There’s no just or obvious reason why Lea Luna isn’t at the top of the charts week after week, reigning supreme in a world where EDM and pop have collided in a union that some see as unholy and others find refreshing. That blurred line is where she’s most comfortable, but something isn’t clicking with the world at large — at least not yet.
It’s a mystery, because on the surface, Luna appears to have it all. She’s a talented musician, having played piano and guitar as a child and then gravitated toward the turntables as she grew into herself. She’s a charismatic performer gifted with a captivating voice, a respected DJ and producer, a driven and ambitious artist, and she’s learned how to make the most of her gifts in what is still a testosterone-drenched electronic-music landscape.
“To be brutally honest, I wanted to be a DJ, and I ended up being a vocalist because being a female vocalist is something a man can’t do,” Luna says. “I found something that was worth something to the producers that are out there, that they couldn’t replicate. When I’m trying to be a producer, it can feel like fighting over the video game controller with my little brother. People try to take over my creativity and just do it their way. When I became a vocalist, I found I had something special that nobody else could do.”
Rather than being a compromise, though, grabbing the mic proved to be the foot in the door that she needed, and Luna gradually worked her way into the producer’s seat simply by watching and asking questions. Still, there’s no doubt that she’s had to work harder to get where she is in the Denver EDM scene than a man with less talent would.
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“Sexism is real, and it has always affected me in one way or another,” Luna says. “There are a lot of underlying misogynistic problems that go unnoticed and go hidden. For the most part, it’s not about woman-shaming or things that are super-blunt. People will protect a woman if somebody is blatantly attacking her. But if you don’t give a woman a fair chance — if a woman is going out trying to give her music to people and it never gets listened to by anybody, that’s still misogyny. Because if I were a man and I were trying to push what I was doing, it would get more of a response initially from people. As I get older, that’s been a focus of mine. I don’t go around preaching, but when I can give a woman a leg up, I do, because she’s not going to get it anywhere else.”
The multi-talented musician grew up in Colorado Springs and started deejaying in 1998, while she was still in high school. She remembers her first public set as a train wreck, but she kept at it, and by 2000 decided she could probably make a living out of music.
“I think it was right when electronic music, the underground, started to merge with pop music and radio music,” she says. “At the time, I had been doing vocals and stuff, and then vocal house became a really huge thing around 2005. That’s when I realized that I don’t need to be doing anything besides music, and I quit everything else.”
Luna describes her style as vocal house, but she concedes that both she and electronic music have changed and evolved with time. She’s also dabbled with music journalism, writing about EDM for national genre-centric magazines. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of electronic music, and that passion fuels her own art.
“I think that’s my duty as a DJ,” Luna says. “I think a lot of newer people in the music scene are used to people saying, ‘I’m dubstep,’ or something else. They hard-brand themselves because EDM’s become so saturated. I ended up playing to different types of people. Part of being a DJ is knowing what’s popular where, and getting in with different pockets and mixing them all together — showing people a little bit of what they already know and then tying it into something that you’re trying to get them to love and understand.”
She’s smart, and her ability to mesh styles, offer up a whopping great hook and turn it all into a marketable, infectious tune is admirable; those talents shine on songs such as “Leaving for Mars” and “Rock Show.” The latter has her making the case that rock-and-roll musicians learned how to party by watching her. Jagger might not agree, but who are we to argue? If nothing else, she knows how to party right here in Denver, a place that she’s proud to call home, in part because of its flourishing EDM scene.
“It’s grown so fast over the last decade or so,” she says. “I know it has to do with the popularity of EDM overall, but I remember when some of the head honchos of this scene were doing little warehouse parties. I have so much respect for Denver. I’m excited that things have come this far without becoming completely bastardized at the same time. There’s a lot of stuff going on that still rings true to me. Not just kiddie stuff.”
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Luna is currently working on new material for release, as well as a side project that she’s reluctant to talk about. Regardless, we’ll be getting an eclectic set at the Larimer Lounge this week.
“The Larimer set is going to be interesting for me because it’s primarily a live venue,” Luna says. “I think I’m going to go multi-genre and span a bunch of different things just to see what sticks with a built-in crowd, but still bring the flavor that people are used to. Keep it kind of house. I’ll do a mixture of what I usually do and then go way out of my element.”
Those who venture out are in for a treat: Luna can hold a crowd in the palm of her hand and then drop a beat that drives them wild. She should be bigger. The flip side is that we get to see her in small venues like this. For how long — who knows?
Lea Luna. 8 p.m. Friday, August 4, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, $10-$12, 21+.