Few groups capture the DIY and independent spirit of Empire Taste better than the Brooklyn-based FTC Sound, comprised of the duo QUARTZDADDI and yung moisture. FTC Sound gives us personal insight on what it’s like breaking into the music scene in the ultra-competitive creative market of New York City as DJs. We cover everything from becoming DJs and juggling a passion with a 9-to-5, to how patience and persistence have propelled FTC Sound to monthly residencies a spot on WAXX.FM, and so much more.
When did this whole process start?
YM: I’ve always really loved music. It’s something I turned to to pass the time, it makes me feel good. Because of that, I’d always tell people, “Yes, I’m a DJ.” But I didn’t know shit about any of the technical stuff, I just knew that I loved music. I love making playlists, I was the person with the aux. That love started there but it actually came to fruition when I met [Stephen]. We met about two years ago, and I told him “Hey, I’d love to be a DJ.”
QD: So I actually DJ’d a bit in college. I was kind of building a resume as a DJ. I DJ’d at a couple of house parties here and there, and I finally DJ’d this really big house party for a fraternity and it turned out as I went to take a phone call after the DJ set was over, somebody ran out the backdoor with my laptop and that was pretty much the end of my college DJ career. Being a college student, I didn’t have any money, it took me two months to get another laptop, and by that point I was like music just probably isn’t for me and continue a different route.
You gave it your shot in college and someone messed up your process. So you took a break, how long was that break?
QD: I took a break, which is interesting, because I took a break to go the fashion route and started a clothing line back in L.A. with my friend. So I took a break from music and I thought fashion was going to be the way for me, then I met Ashley and we started dating. She said she had a background in music, wanted to be a DJ, so that love for DJing regrew from when I met her and we started on the process together.
What’s the genre you would mostly label yourselves as or the genre you’re most passionate about?
YM: At the function we’re open format, play what gets the crowd moving, but for myself my folks are Jamaican, so reggae and dancehall I really enjoy that. Also, trap…not trap EDM, trap hip-hop. Also, house music as well.
QD: I’m similar I have Caribbean parents and I have a strong Caribbean background. I don’t have as much knowledge as far as reggae as much as she does. I really love Atlanta trap and Southern hip-hop and also house as well, deep house. I actually like trap too, a little bit of electronic, but same thing, open format.
YM: With us, working together it definitely works really well, our energies and our styles bounce off of each other so you get a really nice full spectrum.
QD: I’m trying to get her to put me on to Beyonce’s songs, every time I play a Beyonce song everybody dances.
YM: [Laughs] He’s cracked the code.
DJs always mention reading the crowd, how’s that been?
QD: I feel like that’s one of the easier things, it’s not something we actively think about, you can play a song, take a quick survey of the crowd, and figure it out from there. There’s ways of transitioning, we realize as DJs we’ll go out and really listen to the DJs that are playing, we can’t enjoy a party anymore. As DJs we realize we’re doing that, but people who aren’t are probably just listening to the song. So we could make certain mistakes that DJs would know but people wouldn’t know.
That’s crazy you guys really can’t enjoy yourselves at a party.
QD: We gotta be really drunk, because our brains are always like that was a cool…they probably should have chose a better song.
So you guys vibed and started building this thing together. So about the names—you’re QUARTZDADDI, and you’re yung moisture. How’d you come up with the names?
YM: My name is Ashley and there aren’t that many nicknames that come from Ashley. Coming up in elementary school, you know kids just naturally gravitate towards…Ashy Ashley [everyone laughs]. There’s nothing worse than to be seen as an ashy person in the black community, like that’s not what you want. So I made it my mission to always be moisturized. Cocoa butter was always on deck, shea butter was always on deck, you never caught me in the streets being ashy. It kind of came from there. I just threw young in front of it because why not?
QD: Unlike her, I should be DJ Ashy cause I stay ashy. When I was I DJing in college, I was DJ St. Eve because my name is Stephen. I then switched my DJ name … my actual first name is Haran, so I switched to DJ Haran because it’s interesting and classy. I love quartz [shows us stones that are near their deck], I really gravitate towards quartz and different stones. And one day she was like, “Quartz Daddy,” and I was like, “I like that, it has a ring to it”. Based on my love for quartz and stones I changed it to QUARTZDADDI.
