Maker Faire New York: DJ Shakey Interview

Maker Faire New York: DJ Shakey Interview

Photo by Nina Mouritzen

No discussion of the sights and sounds of Maker Faire would be complete without mention of the innovative music represented. The musicians at the Faire are rarely content simply making music with what’s available; instead they use their ingenuity and creativity to devise means of expressing themselves exactly as they like. One such musician is Julie Covello, aka DJ Shakey, and she’ll be performing on the Music Stage at the tail end of Maker Faire New York, on Sunday, September 30, at 4:20. We caught up with Julie to find out more.

1. Tell us about your Voltaxe controller. How does it work and how did you develop it?
One of my favorite aspects of the Voltaxe controller is that it hangs around my shoulders like a guitar so that the audience can see my hands, I can be mobile, and I can interact with my fellow musicians as well as the crowd. The Voltaxe is a combination of a few smaller controllers that are on the market. It also has a trackball mouse attached to it. I designed it to have the functionality I desired as well as to be ergonomically easy and fun to play. It took quite a bit of trial and error plus troubleshooting to make the system work. I was fortunate to have an artist-in-residency at the Clocktower Gallery in NYC as well as support from the Jerome Foundation. It still is a prototype. At Maker Faire I’ll be joined by jazz singer Svetlana Shmulyian, Trumpet Grrrl, and Karl Scholz, the creator of WerkBench, a “live” sampling beatbox app.

2. With all of the available music gadgetry, why did you decide to make your own?
Electronic music performers can look very static on stage, especially if they need to do a lot of mousing. I do plenty of sitting and mousing in my office — on stage, I want to move!

3. How long have you been making music and how did you get started?
I have been a DJ for over 20 years. I consider my work in “Controllerism” an extension of that — just wanting to be able to manipulate the music more, manifest some of the ideas that I have that go beyond what you can do in a DJ booth. I also love to play with my musician friends.

4. This isn’t your first time at Maker Faire. Tell us about your previous experience and why you decided to participate again.
Last year I played with my long-time music partner and bass-aholic Aaron Goldsmith, aka Aaroneous. We have a number of acts as a duo — we play a “Hobo-Tech” set as well as live “Electro Swing.” Our name is FreebassBK and we have a few releases on Cotopaxi Music. Aaron collects basses from all over the world. Sometimes he’ll bring about 10 of them on stage and we’ll do a world-beats jam. He has since moved to San Francisco to study ethno-musicology but we are able to play together now and then.

Maker Faire is one of my favorite events of all time and I’m thrilled to participate. Also, practically all my friends are doing activities here!

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5. You volunteer your time teaching young women to DJ at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. What has that experience been like?
At Willie Mae Rock Camp a typical camp session is one week, and most of the girls I’ve worked with have been between 9 and 13 years old. We teach them the basics of DJing in the first couple days and then they put together a DJ set or DJ along with a band and practice every day. By Saturday there is a big performance and all the acts play. The music is amazing!!!! It’s a total inspiration how in just one week it all comes together into this awesome show. It’s powerful.

6. You have over 9000 vinyl albums in your collection and host Shakey’s Record Fair. What’s your take on the decline of vinyl and prevalence of digital formats?
I don’t hate on any music formats — I have and use them all! Vinyl is awesome, sounds great, looks great, cool covers, liner notes, rare tracks, what’s not to love?! But CDs are great, too: the most stable and portable of all the formats, the go-to format for mobile DJs and international travelers (so many UK DJs show up with CDs). Digital can’t be beat for having thousands of tracks on hand, manipulating the music with cue points, sound FX, loops, etc. iPads you can throw in your backpack and DJ a set anywhere — in the car, in a boat, on a float, in a parade — it’s all good!

7. Tell us about the Warper Party you host. How long has it been going on and what changes have you seen over the years?
When I first started using Ableton Live in about 2005, I thought of throwing a party for other users, sort of an “Open Mic” thing. Long story short, it turned out that the artists preferred to have scheduled set times, and although many of them used Ableton, some did not, so we ended up with our current format, which is to have artists sign up in advance and to keep it open to any “forward-thinking” electronic musician. It was a huge success and countless artists came out of the woodwork doing every kind of performance imaginable. We have been going for over 6 years now as a monthly party and the community is really strong — some of the coolest people I’ve ever had the privilege to hang with. To check us out, we have a Warper Party Facebook group and a radio show on Art International Radio as well as

8. What do you love most about NYC?
I love New York’s diversity. There is so much to explore here — so many music styles represented and people doing interesting things, lots of cross-pollination — it’s like artistic heterosis. It just seems to come out better from NY (IMHO!).

For all the information you need to join us this weekend, September 29 and 30, at the New York Hall of Science, head to the Maker Faire New York site.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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