Willy Jov By Virgil Solis

Photos By: Virgil Solis

I’ll never forget the first time I DJ’ed with Willy Joy at Lava Lounge.  Willy opened that night, and my set began somewhere between 12 and 1AM.  As I unpacked my computer, needles, headphones, and relocated my drinks to the DJ booth, I noticed that Willy had something different sitting next to his computer.  It wasn’t a strange mixed drink, or an imported beer I had never heard of.  No, just at arms reach sat an opened box of blueberries.  So, while I (and many DJ’s like me) are getting loose thanks in part to Corona and/or Heniken, Willy Joy was re-fueling on necessary vitamins and getting in a daily serving of fruit, all while rocking the party.

“I think I’m pretty transparent when I DJ,” says Willy Joy, who was born in Minneapolis and came to Chicago after a short stint in Boston. “I was feeling very stagnant and unproductive in good old beantown,” he said.  Transparent and productive are two words that seem to fit Willy Joy with ease. He DJ’s regularly in Chicago, the greater United States, and recently spent time spinning throughout Europe.  His rising production skills have been featured by DJ Benzi, as well as found on the new Mad Decent “Free Gucci” Mixtape.  He is unassuming, and straight-forward in terms of the music he plays, how he treats others, and even uses his real name when DJing.  Yup, the dude struck gold at birth with a name like “Willy Joy”.   “I was DJ Fun Size for about 2 weeks,” he tells us. “You know, like the candy bar? Because really, there’s nothing “fun” about a candy bar the size of your fingernail.”

There is definitey something fun when you step into a Willy Joy party and in this new RH exclusive we talk to Chicago’s Willy Joy about the DJ scene, his entrance into production, shouting obscenities with Mic Terror, and his alter ego: Ol’ Dirty Rabbi.  Check it out below.

Willy Joy by Virgil Solis

RubyHornet: So, I’m told Willy Joy is your real name… Was it always your DJ name?

Willy Joy: Willy Joy is indeed my real name. I’ve used it through my whole professional career. When I was about 15 and just getting into DJing, I tried on a couple names for a month or two, but nothing really stuck. I was DJ Fun Size for about 2 weeks. You know, like the candy bar? Because really, there’s nothing “fun” about a candy bar the size of your fingernail.

RubyHornet: You’ve been in Chicago for a while now, but from what I understand, you grew up in Minneapolis, and that’s also where you started DJing.  My thoughts of Minnesota and music center on Rhymesayers and Bob Dylan.  What are your thoughts on the scene there?  How as Minneapolis influenced your style or approach?

Willy Joy: I was born and raised in Minneapolis. Rhymesayers had a huge influence, both on me, and the Minnesota music scene in general. It was a special kind of community feel that I haven’t really experienced anywhere else. Dylan, of course – don’t forget about Prince. Living in the same city as Prince is pretty awesome – he doesn’t isolate himself all the time, sometimes he’ll just roll up to someone’s gig and ask to sit in on the piano. These days I hear you can catch him in bottle service with a jeweled cane, but I haven’t seen that myself. The other thing that people forget about Minneapolis is that it has an amazing techno scene. There are several highly influential techno producers in that town that are basically looked at as gods in Europe. When I was growing up there, I kept one foot in the Hip Hop scene, and one foot in the rave scene, and that dichotomy definitely influenced my style. It also taught me a lot about how important it is to have a supportive and close-knit artist community around you – that’s something I love about Chicago too.

RubyHornet: What brought you to the Windy City?  How did you go about establishing a foot hold here, and make a name for yourself?  What were some of the hardest challenges coming to a new city?

Willy Joy: I moved to Chicago years ago from Boston, because I was feeling very stagnant and unproductive in good old beantown. I had a desk job that was fine but boring, I didn’t have any friends who were doing creative or artistic things, etc etc. I knew a lot of people doing cool artsy stuff in Chicago, and I always work best when I have other people around to inspire me. I reached out to a lot of artists before I set foot in town, so that when I got there I already half-knew some people. The hardest challenge was just learning the lay of the land – figuring out the different neighborhoods and how to fit myself in. I was welcomed by pretty much everyone I met in the music community, and I’ll always be thankful for that.

Willy Joy by Virgil Solis

RubyHornet: What’s the premise behind Fly By Night?  You bring in a lot of world-class DJs.  How far would you say that has come?

Willy Joy: Fly By Night is my little labor of love. The “premise” is, and basically always has been, to throw a forward-thinking and fun night of underground music – a big, cool party. I wanted to be able to showcase my own style and music, as well as to bring in either my friends or people I admired from across the country. I didn’t see too many other people bringing in the artists that I really loved. We’ve been doing it for almost 3 years running now, and it’s still a blast. I’ve been proud to premier DJs and artists for the first time in Chicago and then watch them go on to worldwide success. It’s very much a DIY, cottage industry type of party, and I don’t run my mouth too much about it, but as far as predicting and showcasing what people will be buzzing about 3-6 months later, I think our track record has been damn near spotless. Did I mention it’s essentially a stupid, fun, sweaty house party thrown in a club?

RubyHornet: Your crates are heavily diversified.  You can play rap/hip hop, dance, electro, and even did a 90’s alternative rock set very well.  But what gets the “this is my s**t” reaction from you?

Willy Joy: To be honest, most of what I play is what gives me that reaction. I think I’m pretty transparent when I DJ – I’m playing the music I love and mostly just geeking out while I do it. At home I listen to a lot of the same stuff, along with a lot of world music, more experimental electronic stuff, old blues and soul… I’m not a huge indie rock guy, and I’m not a huge 80s guy, but I love listening to anything I haven’t heard before.

