Jen Lasher is the epitome of a “DJ’s DJ.” Starting as a teenager, she gained notoriety in goth circles within the underground dance community before eventually cutting her teeth as a producer and establishing a place for herself among some of dance music’s most celebrated vocal talents. Now, she is one of the biggest voices in moombahton with multiple residencies and featured sets across the globe and a reputation for lively, inspired sets that mesh the multiple styles which have influenced her incredible career. With her upcoming New Year’s Eve party at U Street Music Hall on the horizon, we took the opportunity to interview Jen to discuss her inspirations, thoughts on EDM’s cross-genre appeal, and late night food cravings.

You’ve been called “D.C.’s Dark Princess” and the “East Coast Siren.” Who do you think the real Jen Lasher is?

The name D.C.’s Dark Princess came from my residency at the long running goth/industrial party, Alchemy. It was a Thursday night weekly party that ran for over a decade starting at Tracks nightclub before moving to Nation which was a much larger venue that could facilitate the kind of bands their audience craved.  In the years I was a resident DJ there, we hosted bands such as VNV Nation, Combichrist, Icon of Coil, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Pig Face, Shiny Toy Guns. We worked with the 9:30 Club on bigger shows like Marylin Manson, Nine Inch Nails, etc. All very dark stuff: a lot of black eyeliner, elaborate costumes, amazing music, and the BEST themed parties to date! Nation closed it’s doors in 2006, but since then, I’ve been playing goth/industrial parties around the world. One of my favorite weeklies is Lizard Lounge’s “Church Sundays” in Dallas, TX! Not quite sure how the “East Coast Siren” name came about. Possibly because I sing live during DJ sets or because people love to throw the word “siren” around when relating to female performers. Who knows.

Basic question, but an essential one. What got you started making dance music?

My parents were very supportive. They had me taking weekly piano lessons pretty much from birth.  When I decided I wanted to buy turntables and a mixer at the age of 14, they agreed to buy one if I worked over the summer to pay for the other. My mom would even drive me into DC on weekends to go record shopping which was a long way; we lived in a super rural area. By the time I could drive, I was DJing all over DC: sometimes sneaking into my own shows, sometimes being escorted in by security for the set and right back out when it was over. After a few years on the road as a touring DJ, I started singing and producing music with a lot of help from Florida breakbeat, DJ Icey. He taught me so much on our early collaborations. I have since run with his teachings and come up with my own style.

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Speaking of vocals, when it comes to live shows, where do you try to find a balance between your vocals and mixing? Additionally, how does that influence your approach to producing?

It can be tricky doing live vocals during DJ sets for a number of reasons. Smaller nightclubs are often not set up for live acts. Usually, the most a DJ will do on the mic is say a few things to hype up the crowd, so sound quality isn’t as important. There can be issues with monitor feedback, volume, the ability to hear myself, not to mention running a mic through the DJ mixer can sound bad. Sound checks are very important to get everything in order, too. A lot of times it’s just a struggle. When it all works out, though, I really enjoy singing live. Having that element brings a connection between myself and the crowd. They really love to be engaged and feel like part of the show, so the more you connect and communicate, the more fun everyone seems to have!

The Moombahton Massive parties have become legendary – almost a staple even – of dance culture over the past few years. Especially in D.C. And you’ve become a major player in those parties. Where do you think they’re going from here?

Moombahton Massive is something I see as ever evolving. It’s been exciting to see the brand grow over the years. Their parties are literally all over the world and the free Eps that are released bounce around the internet. I’ve played Massives in DC, LA, Berlin, Austin, and that’s only a handful of the cities they’ve done.  One interesting show I worked on with them was the Red Bull Culture Clash event last year in Miami. Basically, Red Bull throws killer parties around the world modeled after a Jamaican sound clash. Each collective brings their own sound system to set up on 4 individual stages and winners for different rounds are determined by crowd applause. It’s peaceful competition, but calling out opponents, mockeries, dissing records, and counteractions are encouraged. U Street Music Hall provided the sound for the Moombahton Massive collective. It was a lot of hard work, but in the end it was a very rewarding team experience, not to mention a super fun show. A lot of laughs. It’s hard to know specifically what direction anything is going in the music industry, but the mystery is part of the fun. Of being involved in its evolution.

There’s been a lot of talk about dance music within the community and how its maybe reached its peak. Do you think there’s any truth to that?

 There is no peak, there is only evolution.

Right now your home bases are Los Angeles and Washington which each have their unique flavors in terms of their own respective scenes. You’ve even spent time in the scenes in Baltimore and Miami. In what ways do these different worlds inform your style?

