Student Profile: Aries Deng
Aries Deng first discovered hip-hop beats in middle school when a friend gave her a stack of CDs featuring artists who would change her world: Jay-Z, Tupac, Eminem, and Biggie Smalls. But aside from playing around with music sequencer SONAR, growing up in Beijing, Deng—a Chinese classically trained pianist—didn't have any real opportunities for contemporary music education.
Then she discovered Berklee. Worried she needed more preparation, Deng first came to the United States by way of the Art Institute of Atlanta, where she studied audio production and stayed with an American host family. After two semesters, she was still dreaming of Berklee and finally took the leap and applied. Now in her seventh semester, Deng is focused on spinning tunes as a DJ and producing her own music. She talks about turntables, how she got her DJ name, and how she's incorporated her culture into her music.
The following is a condensed and edited account of that conversation.
What do you like about production?
I like creating things. I like to be able to create my own stuff. I like to put my words and thoughts into something people can enjoy and relate to. I went to the (documentary) Re: Generation premiere in L.A. and saw Quincy Jones at the Berklee alumni Grammy party. He gave a speech and said: "There is only food and music. You don't have to say anything and people will understand." That is so true. Music is like a part of me. I definitely feel if I can't express my thoughts to people properly, maybe I can put it down in music notes, or a beat, something that can tell people how I think, who I am.
What's your signature sound?
Scratch-wise I definitely have this ridiculous fast movement, which my fellow DJ's call "no space." I don't leave any space. It's kind of my personality, too. I definitely deliver my personality into my music. I'm a fast paced-person. I like fast things.
Did you know you'd be able to be scratching here?
No, definitely not. I asked for a turntable for graduation gift from middle school but didn't get it. I found about Stephen Webber's Turntable Technique class when I was in my second semester. That completely changed my life. I thought, "This is what I've always wanted to do." I just played House of Blues with a band, DJ'ing with them. It was my first gig with a band.
What teachers have influenced you here?
Prince Charles Alexander is one of the teachers who's influenced me the most. He's able to keep the pace with what's happening right now today. Keep current. I always like contemporary top 40 stuff. He does that too. He's still making hits, top of the charts. His concepts automatically match mine.
What's your DJ name?
My DJ name is Oh Please, and there's a story to that. I didn't have a DJ name. I didn't think it was necessary. Everyone knows that I'm a DJ, why do I have to have DJ name? DJ Premier came to Berklee through Stephen Webber. We were performing with him and doing jam sessions, and we brought vinyls for him to sign. I was asking for his autograph and he said, "Okay, what's your DJ name?" I said, "I don't have a DJ name." He said, "I'm not signing this unless you have a DJ name. Just think of a DJ name." There were 20 people behind me. I said, "You're asking me to come up with a name right now?" He said, "Yes. It seems like you know what you're doing so you have to have a DJ name." I said, "Oh please, just sign your autograph." And he said, "Oh Please, that's your DJ name."
You said when you play music, it makes people dance, and that's a good feeling.
Yes, definitely, it's really good to see people responding to your music and have people react to your music. That's part of why I want to stay current, because I want to know what people like. That's why I want to go to clubs. I'm not even clubbing. I'm doing research. I listen to what people play and how people are reacting.
You're the president of Asian Students at Berklee. Tell me about that.
I love to connect with the Asian community at Berklee, and I want to be involved with Chinese students, too.
I wanted to get involved somehow so I joined Asian Students at Berklee. We planned the Asian Music and Cuture Festival in October, featuring different acts from different countries.
Kevin Luu and I had a Chinese set. We decided to present something Chinese culture-related. We found a Chinese instrument song and chopped it up, like a sample. We took this part and that part and created a melody. We also used Chinese phrases to scratch and interact with the crowd as a call-and-response and they loved it.
What do you want to do after Berklee?
Ultimately I want to be a producer, I really like production. I like interacting with people. Berklee offers that and I can't find it anywhere else. My fellow students are just awesome. And a DJ of course, for top 40 kind of stuff.
Will you bring what you learn back to China?
I would love to bring whatever I learn here back home but I just feel like they need some time to be fully open to what I am learning here. It's not like they don't understand. But I think in terms of music production, there's definitely a gap. I'm more than willing to fill in the gap. But it's a different environment. That's why Taiwan is more successful in the music industry right now.
What advice would you give to Chinese musicians considering coming to Berklee?
There's no place to study things like this in China. For anyone who wants come to Berklee, just go for it. Don't be afraid. I wish I came here straight after high school. If you're mentally ready, definitely come here, don't wait.