FEATURED ARTIST FRIDAY: Hummingbird

Hummingbird can’t recall life without rhythm and melody. A classically trained musician since age four, she started with violin, and this was followed closely by piano, drums and clarinet. She began composing classical music at age ten and performed regularly for years. Always a fan of electronic music, a chance introduction to Ableton flipped a switch and launched her into producing and DJing. In her home market of Chicago, she’s a regular presence at Spybar, Celeste, Smartbar, and the well-respected Paradigm Underground, Rituals and Mirage Nights events, among many others. With a passion for setting a proper vibe and managing the energy of a room, she’s warmed up the dance floor for artists such as Maya Jane Coles, Adriatique, Joris Voorn, Andhim, Guy Gerber, Eelke Kleijn…and the list goes on. Hummingbird’s original productions feature the same complex, driving and melodic elements as her DJ sets, with a focus on intelligent, forward-thinking sounds from across the spectrum of house and techno. Her dynamic, emotive performances are driven by relentless curation, an intuitive connection to time and space, and a palpable energy that goes straight to the heart of the dance floor.

How would you describe yourself and your background?

I often describe myself as an analytic mind with a creative soul. I’m quite cerebral: endlessly curious about how things work, where ideas originated and their cultural impact over time, how ecosystems evolve, how sound vibrations affect our cells and our DNA…you name it. If it’s complex and ripe for intellectual evaluation, I’m all over it.  But on the flip side, I’m a very free spirit who’s incredibly connected to energy and fascinated by the elements of the universe that science can’t explain. There’s a great deal of wisdom to be gained when we stop trying to know with our minds, and instead just open our hearts and live in the moment. And it’s in this very present, heart-centered space that true inspiration and creativity spring forth. So, that’s me in a nutshell. I bounce back and forth between this intellectual mind and this free-spirited, creative soul – and if you know me and my music, I feel like you can sense this dualistic yet remarkably compatible energy in there. 

What are your main music styles and influences as a DJ? 

Music has always been a part of me. I responded to it so powerfully when I was small that my mom started me in classical violin when I was 4 years old. This was followed by piano at 7 and clarinet at 9. I played with the Milwaukee Youth Symphony, jazz ensembles, string quartets, you name it 😉 However the music that resonated with me always had a driving 4/4 element to it, or at least some electronic component. So it’s no real surprise that I ended up here in the world of melodic house and techno.  I’m influenced by so much – the progression and flow of a symphony, weird stuff like early Boards of Canada, bands like The Smiths, The Ramones, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead… The Chemical Brothers are probably my single largest electronic influence. They cover a ton of ground musically, yet their sound is so recognizable and so cohesive.

What obstacles have you had to overcome as an artist? 

My biggest obstacle was probably my introverted nature. While I love connecting with people, the hardest thing in the world for me is to go up to someone I don’t know and talk to them. Networking is a huge part of being in the scene, and when performing you’re obviously up on stage. The whole thing would make me quite nervous, sometimes almost debilitatingly so. But I loved this enough that I had to force myself through that fear and discomfort. It was of course so worth it, and I share this because I know I’m not the only one out there who’s like this. It can be overcome… you just have to be committed to confronting your fears and working through them. As challenging as it might seem in the moment, it’s those things you fear most, that once faced, will offer you the greatest reward.

How has the industry evolved since you first started until now?

The biggest change I’ve seen is how much more collaborative everyone is. It felt so much more competitive in the past and now there’s this energy of really wanting to see everyone be successful – which is how it should be.

What was the moment you wanted to take the leap in this lifestyle? 

(artist/event/set/song/etc..)

I was working in the corporate world doing marketing and brand strategy. It was interesting work and I was quite good at it – but I had this moment where I realized my life needed to be about more than just making big companies more money. I needed to reconnect to my creative self, and focus my energy on bringing something beautiful into the world. I could write pages about this… but that’s the Cliff Notes version. 

What is your proudest moment so far? (blogged/signed/etc..) 

There are a lot of great moments – awesome gigs, releasing my first EP, etc etc but the proudest moment truly arrives every single day. Being an independent artist requires a huge level of commitment and ultimately there’s no one but you holding you accountable to anything. There are so many days when I see all my friends doing fun things I’d love to be doing, but I have a gig to prep for, or a song to be worked on, or some annoying thing in my studio that isn’t working that I must troubleshoot and fix before anything else musical can happen. My proudest moment is every single time I say “no” to something and instead commit to myself and what will enable my creative process. 

What are some of your favorite plug-ins? 

Cableguys have some amazing stuff and do a really nice job with the visual interface too. Panshaper is probably my favorite.