The genre of Baltimore Club has definitely had a permanent impact on my production style. Specifically the drum programming. I grew up listening to Scottie B, DJ Technics, Rod Lee, and others on 92 Q which is a radio station that is still popping off today. There are always these sub genres that come from and thrive in their home cities. So without digging, traveling, and meeting new people, you might never hear such a wide variety of underground music.  I’ve been collecting music from people in different cities for so many years and have seen influences on dance music from genres like Miami Bass, Juke, Jersey Club, Moombahton in DC, Dancehall and Dub in Jamaica, UK Grime and Garage, Chicago House. The list goes on and on. But I don’t get too wrapped up in any one “scene.” I try to float from party to party with an open mind – and take in everything – to influence my style.

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So events like Burning Man and SXSW have to influence you in some way?

I’ve only been to Burning Man once, but definitely plan to go back in the future, especially now since I live in Los Angeles. It’s not as far of a trek. The overall experience of Burning Man: seeing people work together to build the 3rd largest city in Nevada – only to take it all down a week later – is something incredible. It’s such a collaborative experience for the art community. It’s a chance for everyone involved to express themselves through hard work, existing friendships, and to make new friendships. Likewise, SXSW is very important to me. It’s such a blast touching base with all your friends, checking out tons of new artists, and performing showcases of your own. I feel like SXSW is a place where everyone, even DJs, want to bring some sort of live element to the table to showcase their sound. Plus, the whole thing is quite organized so you really know which labels and collectives are doing what events, what specific time everyone is performing and where, and everything is relatively close so you can walk from showcase to showcase with ease.  It’s possible to really get the most out of your experience.

I noticed you have been supporting Sonny [Skrillex] during the past few months. You’ve also supported Shiny Toy Guns and Fatboy Slim. The common thread between all of these guys is rock music or, at the very least, a heavy influence from rock music. Do you think EDM and Rock are not as separate as the mainstream makes it out to be?

I feel that as technology progresses electronic, influence in rock music is inevitable.  The integration of genres started a long time ago and will continue over the years. Music software is becoming cheaper, faster, and more readily available for young producers and live musicians. It was a different experience touring with Shiny Toy Guns or going to the early years of SXSW. When you DJ rock shows, you play quietly in-between acts while they set up and at the band’s afterparties. When I DJ in the electronic scene, it’s as one of the acts like on the Skrillex Fall tour. But there are definitely rock influences in EDM crowds. There’s always a good moshpit at the Skrillex shows. And hard dubstep in America gained a lot of the metal and hardcore fans who, in the 90’s and early 2000’s, could care less about EDM. Also, the integration of hip-hop and EDM has gained even more. So, I love our scene and all its influences. Always excited to see what while happen next.

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Kind of off topic: if you could work with any musician from any other genre, who would it be? And if you had to come up with a hashtag to describe that sound, what do you think that hashtag would be?

I would love to work with SBTRKT or James Blake. But it’s impossible to choose only one! I love each of their soulful, electronic pop approach and I feel like there would be so much to learn from them. #thefuture.

When you started, you were incredibly young. And you have come a real long way. But now, as dance music has become even more popular, there are countless other young people who are starting from that same place. What advice would you give them? The kids who are starting out really young?

I’d say to follow what you like. Find things that inspire and interest you personally. Don’t worry so much about what’s hot at the moment or even what music your roommate, boyfriend, or girlfriends are listening to. Be willing to spend time on your work. Don’t expect or wait around for other people to do it for you. Also, these days being a DJ is a lot like being a brand: you need the whole package. And you’ll have to do it all yourself or with the help of friends. Produce your songs, create your artwork, streamline promotion. It’s a lot like promoting a lifestyle, too, because everything online is connected and constantly flowing. It’s about having a well rounded package and pumping things out with a quickness.

Where’s your favorite place to eat after a gig? Anywhere in the world.

I have a weakness for late night Turkish or Mediterranean restaurants. Pretty hard to come by, but there’s nothing that tastes as good at 4am! London has the BEST Turkish spots. Woody Grill is a chain there. Always good for a late bite.

What’s next for you?

Very excited to play with Nadastrom, Gent & Jawns on New Years Eve in DC at U Street Music Hall! I’ll be touring around in 2015 and releasing a clubby Jen Lasher EP. Also, I’ve been working really hard on a new kinda downtempo vocal project to surface sometime later in 2015. Not much to say about it at the moment except that it’s a completely different direction from any music I’ve made in the past.  Also, some friends and I have been throwing a new, small monthly party in downtown Los Angeles called #MadeinDTLA. It’s at Silo Vodka Bar. Very chill vibe, secret guests every month, line up is never announced, but it’s always good! We’re off to a great start with the first 2 under our belt.