Hoj

Story by

Photography by Jorge Solorzano

hoj

Hoj is a true multi-discipline creative, he transports his visual art into musical storytelling, and at the core of his work is a respect and love for the people listening from their bedroom, on the dance floor or wherever they may be.

Hoj sits calmly across from me, he’s wearing all black, he looks Middle Eastern, with dark eyes and pronounced eyebrows. He has a slightly mischievous look but his demeanor is one of respect, warmth, and humility.

“In the last couple years, people have said that the mixes I’ve released on Soundcloud or played have really stayed with them, helping them get through a day at work, a workout, or something bigger. It’s really special. I still think it would be awesome to DJ somebody’s makeout session!”

“What chapter do you feel like you are in with your music and your life?” I ask.

Hoj takes a moment and smiles calmly, “I feel really lucky. I’ve been DJ’ing for over 15 years and I’m still so happy that I get to play music that I like for people to enjoy. I don’t know how long it will last but as long as does I’m going to be happy to do it. In the last couple years, people have said that the mixes I’ve released on Soundcloud or played live have really stayed with them, helping them get through a day at work, a workout, or something bigger. It’s really special. I still think it would be awesome to DJ somebody’s makeout session!” Hoj says laughing.

As we sit in the backyard of his Venice, CA, home I can’t help but get excited, even as I write this and listen to the recording of our conversation, I hear myself on the recording, like a little kid hanging out with this older brother, trying to impress. The thing is, I don’t blame myself, I’m floored to have an opportunity to talk about playing music with someone who has brought me and my friends so much happiness.

My first glimpse of Hoj live was 3 years ago, on the top of the Sky Bar, a two-story desert night club at Burning Man. Him and Lee Burridge both wore panda hats and danced under ornate sun umbrellas as they went back to back – to this day their sunset set remains one of my favorite dance parties ever experienced.

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“I like to think of it as a group effort and the set that ends up being played, the audience has as much to do with it as I do.”

“What are the signs that you look for besides obviously people dancing?”

“I come from the other side” Hoj answers. “So I try to imagine myself in the audience rather then behind the turntables. I want to get a feel for the vibe. I think about what I would want to hear if I was dancing my ass off in the crowd. I do like to surprise people once in a while, because when I was going to raves and a DJ would drop a bassline out of nowhere, I remember the feeling was unbelievable.”

“So you don’t ever prepare a set in a linear order?” I ask.

“No. It would suck to come with an hour of bombs prepared, and then you get to the gig and a DJ can’t make it and they ask you to play sunrise. I like to think of it as a group effort and the set that ends up being played, the audience has as much to do with it as I do. Every time I look up, I’m trying to get a read for what people want to hear.”

“When I started playing vinyl I would actually key every record by hand using a pitch pipe. I would then label the vinyl with the key and the bpm. I’d sort my 60-100 records in order from A to G.”

“Did they have the bpm written on the records?” I ask.

“No, you had to count it out with a stopwatch. You would literally set the watch and count out each beat for a minute for each track.” Hoj smiles as he reminisces of his early San Francisco days, “I was always looking for good records, when you would find one in the record shop you would buy it quick because there was only a finite amount of them, and then you would play the shit out of it, every house party, and every morning in your room.”

“Do you have a trick to organizing your playlists?” I ask Hoj, selfishly hoping for a tip to unlock the struggle I’ve had organizing my own music.

“I’ve talked to a lot of DJ friends about it, and I feel like nobody is actually happy with their system.” Hoj says laughing.

“I’ve thought about having playlists that are specific to a party, but I never know what the crowd is going to be like or what the DJ before me is playing. Before a gig I will do a pull of tracks I want to play, but I never really know how they fit together until I get there.”

Hoj points at an old Technic turntable, “I’ve had that since ’98. My friend gave me his old Gemini mixer for fifty bucks. I couldn’t afford the second turntable yet so I had a discman, that’s how I figured out how to beatmatch going between the vinyl and mix cd’s.”

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“I’m very visual so I imagine following a character through different terrains. You might start off very deep, as if that person is swimming underwater, then coming out and seeing the sunlight. Maybe later the character runs into a building down into a basement and so on so the music gets darker.”

We’re now in his home studio. It’s the size of a small bedroom, there are records that line the wall, a few cdj’s are stacked on the shelf. A guitar, a synth, and a massive Mac monitor sits on the desk.

Lee [Burridge] is staying here now so it’s his bedroom.” Hoj says.

“What was it like playing Robot Heart after Lee?” I ask, remembering a legendary Friday morning at Burning Man where I witnessed Hoj take his place on the top of one of the largest mobile sound systems on earth.

“Playing after Lee at Robot Heart is one of those gigs that you’re basically like, ‘who has a big bottle of Jameson’, I need to start drinking that.” Hoj says laughing, “But after that first record is on, then it’s a blast. I always know that as soon as that mixer is in front of me, that it’s all good. For me it’s just really really fun, it’s a matter of being part of the audience and trying to have as much fun with the music as you can.” At this point, a huge smile spreads across Hoj’s face. “You get to play your favorite music really really loud and that’s awesome.”

“Do you have a favorite place to play music really loud?” I ask curiously.

“I love playing in outdoor spaces. Robot Heart, and actually the sound system at the ‘All Day I Dream’ parties in LA are so good. The sound guys work really hard to make it sound warm and tune it correctly, even the booth! When the booth sounds awesome, the DJ plays better and will have more fun.”

“Storytelling through a DJ set seems vague, what does this actually mean to you?” I ask.

“I’m very visual so I imagine following a character through different terrains. You might start off very deep, as if that person is swimming underwater, then coming out and seeing the sunlight. Maybe later the character runs into a building down into a basement and so on so the music gets darker.”

Hoj is a master storyteller. On the dance floor you feel safe, led by someone you trust. His awareness of the crowd, his love of the experience and appreciation for each moment act as the brightly lit torch leading you through his tale.

The new set Hoj recorded exclusively for WITNESS THIS, Visualize, is so moving and acts as a perfect representation of his unique ability to lead the listener on a visual journey. Moments of the set feel like experiencing heartbreak or loss and other sections feel as though you are dancing in a thunderstorm. Take some time, whether you’re on your way to work, working or at your desk, or making out to listen to Visualize–or any of Hoj’s sets on his Soundcloud.

TRACKLIST ‘Visualize’ compiled by Hoj

1 – Olly G – Burning Heart [Disolend Records]
2 – Hernan Cerebella – Soul Perception [Spring Tube]
3 – Phillip Straub and Andrew Fonda – Road to Tavernas (Gruuve Remix) [Deeperfect]
4 – Giorgia Angiuli – Get Slow [Moodmusic Records]
5 – FictiOne – Universe [A Must Have]
6 – Mihai Popoviciu – 5000 Hz (Spieltape Remix) [Monocord Records]
7 – Ron Flatter & Definition – Loretta [Hive Audio]
8 – Sonogama & Maura – Sussy [Sneaky Music]
9 – Monad – Sail Away [Tulipa]
10 – Serge Devant – Always On My Mind [Crosstown Rebels]
11 – Chris Robin & Sellback – Fridge Slap [Submarine Vibes]
12 – Rodriguez Jr. – Cily [Mobilee]

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