I would say that doing things virtually has given me kind of a confidence that I wouldn't have with talking to people in person or just even engaging with them without things being virtual. It's really given me this like boost of go after what you want. So we actually have a guest—so for Takeout Fest, for example, we had a guest deejay whose name is Simon Says, who I'm a huge fan of. He does lots of remixes that I use in my sets. And so I had the confidence to ask him if he wanted to be a part of it, and I feel like a lot of people are very open to saying yes and to doing things virtually because it's just like such an environment that no one is familiar with. So it's just given me the courage to kind of go after what I want more vigorously.
IMANI STEVENS: IN HER OWN WORDS
I am a deejay here in Houston. I've lived here all of my life with the exception of my freshman year of college when I went to St. John's in New York. I graduated from the University of Houston in December 2018 with a major in media studies and a minor in creative work, essentially finding ways to be creative in whatever it is you choose to do in your life.
I've been immersed in arts my whole life, mostly since I've been in middle school. I was introduced to Project Row Houses through my aunt who worked there[, Cheryl Florence]. I've done summer programs with other organizations. I went abroad when I was in high school to study photography for a while. I had friends that are deeply interested in photography. These things have been influences for me my entire life, and I can't really see where the line is between how it has or has not influenced me because it's just so ingrained in who I am.
I initially went into college wanting to study film and TV. So that's what I did when I went to New York, but that's when I actually joined the radio station, and I found that I loved music far more than I did film and TV. But I chose to major in media studies primarily just because U of H didn't have a radio focus, and I thought that would be the most inclusive.
I had seen some peers of mine that were scratching on air and deejaying live while I was just playing playlists, and I thought that was so cool and something that I wanted to do. So for Christmas of 2014, I asked my dad for a controller so I could start deejaying, and he got me this baby controller. And so I started practicing, but I just had no idea what I was doing. And so my mom [Deidra Flores] actually found DJ Supastar because they grew up together. She's like, "Oh, she has a spin academy." So I went. It was a two-week course. I was taught by both Supastar and DJ Good Grief. It was just the basics of deejaying, so I just got the foundation of how to blend and mix and things. When I decided that I wanted to start deejaying, I knew that I would have to start listening to different types of music because what I would play on my college radio station or show just wasn't something that you would typically hear a deejay play. I've been deejaying in bars and clubs and things for about two years. I think that's when I found my current sound. It's been about two years.
My deejay name is E$. I do an E and a dollar sign. I came up with that actually in high school. By senior year, I remember actually signing my papers as E$ and my teachers knew who I was. My name is Imani and E$ is just a play on words. I like that it's simple.
I'm currently creating something called Juicebox, which is actively happening and that's a collective with people that are more like me. I hope to have a space for Black and Brown people who identify as queer, transgender, nonconforming, female, all of these people who I feel are underrepresented or not seen as much as they should be. There are events and spaces in Houston that are queer spaces or queer parties, but a lot of them aren't actually run by queer people. I just feel that I wanted to create that sort of thing with Juicebox. I'm learning a lot, actually, by being a part of Juicebox. While I'm working on our zero-tolerance policy, I'm recognizing that you always look at your own disadvantages and don't really recognize your privileges. So I'm seeing the privileges that I have more intimately and how I can help other people with my privilege. That outreach is happening with Juicebox, which is something that's new to me but that I really enjoy doing.
I love R&B, hip hop. I would say I'm known for going through the decades pretty easily. I love Prince, so I'll always play a Prince song and bring it to the present time. I'm always jumping back and forth between decades. I do also a lot of house music and a lot of remixes, which would fall under electronic. R&B remixes, hip hop remixes. Just fun music I think is what I am bringing to the table. I'm very into pop culture. There's a song on TikTok right now that was a—it's a Russian commercial. They've chopped it up and created a song. It's like, "Meal pops. Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum." That’s something that I would definitely play on one of my sets. I like to make people feel good. Make people feel like, "Oh, yeah. I'm listening to music," but also, "Oh, yeah. I know all about that. That's very funny."
When I'm deep in my zone, the music just flows through me. I go in not really knowing what I'm going to play. I really feel the energy. And when I'm in my zone, I just—It's like a matched energy, I'm connected with the crowd, they're connected with me, and it just flows out. All the songs. I look up occasionally. See people dance. It's really nice, moving the crowd along in different ways through music.
I've had to go digital [during the pandemic], which, when I deejay, I like to engage with the audience and feed off of their energy for what I'm playing because it's like a give-and-take sort of profession, at least for me. When I have to do these things digitally, I don't get that engagement. So it's very different for me, and I've had to really adapt. Toward the beginning of Covid-19, I did a lot of Instagram Lives, where I would just play for a few hours and have people give donations just because a lot of people were missing going out and having that feeling, so I did my best to share that with people. I did Takeout Fest, which was a part of Juicebox, but that was more a city of Houston thing to bring everyone together. All of the deejays that I knew—or not all, but a lot of them that I knew, I asked to participate in this twelve-hour festival on Instagram. The idea was that at any point of the day, if you wanted to hear music, you could go on Instagram and someone would be playing. I think that was very successful, and I found myself to be more of like an organizer during quarantine rather than a person that's just playing, which has been pretty fun.
After Covid I hope that Juicebox and the things that I'm doing in quarantine become these sort of community spaces that have welcomed me into deejaying and be that space for other people to enter into what they want to do or what they're interested in. I would love to create a sense of community on a wider scale.
I would say that doing things virtually has given me a confidence that I wouldn't have with talking to people in person or just even engaging with them without things being virtual. It's really given me this boost to go after what you want. For Takeout Fest, for example, we had a guest deejay whose name is Simon Says, who I'm a huge fan of. He does lots of remixes that I use in my sets. I had the confidence to ask him if he wanted to be a part of it, and I feel like a lot of people are very open to saying yes and to doing things virtually because it's just such an environment that no one is familiar with. I want to do all things. I mean engage in whatever ways you can to see what works best for you. So it's just given me the courage to go after what I want more vigorously.