edm queen mija is much more than her viral skrillex sets

The choir girl-turned-rave promoter has toured the world off her rapturous remixes. As she gears up to drop her debut EP, Mija shares an exclusive mix with i-D, and tells us why she just wants to lay low for a bit.

by Ariana Marsh
08 February 2018, 3:10pm

Mija never had goals of becoming an influential producer whose genre-smashing sound would serve as a sonic “F-you” to the rigid categorization of music. In fact, she was perfectly satisfied with the name she’d built for herself as a popular local DJ within her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona before blowing up on a global scale. “I never really planned on any of this being a career; all I knew for sure was that I wanted to create, I wanted to play music and I wanted to share music,” the 25-year-old, who pre-Mija was known solely as Amber Giles, tells i-D. “Doing that even on a small scale before anything happened with my career was good enough for me — I was totally content.” On February 9, Mija will release her debut EP, How to Measure the Distance Between Lovers, after three years of touring the world off of her wildly popular remixes and collaborations. She’s still content with where her career is at — there’s just nothing small scale about it.

Growing up in a family that she describes as “very punk rock,” Mija intrinsically adopted a DIY mentality, which would prove to inspire the way she would approach future projects and passions in life. To this day, it remains central to her music and her identity as an artist. At age seven, Mija joined the Phoenix Girls Chorus, while dabbling in songwriting and playing various instruments including the guitar and the piano. “I don’t think that I’ve ever really been interested in many other things aside from music and making art in general,” she says.

After dropping out of the choir at age 17, she took her passion in a decidedly more outward direction and began throwing parties that immersed her in the business side of the electronic music scene (she’d been attending warehouse parties since she was 15). “I did that for a few years and kind of got bored —I wanted to be the one that was playing all of my favorite tracks on the big speakers,’ says Mija, who began DJing and eventually booked a weekly club residency where she played deep house, Chicago house, and techno. Three tracks into her set on her birthday in May, 2014, her business partner approached her and told her that a Burning Man crew was at the club that night. They were digging her set and asked if she wanted to DJ their festival-hopping art car and mobile sound stage, Kalliope, at Bonnaroo the following week. Flash forward to her sunrise set, and who should whiz by in his golf cart but dubstep legend and OWSLA founder Skrillex (Sonny Moore). Mija invited him up to do a back-to-back deep-house set with her, which would ultimately go viral and skyrocket her career.

Two weeks prior to playing Bonnaroo, Mija had bought herself an early birthday present: a used laptop with Ableton production software and an Akai mini controller. She’d been wanting to start producing her own music, and the outcome of her joint Bonnaroo set was the fuel she needed to go for it. With a nudge from Skrillex, she moved to Los Angeles where the sounds she’s most known for — trap, bass, and hip-hop-infused dance bangers, feel-good tracks with upbeat progressions — began to develop. “I had only been DJing house music but when I moved to LA and started hanging out with the OWSLA crew, I was so incredibly excited by the music they were playing,” she explains.

Her experimentation with various genres led her to release her 2015 fk a genre mixtape (it features everyone from Rae Sremmurd and Diplo to REZZ and Oliver Helden), which inspired her to create her incomparably progressive Fk A Genre tour. Featuring artists including A-Trak, Anna Lunoe, Tokimonsta, Chromeo, Knox Fortune and more, the tour provides a space for artists from across various genres to come together, play on the same stage, and collaborate free of elitist, genre-specific restraints.

Since then, Mija has been on the move non-stop, having completed two world tours and played Electric Daisy Carnival, Burning Man, Shambhala, and everything in between. She’s dropped numerous collaborations and remixes through OWSLA (check out her sunny collaboration with Vindata, “Better”) and Fool’s Gold (she gave A-Trak and Tommy Trash’s “Lose My Mind” a high voltage remix), and has cemented herself as an artist whose music, though impossible to pinpoint, always promises a good time. If she were signed to a label (Mija has chosen to remain an independent artist) there’s no question that How to Measure the Distance Between Lovers would include songs along the same vein. In true fuck-a-genre form, Mija has taken the release to completely uncharted, unexpected, and undefinable territory.

Composed of eight tracks, the EP plays like an intensely personal sonic diary. For the first time ever, Mija sings lyrics she penned herself on the project, her voice raw yet impossibly crystalline. Decidedly not “dance,” the project largely features chilled out beats offset with powerful symphonic melodies, clarifying that Mija’s intention for it was not to earn her a spot on any top 100 list. It was a means of self-discovery and, in a sense, of self-containment in her art. “I tried for a long time to make DJ-able dance tracks that were more specific to the stuff that I was playing,” says Mija, who worked on the EP for over two years. “Ultimately, I found I wasn’t really capable of doing that. The only type of music I was able to make that really made me feel something would just come straight from my heart or straight from whatever emotions I was feeling at that time. So what my EP ended up becoming was almost like a story of who I am and how I got here. I guess it’s just an extremely personal thing that I had to accomplish before I was able to move forward and make different types of music again.”

The EP’s first track, “Notice Me," was the most difficult one for Mija to write, specifically because of it’s anamorphic quality. “It doesn’t follow any sort of format and it goes through different phases and different types of sound that you wouldn’t normally think would go along with each other,” she explains. “That was the most emotive song to me.”

“Speak to Me,” which has intense drum beats and a wonderful gothic weirdness, is also special to Mija. “It’s a poem that I wrote a long time ago for somebody that I always wanted to turn it into a song. I didn’t want to over shroud the poem with the production, I wanted to keep it very simple and very open to interpretation so that it’s able to be covered or remixed or reproduced. Basically, I just wanted to give that foundation of it.”

Despite her new release, Mija wants to lay low for awhile and bask in her current headspace. She’s already working on another EP, this time one that’s more in-line with all of her past releases, and wants to foster the best environment in which to do it. “Right now, I’m in a very creative flow. Ask any artist and they’ll tell you it’s not up to you when you go into that flow, it’s there or it’s not. If it’s there, you have to embrace it and keep pushing it. I want to tour less and make more art.”

Today, i-D is exclusively premiering a new mix by Mija, which features a few tracks from her upcoming EP. Listen below for a preview of what to expect.

Amber Giles
how to measure the distance between lovers