“I Know a Little About a Lot of Styles”: An Interview With Doctor Jeep

Michael McKinney speaks to Doctor Jeep about his early love for metal music, making bootlegs, the relationship between his production and mixing processes and much more.
By    June 22, 2023

Image via Doctor Jeep/Instagram

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Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”

As Doctor Jeep, André Lira has been producing rough-and-tumble dance music for over a decade, and he’s been impossible to pin down the whole time. In 2016, the Doctor Jeep sound was unlike his sound in 2018, and again for 2020. He has built a career by ricocheting between styles, reaching for anything that’s speedy, playful, and indebted to contemporary UK club styles: Night Slugs-esque halftime and dubstep, bass-heavy breakbeat, screw-face drum-and-bass, firestarting dembow. It should come as little surprise that he considers himself a dance-music generalist.

In one sense, Lira is emblematic of what makes New York’s contemporary club circuit so exciting: it is shot through with cultural specificity but aimed squarely at anything-goes dancefloors; it is both tongue-in-cheek and deadly serious. But his sound—which moves from traditional Brazilian dance music to contemporary UK nightclubs and back—carries a specificity that sets him apart from his peers. He is far from the only person stretching the definition of what Latin American electronic music can sound like—to pull a few names of many, Brooklyn’s DJ Python makes reggaetón that is both dreamlike and roughshod, and Miami’s Nick León, alongside DJ Babatr, has played a central role in bringing the raucous sounds of raptor house—a Venezuelan-born style of house music—to the States, twisting it into new forms in the process. But never mind the rest of the scene: Doctor Jeep differentiates himself through sheer vim.

Lira’s productions snake between energies, tempi, and continents at a maddening pace; in the past decade, the main throughline holding his music together has been an anything-goes approach to globally-minded club sounds. Now, though, he’s looking to hone things in a bit. The DJ-producer was born to Brazilian parents, and he’s been neck-deep in the New York club scene for quite some time. His latest EP, Push the Body, sees the producer fusing these cross-cultural ideas to riveting results: dubstep and baile and UK bass, all tossed into the melting pot and brought to a boil. With his most recent mix, Lira leaned ever further into the psychedelia possible in speedy club music, going deep on the intersections between bass-heavy baile, steamrolling techno, and fidgety dubstep.

The new direction seems to be working. The titular track from Push the Body has been lighting clubs on fire for the past several months with no signs of slowing down, and he’s getting increasingly prestigious placements. The morning after a closing set in Minneapolis, we got a chance to catch up with Lira, going deep on his approach to DJing, how he keeps ravers on their toes, his stylistic influences, and the importance of humor on the dancefloor.

Congratulations on getting into grad school.

Doctor Jeep: Thank you.

What will you be studying?

Doctor Jeep: I’m going to this program at NYU called ITP, which stands for Interactive Telecommunications Program. It’s billed as an engineering school for artists, or an art school for engineers. If you already have some sort of art background, they’ll teach you things like physical fabrication; if you’re an engineer or a coder, you’ll do more artistic and philosophical work. I make club music, and in the pandemic, all the clubs closed. When the environment for that artwork didn’t exist, I didn’t really feel motivated to make music. There were about nine months where I didn’t make any music at all. During that period, I discovered this field called generative art: basically, making art with code. And I was fascinated by it! I downloaded this program called TouchDesigner, which is my new baby outside of Ableton. It’s a software for making interactive art. A lot of things you see that have motion-tracking cameras or some sort of human input are usually coded in TouchDesigner. So far, I’ve mostly used it for animations on Instagram or whatever, but I’d like to make more immersive art.

Traditionally, if you go to an art gallery, you’ll see a painting, have some sort of emotional reaction, and leave. But my favorite artwork is material where the viewer has a hand in the creation—for example, when there’s a Microsoft Kinect (a motion-tracking camera) and the audience / participant is doing something with their arms and hands and, in the process, changing the artwork in some way. I’m also interested in generative art; it lets me bang out a bunch of iterations and discover things in that process. A lot of what I’ve been doing has been audio-reactive, which is a win-win—I can promote my own music and have it be more visually interesting than a still image, and it’s not another video of the track getting played out or another HÖR promo clip.

