Photo: Aja Neal
Photo: Aja Neal

A Day in the Life: Jungle Fever’s Mane Squeeze & Mista Selecta

Avanti Fernandez and Tommy Smolka’s epic warehouse parties were just the beginning of a much bigger project. When a mutual friend introduced the likeminded DJs in 2013, the pair had instant chemistry. Fernandez (Mane Squeeze) and Smolka (Mista Selecta) quickly discovered that they shared numerous traits, including a penchant for drawing inspiration from musical genres heard around the world and an affinity for dancehall and trap music. Even their DJ monikers share the same initials. Not to mention, they’re both Geminis.

The pair joined forces as Jungle Fever, curating and hosting DJ parties around the city and performing together at a range of local venues including U Street Music Hall. They’ve picked up momentum in the past five years, making waves in the DC scene that have rippled toward New York and Philadelphia where they’re now building a base. This month, they’ll be spinning at Trillectro Music Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. On Tap sat down with the DJ duo before their September 22 show to talk teamwork, influences, plans for Trillectro and their favorite places in DC.

On Tap: How did you choose your name?
Avanti Fernandez: Jungle Fever is a party concept we created years back. The concept is tropical vibes exuding high, intense, animalistic and wild [energy].
Tommy Smolka: It’s a combination of world dance vibes incorporated into newer rap or trap. Everything we mix together as Jungle Fever makes it really like a jungle. We get all types of people at our parties, just like a jungle has all types of animals. I think it’s one of the most diverse parties out there, and that was a goal.

OT: How would you describe your individual styles as DJs?
AF: When I first started, a lot of DJs specialized in one sound. For me, it was more about not limiting myself. I consider my style to be eclectic and I try to be as eccentric as possible. I am Jamaican and Puerto Rican, and I try to pull from my cultural characteristics – whether it be in a set, at a party or in a mix.
TS: My name [also] comes from Jamaican culture. Dancehall and reggae were in very heavy rotation early on. That was a big connection we had. But, I’ve been DJing for 13 or 14 years now, so anything goes. I can play literally anything – any style.


Avanti’s Must-Haves
My dog Pepito
My boo Kelcie
Water
Sunlight
Rice and beans


OT: Who are your most major musical influences?
TS:  DJ Jazzy Jeff, Underdog, DJ Alize and
DJ Blaqstarr. I look up to M.I.A. a lot.
AF: Childish Gambino – how multifaceted he is as an artist and how he created his own path. I saw a lot of myself in that. DJ K-Swift from Baltimore was one of my greatest DJ inspirations, too. I remember going out to see her perform at The Paradox. I’d be mindblown there was a lady behind the decks. And I’d be like, “Yo, I wanna do that! I wanna be just like her.”

OT: What made you both decide to link up and DJ together?
TS: We were throwing the warehouse parties for like a year before we started Jungle Fever.
AF: I was throwing events not too far from here, at 411 New York Ave. in the warehouse. I heard Selecta was looking to DJ and I was like, “Yeah sure, bring him on through.” He came and ripped it. I was in love with his set. As soon as he dropped some reggae I was like, “Look at this boy! Who the f–k is this? What is going on?” So ever since, we vibed. [We] figured out that we were both looking for a way to express ourselves together.

OT: What’s your favorite part of working together?
TS: Since day one, it’s been easy for us to work together. We get along very well. We never planned to do this; things just came naturally.
AF: It was very organic. It’s great having somebody you can be open, honest and very transparent with, especially going through some of the obstacles we’ve gone through and dealt with together. He’s a great teammate, you know? That’s my boy.

OT: How have your styles evolved over the years you’ve been DJing together?
TS: We’ve been doing parties and stuff for six years, and I was DJing before that for eight years. I look at it as I would any other art form. You’re never going to stop evolving. You learn new techniques, you learn new sounds.
AF: It starts with learning about [DJing], emulating others, learning from others and taking what you learned. For me, it was taking what I’ve learned, building on it and developing my own style.