If you were stuck in an elevator, what album/record would you have playing to keep you sane?

Singularity by John Hopkins – such a cerebral album and he’s just an absolute genius of a producer.

What’s your current favorite show (tv/netflix/etc…) worth binging? 

I don’t watch TV. There are a bunch of plants and paintings sitting in front of it. I do read a lot of books though, and I’m currently rereading Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.” Highly recommend if you’re into science and the cosmos

What do you usually start with when preparing for a set?

I connect with the vibe I want to share and then pull a ridiculous number of songs. I often don’t even know the song I will start a set with, but I read the energy and that guides the journey.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you while DJing?

Hmm… I feel like I don’t really have anything too exciting. I did get bitten by a spider during an outdoor festival set and within about four hours the left part of my hand was swollen up like a balloon. So watching that happen was pretty wild.

What are you top three tracks right now? Why?

What springs to mind immediately is this remix RJ Pickens has in the works. He played a work-in-process version for me a month or two ago and it’s seriously one of the most stunning things I’ve heard in a really long time. It’s supposed to come out later this year so be sure to watch the Vested label releases.

If you had to do something else (outside of music), what would it be?

I would love to run a no-kill animal shelter for animals who are difficult to find homes for, because of injuries, prior abuse, advanced age, etc. … and somehow work into this a program to bring the friendly ones to nursing homes to provide companionship for the elderly.

What’s your favorite Chicago venue to play at? Why?

Hmmm… I view each experience as so unique, which makes it difficult to choose. I love Spybar, I’m so excited for Primary to reopen because that’s always been a favorite, Smartbar is such an institution and has its own beautiful energy, and I love the rooftop at Celeste because it’s such a beautiful, vibey space with all the plants. Plus all the awesome warehouse venues that have such a cool energy.

 What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?

Mana Food Bar on Division. I’m vegetarian, so it’s awesome to be able to eat anything on the menu. Also worth noting: the food is so good there that even my “meat and potatoes” father didn’t miss the meat.

What was your favorite show that you’ve played in Chicago?

There are so many memorable ones… it’s tough to pick just one! But opening for Andhim at Spybar on July 4th was really wonderful; it was one of those nights where the music just flowed out of me. Numerous people come up to me afterward and say that my set moved them to tears, which of course then nearly moved me to tears! That’s the whole point of why I do this – to create something beautiful and make us FEEL something real. Music is such a powerful conduit – it speaks a language all its own and reaches deep into our souls. When the music consumes us, we feel so connected, both to inward to the core of our being and outward with everything that surrounds us. I felt that insanely connected energy from behind the decks when I was playing, and then hearing how it affected people was the most beautiful gift. So a night like this will always be a favorite 

What’s your favorite thing about this city?

I love how it’s like a smaller version of New York – so much culture and variety, but on a smaller scale. It also has that Midwestern friendliness. Culture + nice people = a winning combination.

 

What advice would you give to other women DJs starting out?

The biggest piece of advice I’d give is to not let the fact that you’re a woman be a “thing.” By focusing on that, and any perceived inequalities in the system (meaning our overall system as a society) we just give it more power. Just show up, be kind, and pour your heart and soul into your craft. Make it about the music, not your gender.

What is a quote or phrase that you try to live by? Why?

I have the phrase “be grateful” tattooed on my arm. Our life experiences span a pretty broad continuum of highs and lows. It’s just part of being human. It’s easy to find gratitude in those brilliant moments where we feel loved, successful, fulfilled. What we often forget is that the lows are often our greatest teachers, and thus of supreme value to our overall growth as we journey through this lifetime. Every experience we have is a gift – it’s just up to us see it that way.   

Tell us something that you’re doing now and are excited about.

The summer and fall was such an exuberant ride of so many amazing gigs here in Chicago and elsewhere, and I loved every minute. Now that winter has arrived, I’m really looking forward to getting back in the studio and tapping deep into that composer/producer side. It’s such an introspective, creative time for me. I’m also really excited to be playing the Vested & Paradigm NYE party. The full details haven’t been announced yet, but RJ Pickens has been curating these NYE events for years, and they’re always the perfect mix of amazing music, a sophisticated vibe, and a crowd who knows how to handle themselves properly on the biggest party night of the year. NYE is also my birthday (yep, 12/31) and there is truly no other way I’d rather spend it.

Follow Hummingbird:

FACEBOOK.COM/HUMMINGBIRD.BEATS

INSTAGRAM.COM/HUMMINGBIRD.DJ

SOUNDCLOUD.COM/HUMMINGBIRD_DJ

WRITTEN & CURATED BY MARIAH M. VAZQUEZ

Listen to Hummingbird’s Music

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