Whenever I post that kind of stuff, it gets less engagement than the rest of my material, but I’m way more proud of it, and it’s a way to build my portfolio. When I’m in grad school, I’ll have to leave my full time job—right now, I work as a project manager for a sound design creative agency. I’ll have to find freelance work. I got my first commision last month; it was an animation for a friend’s release, and while it didn’t work out to much more than minimum wage after the amount of hours I spent on it, I want to work with my friends and help them out.

In the past, you’ve mentioned an early love for metal—you were in a cover band in high school. Let’s go a bit further back, though: what did you listen to growing up?

Doctor Jeep: So, my parents are Brazilian. I feel like, in Brazilian culture, most of the popular music is the same 15 or 20 songs covered in all sorts of different ways. When I was growing up—from very early childhood until I was 10 or so—it was pretty much exclusively that material: bossa nova and other Brazilian music. When I started buying my own CDs, I was first into pop punk—Blink-182, Green Day, et cetera. My first concert, actually, was Blink and Green Day at Madison Square Garden.

From there, things diverged a bit: I got into folk and indie rock. But, at the same time, I was really into Norwegian Black Metal and other dark, aggressive styles. I’ve always been interested in the sonic diversity that’s possible in music. I never really understood when, in high school, the “popular kids” would only listen to, like, the Beatles, Jack Johnson, and Dave Matthews Band, which are all pretty stylistically similar. Even then, I remember thinking, “why do I focus so much on musical diversity while some people zoom in on one thing?”

I started playing guitar when I was eight or nine. I played in a few bands, and in high school, I was part of a band that would do metal covers: ’80s shred metal bands like Iron Maiden and such at first. Over time, we got more technically complex, covering really technical stuff by groups like Dragonforce. I was okay at guitar, but two of my friends were very gifted at it and way more technically adept, so I ended up playing bass. I wrote music then, too; I used this program called TabIt, which converted guitar tabs to MIDI sounds. That was my first introduction to electronic music, I think.

Well, that’s not quite true: when I was 11 or 12, I had a rudimentary DJ-controller game, and I heard Dieselboy and that kind of early-2000’s drum-and-bass. At the time, I didn’t love it. But as I got more into metal and hardcore, I was like, “oh, there’s similarities here: I play fast and aggressive music, and drum-and-bass is those things, too.”

Later, my friend bought this Justice album, , and he was playing it in his car. I’ve never heard anything like it— I was like, “this is crazy. It sounds like ’80s rock and metal, but with an electronic tint to it.” From there, I got into French house—Daft Punk, Stardust. In college, I found FabricLive.37, which I bought because I loved the artwork. That opened my eyes to dubstep, which led to my love of UK club music: Hessle Audio, Hemlock, Night Slugs, stuff like that.

From there, was it lights out on rock?

Doctor Jeep: Kind of, yeah. I sold all my instruments and gear to buy studio monitors and a DJ controller. I was fully committed at this point. My roommates were into Animal Collective and such at this point, and so was I! But I didn’t want to make, or play, that kind of stuff any more.

Let’s dig into your early stylistic influences. I’ve heard you reference Ben UFO and Oneman as early favorite DJs. What drew you to them?

Doctor Jeep: I’d put them, alongside Jackmaster, as my top three at the time. They have a way of weaving through styles and genres that’s so seamless! Generally, you’ll have specialist DJs and generalists, and they’re all generalists. They still have identifiable styles: Oneman and Jackmaster both mixed much faster than Ben, but he had the most interesting tracks. There’s this one LuckyMe mix from Ben UFO, and there’s several tracks on there that completely changed how I heard music. He played this one trippy deep-house track by this Baltimore DJ-producer Karizma, and he found a way to make that work with a more modern Night Slugs club-smashing record. Again and again, he mixed things that seem completely incompatible. I really admire that about him.

