“Miami music culture was not something that was really prevalent in my childhood,” Jen Ferrer, 26, tells me at her Highland Park home. She’s a DJ — both a resident with the Far Away crew and on the airwaves via Dublab — and a label manager for electronic-focused imprint Friends of Friends, and she’s playing Coachella for this first time this year. But while she’s got plenty to say on what makes a great opening set, and though she's originally from the Miami area, home to plenty of freestyle, EDM and house music, she didn’t grow up listening to much electronic music.
“I think a big part of my coming to terms with electronic music in general was Ultra and Miami Music Week,” she says, referencing the combination convention and music festival that, for one week every March, makes Miami the epicenter of dance music. “It was a weird situation for me because all my friends in high school would go to these events not because they loved the DJ … it was a party thing. It was an escapism kind of thing, and I hated the music. I hated the 'big drop' kind of shit.”
It wasn’t until she moved to L.A. and started working for a radio station at USC that she opened up to the techno and rave-y side of things. “I dove into the position, getting promo sent to me weekly where I could start to distinguish different styles within the genre of electronic. For so long I thought it was, if it has bleeps and bloops, it’s all electronic music.” She embraced radio DJing as a way to tell long-format narratives, exploring different scenes and micro-genres, and soon developed her sound and style.
Since graduating, she’s become a stalwart on the L.A. underground circuit, with her show Fish Whistle on Dublab, her work managing local label Friends of Friends, and Far Away, the party crew and cassette label she runs with producer and fellow Dublab DJ Cooper Saver. She’s also managed to keep her DJ career going steadily without feeling compelled to release her own music — original tracks, remixes or even edits — which is an old-school (and frankly good) mentality. Being both a great DJ and a great producer is rare. Ferrer wants to focus on the former.
Late last year, Ferrer played a set for online party network Boiler Room, a sort of de rigueur platform for up-and-coming and established underground DJs and producers. This peak-time set is one of her most popular mixes online and, she thinks, is helping her get more bookings.
When she got booked for Coachella, it was at the 11th hour. The day before the lineup announcement, her partner Cooper Saver got a call from someone from the fest. Cooper had already played that opening slot before, so the opportunity passed to Ferrer, who accepted the challenge. This is her first major festival slot, and she’s joining two other local residents — Chris Cruse and Alison Swing — as the selectors to begin each day.
She will open the enclosed Yuma Tent — Coachella's version of a club within the festival, featuring more underground-leaning DJs — on both Sundays of the festival. She realizes that playing at 1 or 2 in the afternoon requires a different sort of preparation than a typical club or warehouse slot. “I assume I won't play an actual beat or kick drum for like 30 minutes.”
And the third-day crowd is usually pretty grizzled after a couple days of partying and getting violently dehydrated. “The third day is a little different because people are messed. It’s the end.” There’s a different sort of exhausted joy on the final day, which is different than if she were playing on Friday, the first day of the festival. Then she’d consider banging it out a bit more, even early on. “I would 100 percent understand someone starting out four-four, 120 BPMs on the first day opening the tent, because that’s what people are there for. They're ready to party,” she says, smiling.
But there are more rewarding experiences than playing Coachella. “I think the best experience of my career in the last year was doing Intersessions, which is a traveling workshop for established women or female-identifying people to teach female-identifying or people [on the] LGBTQ spectrum how to DJ. We also taught how to promote yourself or how to find a network of people that isn't just like cis white dudes.”
She taught students to spin vinyl. “It was so incredible. Like there was a room full of people who came out for it. I haven't felt that rejuvenated and excited about DJing in a very long time.”