Artist of the Month: DJ Minx

Marcus Barnes speaks to Detroit’s queen of house music DJ Minx — a champion of women’s empowerment in the dance music scene — to learn more about her ancestral history, the first time she mixed records, the origins of her Woman On Wax imprint, and beyond.

18 min
BP AOTM Beatportal 1920x897 6
Feb 12, 2024
·
By
Marcus Barnes

On a cold winter’s evening in the UK, I settled in for a Transatlantic chat with one of Detroit’s prodigal daughters, DJ Minx. After a slight delay, there she is, wearing a jazzy top and ready to roll. Friendly, open and warm, Minx has been there since the very early days, though it’s only in more recent times that she’s really been getting her flowers, globally at least. In Detroit, she’s a bonafide member of the city’s fraternity, working tirelessly since her late teens and establishing herself a key figure in Techno City.

It’s Black History Month, and we begin by discussing the merits of a “special month” dedicated to the rich and broad history of African-Americans. “When you talk to people about it, especially here in the US, they say, ‘Why is it only this one month of the year?’,” she says, explaining that Black history is something people should be made aware of every day. “Why do we have to just have one single month? It’s probably supposed to make us feel special or whatever. It should be 24/7, 365”.

DJ Minx hails from a generation that was only a step removed from America’s dark and bloody past. Her family were originally from southern Georgia, a state where slavery was rife. In fact, Georgia is the birthplace of the gin — a pioneering invention that could quickly separate cotton fibres from their seeds. Its impact was to deepen the state’s reliance on slavery for agriculture. Though the state once banned slavery for 15 years, between 1735 and 1750, by 1861 it was home to over 460,000 slaves, accounting for 44% of the state’s population. Minx’s mother, a renowned storyteller, would take her and her siblings to Georgia and show them around, like a tour guide, walking them through her history. “She’d be like, ‘This is the school I went to’, and have us peeking through the windows of this very old building. ‘This is my classroom and my teacher used to sit right in this spot’. She’d show us the homes that she used to live in, ‘This was my bedroom’,” she explains. “So my mom taught us a whole lot. I miss her stories, she was always great with that. A great storyteller”.

Check out DJ Minx’s ‘Artist of the Month’ chart on Beatport.
DJ Minx Artist of the Month 6

Sadly, Minx’s mother passed away last year, but her efforts to give her children a direct connection to their roots is a key aspect of her deeply-rooted legacy. This connection to her heritage gave DJ Minx a strong grounding in her identity as a Black woman in America. Knowing where you come from is essential to understanding where you are, and where you’re going. The very real history, and knowing what her ancestors went through, gave Minx a sense of gratitude and appreciation for her life. “I could feel as though things were a lot better when I was growing up than what they had to deal with. I learned to appreciate a lot of what I had because their struggle was huge,” she explains. “What they were dealing with wasn’t too far from what we learned in those history books.”

What we see now is a generation that are reaping the benefits of the struggles that their ancestors had to endure. For better or worse, many of today’s younger people can’t even begin to fathom the brutal reality of daily life for the majority of America’s Black population only 100 years ago. “Today, it’s like everything is being handed to our younger people. They don’t have the struggle that we went through,” she says. “I don’t know what’s being taught in the history books at the moment. They will be so far removed from what we learned and what we dealt with it’s probably just foreign to them.”

It’s interesting to hear DJ Minx describe the path that was forged by her predecessors while also considering the fact that she has also paved the way for those who’ve come after her. Contending with the male-dominated culture of the era she came up in was no mean feat. The stories of women being ridiculed, abused, intimidated and shunned by men during that period, and even more recently, are widely known, and Minx’s story was no different in many ways. She takes me back to the moment she first connected with the music, after a friend invited her to the legendary Music Institute, which happened to be three blocks away from where Minx lived at the time. Derrick May was playing at the club that first night, spinning in his typically wild manner with a couple of hundred people also going wild. Minx kept going back after that first experience and eventually managed to get into the booth to see what Derrick was doing. On one occasion, he asked her what she was doing, and she told him,” I can do that.” Not long after that, at another party, he called her out asking if she could DJ yet, to which she told him, “No.” So Derrick told her not to come back until she could.

DJ Minx Artist of the Month 1

This is where the first of a couple of male figures stepped in to support Minx. Jerry, her mentor, a school teacher and friend of a friend, gave Minx the push she needed. After she relayed what happened with Derrick, Jerry turned up at her apartment one day with all the equipment she needed to start learning how to mix, gave her two records and said, “You know how to dance to music, don’t you? Well, mix those two tracks, make them sound like one record.” This act of kindness and loving encouragement marked the genesis of Minx’s DJ career. The turntables were set up on the floor, so she sat there, day after day, trying to figure out how to make the two records merge into one. Once she’d cracked it, Jerry gave her two more records, she mixed them almost instantly.

“He’s like, ‘Okay, so we need to figure out next steps because you’re going to be a DJ’,” Minx explains. At this juncture, we’re halfway through the story, and Minx has me gripped. Her ability to weave together factual information and her lived experience into an engaging story clearly a trait she has inherited from her late mother. She goes on to describe landing her first proper gig. Again, Jerry had a hand in this, after she passed a business card he’d handmade for her to a local promoter.

Hearing this story brings into focus the hard work that was required for a budding DJ to make it back in the eighties, and it also highlights the importance of having someone’s unwavering support. Jerry’s continuous encouragement and direct assistance were pivotal to Minx’s first steps. At that first public performance, she recalls her opening track was the Blunted Dummies classic “House For All (House 4 All Robots Mix)” on Definitive Recordings. Actually, getting into the club to play was a story in itself, as the two women at the door refused to let her in, saying her name wasn’t on the list, despite the owner personally inviting her to play. Thankfully, she eventually got in, or perhaps we wouldn’t even be doing this interview.