I studied neuroscience in college: I wanted to study what differences, whether genetic or cultural, make it so that people liked certain kinds of music. In college, I studied abroad in London, at a graduate school program at Goldsmiths. They were running a study on what aspects of certain songs become popular—what becomes earworms. My job was to transcribe every top-40 hit for the past 40 years into MIDI. From there, they’d use computer software to find the note distances that would make for the catchiest possible melody. When I first moved there, though, I didn’t know anyone. I messaged this guy who ran a YouTube channel called “OOUKFunkyOO.” He’d reach out to artists and upload their unreleased music, using it as a promotional tool. I asked him: “Hey, man, I don’t know anyone here. Can we meet up this weekend?” He invited me to join him and his friends at an upcoming Hessle Audio night at fabric.

There were, like, 18 DJs that night! Ben UFO, Pearson Sound, Jackmaster, Oneman, Kode9, Ikonika—just so many people that I’d been dying to see. So I met up with him—and the thing about him is that he’s a head. He’s got an encyclopedic knowledge; he carries three or four 5-terabyte hard drives, just filled with music. But his friends were normal people by comparison. I was talking to one guy there, and he was a folk musician. I said I was surprised that he was going to fabric, and he didn’t see why that was weird at all: he said that clubs were such a part of their culture that of course he’d take MDMA and rave for ten hours. My mind was blown: I couldn’t believe how deep clubbing and raving went in their cultural lexicon.

That night, Jackmaster put on “Archangel.” I never thought I’d hear that in a club! It was beautiful, being surrounded by people who were immersed in this stuff. The production quality of his material is obviously super high, even if it’s not necessarily balanced for club systems: there might not be as much sub-bass, that kind of thing. But when you hear it in that environment, none of that matters. It’s all about being immersed in that sound. People were crying on the dance floor.

You seem to be speaking towards a kind of omnivorousness: a style built around asking “why not?” Is this a product of how widely you’ve always listened, or is it you wanting to connect the sounds you love, or is it something else entirely?

Doctor Jeep: The first exposure I had to really wild blends in person was this DJ called Wheez-ie. The other night, I was looking through Instagram and I found someone asking about a blend he did a decade ago: it sounded like a juke remix of Enya—as it turns out, it was just the original Enya track mixed with a DJ Rashad bit, if I remember correctly. I was able to see him live in Boston—he used to live there, and I went to college there. And I’d say to myself, “I want to do that.” I wanted to have those “holy shit!” moments in the club. If I get someone to laugh and dance, that means someone’s having a good time; I can provide a form of escape for people, even if only for a moment.

So it’s half that, and it’s half a desire to connect all these different styles I love. How am I gonna get from point A to point B? Make a shortcut! Take the warp hole! Many times, it doesn’t work; it might not pay off. But sometimes it does, and there’s nothing quite like that.

With that livewire style in mind, how do you prep for a night out?

Doctor Jeep: I DJ at home a lot, and that gives me a chance to find blends without any pressure. I’ll tag things in Rekordbox so I know what stuff goes together. I recently did a mix for Boiler Room’s SYSTEM series, and I practiced that one for ages: I laid down the same set probably nine or ten times before recording it. I used to make a playlist for every night, but that took way too long. I’ll do that for really big gigs—a recent back-to-back with Ron [Like Hell], my tour with Fixate a few years back. But nowadays, I make folders for every month: Bandcamp downloads, promos, whatever. So some of it is pre-planned, but some of it is totally improvised live, and there’s no better feeling than when it works.

Speaking of blends: I was revisiting your 10-year compilation the other day, and that’s got a ton of bootlegs on it: Run-DMC, KW Griff. What’s your approach to bootlegs?

Doctor Jeep: People need something to grasp onto, I think. There’s a project on my Bandcamp, The Collection, which I released under my alias DJ Bark Lee. That project is entirely made up of edits of other tracks, but in the style of Baltimore club. That’s my most popular material by a huge margin; it’s been downloaded, like, two or three times as much as my other stuff. It’s really clubby, and it’s built with recognizable materials. That can be a lifesaver: sometimes I’ll play really dark and heavy stuff, and I love that, but you need something that people will know.

Why Baltimore?

Doctor Jeep: It’s really just about functional dance music. I had a Baltimore sample pack, and I wanted to see how I could play with it. I asked myself, “how can I manipulate a vocal?” Baltimore and Jersey club have a really recognizable sound to their vocal chops; you immediately know if you’re listening to them. I put this out over a decade ago, and I still get people telling me how much they’re into it. And that’s crazy to hear! Ten years ago, I didn’t think I’d still be doing music now.