Alright, you were into it in college then went the fashion route, gave it up after your shit got jacked, you guys met and obviously Ashley had a passion for music, and this was 2 years ago. Back then what was your breaking point, when you were like, we gotta do something? What was the process like?
YM: It was just the perfect storm. I had the interest, he had the technical background, so we combined those forces; and we’d only practice in the bedroom at first, definitely bedroom DJs playing for crowds of nobody. In that time we were able to build song selection skills, mixing skills, and just get an ear for the music…where did we go from there?
QD: We always said when we first started, when we first got together, we know there’s a talent here. We know there is something we have to do creatively together, we just didn’t know exactly what it is. We tried a couple of different things—we tried blogging—just to try to feel out what it was we needed to do and then music came about and as [Ashley] said we started messing around with an app on the phone called DJ Pro where you can literally DJ from your phone, so we’d plug in our phone to some speakers and just DJ in the bedroom and DJ to invisible audiences.
YM: We know we enjoy doing this, we know we love bringing people together, so how can we combine all of those things and make it beneficial for us and also the people we want to have in our space. The first thing we did was throw a house party, it was kind of in a time where everyone’s going to the bar, everybody’s going to the club. We’re getting older, we don’t necessarily always want to do that, and it was an ode to the kickbacks and gatherings you’d used to have with friends.
QD: And I was living in a loft in Bushwick at the time so it was a really nice space in a really cool area too.
YM: Everything just aligned perfectly to have us all together. We threw the house, we DJ’d it from our phones.
So I made it my mission to always be moisturized.yung moisture
What was that like, the first time? Was it a flop or were you guys killing it?
YM: It was definitely cool, the first one was a learning experience and then we threw another house party. [QD shows us Polaroid pictures from the house party] There’s always “x” factors, the weather wasn’t that great, there wasn’t the same turn out as the first one we did, but then we threw a New Years Eve party and that one was like…
QD: We called it “A Pretty Average New Years Party” because there’s so much hype around New Years and everybody had bottles and tables, people get dressed up, so we were like this is going to be the most average New Years party. There’s not going to be any bottles, not going to be any lines or any type of service, but it was popping, people were poppin bottles, we had a champagne toast at midnight, had visuals on the screen. So we were trying to feel out exactly what we needed to do, how we needed to build it, and getting real on-the-ground experience as we’re taking the feedback we’re getting to build on the next project.
YM: And that’s how we try to do everything, we learn contextually. Going through these experiences and just being able to yield a lesson that we’re supposed to learn with each of the things that we do and then applying that to making the next iteration.
It was like a RPG and we crafted it.QUARTZDADDI
In terms of the beginning, the first strokes may not be the most elegant, there’s things you didn’t expect like the weather for one, what were other factors that you didn’t see coming? What were your first-time bloopers?
YM: OHHH. MY GOODNESS. There’s this really dope group/organization/brand called The GirlMob. It’s essentially an online community for women to share stories, network, meet women, meet different people. One of my homegirls, was like “Yo, I know you guys DJ, you guys have a good sound, I want to put you guys up for this opportunity, would you be down?” We were like “Yeah, no question.“ So we arrange everything, everything’s cool….
QD: And mind you we were still DJing off of our phones, no professional equipment..
YM: So we were just like let’s make sure our system is compatible with what they have. We called a couple of days before just to make sure everything would work and everything was cool, fine, copacetic. Day of the party … This is hard. [everyone laughs] We joke around about it … it was really stressful
QD: Very stressful, going back to that moment… [shakes head] Apparently the chords that we were supposed to connect our phones to were janky and old, it was shorting, the music wasn’t playing properly, I’m literally DJing from the phone just hoping everything works out. While he’s out on the road trying to find different music stores in the area to track down this really specific cord, he gets to the store and the man has to literally make the cord for him.
QD: It was like a RPG and we crafted it. And the cord didn’t work. We ended up getting the music working but we had to hold the phone at a specific angle and if we moved it, it’d cut out.
That’s the thing with cords though. Remember those cassette tape aux cords, those were the worst.
QD: Needless to say, they never hired us ever again.
YM: Still have a good relationship, no stress.
QD: That was a lot, but we learned a lot about sound management, about sound systems, about making sure we have the right cords, the right preparation, and that was probably our worst…rock bottom.