Later, it would be another man, Moodymann, who gave her the push, and support, to start up her label Women On Wax. This gave DJ Minx the impetus to start producing, Kenny pushing her on to produce four tracks for the debut of her label. That first EP, titled Introduction, landed in 2001. Twenty-three years later, she’s still making beats and finding the fun in the production process, connecting with younger artists for remix projects and maintaining studio sessions as another outlet for her creativity. So, despite the issues she had with men making unwanted advances and not taking her seriously, it’s crucial to note that there were also healthy masculine influences helping Minx on her way.

DJ Minx Artist of the Month 3

Recent productions include “The Throne,” released with Diplo’s Higher Ground, which included remixes by Mason Maynard and Cinthie, and the recently released follow-up “Taking It Back.” This latest cut taps into Minx’s roots, ‘taking it back to the old school,’ as the vocal clip announces, with an undulating electro-esque riff and ravey analogue stabs.

Over the past few years DJ Minx has maintained consistent output, with remixes from some of her Detroit family including Inner City, Seth Troxler and Moodymannn. Besides her own label, she has released original cuts and remixes with Carl Craig’s Planet E, Life And Death, Crosstown Rebels, Knee Deep In Sound, Cuttin’ Headz, Young Art Records and Factory 93. Connecting with her peers, as well as younger trailblazers demonstrates Minx’s appeal, and widespread respect, across generations. From The Martinez Brothers to Seth, Hot Since 82 to Kevin Saunderson, her standing as an artist and, more importantly, as a kind-hearted member of the global house and techno community is clear to see.

We discuss Pride Month, another limited time of the year when every business and their marketing team makes sure they have rainbows on display in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. Cynical as it may be in many respects, Pride Month is, of course, also of great importance to many people around the world. For Minx it is a particularly pertinent time of the year, as it marks the point at which she came out as gay, only three years ago, after keeping that aspect of her identity under wraps her whole life — publicly, at least.

Like Black History Month, we agree that the awareness and celebration of Pride should be a daily practice. In light of both months, though, and the global shift in awareness of racial prejudice since the horrific George Floyd incident in June 2020, the spotlight has turned on the Black and queer contributions to the birth of contemporary dance music culture. That, in turn, has led to many of its pioneers being given more respect and attention than they had been given prior to 2020’s events. “That situation with George Floyd was life changing. People that did not fully recognise what we as black people were going through, until that point. Everyone started talking. The pandemic was a time for people to sit, look and listen to everything going on. No one had the time or space to do that before,” she says. “But there’s still a lot to be learned and there’s still a lot more than needs to be done”.

DJ Minx Artist of the Month 4

“It’s almost like what we were doing wasn’t noticed before,” she adds. “Because I felt like I was just in the shadows for years. Years and years”. Now not only being recognised for her history and longstanding contribution to electronic music culture, DJ Minx has also found herself connected to the LGBTQ+ community. Though she never thought it would be a good idea to come out, and was advised not to, it has proven to be a positive move and one that has opened her up to a whole other world of support. Having her profile elevated globally means she’s now in a position to inspire women all over the world. Again, we encounter the running thread of paving the way and enduring hardship to open doors for others.

“Women On Wax was first a collective, and then became a label because of Moodymann. That is something that a lot of people, mainly women, bring to my attention. Someone to me, ‘Thank you for doing all the work that we didn’t have to do’,” Minx shares. “That is tugging at my heart because just thinking about what I dealt with. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a lot smoother to get into the business now. Back then I would tell all the women the same thing, you just have to remain respected. Respect yourself”.

She then goes to describe the time she was approached by Playboy magazine. They wanted to do a feature on her and requested a photoshoot. Some would be in a swimsuit and the rest fully clothed. Without an agent or manager at the time, she dealt with the request herself. From the initial message, it then became clear they wanted her to wear a more revealing two-piece bikini. “I said, ‘Oh, yeah, no, my breasts are too heavy for any two-piece anything’. He said he couldn’t do the write up unless I wore a two-piece and I said, ‘Well, thank you for considering me’. I felt that it was lovely to be approached but I didn’t want to expose myself like that. And I always tell young ladies, ‘You don’t have to expose yourself’”.

DJ Minx Artist of the Month 2

This is partly how the Women On Wax collective started, as women from all over the States started calling Minx (back in the days when your phone number was listed) asking for her help and advice. She started mentoring young women, forming the collective and, later on, the record label. Minx shares how she played in Zurich recently with the Underground Resistance crew, and their manager Cornelius Harris got on the mix to highlight her legacy.

“Just to hear someone speak on it, oh my gosh. I still tell women today, ‘People are always looking and listening. So you feel like you want to get on social media. Don’t say anything fucked up. Because that could bite you later. Don’t do it. If you’re upset, you might want to have a phone conversation’”.

That acknowledgement, from Detroit’s inner circle, serves to demonstrate how Minx’s work has been recognised by her peers, and how steering clear of posting negativity online helps cultivate a positive public image (one which I suspect is also just as positive behind-the-scenes).

Across four decades DJ Minx has stayed staunchly dedicated to the music she loves, carving out her own path and dedicating herself to supporting others. While Minx’s legacy is already assured through the countless lives she’s touched, directly and indirectly, she remains as passionate and committed to the music as she ever was. From spending hours hunched over her turntables learning to mix, to travelling the world and receiving admiration from her global fanbase, she carries the torch passed on by her ancestors and proudly honours those who came before her, while inspiring the next generation.

Marcus Barnes is an author, journalist, copywriter, and writing coach with over 20 years experience in print and online. Find him on Instagram.

You might also like

Home
Discover