In the past, you’ve talked about folks expecting you to still play halftime. Does this feel similar?

Doctor Jeep: Usually, when people tell me “I really liked that track you did,” it’s about a halftime track from 2016, and I don’t really do that style of halftime any more. There is halftime I do like, but that’s not it anymore at this stage in my career. There’s a track I did called “Dissociate,” which got big inasmuch as a halftime track can. It feels corny to me now; I actually deleted the original version of it from my USBs, although I do have a few versions that are a bit more in line with what I do now. When I get those kinds of comments, on one hand, it’s kind of irritating—I want to evolve as an artist. But, at the same time, there are artists where I love their work from one era but not so much now. So I can’t be too judgemental. Over time, I’ve come to realize that the kind of stuff I love is rooted in the drums. It’s the drums that make me dance.

Makes sense that you’re doing a SYSTEM set, then.

Doctor Jeep: It’s funny; that came about after my release on Tra Tra Trax. Initially, it was going to be a mix of Brazilian stuff—more baile funk, et cetera—but it turned into something completely different. The set showcases a variety of sounds I like, and I think it’s pretty psychedelic. I’m happy with how it turned out, because that’s the kind of stuff I want to play; I want to play with more Latin sounds.

My family goes to Brazil every year for Christmas; we spend two weeks there. Last time I was there, my cousin showed me some really crazy baile funk that was getting some radio play. It’s really experimental stuff! There’s a ton of variety in the genre: there’s the sexier, more popular stuff, which is radio friendly, and there’s some truly bizarre sound-design stuff on the other end of the spectrum. The drum patterns are often pretty off-the-grid, so it can be difficult to mix. Last January, I did a baile funk special for Hodge’s Rinse FM show, and that was a really interesting challenge: I so rarely do just one style. Earlier this year, I had two Brazilian promoters in New York reach out—they were doing a baile funk show, and they wanted to know if I’d headline, which I immediately agreed to.

For the past few years, I’ve been wanting to lean more into Brazilian things. Aside from wanting to respect my heritage, it’s a nice differentiator; it keeps me from being just another random white guy DJing in New York. On one of these trips to Brazil, I remember saying to myself, “this culture is so beautiful—why have I not explored more of this?” Most people I know don’t come from a dual heritage background, and there’s something to that. I grew up in New Jersey speaking Portuguese—I was taught it before I learned English. There’s so much to the language that doesn’t translate to English. And I said to myself, “why am I not putting this into my music?”

Nowadays, I’m seeing how I can do that—in terms of vocal samples, percussion tracks, that kind of thing. One of my forthcoming releases on a UK label is a synthesis of these styles: Brazilian sounds melded with UK bass. It feels more authentic to me. My music has been so diverse over the course of my career, but now I want to hone in on something and have a more distinctive sound.

Given your range, is that a product of you wanting to build a more obvious sonic identity?

Doctor Jeep: Yeah. If someone were to ask me what my music sounds like, I want to be able to give a clear answer: “A bit of everything” is a cop-out, and “my music is inspired by Brazilian music and UK bass” gives people an idea of what to expect. Even if that’s not necessarily true—there might be Chicago house vocals, dubstep, or dancehall rhythms. Again, it all comes back to the drums, and the rest comes from there.

How do your production and mixing relate to each other?

Doctor Jeep: They’re very much part of the same practice. I produce music that’s meant to be functional in a club, so I’m always thinking about how a DJ might mix a track. Earlier on in my career, I wasn’t thinking about that as much. Maybe the intro would be a little too busy, or maybe the second drop would be too off-the-wall. Now, I make material that’s a bit cleaner, a bit simpler. It might not be as easy to listen to in isolation, but it’s appropriate material for the club.

For me, there’s no better feeling than hearing my stuff played out. At this point, I feel pretty good at telling if something’s a dud on the dancefloor; I’ve made enough music that I’m confident in that space. So I’m able to be more authentic to myself. For a long time, I was making stuff that worked well for certain scenes—take the halftime tracks I did. When that started getting big, I thought, “okay, I need to make more music like this.” But it started getting watered down, and it stopped feeling like me.

