Introducing: VNSSA, the Beatport Next Star Who’s on the Rise
Introducing: VNSSA, the Beatport Next Star Who’s on the RiseFebruary 23, 2021
“I found this old vintage mirror on the street a few weeks ago, so I’m painting it today — gold and teal,” says Vanessa Barnes, better known as DJ/producer VNSSA.
Just like me, she’s currently enjoying the beautiful blue sky day in East Los Angeles. “I love East LA,” Vanessa says. “I’ve been living here for about two years now.”
While relatively new to Los Angeles, she’s called Southern California home for all of her life, growing up and coming into her own as a DJ in her native Newport Beach — about an hour south of where she is now.
In her short time living in Los Angeles, Vanessa’s knack for crafting heat-seeking techno tracks along with prominent tech and bass house rollers has made her a prominent player in the city’s house scene. She’s landed a coveted and much-deserved seat in the Dirtybird nest, while striking up collaborations with the likes of Walker & Royce, Steve Darko, OMNOM, Jaded, BOT, Chris Lorenzo, and more. With growing support from adoring fans, promoters and artists alike, Vanessa’s horizon is stretching far beyond her Southern California homefront.
Vanessa first found her love of the stage as a drummer with local indie rock bands, playing gigs in and around her seaside city. “I would play little tours up and down the West Coast,” Vanessa says. “It was really small-time stuff, and it was just fun, just being young, in a band. traveling and just doing whatever we wanted, you know?”
A natural songwriter, Vanessa eventually found that band politics were getting in the way of her creative output. She also found Justin Martin’s Ghettos & Gardens LP, and soon found that the warm embrace of the house music scene was a natural new home for her talents. From there, influences like Eats Everything, KiNK, Green Velvet, and her musical heroine, Anna Lunoe, began to capture her imagination in full. “I got hooked from playing drums in bands and stuff and just getting a taste of people coming to my shows, and then when I started going to DJ shows, that’s when I got really hooked,” Vanessa emphasizes.
Purchasing a cheap Dell laptop and a $200 Hercules controller, her and her friend Carly began cutting their teeth under the moniker Best Thing, opening for touring EDM acts and building up a fanbase at home. Working as a bartender, Vanessa, Carly, and her local bartender friends would throw down at local dives whenever the opportunity presented itself, planning “New Year’s Eve Redo” parties for the folks who were working the holiday, and tons of other themed events. “It was during that time that I just knew… playing shows was all I ever wanted to do,” Vanessa says.
Eventually graduating to CDJs and going it alone as a solo act under her VNSSA moniker, her eyes shifted towards bigger sound systems, larger crowds, and more prominent parties. “I just loved going to festivals and shows. It was my favorite thing,” Vanessa says. “And I started watching all these DJs — even after I was getting booked for gigs — and it dawned on me that I was never going to get to the point I wanted unless I was playing my own music. People don’t get to travel and tour unless they play their own music.”
Unable to afford a production school, she turned to YouTube and collected advice from her laundry list of DJ and producer friends to help her get started. Having only first downloaded Ableton in 2016, the progress she’s managed to make since then is astounding. With only two years of production experience under her belt, VNSSA released her debut single “Do You Wanna Play” with Fantom Freq on House Of Hussle in March 2018. More followed that year, including a joint 12-inch with BOT titled Creatures, a remix of Go Freak’s “Love Is The Weapon“, and much more.
Since the beginning, Claude VonStroke‘s Dirtybird imprint always stood a step above the rest in her musical inspirations. VNSSA regularly opened for the label’s events whenever they made their way down to Orange County, and she managed to strike up a relationship with the label boss and the rest of the Dirtybird team. With a predilection for what she refers to as her “favorite label of all time,” it soon became apparent that Dirtybird had been adamantly been keeping an eye on VNSSA as well.
“It was Holy Ship! 10 in 2018. I was playing on a small stage takeover when I realized that Barclay [Claude VonStroke] was standing behind me the whole time watching my set,” Vanessa reminisces. “I felt so pressured, thinking ‘oh my god, don’t mess this up!’ But everything was cool, and he stuck around the whole time. Later that year, he was doing an AMA on Reddit, and I asked him, ‘Who’s on your ones to watch list?’ And he said, ‘VNSSA.’ I thought someone on the team was just messing with me, but they ended up asking me to play Dirtybird Campout West that year, and soon after, they announced me as the first artist on the festival lineup. I still thought they were playing the meanest joke ever and didn’t fully believe them until I got the contract.”
