Introducing: UNIIQU3October 25, 2021
It’s Sunday evening and Cherise Gary is in Europe for the first time since the lifting of covid-19 lockdown restrictions. The occasion is Body Movements, a multi-venue, queer-focused day festival that Gary had the privilege of closing the previous evening, and the Newark native is still riding a high from the performance.
“Oh my gosh the venue was so fancy — they had the biggest disco ball ever!” she enthuses, reflecting on the set she delivered some 18 hours earlier from the rooftop of an opulent Central London hotel. “I can’t believe they let us club kids in to party there! It feels so amazing to be back on the road and connecting with y’all.”
As UNIIQU3, Gary is the foremost global ambassador of Jersey club, a visceral brand of dance music characterised by pounding bass, rapid-fire breaks and chopped vocals. The smoother, sexier cousin of Baltimore club, it’s a sound that first emerged from her hometown in the early 2000s, popularised by the likes of Tim Dolla, Mike V and, most prominently, DJ Tameil. “He’s the originator of Jersey club,” Gary insists passionately. “Tameil was the one who created the genre. He might not have realised it at the time, but he made something that literally changed all of our lives.”
Starting out as a dancer, it’s a sound Gary was exposed to from a young age. “It was a big thing in the community,” she recalls, attempting to trace her own personal relationship to Jersey club. “The first time I heard it would have been in grade school — they played it at school dances. Then I started buying mixtape CDs and cassettes from guys on the street because I wanted to have my own copies of the music. That was when my love for club music really took off.”
It was around this time that Gary made another observation that would prove pivotal to her creative journey: “I noticed that there were lots of girls doing their thing on the dancefloor but none behind the decks.” Determined to buck the trend, she took up DJing at college, “starting a little later” than many of her peers, but nevertheless adapting quickly and hitting the ground running.
Starting out by playing at house parties, her unique ability to MC and rap while DJing quickly saw her singled out as a vibrant addition to the city’s musical landscape. She enjoyed a rapid ascent through the ranks, soon playing at clubs across the city and then further afield, spreading the Jersey club gospel around the world.
A multidisciplinary tour-de-force, she also taught herself how to make music in her spare time, going on to produce some of the genre’s finest tracks, including “Yo (I’m Lit)”, “Phase 3” and “Trunk”. “I guess I’ve always wanted to be some kind of entertainer or performer,” she suggests modestly, when probed on the driving force underpinning this success. But it’s not just the underground dance music world that has detected her far-reaching talents. Gary was invited to soundtrack the Chromat runway show in 2017, and then commissioned to produce a piece of music for the WNBA the following year — recognition that has helped push Jersey club into uncharted territories.
As well as drawing inspiration from the aforementioned Brick City luminaries, her extended periods in Europe — more specifically the UK — have also helped shape the UNIIQU3 sound. Soon she was adding her own spin to grime tracks, a meshing of styles that helped redefine the sound while earning it a legion of new fans in the process. The most striking example of this is her club remix of Skepta’s “That’s Not Me”, a typically explosive, rave-ready rework that injects gunshot samples, triplet kicks and a healthy dose of Brick City swagger into the grime classic.
It’s this natural synergy with British dance music that convinced Gary to put out acclaimed recent EP Heartbeats on London label Local Action. “Tom [Lea, label founder] from Local Action has always supported me, and I decided that if I was going to work with any British record label it would be his,” she explains. “He’s the kind of person that sees things in me that I might not see myself, and the label has been supporting club music for quite a few years now. I really appreciate having people like that in my circle — people that elevate me — and I’m so happy to share this moment with him.”
Released earlier this month, the five-track offering felt like a defining moment for Jersey club. Not only does it showcase the talents of scene contemporaries such as R3LL, SJAYY and Dai Burger, it is also Gary’s most personal record to date, prioritising songwriting and raw emotion while losing none of the dancefloor energy that the scene is based on. Meanwhile, “Microdosing”, the EP’s lead single, comes laced with a saccharine pop energy that ties perfectly into the genre’s ever-growing prominence.
WIth that in mind, is UNIIQU3 ready to embrace the pop world if the opportunity arises? “Umm… almost,” she says hesitantly. “I definitely want to stay true to UNIIQU3 but I also want to evolve and continue to grow as an artist. Dropping an album feels like the next big move for me. Personally I think I would kill it if given the opportunity. If anyone is gonna take club music into the pop world it should be someone from Jersey, for real.
At least for now, Gary is trying her best to stay grounded and inspire positive change at local level. As well as making sure the new generation recognise the roots of the genre, she has also started hosting Jersey club DJ and production workshops for Newark youngsters interested in getting involved. “I feel like I’m living a childhood dream doing what I do musically so the fact I can do a lot of community work alongside it adds to the enjoyment even more,” she gleams. “I definitely want to be a mentor to the younger generation because I didn’t really have that when I was coming up.”
It’s that dedication to seeing Jersey club flourish, both in Newark and on the global stage, that makes UNIIQU3 such a culturally important artist: a visionary ‘Club Queen’ who has worked tirelessly to push the scene to the next level. “It took me a long time to get there because I’m a woman, but I finally feel well-respected as an artist,” she says triumphantly. “Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it’s gonna get better!”
UNIIQU3’s Heartbeats is out now on Local Action.