Balance Is Everything: Interview With Magda Halina
I recently had the privilege of chatting up Magda Halina, an up-and-coming DJ/producer from Los Angeles. She spins some sick house music and has been building a great community on Twitch over the pandemic. She went the DIY route by learning how to make electronic music in her room. Magda has played everywhere from a humble steakhouse (learn more in the interview) to some of the hottest clubs in Los Angeles. Check out our chat below.
So Magda, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you originally from? Where do you live now?
I was born in Vancouver, B.C., and I lived there until I was about eight. My family then moved to California, and I’ve been living here ever since. I’m in SoCal currently. The Orange County, Los Angeles area.
What got you into doing music?
I’m the youngest of four siblings. My two older brothers are super into music. Both guitar players into funk, soul, blues, and rock. They kind of influenced my taste and my style over time. I used to sing with my brother in his band. That was my introduction to music in general. Then he started teaching me a little bit of guitar, and I started getting really interested in learning other elements of music other than just singing from time to time. Then I ended up going to Lightning in a Bottle, the first big festival rave that I went to where I was really exposed to the electronic music scene and DJing. I learned some more about production and got super inspired. This was in 2016. It’s been about fives years of being on my journey. Evert since then I’ve been simultaneously teaching myself how to produce and DJ.
That’s cool. Five years of grinding is a long time.
There was a year or so in the bedroom just learning. After that, I was actively playing gigs and releasing music for four years.
Four years is a long time to be doing shows.
Yeah, I think it’s a good amount of experience under my belt at this point.
I’ve been doing press coverage for about the same amount of time. It’s crazy how time flies by.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, too, but I ended up expressing myself musically. It’s easier for me.
I get that though. I played violin and guitar growing up and haven’t practiced in years. I want to get back to it but life gets in the way.
For sure. That’s why I never went super deep into playing guitar even though I learned and discovered my musical capabilities through playing guitar. I couldn’t put the time into getting really good at guitar because to me it’s like I could get really good at just playing guitar and then what? I still need a producer. I still need a band. I shifted my focus into production so I could be the one-man band from beginning to end and not have to rely on anyone else.
I get that. You want to do your own artistic direction. So you have a unique perspective playing from a stage and get to see all the shenanigans that are happening. What’s one of the craziest things you’ve seen while performing? Tell me about performing in general.
I can’t say I’ve really witnessed too much craziness. I was in the crowd for many, many years before I really started playing on stages. Some clubs and stages are really intimate. You feel like you are part of the crowd. Then I’ve played on some really big stages where you almost feel disconnected. It’s kind of hard to see what’s going on. I’ve played at Academy and Belasco. At these big stages, you can kind of feel the energy of the people upfront or collectively, but it’s hard to see exactly what’s going on. Especially if you are focused on trying to pick the next track. You can definitely feel a certain energy.
I’ve also been a promoter for many years. I’ve witnessed things as a promoter. Funny things. There was one time we had a DJ playing that the crowd got so wild they almost knocked over the whole DJ setup, which was pretty funny. But yeah, I can’t say I’ve had an experience that has stuck with me yet. Any time I’ve played on a big stage I’m usually the opening set, so people are still just getting warmed up for the night. Craziness usually happens later on.
Yeah, I get that. People that turn up super early usually die off around 10 o’clock. So when you’re not performing at a festival or show, what do you usually do?
When the pandemic hit and there were no shows, I started leaning into live streaming. Everyone was doing it. I got on Twitch and started building a community. I grew a really awesome, strong community. I still live stream to this day. It’s actually been sustaining me to a certain degree. When I’m not playing shows, I’m usually live streaming or producing music. And of course I occasionally go out to my fair share of shows and experiences. I’ll go support my friends and local DJs. Pretty much my whole life at this moment revolves around music one way or another. I will try to find time to go out to roller skate. I’m not super good or anything. My boyfriend and I will go out and skate around the neighborhood to catch some sun.
That’s cool. Good to get out with everyone being cooped up for so long. What has been your favorite venue or festival to play at so far?
So there’s this little steakhouse in Orange County called La Cave. It has totally underground cave vibes. There was a weekly event there on Wednesdays for many, many years before the pandemic. It was seriously one of my favorite venues to ever play at. It was always so intimate. The sound was always bumping. The vibes were incredible. I had a residency there, so I played there pretty often. I played a lot of venues in L.A. and O.C. but there was nothing like playing there. Truly it was really special.
That’s such a weird place, but I get it. You never know where you’re going to find that magic.
Definitely. I have played bigger clubs. Next to La Cave, one of my best experiences was playing at Academy’s main stage. There’s something really cool about that venue compared to other clubs at its level. Academy and Exchange are two of the biggest clubs in L.A. that Insomniac owns. Exchange is cool but the DJ booth is really far away from the crowd. The Academy DJ booth makes you feel more level with the crowd. You feel more connected, which I think is really cool. I played at Academy twice. But nothing beats a small steakhouse with no lights and sweaty vibes. There is something special about it.
What is the festival you dream of performing at?
Definitely Lightning in a Bottle or Desert Hearts. Those two are at the top of my list of goals, goals, goals.
Any particular reason these two made the cut?
I just love the communities. I love Desert Hearts’ community, and they sort of flow over into the same community as Lightning in a Bottle. There’s just something a little bit more transformative about it. It’s more about the total artistic experience. These festivals usually have more than just music. They’ll usually have seminars and tons of artists and live painting. You can really feel the community comes together as a whole and not just on the music front. There definitely something really special about that.
