DJ King Marie is Building Community

Photos by  Michael Salisbury

Home for good after splitting much of the last decade between the coasts, DJ King Marie is working to remake the Chicago creative scene in her image.

DJ King Marie is having a good year. The multi-hyphenate creative (who just so happens to be one of the biggest DJs in Chicago right now) has her hand in a bit of everything in the city’s nightlife and arts scenes. From the outside, at least, it appears that she’s thriving in her own skin in the city that she was born in. But to be where she’s at now, she had to leave first.

Born on the northwest side of Chicago as Christine Marie, DJ King Marie grew up in a household of diverse musicality. Her mother was a singer in a traveling band, her original reason for coming to the States. And her brothers, both early hip-hop obsessives, were professional DJs themselves from an early age. Combine the family’s professional past in music with a household filled with her mom’s singing of disco hits in the living room and Tribe echoing through the walls from her brothers’ bedroom, and you get a partial picture of where Marie’s taste and hustle came from.

Marie moved to New York after earning her BA in 2011 with aspirations to be a singer like her mother. It was the classic New York move - big dreams, a lone friend to split an apartment with, no job and no prospects; but ready to take on the city all the same. She found work at Converse in Soho, and quickly met some of her dearest friends in life. But away from her built-in creative community in Chicago she needed a way to finance her artistic endeavors. “I was like, ‘oh shit - I’ve got to pay for beats?” Christine laughs. “I was so spoiled and didn’t even know it.”

Out of that necessity, she found DJing and a residency at Fat Buddha. “Everyone in New York has, like, three jobs. That’s just what everyone does. I would DJ, I would work full-time, and I still had an internship. [It was a way] to still be in the industry, still curating music.”

But even if the friendships made and lessons learned there proved lasting, New York was a temporary stopover. She traded coasts, opting for Los Angeles where she’d double down on DJing to see through her full potential in the craft.  It was jarring to be in LA; and her instinctive hustle felt something like a super power. “I was like - no one knows me in this city. I’m going to make sure that they do. I took every gig, paid every due. I made sure that I forced my name down people’s throats.” she says with pride.

I don’t think anyone had ever really seen a lil’ tattooed Filipino chick playing the genres that I was playing.

Photo by Michael Salisbury

Photo by Michael Salisbury

With a new focus on her personal branding and presentation, she was constantly catching people off guard and subverting their expectations with her look, selections, even her gender-norm-subverting moniker.

“I don’t think anyone had ever really seen a lil’ tattooed Filipino chick playing the genres that I was playing.”

In Los Angeles, she reconnected with an old friend from Chicago - The Cool Kids’ Chuck Inglish - on a weekly party called A/S/L at DTLA’s The Lash, or “kinda like an LA version of East Room” as she called it. Later, Chuck took her on tour.

Photo by Michael Salisbury

Photo by Michael Salisbury

Her life on the west coast had bright spots. Marie “found God” in the sunsets and natural beauty of Los Angeles, and living there was the first time Marie felt completely surrounded by creative energy inspiring her work. Still, Los Angeles presented its own set of challenges. The weather, while incredible, made her feel like she was stuck in a simulation - waking up every day, every month in the same sunshine; no seasons to mentally mark growth.  On top of that, she missed real people and was worn down by “high school-ass” situations and the “vanity shit” of Los Angeles. “People saying yes when they really mean no, and thinking that’s the nice way to handle business… A lot of stuff like that.” she recalls.

Though she’d been gone for nearly six years, Marie always stayed in touch with her Chicago roots, returning to the city every 3-4 months, always with a one way ticket and an indefinite stay in the back of her mind. So when she moved home in late December of 2016, she came with just two checked bags, a carry-on, and her DJ bag; not knowing that it was to be a permanent move. As she settled in, a seed of doubt remained, worried she’d left her name and her work behind to start over in the middle of a harsh Chicago winter. A friend checked in and told her, though, “You don’t need a city to pop off - you pop off wherever you are. You’ll make the city what it is.”

It’s a sentiment Marie took to heart, and still echoes now.

“Chicago *is* what you make it - it can be very fast paced, or you can take a day off. In New York you can never take a day off, and LA is nothing but days off.” In addition to the city as feeling like a happy medium of her two previous lives, Marie quickly felt that the creative scene had matured during her time away - becoming much supportive of its own.

It’s such a beautiful renaissance that’s happening now, and I’m glad to be home to be a part of that.

“There used to be a feeling that Chicago didn’t support you until you got respect somewhere else. When I left, there was a sense of ‘I could do that better - I’m a better rapper, I’m a better DJ.” And now? “Now it’s very uplifting. It’s very collaborative. It’s North and Southside blended. It wasn’t like that before - Southsiders didn’t come to Logan Square to kick it. But now everyone kicks it in Pilsen, Hyde Park, Logan, Wicker. People will travel for the party and support each other. It’s such a beautiful renaissance that’s happening now, and I’m glad to be home to be a part of that.”

Photo by Julien Carr

Photo by Julien Carr

That creative collaborative community is true especially for her immediate circle. She counts a lifetime friend, the aforementioned Chris Classick, as her manager - calling the situation “a real life Entourage.” And her numerous projects outside of DJing - and they are numerous - see her collaborating with creatives of all mediums and from all corners of the city. “It’s really hard for me to explain what I do because I feel like perspectives on what a DJ is are limited. Sometimes I think I confuse people when I’m asking them to be part of a project that I have going on, because they only perceive of me as ‘only’ a DJ.”

Among the the many plays she currently has in motion are: her monthly party at Blind Barber, called Kingdom, creative direction for Cold Chillen - including on major brand activations on a festival level, and charity and social projects including her For Da Kids sneaker drive, as well her Art for Social Justice project and This Is What Asian Looks Like campaign - a representation of Pan-Asian people challenging perceptions of what it means to “look” Asian. The list goes on.

Just last week, she hosted a multidisciplinary art show and party at West Town’s The Annex called Filipinx - exhibiting the art, music and perspectives of those with a cultural identity stemming from the Philippine Islands.

Though she claims to get anxious when she thinks too far ahead, her fall and winter slate is packed as well, including (on top of her Blind Barber residency) an opening set for CupcakKe at Red Bull Music festival, a small East Coast run, a show in Oakland, and, in a return to her roots, a single ready to drop. The track will likely find its way into her forthcoming EP, which will be her first full project since 19.

She’s understandably tight-lipped when it comes to specifics on what that will sound like, but when asked, answers with something that sounds more like an all-encompassing mission statement for who she’s been since returning to the city.

“I think with any artist it’s like you create and then you create some more. I don’t think I’ll ever have a set sound. I know if I like it, and I know if I don’t. I just want to work, and be about the music, and create with my friends and have fun while I’m doing it.”

“All I know is that I want to make people dance and vibe. No matter what feeling you walk in with - good, bad, sad - if you’re here to kick it with me, then I appreciate that, and I hope that you leave uplifted and having had a good time...Yeah I do music, but I’m trying to build community.”