JEWELSSEA on finding herself in Philly nightlife - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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JEWELSSEA feels like one of the freshest artists to rise up fast through Philly in the last five years. She grew up in South Philly and pursued a BFA in film and photography at Temple University, where she first started playing original dance music at DIY shows. Now 24, she’s a regular DJ at Philly raves, has collaborated with rapper Zack Fox and producer Swami Sound, and landed official spots at the Adult Swim Block Party at Brooklyn Bowl Philly, Making Time’s 2022 and 2023 festivals, and NYC’s The Lot Radio. This month, she plays Warehouse on Watts in North Philly and Bossa Nova Civic Club in Brooklyn to celebrate her first full record, Dwelling, out on February 7th.

Her album, like 2023’s B4 U Wake EP, incorporates techno, hyperpop, house, and hip-hop touches. Earthy strings and deep bass float through dizzy breakbeat geometry, always club-ready but often taking unexpected turns. Near the end of “Last To None,” her shadowy four-on-the-floor rhythm deconstructs itself, then folds back together again. “If You Change Your Mind” and “I Could Get To Know You” blend her most surprising instrumental passages with her first ever lead vocals — she also has another album in progress that centers her singing voice.

I met JEWELSSEA at the Impressions record shop inside Forin Café in Fishtown, where we talked about the first steps she took to become a working DJ, experiences in Philly nightlife, and visions for the future. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

JEWELSSEA - Standby

Thomas Hagen: You started out making beats, then how did you get into performing DJ sets?

JEWELSSEA: In high school a lot of my friends were in bands, so I would go to people’s basement shows. I saw a few people do DJ sets along with the bands, and I saw that it would be a good way for me to play my own music live. I wasn’t in a band but I wanted to perform what I was working on so other people could hear it; 2018 is when I started doing house shows. Then my friend started throwing raves in 2019, she got me in on it and I just kind of became the resident DJ. I was 20 and going into my junior year of college.

TH: How did you go from DJing house shows to the bigger raves and official venues?

J: My friends [Vicdeni, Keenanfromlimbo and Mowitcher] wanted to throw a rave, so we were all down to find a space, get the speakers, whatever we had to do. We were not tapped in. [laughs] At that point I don’t think I had even been to a rave yet. Before we threw our first party though, I went to [the Philly party] Raveland in 2019. That was the first rave I had been to, and I was like, “Woah, I get it now. It’s more intentional.” At house parties we were playing chiller music, but this was high-energy. They had free Red Bulls; it was 3 in the morning and I had gotten off of work at 2 maybe.

We announced our rave maybe a week out. Just word of mouth and Instagram, we threw it at this warehouse in North Philly, and — like 400 people showed up. We had no idea, we were like, “What is going on??” Everyone was packed into this really hot room; it was late August, fully in a basement, somebody in the middle of my set came over with a fan. I made like 300 bucks because there were a lot of people there; we expected to not make anything.

After that first rave, called ALT+ESC, other people started asking me to play their parties, then my first club gig was with [event promoters] Function. I think Blind Barber was the first spot with Function, then TLA. And at Silk City, Chicken of the Sea had a residency so she put me on with her.

TH: Do you have advice for people in Philly who have never been out dancing at a rave but want to try it out?

J: Just go — if you have a friend or you don’t, just show up, push yourself. It’s ok to be a little uncomfortable; you might find that you actually fit in. I was always very shy and reserved, and I became a more social person once I got to college, more extroverted. I think just pushing myself to go out with my friends, be open to new experiences, made me start to appreciate the nightlife more. I didn’t think I would be outside as much as I am now. [laughs]

TH: You bring in a lot of influence from hip hop and rap, and you have also released beat tapes. How does it feel to bring elements of rap into dance music settings? Does it surprise people? Or does it feel natural?

J: That’s what I was doing for the first ALT+ESC, I was always incorporating rap. It feels normal. A lot of the music I was listening to on YouTube, like mashups and SoundCloud era, I was hearing people mix R&B with house, or rap with house. None of that is new; hip house has been around for years. In a place like Philly—people that rap, they’re going to raves, people in bands go to raves, people at raves are going to rap shows.

JEWELSSEA - darlin

TH: How did you start producing the music for Dwelling?

J: I was working on like three projects at the same time, just working on a bunch of music. And I started to get a visual idea for it, and I found the world. I’ve always been into worldbuilding; the BFA experience was all part of it. [laughs] What came was very earthy. My name is Jewels — Juliana is my real name — JEWELSSEA is about earth and water, not to be corny. That’s on brand for me. So I started to think, What does that look like? That world in my head, this little enchanted siren of the forest or the sea? Once I had the visual idea, I knew where I wanted to take it. I had a bunch of songs that I knew would sound good together. After I had made “Heal Our Inner Child And Chill,” and another track “Standby,” then I felt, These really go together. And “Destination Unknown” I had done first out of all of them.

TH: What goals do you have for 2024?

J: I want to keep making music with my friends because it’s pushing me to be better. I got to write Zack Fox’s “triflin.’” That pushed me, but I was getting into songwriting before that too. I would like to write for more people and produce on albums. And I definitely want to travel more. It would be nice to travel internationally, that’s one of my goals since I haven’t been out of the country since 2019.

Dwelling is out February 7th. JEWELSSEA plays Warehouse on Watts in North Philly on February 9th, Bossa Nova Civic Club in NYC on February 11th and Sounds Of Brazil in NYC on February 22nd.

JEWELSSEA @ GREAT CIRCLES RADIO - CONSTRUCTIVE INTERFERENCE 5/21/23
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