For VNSSA, loving house music is easy. "These are my people," she explains. "This is my music."
In her home, a disco ball and plant hang behind her head, and shelves of vinyl surround her. The Los Angeles-based producer is kicking back on her off days before her gig at San Diego's Audiotistic Festival.
Her latest outing, "When Will I See You," is on the Splits 001 EP with Lenny Kiser and Neon Super Block. In November, it came out on Rules Don't Apply records, which is Walker & Royce's new record label. She first joined forces with Walker & Royce on "Word" and "Rave Grave," which helped launch her towards major festival lineups in 2019.
Growing up in Newport Beach, California, Vanessa Barnes' journey as a musician began when she took up drumming and started a band with a friend.
"In the beginning. I just wanted to get it down and just be a good drummer," VNSSA remembers. She felt drawn to live music, picking up the clarinet and cello, but set them aside when she found her true calling as a DJ. On Fridays, it was house night at a small Costa Mesa rock venue, and that's where she fell in love with electronic music spun by the local DJs.
She dropped her first original track, "Do You Wanna Play," with Fantom Freq in 2018. Shortly after, she quickly went from attending to headlining Dirtybird events. She learned about house music from heavyweights like Claude Von Stroke, Justin Jay, and Justin Martin. With her five little letters next to some huge names on recent lineups, VNSSA bounces around genres without relying on anyone's star power but her own.
VNSSA trusts her instincts when it comes to expressing style. "I just noticed what sounds I like and I use them all the time," she explains. "It's kind of subconscious. I don't know that I'm making a VNSSA track until it's done, and everyone's like, Oh, yeah, this sounds like you!" Rocking oversized frames, braids, and an all-black ensemble, she looks club-ready while simply eating her cold oatmeal and returning from an afternoon walk. VNSSA's chill demeanor backs up her approach to unique house beats.
"If it sounds good, it sounds good," she says, reflecting on her production techniques. She's not out to please producer snobs with expensive sounds, templates, or following trends. The only tools she swears by are the SoundToys effects bundle, which she uses on every track. But she's equally a fan of using free synths and plug-ins.
"The one thing about Ableton and these programs that I love the most is that to accomplish one thing, there's 20 different ways to do it. There's no right way or wrong way. It's just your way."
She makes up her own rules. "I like doing everything from scratch because I feel like that's my warm up. It's like setting your canvas." VNSSA describes her sound as "Classic melodic break tech house."
Obviously not bound by any one label, she's focused on the process. "I like to have a lot of arps and different melodies in my music," she explains. "I like to have pretty elements in it. Classic snares, super reverbed 80s drums." Her tracks have dabbled in acid and breakbeat, too. Simply know that everything VNSSA delivers will make you sweat.
While emitting cool confidence, she is acutely aware of the challenges she and other women face in the music industry. "When people think about women doing things in male-dominated industries, the first thing that people will think is like, 'oh look, she's wearing a low cut top, no wonder she's where she is now,' or 'She probably slept with that guy to get there,' you know?"
"Unfortunately, that's the world we live in," VNNSA says. "They're gonna comment on you regardless, because you're a woman."
In 2020 VNSSA adapted to the extra challenges of working in the industry during a pandemic by turning to streaming. She was part of the GOOD TV collective and appeared on Twitch channels, including Insomniac Records and Desert Hearts.
When Gray Area catches up with VNSSA, it's on a laidback day ahead of a weekend where she attends a friend's wedding. There, the DJ ends up spinning VNSSA's edit of Toto's "Africa."
She's got a new car, a RAV4, which she nicknamed the "Rave 4."
Last month she also played Chris Lake's Black Book Block Party in San Francisco. She will continue to serve up spicy tech house singles, having recently finished an upcoming remix for NYC-based DJ QRTR.
"I'm having a lot of fun just making music and touring right now," she says. Without a second thought, VNSSA lives in the moment and feels satisfied with where she's at. She's happy with the hardware she's got. She has massive dreams for the future but wants for very little. At this exciting point of her life, the only advice she'd give her past self is to stay on track. She tells herself, "Keep going. You got this."
Interview By: RYDEN
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