More recently, I’ve been lucky enough to see that people like me for me. So I’m more confident in my work now. I used to have very low self-confidence, but now I trust my vision. It’s the same thing with DJing: I’m feeling more okay with myself, and I’m more confident in challenging crowds a bit. Maybe not everyone will love it, but a few people will think, “that was crazy—what is this track?” Sometimes that happens with my own tracks, and that feels fantastic. Sometimes, you get there with cheat codes—a Missy [Elliott] acapella, a flip of a hot track—but, sometimes, it’s just the drums. Seeing people get down to tracks you haven’t released yet is a great feeling.

How do you dig and find what avenues you want to explore next?

Doctor Jeep: This answer has changed over the years. I used to listen to mixes religiously— all day, every day. I’d look at the tracklists and write down stuff that caught my ear. With my current job, though, I’m on meetings all day; I don’t listen to anything from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. At this point, most of my digging happens via promotional emails, Bandcamp, and YouTube wormholes. I listen to my promos religiously; I listen to everything that shows up in my inbox. I get a lot of material from friends: I just grab IDs from what they’re playing. I’d share just about anything I play, too—not the file, but at least the name.

Which DJs do you find the most inspirational at the moment?

Doctor Jeep: Simo Cell is definitely up there. He finds so many obscure tracks—that man digs! Seeing him inspired me to go much deeper with my own digging; some of the funk I play, for example, is only on SoundCloud – you can’t find it on Bandcamp or Beatport. Ploy, too: two years ago, TSVI and Ploy played this big party, Club Night Club. That party’s fantastic: they have DVS1’s sound system, good lights, and a great crowd.

At one Club Night Club show recently, I remember Bruce playing some really out-there tracks. There’s one track he played that heavily sampled Sonic 3’s “Carnival Zone,” but as it turns out, was just the Thomas The Tank Engine theme. People were looking around, like, “what the hell?” I couldn’t believe he was getting away with it! It was hysterical. Certain DJs I like never seem to play a track more than once, even across gigs, which I really admire.

What makes that so impressive to you?

Doctor Jeep: Bit of a roundabout answer here, but when I was starting production in college, I discovered Jersey Club and Baltimore Club music for the first time. One of the biggest DJs in that scene, DJ Technics, was selling sample packs, so I sent him $50 on PayPal and got a link to a Dropbox folder—like, ten gigabytes of music. It was funny, because you could see who else had access to that folder, and saw there were a few I highly admired at the time, including David Kennedy [Pearson Sound]. One track in the pack was a Jersey edit of the Bill Nye the Science Guy theme song. I ended up playing it a lot, and almost every time I played it out, it ended up on Instagram stories. It was funny, but I had to retire it; I play a lot more than just that. I almost ended up playing it [at a recent show], but I went, “No. Do not do it—do not play the Bill Nye theme.”

It comes back to pigeonholing: I don’t want to be known for playing particular tracks. There are some DJs I’ll see that I love, but I kind of know what to expect—it’s when, not if, they’ll play “Skeng.” And I love that song! But you’ve got to be versatile.

The first set I heard from you might be a bit unusual, then, because it’s so specific: that slow drum-and-bass set you did a few years back. Your Untitled 909 set might be in a similar vein, too—music played at the “wrong speed,” stretched out and twisted up. My mind immediately goes towards DJ Screw, but I’m not sure if I’m off base. What’s your relationship to tempo and BPM?

Doctor Jeep: If you take a track and change it by 30 BPM, you’ve got two completely different tracks. It gives new life to material! The slow drum-and-bass set wasn’t intentional at all—I was at home on a Friday evening, I cracked open a beer, and I put some records on at the wrong speed by accident. But it worked, so I hit record and went for an hour. I put it up on SoundCloud right away with no edits, which I usually don’t do. But, for some reason, it got a lot more plays than usual—Philip Sherburne covered it for Pitchfork. With that, I took 170 BPM-ish tracks to 125 BPM or so, which totally changes their key and often changes their emotional qualities. It’s definitely outside of my comfort zone; I typically play a bit faster than that. I like playing 115 stuff! But it’s not high-energy enough to close out a night; it’s not what people are expecting to hear at 2 a.m. It might work at 9 p.m., but not at the end of the night.

