No One Does It Like You: Getting to Know Music Curator Smiles Davis

Smiles Davis is the type of DJ that is best described as a mood curator – and a damn good one at that. Our first introduction was at our Avalon pool party, where she spun soul from the decades past and r&b from the present, creating an atmosphere that had everybody moving. Her aesthetic is otherworldly – she’s a natural beauty with a keen sense of taste. A shining gem in any room, Smiles is our newest dream girl. Get to know her below!

Q&A

LF: Hi Smiles! Welcome to Live FAST. The first wave of your career was marked by your achievements as a dancer. Can you describe your transition from dancing to dj-ing? 

SD: Most of my days dancing were spent listening to various types of music, which helped me to decide what songs felt right to connect to through my choreography. I was inspired mostly by Afro rhythms and Caribbean sounds, even then. It was equally important to find a song that evoked the spirit of the movement. So in a way, I was curating the soundtrack to people’s experiences before I even began dj-ing. The transition was so beautiful it made it easy for me to hang up my ballet slippers. While I think about returning to dance all the time, I enjoy what I do so much now, the thought of returning to my past love doesn’t keep me up at night. It’s all art. As long as I can create, I’m happy.

LF: I imagine that, as with any career shift, there were obstacles that arose as you began dj-ing. What were they? How did you overcome them?

SD: Of course, my first manager had a ton of resources to elevate me quickly, but he was a complete and utter bulldog who thought I could handle a lot of pressure considering my advanced dancer background. ‘You studied at Alvin Ailey, you can do anything!’ was sort of his mentality. So, he’d throw me into situations that demanded a lot out of me. For such a newbie to the sport, I’d become so overwhelmed that my stress level was perpetually through the roof. I think my peers picked up on that kind of tension and judged me for it, like ‘Why is she opening up for Erykah Badu and Questlove, she hasn’t earned her wings yet?’ Luckily my saving grace was that I was sincerely a nice person with impeccable music selections. I didn’t always have the best DJ etiquette but people can forgive that if you’re talented.

LF: When was the first time you fell in love with music?

SD: Alvin Ailey taught me so much about love, life, responsibility and music. In every class room there was either an assigned percussionist or a pianist. One of the percussionists in my Horton class was this beautiful black man with dreads and ridiculously toned arms. He would drum so hard and passionately on those congas, his dreads would begin to sway and beads of sweat would begin to drip down his body. If you know anything about Horton style of modern dance, you know how physical it is, how much muscle, strength and focus it takes to manage looking good doing it. I’d watch him beat those drums and lose myself in it so much so that I would lose myself in the movements. He made it easier for me and I’m sure I to him. It was this beautiful give and take and exchange of energies. I was 19 and falling in love with myself, him and the music.

LF: Dj-ing is a bit like being a mood curator. How do you align yourself with the energy of an event? Are there any tricks you have when the crowd seems tired or dull?

SD: I recently started referring to myself as a curator, that’s interesting that you’d ask me that. In the past, whenever someone asked me what I did for a living, my response would be, ‘I’m a DJ.’ It sounds so limiting and I do so much more than that. Because if I’m not having fun, no one in the room is having fun. I’ll go to the bar so fast and grab a drink to elevate my mood if I need to, as that is good and making just about anyone have fun. Dancing behind my booth helps elevate the energy in the room as does coming from behind my booth to have a dance in the crowd with my fans. That’s a new thing I recently started doing and it works wonders!

LF: Describe a surreal moment you’ve encountered as a DJ.

SD: Ahh there’s been so many! Hard to narrow it down to just one. I did just play Afropunk Brooklyn. That was pretty surreal. I’d been asking the universe to bless me with more festival gigs. About 6 months after seriously focusing on it, I got myself on a bill. Nothing in the world can replace the high from being in front of so many people just out to have a marvelous time. I’ve had so much amazing feedback from my 2 sets and even managed to be featured on the official Afropunk IG page with an imaged photographed by Hassan Hajjaj, one of my all time favorite artists. I look forward to entering the festival world and nourishing the seeds I’ve just planted.

LF: How do you define love?

SD: What a loaded question. My inclination is to say something dramatic and overly poetic but instead I’ll just say that I’m currently very much in love. That Tom Cruise jumping on couches kind of love. I’m completely vulnerable to him. It’s a bit like an obsession. He makes my heart palpitate and my palms sweat even after almost 2 years of dating. I measure my love for him by the amount of separation anxiety I feel when away from him, which is all consuming, close to nauseating. And while I don’t like to gossip, he’s at the forefront of my thoughts so much I can’t help but gush to friends I will totally have his babies.

LF: Who inspires your style musically? Who inspires your style fashion-wise?

SD: I’m so inspired by the music of Frank Ocean and Drake. No one penetrates culture like the 2 of them. Frank made me cry at FYF. I haven’t been that touched by a live performance in who knows how long. I felt him so much and felt the sense of connectivity he brought out in everyone else around me. The world needs more of that right now. Drake just knows what the people want. He keeps it fun and as a DJ that is important to me. He makes it easy for me to do my job. He catches flack for not being Caribbean or African but making Caribbean/Afro sounding music. But, I personally think he’s elevating music from those regions in a way that’s never been seen before. Afro pop is officially a thing globally!

Santigold inspires me with her fashion and stage show. She just knows culture and what looks good without forcing it. Also, her husband is the creative director for Gucci now. Trevor Andrew just helped Gucci put out one of the best fashion campaigns since the 90s. It fully embraces black culture without making a mockery of it. I’m so inspired by every single image and piece from it. Hands down my favorite.

LF: How fast do you live?

SD: I don’t sleep.

For more from DJ Smiles, listen to her mixes here.

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