RubyHornet: While many of our readers know you as DJ Willy Joy, others may know you as Ol’ Dirty Rabbi from the Ju Tang Clan.  One, are you guys affiliated with the Wu’s own Son of Abraham, and two, how did you balance Rabbinical school, DJing, and everything else?

Willy Joy: God I hope none of your readers know me as that. No affiliations, although we did beef with another Jewish parody rapper from NYC once (FYI, we ethered him.) I guess the only other thing I can say is that I’m basically the world’s worst Jew and was lucky that I wasn’t kicked out.

Willy Joy by Virgil Solis

RubyHornet: You DJ time to time for Mic Terror.  What’s that relationship like?  What do you feel you add to Mic’s set, and what has Mic contributed to your DJing?

Willy Joy: I’ll tell anyone who asks that I think Mic Terror is the best rapper in Chicago. He’s also one of my favorite people in general and every time I get to DJ with him it’s a blast (yo Mic, holler at me!) I learned how to be more confident on the microphone after doing a few gigs with Mic T. I act as his hype man and back him up on the lyrics. At first I was tentative shouting out really explicit s**t about p**sy and my huge d**k to hundreds of people… until I realized how awesome it was. After that, you can say basically anything you want. I think I brought a little finesse to the set and helped present it better.  I also play a good straight man to his lunacy. When Mic’s not being the best rapper around he’s essentially a stand-up comedian, and every comic needs the straight man!

RubyHornet: I understand you sometimes get confused for DJ RTC.  Ever use it to your advantage, lol?

Willy Joy: It’s only happened a couple times! But then again, white Jews do all look the same. Really the only time I ran with it was when some rapper tried to give me his demo (thinking I was RTC.) I just kept nodding and telling him I’d be in touch soon. Not really using it to my advantage, but I think it made him leave sooner.

RubyHornet: While you’ve been absent a little bit from the Windy City circuit, I understand you’ve been traveling and Djing around the world.  What’s it like to DJ internationally?  What do you take from Chicago clubs to apply to a gig in Berlin, and vice versa, what do you bring back?

Willy Joy: Chicago is one of the best training grounds in the world. Crowds are tough, and you have to learn how to satisfy them and not just play music like you’re the only person in the room. NYC is kind of the same way. Chicago taught me how to read and react to a crowd and how to really have a dialogue instead of just hitting them over the head with the music that YOU want to play. Not that I’m any kind of expert, but what I’ve found personally playing out of the city is that you have to be knowledgeable of where you are at any given time. You can’t go overseas and play the newest regional US rap – they probably won’t care. The converse is that there aren’t many places in Chicago where I could go play a minimal techno set without people asking, “what happened to Willy?” It all goes back to having that dialogue with the crowd. The trick is making what you think is new and interesting seem accessible, familiar and fun to them.

Willy Joy by Virgil Solis

RubyHornet: One of our favorite places to party was the recently shut down Lava Lounge, as someone who plays all over, what’s some of your favorite spots new and old?

Willy Joy: I do miss Lava. That was a place that was never fully appreciated until it was gone, myself included. One of my favorite places to play anywhere is at First Ave in Minneapolis. There’s a lot of nostalgia for me because I basically grew up going to shows at that club, and it’s been preserved beautifully. Also, it’s where Prince shot “Purple Rain”, which is about as badass as it gets. Chicago has one of the best sound systems in the region inside of Smartbar, and it’s always fun to be able to rinse out tunes on that system – you never hear music the same way as that room sounds (shout to Nate Manic!).

RubyHornet: Your production has been featured on DJ Benzi’s last mix as well as the Free Gucci mixtape.  Last year you also released a pretty fresh remix of “Chillin'”.  Where does production fit into the mix of what you’re doing?

Willy Joy: Production is my main focus right now. I’m working on a lot of projects that will see light in 2010 – I’d like to be regarded equally for my production as for my DJing, and I’m putting in work to see that happen. The focus is on dance music, but doing fun rap remixes is something I’ll never stop either. Coming up is a new mix I did with Curt from Flosstradamus, an EP of heavy house music I made with Rob Threezy, a Valentine’s themed mix and the main focus is an EP of my own original productions – I’m slowly working on putting that together now. I’m also doing production for BBU, Mic Terror and a bigger rap project with super producer Bird Peterson that’s still in the formative stages.

RubyHornet: Some say that DJ’s are really the pulse of music and culture.  Based on what you see at clubs, the music going in and out of your crate, do you have any insight into music taste, or trends on the horizon?

Willy Joy: I hope to see an ever bigger mingling of the rap and the dance music crowds. For whatever reason there’s never been that much of a difference to me in the way I hear or perceive those sounds, and it’s always gratifying for me to see a total thug losing his s**t to heavy dance music or a dirty bearded hipster dude dumbing out to some trap rap. Good music is good music, and I love finding more and more open-minded folks to share it with. Also it’d be nice if people stopped listening to bad music. Hey, we got a regular fortune-teller over here!

RubyHornet: For many of our readers, especially out of Chicago, this maybe there first introduction to you, give us three things we need to know about Willy Joy before checking you out live or downloading more music.

Willy Joy: Three things about me… I do what I love, I want you to love it, let’s party. Oh and if I say yes to your request that’s just a trick to make you stop asking faster.

Willy Joy by Virgil Solis