One of my favorite things to do is to take drum-and-bass and mix that with dancehall records: say, a slowed-down Sean Paul track and a sped up drum-and-bass tune. If you do it right, it’s almost an auditory illusion; it sounds like it’s moving at two speeds at once. Personally, when I dance in the club, I think that shifting tempos give me a breath of fresh air and keep me on my toes; I want to make sure other dancers get that experience, too. It’s very rare that a long-form set keeps my attention if it’s all around one tempo. Ron Like Hell recently did that, actually—he played all night at Nowadays, and I was fully locked in on the dancefloor and didn’t even leave to take a break outside. But if you’re going to try to mix like that, you need incredibly deep crates, and you need a ton of experience. It’s a specialist versus generalist thing, and I’m the latter.

What’s your approach to constructing blends?

Doctor Jeep: Sometimes, it’s simply about finding things that people know and reimagining them; sometimes, it’s about finding two separate rhythmic patterns that might combine in an interesting way. I really like putting dark and heavy stuff against more playful material; there’s a blend I’ve made that puts “Teach Me How To Dougie” on top of pitch-black halftime [AU’s “Fear Dem”]. And it works; it turns heads, and people dance. I like those kinds of dichotomies.

Other times, I want to find ways to enmesh different beats: maybe one track will have the snare on one and three, and another on two and four. So I’ll blend tracks together to get the drums to line up.

I’m not trying to make some sort of statement in the way I mix; I’m just trying to blend things that I love. I think it’s really fantastic when DJs pull that kind of thing off—like, with Ploy again, I recently heard a set of his where he was fusing UK drill with Chicago footwork. And, theoretically, that could work if they’re approximately the same BPM. But it’s a really specific fusion; he pulled it off, because he’s phenomenal. When I try for something like that, it’s often more like, “well, that was ambitious.” I just switch styles because, frankly, after fifteen or twenty minutes, I’ll get bored. And that’s not the case when I’m dancing; I could hear a three-hour UK garage set from Conducta. But he’s an expert in his field, and I’m not; I know a little about a lot of styles.

What would you say your relationship is now with UK club music?

Doctor Jeep: It’s strong. I mean, all my favorite DJs are coming from there. I’ve not been there for a while, but I will be there for a few weeks in August after Dekmantel. I’m looking forward to it; I want to re-engage with the clubs out there. I’ll see videos from, I don’t know, Venue MOT at 7 a.m., and the crowds are game for anything. This is the case in New York, too, but not necessarily in the rest of the States. Most of the time when I work with promoters in the States, I’ll ask if there’s something a club’s audience typically likes. I won’t necessarily cater to that, but it’ll help me structure a set. Sometimes, they’ll tell me to just “do me,” which doesn’t help at all; I’ve changed my sound so much over the years that they might be thinking of where I was eighteen months ago.

That breadth is informative, though; it feels like UK club music has grown to be such a wide idea that it might not even be helpful at this point.

Doctor Jeep: Of course! It’s a melting pot; you’ve got people with all sorts of global dance-music backgrounds. So you’ve got jungle, dancehall, and amapiano all coexisting. Think about what Scratcha‘s been doing—years ago, he was playing a lot of grime and UK funky, and now he’s strongly focusing on doing gqom and amapiano. I lean on him hard to keep up with what’s going on in that specific universe.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

Doctor Jeep: I’ve got a number of EPs coming out this year. There’s one out in late summer, and the tracks are done; I’ve just got to mix them. I’ve got something coming out with Nerve Collect, Identified Patient and Gamma Intel‘s label later in the fall. I had a Zoom call with them the other day, and they were super sweet; they have a ton of faith in my craft. I have a few others that I can’t announce at this point, but I’m very excited for it all.

Beyond that, I’m planning to revamp the DJ Bark Lee stuff—I want to make it less about Baltimore specifically and more about regional music. I want to have fun with it and create songs in really specific styles. As Doctor Jeep, I’ll pull from all over; as Bark Lee, I want to work within pretty tight constraints. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel; I want to challenge myself with specifics.

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