From fan to fan favorite, Vanessa ended up slaying the Dirtybird masses with her turbocharged take on house. Since then, she’s performed with acts like Chris Lake, Claptone, Destructo, Ciszak, Worthy, Fisher, AC Slater, Kyle Watson, and many more. She also spent the next year cooking up tracks like “This and That” on Box Of Cats, “This My Shit” with Astronomar on Country Club Disco, her joint The Magic EP with Ocean Roulette, and two smash hits with Walker & Royce — “Rave Grave” and the hugely popular “Word“.
“When ‘Word’ came about, we didn’t think that track was going to be that big,” Vanessa says. “When Claude, Justin Martin, and Green Velvet started playing it, it may have raised my expectations, but I wasn’t expecting it to become a Beatport number one only three days after its release. That track definitely helped put me on the map, helping me get bigger gigs and stuff. Walker & Royce have always been so helpful with track feedback and just support in general, and I’m definitely thankful that I’ve gotten to work with so many different, amazing producers.”
Following a breakthrough year in 2019, Vanessa softly laments at the reminder of our COVID, no-gig reality, explaining how eager she was to perform her booked gigs in 2020 and 2021, the most important of which is the Sahara Stage at Coachella. With a sudden burst of positivity, she exclaims, “It’s fine. I just keep telling myself I need more time to prepare anyway.”
Despite the raw deal of not being able to strut her stuff on stage just as her career is taking off, Vanessa put her free time in 2020 to good use in the studio. She churned out a blipped-out remix of Jaded’s “Bounce” on Higher Ground, a razor-sharp single titled “Skin” with OMNOM, contributed the melodic floater “3am” to Dirtybird’s Couchout Compilation, and released two EPs, both of which show off her growing versatility as an artist.
Her two-track Dazed EP on Box Of Cats demonstrates her tech and bass house sensibilities, featuring enticing basslines and dynamic drum patterns led by memorable and repetitive vocal riffs. The real attention grabber, her Dance Night EP on Christian Martin’s Trippy Ass Technologies imprint, is a complete departure from what one would typically expect from VNSSA. Centered around fat acid lines and hefty breaks, VNSSA describes the record as the next step in “honing her craft.”
“‘Dance Night‘ and ‘Out Of My Head‘ are my favorite tracks I’ve made so far,” Vannesa says. “I think it’s because I’ve finally figured out how to work with that sound. That’s always been the kind of music that I wanted to make, stuff with kind of ’90s classic rave sound to it. Everything that I make just pours out of me, and I feel like it just keeps evolving, and the production just keeps getting better. All the practice is really making a difference!”
Recognizing her immense talent and dedication, Beatport, with its long history of helping grow the careers of up-and-coming dance music artists, has selected VNSSA as a member of our new Beatport Next platform. The year-long initiative will offer VNSSA and five other emerging artists plenty of support in order to help their careers grow.
“I’m excited to see how many different people get to listen and become exposed to my music through all of this,” Vanessa says. “Especially now since I’m starting to branch out and make all different kinds of genres and just experimenting a lot in general. It’s exciting that people will get to hear my progress and embark on this journey with me.”
Only two months into 2021, and VNSSA has already dropped two new tracks: a roguish peak-time single titled “Cuz Of The Beat” on Noizu’s Techne imprint, along with an appearance on Steve Darko’s debut Dirtybird LP with “Hypnotized“. After telling me that she just finished up an unofficial remix for her favorite band, Glass Animals, she excitedly stresses that she is “going to have a lot more music coming out soon.”
Turning our attention back to the flavorsome idea of events coming back into existence soon, the conversation shifts to one of Vannesa’s most deeply cherished music events, California’s Lighting In A Bottle festival. She went to its very first edition, and states that it’s where she “first fell in love with the festival scene.” The festival booked her to play the artist’s favorite stage, The Woogie, in 2019, where her set time, unfortunately, was trampled on by a massive thunderstorm. “It all came full circle there, even though it was kind of a nightmare due to the storm,” Vannessa laughs. “Everyone that played after me was so kind, though. Walker & Royce, OMNOM, and Shiba San all gave me 10 minutes of their set time, so I could play a little bit longer to make up for that.”
A story like that is an all-too-rare occurrence amongst DJs, who often jockey for more time than they’re billed for. But no matter how stormy life gets, VNSSA’s easy-going West Coast aura and keen ear for the dance floor will keep her filling stages for many years to come.