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Gray Area Interview: DJ Minx

Harry Levin

6 min read

Anyone who's done research into the history of techno knows the genre was born in Detroit, and anyone who knows techno was born in Detroit knows it wouldn't exist without DJ Minx.

DJ Minx, the DJ, producer, and label head, who was born Jennifer Witcher. Commonly known as "The First Lady of Wax," Witcher was hitting now-mythical nightclubs like Detroit's Music Institute as far back as the 80s, just as the burgeoning genre was making its first impact on the gritty industrial landscape of Motor City.

Witcher still calls legends she met when they were still locals like Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson, and Moodymann friends. The latter being the person who encouraged her to start Women on Wax, the groundbreaking label she continues to run to this day.

DJ Minx - Essential Mix 1459 BBC Radio 1 - 29 January 2022

Three decades into her dance music journey, the most important thing about the scene for her remains unchanged.

"30 years into me doing this music thing, the one thing that still brings a glow to my eyes is the fact that people love the hell out of this music," Witcher says to Gray Area over Zoom, golden Detroit logo earrings dangling from her ears. "And I think about myself when I first started listening to it and how I felt when I went to the club and I looked at the DJ. Now I'm in the position of people looking at me coming to listen to me and to feel what I put out there."

In recent years as house and techno music have emerged as the top genres in dance music, Witcher has confidently ridden the wave. And in 2022, for the first time, she hosted her own stage at Movement Music Festival, Detroit's preeminent dance music festival.

As a stalwart of Detroit techno, Witcher has played Movement every year since its inception in 2000. And even on its massive stage, she feels connected to the audience like she's playing in the darkest, most intimate club.

DJ Minx at Movement Detroit, 2022

DJ Minx at Movement Detroit, 2022

Jamie Jar

"Everyone is here at the home of techno where it all originated," Witcher says of Movement. "And with me having the stage it was very personal. People would come and talk to me and tell me 'I'm going to be at your stage on Monday. I'm going to be at your set on Monday.'"

Months later, people still extoll Witcher for her set and curation on that fateful Memorial Day afternoon. And while she certainly appreciates the praise, what she finds even more heartening, is that people are clearly doing their research and understanding Detroit's role in the history of techno.

From her perspective, Detroit hasn't yet received its due respect for creating the genre, but she does see progress happening in that regard.

"There's a large amount of respect, and with that comes knowledge," Witcher says. "It's making a world of difference with the artists that are out here right now."

One vital piece of knowledge connected to the history of techno in Detroit is Witcher's 2002 track, "A Walk In The Park." Released initially on Women on Wax, it was a sought-after hit that every Detroit DJ wanted in their set.

One of these many DJs who wanted to play "A Walk In The Park" was Ricardo Villalobos. Now, remember, at that time, 20 years ago, there was no Spotify. There weren't even MP3s. So like most tracks in those days, it only came out on physical media, and like most independent releases, international distribution was minimal.

Villalobos managed to get his hands on a copy and played it at a European festival. When the record played, Detroit legend Richie Hawtin was in the booth with Villalobos.

"I almost broke my neck, trying to get to see what it was," Minx remembers Hawtin saying to her about the track, but once he did, he went to a record store, bought all the copies, and decided he wanted to sign 'A Walk In The Park,' to his record label, Minus, which he did for a 2004 release.

Camera Jesus

The track was such a hit that Witcher watched Hawtin play it for 12 minutes straight at a club in Windsor, Canada, and the crowd lost it with every new drop. It was so everpresent that a man rudely accosted on the street her about it, telling her he hated the track because it was on the radio so much.

"Well that's good for me, not for you," Witcher says with a laugh.

For all its popularity, what's most remarkable about "A Walk In The Park" is that Witcher produced it in roughly 45 minutes. That's how the track got its name. It was so simple for her to make that it felt like a walk in the park.

And yet 20 years later, it still resonates with the dance music community. So much so that Insomniac-owned Factory 93 Records rereleased it with a new remix package including a fresh edit from Witcher, remixes from fellow Detroit natives Seth Troxler and Carl Craig, and additional remixes from younger artists like the Dirtybird resident, Ardalan, which she finds especially rewarding.

"The music is timeless. You know it's old because of its date, but like me and my edit, you add different elements to it. It just feels good to hear what someone else's interpretation of this track could be," Witcher says. "I like Ardalan's productions. What he did absolutely sounds wonderful having that knowledge of the music."

If you show you know the music, Witcher is down with you. Whether it be dance music veterans or giant pop stars like Beyoncé, who recently staked her claim in the world of dance music with her 2022 album RENAISSANCE.

There was some criticism of Beyoncé following her GRAMMY nominations in the dance music categories, but what Witcher respects about her and her efforts is she tapped the originators of the sound as collaborators on the album.

DJ Minx | cinch presents Creamfields North 2022 x @Beatport Live

"[Beyoncé] used Big Freedia. She used Honey Dijon, Luke Solomon, Terry Hunter. Someone on her team did some research to actually pull these people," Witcher says. "These are people that are putting this music out today which is going to amp them and when it amps them and puts them in the spotlight, that's gonna shed more light on us as well."

One thing Witcher has always been about since her early days is shedding light on deserving young artists. For many years she served as a mentor to female artists in dance music, working with now-famed talents like the Berlin-based artist Magda, and starting in 2023, she is going to get back into it.

For anyone interested in working with Witcher, she encourages you to send her an email at queenbeats@gmail.com. This is a chance to work with someone vital to the history of techno and become a part of that history yourself.

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