Joey LaBeija made a long-awaited return with a first taste of new music this year. The Bronx-born DJ, songwriter and producer combines influences from his punk-rock roots and his Puerto Rican heritage to create a defiantly unputdownable sound.  A brilliantly addictive broadening of the acclaimed multi-hyphenate artist’s sound, “heels” is sleek,  shiny, crystalline R&B, nodding to the halcyon 90s whilst also sounding thrillingly fresh.  Signaling an invigorated forthcoming chapter in an already rich and varied canon of music, it also puts Joey front and center as a singer,  and the results are utterly disarming.

LaBeija delves into the song’s creation; “Heels is my take on pop music and Cheeky r&b songs of the ’90s that have shaped my sonic palette as a DJ and musician. I’ve been dying to make music that sounds like this for years…I think it’s truly the core of my being but I was too nervous about what people expected from me coming from being a DJ and dance music producer. 
I had become so used to writing music based on current personal experiences and wanted to have a try at songwriting as if it were for someone else; the sad boy music just wasn’t cutting it for me, solely because I’m just not sad anymore. The song’s meaning has some duality: what it’s like to meet the ultimate partner…someone that was tailor-made for you and the relationship you have with yourself. It’s also the first song I wrote using my guitar.”
‘Heels’ follows an acclaimed EP “enemy of progress” and the album “TEARS IN MY HENNESSY” on Diplo’s Mad Decent – dark,  industrial and warped club-ready tracks (which could sit alongside Shygirl,  Arca,  Zebra Katz)  – both artworks definitely give a sense of the vibe and mood too.

Alongside his own music release, there have been several global DJ tours,  sets played for the likes of Frank Ocean,  remix duties for Kelela and impeccable DJ sets at The Museum Of Modern Art,  MOMA,  PS1,  Lavin,  alongside music for film and runway presentations for Mowalola,  MAC and more.

Being a Bronx native with a Puerto Rican heart, how did you find music and at what age did you realize that music is your future?

Well, I grew up in not so much a musical household, but there was always music around. My mom would play everything from disco and R&B to Latin freestyle and reggaeton. My sisters are twins and they’re older than me. They would play R&B and hip hop. Then I started exploring music on my own. Once I became a teen I was a total scene kid and started listening to more experimental stuff. Music has always been a part of my life, but I never thought that it would be my future because I didn’t know that was an option. It wasn’t until my 20s when I discovered artists like Nguzunguzu, Total Freedom and Kingdom; they were the reason I started djing. Finding Nguzunguzu was pivotal to my decision to make music because I had no idea that music could sound like that, and it kind of bridged all the gaps of all the music that I had listened to growing up and was discovering at the time.

What makes your music so unique?

I would say what makes my music unique is me. My authenticity, relatability. More importantly, my tenacity. I would say nothing ever sounds the same, which I think is the fun part. I don’t think anybody ever really knows what to expect with my music. I also think that when you listen to my music, you can hear the influence of everything in me as a DJ. I think of my mind as a music encyclopedia, and I definitely think my music is an extension of that for sure.

What do you expect from your listeners with your new single release “heels”? What is the message behind that you want us to understand?

Honestly, this is the first time that I don’t really expect anything. I don’t expect too much from it, I just want people to enjoy it. What is the message behind that you want us to understand? That you don’t have to. Personally, I was so scared to use my real voice for so long because I was scared of what people think, or would think. You just have to remember that all the voices in your mind that are self-limiting thoughts, they’re literally just out there in your head. Nothing’s actually real. This is like me in my truest form if I want anybody to understand anything.

Tell us a little bit about your background. What are the main challenges for you as a musician in New York?

I have been a DJ for almost 10 years now, and I’ve done everything on my own. No management, no team, no PR up until now. Still have no manager, still have no team, still have no agent. So that’s one of the most difficult things, wearing all the hats and just making sure you’re not fucking everything up or making the wrong move, or forgetting about small details and all that stuff. I think one of the hardest and biggest challenges I have in New York is just feeling alone, but I think that’s less of New York and more of just a general thing, feeling very alone and very private about my music. Ideas are not yours, right? They’re sent to you from the universe. So once a thought comes into your head, somebody else has had that thought as well. It exists, it’s there. I think that one of the hardest things is just feeling alone in being so private. I call it underdog syndrome. Living in New York, the highs are extremely high and the lows are horrible, so that’s one of the hardest things for sure.

When you’re not recording music and performing what other hobbies make you tick?

Well, I am a hair colorist. I’m a super big hair nerd. It’s been a passion of mine for like 15 years now, and it makes me my money. I’ve started to look at music as more of my hobby to be quite honest, just because I think it takes a little bit of pressure off of everything and it makes me not put so much expectation into music because building up expectations, in my experience, leads to nothing but a letdown. So in having a full-time job as a hair colorist at New York’s busiest salon, it’s taken a lot of pressure off of releasing this track, or music in general.

What particular song have you written resonates with you the most?