Walk me through from where you were then, as phone DJs to where you are now.
YM: I think what’s most important is staying curious. Things are so dynamic, there’s always new software, there’s always new techniques, there’s always new DJs, there’s always new venues. You have to have that desire to know what’s out there and see how you can fit yourself into that space—if it’s appropriate: researching different videos to watch, picking up different techniques, listening to different DJ mixes. For me, maybe this speaks for both of us, but inspiration is huge. You don’t necessarily have to copy somebody, but if you can understand technicalities and how they are able to do something and then put your own spin on it, like you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but make the wheel yours.
QD: When we were DJing from our phone we would always say like, “man we’re so good, somebody has to give us a Friday night, more people should be hearing this than just us,” and fast forward to now we have a monthly Friday night residency at Trophy Bar, so it was really speaking something into existence. We always talked about trying not to normalize things because we live a really cool life, you know living in New York City as creatives, I feel like sometimes we wake up and it’s like, “ah it’s just this or just that,” but it’s like no we’re fucking living this shit, this is really cool so we’re trying to battle against normalization and making sure we keep a grounded level looking at where we are compared to where we started.
…you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but make the wheel yours.yung moisture
So what has been your motivation?
QD: My motivation is to get the hell out of my 9-to-5, it takes too much time, it’s annoying, and granted it’s a good job/good situation, but I’m not supposed to be there, you know? So my main motivation is “how can I find other streams of income so where I don’t have to depend on a 9-to-5, and from there I can really flourish and bloom.”
YM: And it’s something we talk about all the time. Time is much more valuable to us than money, it’s so much more valuable when you think about it, and this is not to bash the 9-to-5 all because you need that check. But if you think about it, you’re spending 40 hours a week working for somebody else and making somebody else richer and that mindset is something we both try to maintain with our endeavors: we’re staying hungry, we’re staying persistent, we’re staying on track.
QD: It helps looking at our 9-to-5s as our investors, so it’s paying us money to invest into our endeavors.
To that point though, what’s it like juggling a 9-to-5 and also a passion at the same time?
QD: Stressful! We call it stress fun because it’s a balancing act. And I think it gives us a unique challenge and a unique perspective being able to do the 9-to-5 and the creative endeavor at the same time because I believe that’s a small sect of people who are really trying to do both. That they’re trying to lean one off and lead to the other and I feel like we can talk to that sector of the audience that is trying to do the same thing.
As a mecca of creativity, what’s the experience been like in New York City?
QD: It’s unreal, you can take any talent that’s here in New York that’s working towards their goal and put them anywhere else in the world and they’ll be top of their class, but New York is a cesspool of hyper-creative people so everybody is just going and going, but it keeps you on your toes definitely.
YM: I was born and raised in New York, it’s just hustle and bustle. Everybody’s moving so fast, it’s almost like if you’re not working something on the side then, fuck is you doing? And so it’s really good to be in a space where people are hyper-creative as well. Pursuing your craft, pursuing your 9-to-5s, doing whatever they’re doing, but doing it with that passion and that inspires us and keeps us going as well.
QD: Coming from LA it was such a different lifestyle; there, it’s a lot slower paced and a lot more based on who you know not your actual work.
One of my DJ nicknames is the Aux Cord Lord…QUARTZDADDI
How’s it playing with others? Is it a mentality that we’re working toward the same thing, we’re all in this together? Or is it like that’s my enemy/my competition?
YM: The DJ space is actually one of the most open and welcoming, inviting and friendly. We actually got our first break outside of house parties, by way of one of [QUARTZDADDI’s] friend, Watson. He had a comedy show/dance party at Kinfolk and was like, “Hey, I’d love to have you guys DJ”. We were still DJing off our phones.
QD: Yeah, we DJ’d Kinfolk off our phones.
YM: It speaks to Watson being another DJ in that space and recognizing these two folks who wanted to break into that field and giving us the opportunity to do that, you know? It’s something that I’m super thankful for because it can get super competitive with everything else, so it’s really nice that people are supportive, inviting, and open to help out.
QD: At the same time too, as we get deeper into the space and understanding the industry, everybody has their own niche, their own sound, so when you think about it, no one’s really stepping on the others, there’s enough lanes to be in as long as you’re being authentic with what you’re doing.