It’s really awesome where there’s more than just music at a festival. You get a more fulfilled experience.
Yeah, it’s definitely a more fulfilled, balanced experience. Although I’m mainly there for the music, there’s something special about having a whole community involved as opposed to people just consuming music. If you’re an artist or if you’re a painter there’s a community there for you. If you’re a dancer there’s a community there for you. If you’re a speaker or philosopher there’s a community there for you. It’s a cool vibe. Burning Man type vibes without going full Burning Man.
I’ve been to a few festivals with that kind of community vibe. It makes you want to go back every year. So what was the first album you ever bought?
You know it’s hard to say. I grew up in the age of illegally downloading music. I also grew up at the end of the CD era and the beginning of the MP3 era. Some of the first albums I owned were OG Beyonce and Black Eyed Peas albums. I grew up loving to sing, so Beyonce was my freaking queen. I remember having the Black Eyed Peas albums Monkey Business and Elephunk for my CD player before I had an iPod Nano. Eventually when I got an iPod Nano those were some of the first albums I downloaded and sought out. I listened to them over and over again. My influence extends many, many directions.
That’s good, though, You went an interesting route starting with blues, rock, and funk. Then you went into production and DJing. Not many people take this route.
My two older brothers really influenced me even though I grew up in the early 2000s during a big pop and R & B era. I pull from a lot of influences. When I was in middle and high school I was a music fanatic. Even before I was a DJ. Even before I was singing with my brother and his band. I was always the curator among my friends anytime we were hanging out. I would be the one on the aux cord picking music like random Radiohead albums or whatever the hell was perfect for that vibe and moment. I just had the right vibe for every moment. There’s something I always loved about being able to curate that. I had a crazy library of music. I would sing Amy Winehouse songs and listen to funk with my oldest brother. He then started teaching me how to play guitar with some jazz influence. I would go over his house, and he would put on jazz records while we would chat and hang out. When I was exposed to the EDM scene, I naturally gravitated towards more house type stuff like Zhu and Rüfüs Du Sol. These types of artists really inspired me. They mix a live element with an electronic element, which changed my perspective on electronic music in general. I realized the possibilities are infinite. We are in an age where technology is available. I could just download software on my computer to produce music and look up tutorials on YouTube. I felt unstoppable and dove in. I still feel my original influences carry into my style and taste today. My main style is house, but ultimately I have the elements of funk, soul, and groove in my curation and music. That’s my influence and what I love.
Definitely some good influences. I will always listen to some groovy music.
I also grew up listening to a lot of psychedelic rock. My closest brother in age showed me a lot of The Mars Volta and Circa Survive kind of music. Also some math rock. I was super into that, too. It’s funny how the different generations of my family bled onto each other and influenced each other’s music tastes.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
Well, generally a lot don’t know I’m pretty young. I’m only 23 and turn 24 next month. Most of my peers are in their early 30s. I started this journey at a young age and was playing in clubs before I was old enough to get in. It’s a funny thing I look back on five years later. The only reason I am where I am at today is that I had promoters that believed in me at a young age. I jumped into doing music almost fresh out of high school. I was 19. I have been playing clubs since then. Almost two years before I was old enough to get in. I also was a dancer in middle and high school. I started off dancing before I was into music.
That’s really cool. From your unique experiences, what advice do you have for other artists?
Take everything that you learn with a grain of salt. There’s no one right way of doing anything. That’s what is interesting about music in general. Most of the greatest hit records were happy accidents. Most of the hit melodies that have transcended generations came from happy accidents. Especially with music production. I see a lot of producers teach in a way that is like “this is how you do this” when realistically there are so many ways to approach the same thing and get different results. Different doesn’t mean worse or better. Different is how you can find your own approach along the way. When you’re new definitely try to find a mentor to help guide you along the basic ways to create something. Always take any advice with a grain of salt. Look for feedback and collaborate a lot. It helps you grow and learn about other people’s approaches in helping make music and DJing. These are two different things. When you are starting out as a DJ, experience is everything. Mixing and even DJing are two different things. You can technically be good at mixing but track selection to fit a certain moment is more important than anything. Being able to really capture a crowd in any environment is a really useful tool. Having a good balance is key as well. Don’t just focus on one thing if you want to be a DJ or producer. You do need big tracks to get to those big stages and on those festival lineups. You also want to be good as a DJ and put on a good show. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by some of my favorite producers at their live shows because they don’t have as much experience playing live as they do producing music. Do try to play those smaller gigs at those bars and at those clubs. This experience is super valuable and makes you a better performer. People say you just need to be a good producer, which is true, but balance is everything.
So now for my favorite question. Hard or soft tacos?
Soft tacos. I like hard tacos, but as a meal, it feels more like I’m eating chips. I would rather just eat chips or nachos. Soft tacos for the win.
And for the final question, do you have anything new on the horizon?
On December 3rd I will be in San Diego playing direct support for QRION at Spin Nightclub. Super excited about this show. Then I will be in Fresno on December 18th at FAB nightclub. That’s what I have coming up that I can announce. I have some other projects in the works but I can’t talk about them yet. Super excited about them. I also still stream weekly on my Twitch channel. I stream every Tuesday, Friday, and sometimes in between. If anyone’s ever interested in tuning it, we have a really awesome community full of love, good vibes, and good music.