I would say “unavailable” is probably my favorite work to date. I listened to it and I still gag at it on a sonic level and on a lyrical level. Production-wise, I just think it’s probably one of the best things I’ve made prior to this music because this stuff now is the best stuff I’ve made for sure. Also, in another sense “Unavailable” means so much to me, because it really gave me the courage to keep making music, the response from it at least. Coming from being just a DJ to a club producer to then putting vocals to my track was very daunting and really scary and I didn’t know what people would think. I could hear the line from the movie Carrie, where her mother’s like “they’re all gonna laugh at you”, that was literally going through my mind the whole rollout of that song. It brought me lots of joy, and I was very proud of that song.

How do you approach making music? What is your daily inspiration?

Well, I have no real specific process other than I go into everything by smoking a spliff and then just letting it happen. What is really important to my creative process is taking time away from making music. I find that when I’m constantly making stuff, everything winds up being shit, or at least I think it is. It’s super important for me to not make music and go through periods of time where I’m just experiencing life, because then when I come back into making music, it’s almost like I have to relearn everything because I am self-taught. I have no mentor, nobody that’s shown me anything; I’m literally just self-taught. Everything I’ve made to date is like a product of a happy mistake, a happy accident. So there’s that. And then every time I do go back into making music after these long periods of rest, I wind up discovering a new process and then I apply that process to everything. Like for “unavailable” and “Adoption”, I was treating my vocals as synths and things of that nature. But back to figuring out a new process, I lock myself down for weeks at the end and then I’m just working, working, working, and then I have months of not making anything. I like that approach. Honestly, it’s worked for me, keeps me from staying the same. I really do enjoy the time away because I come back and find something new and it winds up being groundbreaking to me.

We are in love with your last EP “enemies of progress”. How did you find the inspiration for it and how much is related to your life?

That whole project is based on my life. I wrote a few of those songs while I was in London. I had run away to London after a breakup, and I was living with my friend Misha who is responsible for a lot of things in London. She’s got her finger on the pulse, she is super talented, and she is my best friend. She threw a party called “Enemies of Progress” and our discussions that summer were about self-worth, growth, what are the enemies of progress in your life and each other’s lives and how to rid yourself of them, and all that stuff. That whole project is about learning how to navigate life as a single person for the first time and running back to things that don’t suit you anymore, even though you still want them, and being the thing that’s actually getting in your way all the time. I think that’s the undertone of the whole project. I loved that project. I love it now more so than I did when I put it out. I put that project out with the label, and they didn’t really know what to do with me, I don’t know why. For a while,I resented that project because I just felt like the label had set me up for failure. I was not proud of that project at all. But now in hindsight, I love that project so much. I’m very, very proud of it. You can hear the progression throughout. That final song is the last song I made on that record, and you can hear more of my real voice. It led me to make the work that I have now. I filmed the video for “unavailable” in February of 2020, right before lockdown, and I was on such a high from filming and signing my deal. When I came back, I had locked myself down and started working on the music that I’m putting out now. That project was very important for my growth.

What do you think about the nightclub – underground – music culture and how would you change it?

Oh, God, honestly, I don’t enjoy the club anymore. I never really did. I enjoy it when I’m working. I just think that there are so many things that we could change. I miss the sense of hedonism that used to exist when I would go out when I was younger and that’s because cell phones and technology were still developing, so we weren’t so invested in being on our phones and showing off wherever we were. I feel like that’s what going out has become. That’s not like that for every single party, there are still like a rare few that still really know how to hit all the spots and make you not want to be on your phone and be in the moment. But for the most part, I think that it would be really nice if we stopped allowing cameras and cell phone usage in clubs. I did it once with my party here in New York called Techno Cumbia. We made everybody put stickers on their cameras upon entry. There was no guest list so everybody was on an equal playing field; everybody had to pay to get in, it didn’t matter who you were. People were in the door early, which is not a thing here. People were in the door at 10 and dancing, and nobody was on the phone at all. Nightlife needs more hedonism and more freedom to be a release from life instead of becoming a clip on TikTok suggesting 10 things you should do next weekend. Truth be told, I don’t go to parties anymore, because I can see the whole party on Instagram the next morning, and I’d prefer to sleep.

What could you change in the music industry nowadays?

The music industry is shady, racist, misogynistic and homophobic, but that’s always been the case. I think it’s time A&R people gave the artists that they have on their mood boards their flowers instead of repackaging and repurposing them for an industrial plant. There’s that. Industry plants have always existed, but because of the internet, we are more educated about how everything works. In the music industry, I don’t pay too much attention to it. I don’t. I just stay in my own little bubble because it’s a nightmare.

A letter to your future self. What would you write?

Smoke less weed! Appreciate life. Take a step back to smell the roses. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself, just enjoy everything. Everything you need in life is right at your fingertips. You just need to unclog your mind and be open to the gifts life has to give you. I hope that was good. Thank you. Ciao.