On any Thursday night at Barfly in Champaign, someone will inevitably cause one of J-Phlip’s records to skip. A wall separates the DJ booth from the crawlspace-like excuse for a dance floor at Barfly. That wall also is a magnet for drunken guys, grinding girls and mobs of people to crash into, causing the needle to bounce on a record, almost always during one of J-Phlip’s otherwise extremely precise mixes.
Those skips cause the rare outbursts of frustration from the good-humored 21-year- old J-Phlip, better known to her family as Jessica Phillippe. But the experience of having those records skip at her two and a half years of playing house music at Barfly might actually have paid off.
“A record skipping is something you have to deal with when you DJ. It’s not anything bad, it just happens,” J-Phlip said.
But now she is not referring to a skip on a Thursday night at Barfly. She is talking about a record skipping in front of 800 people in Los Angeles on March 1 during her 30 minute DJ set at the Beauty and the Beats Competition. Keeping her cool after the skip and through the rest of her set helped J-Phlip win the national competition.
The official prizes for winning the Beauty and Beats competition included new DJ gear, a spot on the lineup of the largest electronic music festival in North America and a tour across the United States with three of the most popular female DJs in America.
The unofficial reward may be launching this Champaign native into a full-time career as a house DJ.
THE EMPTY BAR IN CHAMPAIGN
The Beauty and the Beats competition was a nationwide search open to female DJs of all electronic genres (house, trance, drum n bass, etc). J-Phlip found out about the competition through a friend in Los Angeles. Feeling she had nothing to lose, she decided to enter. The first step was creating a 30 minute demo CD.
“I just recorded the mix one time straight through at Barfly. I did it during a bartending shift for happy hour because I didn’t have any customers,” J-Phlip said with a laugh. “I brought some records in and played it once and thought, ‘hmmm… that sounded pretty good. I’ll turn it in.'”
That mix was one of two hundred CDs submitted from all over the country to BPM Magazine. Matt Colon, the Marketing Director at BPM Magazine was the first person to listen to J-Phlip’s mix-the 75th mix he had listened to already.
“She had my attention from the first beat of the first song,” Colon said. “It was clearly one of the better mixes that we received. It got off on the right foot, it was danceable for the full half-hour, and she never lost her composure.”
Colon also praised her distinctive “deep but funky house sound.” But that clearly identifiable “J-Phlip sound” is something that has developed over her three years of mixing.
J-Phlip started playing house after becoming more immersed in the Champaign underground electronic scene and playing around on a friend’s turntables. One of the local DJs she looked up to was DJ ImpacT, who is impressed by her quick level of growth behind the decks. “Her mixing ability is a lot better than when she started,” ImpacT said. “But more importantly she has her own sound now. When she started her sound was all over playing whatever house songs were big. Now within a record or two, you can tell if Jessica is playing just by listening.”
By constantly improving, J-Phlip has held down residencies at The Highdive, Boltini and her long running residency Thursday nights at Barfly. She has also played big clubs in Chicago such as Zentra. But her biggest gig would come after being chosen as one of the three finalists for Beauty and the Beats.
Colon instantly recommended J-Phlip’s mix to the rest of the BPM staff, and she was chosen as one of the three finalists along with progressive house DJ Catherine Jade and disco house DJ Solange.
J-Phlip found out by phone on a Thursday that she was going to compete in the finals in Los Angeles. She began endlessly practicing for her 30 minute set in Los Angeles.
“I seriously spent so many hours on it,” J-Phlip said. “I probably mixed 20 records into this one record that I wanted to start out with, but I couldn’t come up with a starting mix that I liked. So I got rid of that and started all over.”
THE PACKED CLUB IN LOS ANGELES
On March 1, J-Phlip played a 30-minute house set at club Ivar in Los Angeles before 800 clubgoers. Judging the competition were representatives from BPM Magazine and Rockstar Energy drink and three of the biggest female DJs in the world-Reid Speed, DJ Rap and Colette.
J-Phlip was the final competitor to mix, and despite the fact that the DJs before her played more high-energy, crowd-pleasing dance music, J-Phlip stuck to her records. That impressed the judges.
“We were a little worried about putting Jess last,” Colon said. “Her sound is more mature and deep than the other DJs. It was a real credit to her to follow the other DJs and win the crowd over by sticking to her sound.”
According to Colon, 20 minutes into J-Phlip’s set was all the judges needed to hear. It was a unanimous decision that J-Phlip was the winner. Her ability to blend two records together drew particular praise from the judges.
“Colette said ‘She was pulling off mixes that I didn’t know if I could do,’ and Jess really kept her composure,” Colon said. “She was very professional and unique. Her mixes were perfect.”
But according to J-Phlip not everything went according to plan. Over the top of her very first record she mixed a vocal acappela record over an instrumental record. And then the record skipped-just like being back home at Barfly.
“I think it was because the DJ booth was very crowded,” J-Phlip said. “After the skip, the acappela was somehow on the right tempo but it was coming in at the wrong time. The crowd really didn’t seem to notice.”
Now everybody is taking notice. And that should only grow after her gig playing the Ultra Music Festival in Miami this past Saturday.
THE FESTIVAL IN MIAMI AND BEYOND
With tickets going for $200 apiece, the VIP tent at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami is one of the most exclusive venues at North America’s largest music festival. And inside that tent, J-Phlip threw down an hour and a half peaktime set alongside DJ luminaries as Sandra Collins, Kaskade and Lego.
In addition to this gig, J-Phlip’s victory has also earned her a spot alongside the three judges for a tour across the United States this summer.
“The things that will help Jessica on the next level are her composure and her down to earth attitude,” Colon added. “She is not doing what some female DJs do trying to get all glammed-up with their boobs popping out like they are in Maxim. She can actually play and play well. She is just being herself, and the crowds will recognize that genuineness.”
Jon Meske, a fellow Champaign house DJ, thinks that Jessica’s chances for success are solely up to her.
“I don’t want to jinx her, but I think she will go as far as she wants to go,” Meske said.
ImpacT agrees. “She is completely devoted to the music and she is a very fast learner. Now she just needs to move beyond the self-promotion stage to the next level.”
A potential stumbling block will come after she finishes her summer tour. J-Phlip has one semester left to finish her degree in general engineering. She is determined to finish her degree before pursuing DJing.
“I feel like this came unexpectedly. I wasn’t going to deal with [professionally DJing] until after school,” J-Phlip said.
Such conflicts may cause unexpected problems in the advancement of her career. But like a needle bouncing out of a vinyl groove, do not expect J-Phlip to be affected.
J-Phlip plays Thursday nights at Barfly in Champaign.