TS: It’s harder for me to talk about me. I’ve seen you evolve. I remember when you first started DJing. The first year or so, you were in your learning phase, but you were rockin’ though.
AF: I could see him growing and really branching into a new sound, like exploring and experimenting with new sounds. You know, things I would never hear Selecta play, now I’m like, “Whoa, this energy – it’s different!”

OT: How would you describe the DJ scene and overall music scene in DC?
AF: It’s monumental. I mean you feel it, you hear it, you see it. Every time you turn on your radio you hear GoldLink’s “Crew.” Artists are really putting on for the city and I think it’s nationwide, [even] worldwide. DC is seen as a new hub [for music]. Even travelling to New York, everyone is like, “What’s happening in DC? We love what you’re doing there. Can we bring that same energy here?”
TS: Yeah, the music scene is at an all-time high for sure. I still think we have some of the best DJs in the world. That’s why I really appreciate the people who hold us to a higher standard, because we’re some of the best. Every time we go to different cities, I really see that.


Tommy’s Must-Haves
Weed
Women
Chicken
My dogs
Coca-Cola


OT: What are some of your most memorable experiences while DJing?
AF: I think we have the same one because we always talk about it.
TS & AF (in unison): Afropunk.
AF: It was that weekend! Trillectro on Saturday and Afropunk on Sunday.
TS: That was in 2014. That’s probably our best shared experience, besides all the Jungle Fever parties. Every Jungle Fever party is like my favorite party, and your warehouse parties.
AF: Oh yeah!
TS: The parties she used to throw that I DJed at were like the craziest, literally. We’ll never get to do anything like that again.
AF: It definitely was an era.

OT: What do you guys like to do when you’re not DJing?
AF: Travel. That’s kind of broad, but I’d rather just work, stack my money and travel. I like learning about myself and different cultures and broadening my horizons. I just got back from New Orleans, which was pretty cool. I’ve been back and forth between cities [like] New York. I was in Costa Rica this June. Whenever I can, I try to get out of here [and] live a little.
TS: I like to watch movies, and I have another creative side that most people don’t know. I do photography, video and graphic design.
AF: That’s the beauty of it. A lot of the work, we do ourselves behind the scenes like the graphics, the photos and the videos.

OT: What are some of your favorite spots around DC?
AS: For food I like Silvestre Chicken. I’m actually a pescatarian so I go there for the charbroiled shrimp. I also like Oohh’s & Aahh’s, Po Boy Jim [Bar and Grill] and Wiseguy [Pizza].
TF: Wiseguy is number one, and DCity Smokehouse.
AS: For concert venues, I like 9:30 Club, Flash and U Street Music Hall.
TF: Flash, 9:30 and Velvet are my three favorites.

OT: How are you preparing for Trillectro?
TS: We’re getting our special guest in order, and theatrics.
AF: We want to outdo ourselves from the last times we performed.


Jungle Fever Must-Haves
Weed
Good sound system
Positive environment
Open-minded people
Energy (the more people, the more energy)


OT: Who are you guys most excited to see perform this year?
AS: SZA for sure. She’s definitely the first female headliner. All the ladies that are rocking: Rico Nasty, The Internet, Sheck Wes and Carnage.
TF: I’m definitely excited for The Internet, Playboi Carti and Snoh Aalegra.

OT: What’s coming up for you two?
AF: We’re going to take this party on the road. We’re excited to have Jungle Fever in New York.
TS: Yeah. Jungle Fever is expanding. It’s going to be a regular in New York now, because we have a 50-50 base here and in New York and Philly. We’re going to keep expanding it. Other than that, definitely a lot of music, I know I’m about to put out a lot.

Catch Jungle Fever spinning at Trillectro on Saturday, September 22 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Doors at noon, tickets start at $60. For updates on Jungle Fever, follow Mista Selecta and Mane Squeeze on Instagram at @mistaselecta and @manesqueeze.

Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; 410-715-5550; www.merriweathermusic.com

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Aja Neal

Aja is a modern-day renaissance woman, a patron of the arts, and a lover of commas. When she's not writing for On Tap, she can be found dancing in a studio, on a dance floor, or alone in her room when no one's watching.