In Just Two Years, Mija Has Built Her Own Dance Music Empire
Amber Giles aka Mija
Almost a year and a half ago, Mija and I met met in this same spot, a pint-sized downtown Arts District coffee joint with sidewalk seating and a view of the impossibly hip afternoon crowd strolling along the stenciled sidewalk past murals and brick buildings.
Back then, Mija (real name: Amber Giles) was a relative newcomer to both Los Angeles and the DJ tour circuit. She had a stroke of luck at Bonnaroo a year earlier when an impromptu back-to-back DJ set with Skrillex became an online hit and kicked her career to the next level. When we met, she was still a few months away from playing her first gig at Hard Summer and still learning the ins and outs of producing. Yet, the former fashion student had big plans: As her DJ career was underway, she was already at work on a clothing line.
Mija's ambition and work ethic was obvious then, and in the time that has passed, her profile has risen. When she returned to Hard Summer in 2016, it was on the festival's main stage.
Now, Mija is an independent dynamo. She isn't signed to a label, but she is on the road constantly. She has her own packaged tour, Fk a Genre, that capitalizes on her eclectic DJ sets by bringing together different groups of artists from varying scenes. She also launched a full Made by Mija clothing collection early in October and will open a Black Friday pop-up shop with new pieces at the Well on Nov. 25.
On a sunny October afternoon, Giles arrives at the downtown coffee shop looking as though she stepped out of the pages of a Tokyo street fashion magazine. The long, white net skirt she layered over thin black pants is something she picked up at a vintage shop in the Japanese city when she toured through Asia. "It's my favorite city," she says of Tokyo, although she mentions that Shanghai was wild, too.
"I love traveling," she says. "I love shows. I love being with fans. It keeps you inspired." She maintains mood boards and picks up odds and ends of inspiration along the tours that have taken her through North America and to Asia and Europe. ("By the time we got to London, I ran out of room in my suitcase, so we were just taking pictures.")
Initially, Giles' foray into fashion consisted of a few merch items and limited-edition collaborative pieces, but she worked on those projects knowing that, eventually, she would build a full clothing line. "I wanted to create a line of basics," she says. "Totally logo-free. No branding. Just something that I would wear or that everybody would wear without it looking like merch."
From there it grew in terms of size and design. "Fans do essentially want things with your logo on it and with different graphics," Giles learned. The current collection includes T-shirts, some of which are more blatantly Mija-branded than others, and other designs like an underwear/swimsuit set, an overall-style jumper and thigh-highs. Almost everything comes in black, and all of it is made for people who move a lot.
But that's just one of the major projects that's on Giles' plate right now.
The previous weekend, Giles was in New York for Fk a Genre and suspects that she might still be jet-lagged. Fk a Genre is, in a way, a reaction to DJ tours where the lineups are built around a headliner. While this is Mija's baby, she doesn't necessarily give herself top billing. "I'm just picking the dopest artists that inspire me the most to come out and all play together," she says. "When the crowd sees that, they're coming early. They want to see the entire story from start to finish, so they're coming early and they're staying late."
For Fk a Genre, she's also not into releasing the time slots. "It's just one experience," she explains. The lineups change from city to city and feature a mix of established and up-and-coming artists. In New York, the bill included Dirtybird star Justin Martin, Australian DJ Nina Las Vegas and Compton-based rapper Boogie.
When Fk a Genre hit L.A. venue Union this past Saturday, she partnered with local promotion team Brownies and Lemonade and brought together a lineup that included rapper Joey Purp and a DJ set from Chromeo's Dave 1. When she hit the stage shortly before midnight, the crowd went wild. Some of the kids were wearing Made by Mija items. So was the DJ.
Mija dropped a newer mix of Green Velvet's old house jam "Flash." The fans attempted to take cell phone pics as they bounced to the beat amid a sea of arm-waivers. Mija didn't stick to the house pulse for long. Her DJ sets don't really stick to anything for more than a few songs. She veers into bass. She twists together hip-hop and drum & bass. At times, her sets can leave you aghast — is that happy hardcore? — but it's always wonderfully weird and energetic.
She's building brands, but music is still at the center of the enterprise. When we first met, Giles was a solid DJ who was just starting to produce. "I've gained so much experience throughout the past year," she says. She spent a lot of 2015 working with friends on music that, ultimately, wasn't released. "Those were just more of learning experiences for me," she says. She went on to record the track "Better" with Vindata, but that also started out as more of an experiment. "We weren't expecting to put anything out, but 'Better' worked so well for us," she says. "We nailed that in one or two sessions and that was such a good track, we had to put that one out." She also remixed A-Trak and Tommy Trash's tune "Lose My Mind."
Right now, though, Mija has been working on solo music. She has 12 songs in the queue and has been pouring through them, trying to decide which ones fit best together. "It's not so much banger/party club music," she says, "but more sentimental storytelling." She quickly adds, "Some of them are bangers."
With her own music, Giles has taken to singing. While she sang in a choir as a teenager, she ultimately put that aside and headed into the DJ world. "Getting comfortable again and being in a vocal booth on the opposite end of the spectrum when you're normally the one tracking the vocals is kind of scary," she says, "but I think it's getting easier, a lot easier for me." She adds that learning how to use Auto-Tune was helpful as well. "I'm not ashamed of that. I think everyone uses Auto-Tune."
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