Oakland, CA — Abby Imperial is keen to share parts of herself with the world through music. But amongst it all, like everyone else, DJ Imperial is finding herself. Free-spirited and relatable, she’s constantly searching for new music; constantly evolving with each new discovery. It’s through the collection of her diverse music that DJ Imperial shares her voice.
Since first learning how to DJ under DJ Fuze at YR Media, Abby Imperial has produced her own show, "Plant Bass," with All Day Play, and frequently gigs throughout Oakland and the Bay Area. From her laid-back sense of style to her taste in music and love for searching for the perfect vinyl record, it’s clear that Abby Imperial is unapologetically herself.
In our interview, Abby and I discussed how discovering new music leads to personal growth, how DJing became an outlet for her own personal expression, and how she uses music to communicate and connect with others.
You’ve been DJing for about 4 years now, how has DJing impacted your life?
Socially, I've found more friends when it comes to DJing. It has impacted me having a voice and sounds that I can share with others, which I really appreciate. Another thing that it's impacted-definitely just meeting new people, connecting with others through music.
You mentioned having a voice through DJing — what does that mean to you?
I think it means to express myself through music, just to like play all of my favorite songs and just share it with a whole crowd is one of the best feelings ever. When people ask me, 'Oh, what song are you playing?' I'm super open to just let them know.
Tell us about the time you came up with your show, 'Plant Bass.' What was that moment like?
The name 'Plant Bass' is from the term 'Plant-Based.' Instead of spelling it 'based' it's spelled 'bass' because I like heavy bass. I'm really into drum and bass and jungle music. Last year, I did try to become vegan, so I combined the two with plant bass. Later on, I kind of fell off with the plant-based diet, so [now] I'm more focused on plants. I love plants, anything green.
What was the process of coming up with your DJ name like?
I was stuck on what to name myself as a DJ. I went with my last name, Imperial, which represents royalty and high power. I wanted to represent my family and where I'm from; I feel like Imperial just suits well for me. I'm pretty lucky, I don't think anyone has that as a last name.
How does the music that you grew up listening to influence your current music taste?
I had a bunch of phases with various music genres, however, as I get older, I love discovering new and interesting genres. I'll absorb it and note how long it takes until I get tired of it. I grew up listening to a bunch of underground hip hop, bay area rap music, and R&B. Lately, I've been digging into more underground or unheard of genres like "Dang, how come I haven't heard of this song yet? How come I haven't heard of this artist?"
Listening to your DJ mixes, you clearly have a very eclectic taste. What's your process of discovering new music?
I love to dig on YouTube, it's the easiest way for me to discover music digitally, you can find a lot of rare music on the internet. I also go to record stores and search for vinyl, CDs, and cassettes. I really love the feeling of digging through the crates. I'll look at a cover and I'm like 'This one kind of appeals to me.' If there's a blank cover and I don't know what it is, I'll give it a listen and test it out. If it sounds good to me I'm like 'Okay this is the one.'
On your Instagram, you frequently share photos of tapes and CDs. Do you prefer using records and cassettes over digital music in your sets?
I don't limit myself. I try to go for vinyl and CDs rather than MP3 because I feel like the quality sounds good. I also do love having a physical copy of my favorite music. Sometimes I'll do a vinyl set and then I'll do a Serato DJ set. I like to do a little bit of both, be more versatile.
How do you curate your live sets?
When I'm using Serato on my computer, I go back and listen to all the music that I have. Depending on the event, I'll choose a theme, throw some songs that sound right for the event. Sometimes I like to throw in a wild card and play something random just to see how the crowd feels.
So you feel like you're always trying to find new music and new genres?
Right, whatever sounds good. Lately, I've been listening to a lot of 90s R&B. That's just my go-to at the moment.
Is your creative process different when you DJ for fun versus when you play for a party?
I don't think there's that much of a difference. Whenever I'm doing a live set, I go up there and just have fun, and that goes the same for just jamming out at home.
You don't get nervous?
No, I got over that, as long as I'm having fun I think that's all that matters. Most of the time it goes both ways, where the crowd is feeling it and I'm feeling it. I don't think I've ever had a really bad gig.
I see that you perform at a lot of parties, do you have a favorite place to perform?
I really love Smartbomb, because that's my community. They have supported me a lot through the years, ever since I've been here in Oakland. I feel at home with Smartbomb. Their lineups are really good because they bring in local artists and also people from other cities who are a little more well known. I guess I have to say Smartbomb, for sure.
What's one thing you've learned through DJing?
Communication is really big and also learning that I can't always please everyone in the crowd, being open and responsive to event coordinators. When people request songs, I get a little offended, but I feel like that's pretty common for DJs. Let me just do my thing, I got this.
Any last thoughts or experiences that you want to share?
I'm really thankful for YR Media. This is where it all started.