/hooking-up with. This inner dialogue made me want to crawl into a hole.
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I can’t explain how elevating it was for me to speak with Simone, someone who understood the discomfort I was growing accustom to feeling at concerts. Simone handles the dance floors of her gigs in a very thoughtful manner and recognizes that the experience of an audience member is just as, if not more important than her own as a performer. She believes it’s necessary to create and have a sanctified space for movement at shows. Simone has even gone as far as saging dance floors to help construct an optimistic, uplifting atmosphere for engagement.
“Dance cultures are being lost because I think people forget how liberating dance can be. People get wrapped up in their own agendas,” said Simone. “I have a vision to bring some of that tribal culture sense back, and remind people what dance can really be about. Sharing sacred space together makes you feeling recharged and connected.”
The love Simone has for dance roots all the way back to her childhood, when she remembers dancing to “Hip Hop Hooray” by Naughty by Nature with her mom in the kitchen. Moving to the sound of music was automatic for Simone.
“I’ve been dancing since I was in my Mother’s womb,” said Simone. “I was always dancing. I’d wake up in the morning and immediately start dancing in front of my mirror, even before changing into my clothes or eating breakfast. Dance was always a part of my routine.”
Dancing regularly helped Simone form a bond with music and how certain sounds could provoke people to move in certain ways. Through traveling to places like Spain and Peru and absorbing the dance cultures, Simone’s passion for dance cultivated. She was ultimately introduced to the house music scene (the music and culture she is inspired most by) during a short living stint in New York City.
House music derives from tribal music and evokes people to come together and share a transcendent connection through dance. The genre is different in every city, but most house music is manufactured to inspire people to move freely to the beat. Anyone with two functional legs can dance to house music. Simone said she learned a lot of her dancing techniques from styles she picked up from other people.
“I would approach people dancing in clubs in ways that looked new or interesting to me and ask, ‘How do you do that?’ and they would usually show me.”
Seeing people strongly connected to music while dancing inspired Simone, and she soon realized she could be the spark to that connection through DJing.
Simone was first introduced to DJing in college at Macalester, where she had a live show every week on the campus radio station (WMCN FM). Since she believes radio should be a medium that speaks to listeners, and not something they can predict, Simone improvised her sets and followed whatever flow she had developed.
“I used to dig through the Chicago House records my boyfriend had at the time, stuff a bunch into my backpack, go to my last hour class, and bike over to the studio just in time for my set,” said Simone. “I never planned out a set-list. I liked to go with whatever I was feeling at the time. Chicago, Latin, techy, tribal, SanFransisco – all different styles of house music, you know, the stuff that makes you feel good.”
It was in the studio where Simone surmounted a strong understanding of how to work with vinyl, as she elected to only play records during her 2-hour sets. For anyone not familiar with DJing vinyl, transitioning flawlessly from record-to-record on a turntable is an art in itself. DJ’s who work with records have more overall control of the music and how the sound resonates, but the slightest mishap leads to trainwrecking the entire musical flow.
DJ Simone’s skills only heightened after her radio show at Macalester, and she’s since DJed everything from staff get-togethers to brimming dance parties. Her sets range in style, and she remains reliant on her improvisation skills and knack for understanding crowds to continue the streak of satisfied listeners. Simone is open to DJing all genres, too, resisting the ease of repetitiveness.
“I don’t dive into any one style of music because I like all genres, and I can learn from them all. I try to blend into a lot of things,” she said. “Different people like different styles of music. I like to let everyone hear something they can possibly relate to.”
Understatement of the year: Simone is an extraordinary artist. She’s immersed in enhancing the world through music in a very profound way. Her acclaim takes a backseat to her integrity as an artist. She feeds off the energy she gets from the people she collaborates with and performs for. She studies facets of music that are perhaps overlooked, like the correlation of the human heartbeat with the beats per minute of a song, or the symbolism of how certain chords and compilations are structured. Simone believes the impact music can have on our society is immense, and I believe her.
And Simone’s journey as an artist is only beginning. She’s so far mastered the ins-and-outs of DJing, as well as providing welcoming and liberating environments for her crowds. Right now Simone’s sets consist of existing songs she mixes to fit with each other, but eventually she’d like to create and produce her own house music – when she feels ready, of course. I have a hunch the music she creates will be something special.
For now she just wants to keep learning. Collaborating with a diverse group of musicians (right now she collaborates mostly with her DJ partner, Frank Castles), leading local youth in dance and music workshops, and lastly incorporating even more variety into her sets are all part of Simone’s plans.
A couple of years ago after a George Clinton concert at First Avenue, Simone met a videographer who worked with Parliament-Funkadelic, and he left her with insight she remains contingent on pursuing. He showed her a video he had shot while she was dancing in the crowd and said, “See that? You have a light that shines. It shines from inside of you and reflects onto the people around you.” He told her the impact she has on people resides in spreading that same shine.
“I guess I’m always just trying to share my shine,” said Simone.
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Simone is currently involved with the awesome non-profit organization IDEAWERKS, which was formed to help pave the way for the next generation of inspired individuals. Her unique love for music is spread with the youth she works with.
Most recently she’s been planning the IdeaWerks Community Concert/Fundraiser, which will take place on September 22nd, 3-7:30pm at Powderhorn Park. Mark your calendars and don’t miss a chance to support the youth in our community, and all the beautiful people involved in making it happen. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ideawerks/275163766896
**Photos captured by Sally Nixon