What advice would you give to people on the fence?
YM: Off rip, there’s no better time to start than now, you literally just have to start and I think that’s where a lot of people, myself included, become their own worst enemy as far as progressing and setting myself/themselves on that path. You get intimidated by starting, but it’s kind of like riding a bike right? Once you start, you’re going. Let that momentum carry you.
QD: You’d be surprised. After almost every gig we’d get one or two people who will come up to us and be like how do you DJ? Depending on their comfort level with sound equipment, we’ll kind of give them a little bit of advice. Usually, it’s as she said, start playing in your bedroom, anytime you or your friends are having a house party, even if you’re in an Uber going to a club or a party, pass the aux. One of my DJ nicknames is the Aux Cord Lord, because every time we’d be in the Uber, like pass the aux to me and we DJ off our phone for random strangers. The biggest advice I have is let everyone and anyone know that you’re a DJ. One of the hardest things was putting the label of a DJ on myself because going from just being me to now being a DJ, that was the hardest thing. Start calling yourself a DJ as soon as you can, get comfortable with it because if you’re not comfortable with it no one else is going to be comfortable with it.
…if nobody knows we’re DJs, then are we really DJs?QUARTZDADDI
What are you guys working on now?
QD: Our brand is FTC Sound and it’s cool working as a brand and as DJs because we’re able to book acts as well as book ourselves as the acts, book ourselves under the acts, place/manage ourselves. So right now we’re really trying to make sure we’re repositioning our brand and seeing where our brand needs to be in the space of New York as well as the national space. We’re working on a radio show with WAXX.FM, it’s called The Hybrid: Indica vibes and Sativa vibes to end your weekend. Once every month, the third Sunday of every month.
What’s it been like promoting yourselves, getting gigs, your social media outreach, networking. How have these processes been?
QD: It’s been absolutely terrible [laughs], we’re both introverts and talking to people and reaching out takes a lot out of us. It’s learning how to be and act as an extrovert in a society full of extroverts, as an introvert it’s kind of draining, but it’s learning and I’m glad we’re doing it.
YM: He said it best, like networking/self promotion is just like *woof*, I’m getting anxious just thinking about it now, but it’s something we recognize as something you have to do and we talk about this all the time, striking the balance between what you have to do and also staying true to yourself and trying to find a synergy between that. Should we be posting on Instagram everyday? Is that who we are? How do we post on Instagram so it’s relevant? Again striking that balance, it’s something we’re still working on.
QD: We know we have to do it because if nobody knows we’re DJs, then are we really DJs? We have to let people know what we’re doing.
We touched on this before, what’s the future look like for you guys? What’s the near-term vision and then what’s the bigger plan?
QD: We’re such individual people, but we realize that a lot of our power as far as DJing is DJing together as a couple and that’s a really marketable thing. And we always try and protect the integrity of our relationship and we don’t want to put that out there, but I think our immediate goal right now is to try and figure out how we can brand ourselves together and see what that’s like in the marketplace. So our goal is figure out how we can present that in a way that doesn’t dilute what we actually have together.
YM: And also trying to diversify, because not only are we DJs, we consider ourselves experiential designers. We’re trying to diversify the offering of experiences for the people that support us or even new folk—in not just having a party where people can come and dance, but maybe like health and wellness. We’re shifting our focus to that space because we’re realizing how important health and wellness is.
QD: We want to provide those spaces where people can relax and release whether it’s through yoga, through dance, through meditation, things like that. Shout out to meditation.
YM: Everything we do is birthed out of things we enjoy, things we are passionate about. We’re realizing the importance on focusing on mental health. Even a couple of months ago, picking up meditation has been so important for us in our growth and our focus. How can we share that with people as well?
You guys spoke about promoting yourselves as a couple, that’s really cool, can you guys speak on that a little bit? What’s it like working together?
QD: I was running a business, a fashion line, with a friend as well and the thing they always say is number one rule of business is never run business with a friends because it’s a quick way to ruin a relationship. We’re still good friends, but I’d offer the same advice, probably don’t go into business with friends. It works for us because it works, but we’re not telling everyone in a relationship to do this and do that, it has to be the right situation. It works for us, but you need to have the right personnel, the right mindset, we’re like a one in a million situation.