Though barely in her thirties, DJ Cosmo (a.k.a.: Ms. Colleen Murphy) has been involved in the dance music business for more than half her life. From her teenage start in Boston to her current incarnation as a London-based, globe-trotting DJ, Cosmo has always looked for ways to reinvent herself - while racking up a long list of unparalleled accomplishments. She's hosted radio shows in both New York and Japan, worked with the industry's most elite companies, produced successful mixed CDs, compilations and original music while helping introduce the world at large to the Godfather of it all, the Loft's David Mancuso. Since leaving NYC to live abroad, Cosmo has seen her bookings go through the roof and many of her wildest dreams come true. Read on to learn what drives this woman to success, keeps her from sitting still too long and why she won't return to the States.
We're hanging with the lovely, delicious Cosmo and the DJ is rocking Sade… you like that?!
Cosmo: Wooooh! I'm feeling it.
You've been in London for the last two years, tell us what you've been doing.
C: Well, there's a lot going on… I'm DJing all over the world and just came back from a three-week tour of Asia. I DJ in different European countries every single weekend, but I have residencies in London as well: one in Manchester and my own party called Bitches Brew over at Plastic People. We're also starting a record label called BITCHES BREW. I've been doing some production… I've got a record coming out on Disorient; I have two other records I just finished that are getting signed; I'm doing a compilation for NUPHONIC called the LOFT SERIES and in between I'm trying to sleep and be a wife.
Yeah, right! That can't all be easy, but let's start at the beginning…why don't you tell everyone about your history.
C: Yeah, yeah… I've worked in all aspects of the industry. I've been a journalist - I used to write for MixMag, Project X and a few other magazines. I've worked for labels like Spiritual Life and in retail at Dance Tracks. I did independent music marketing for major labels; I've been doing syndicated and my own live radio shows for years and have interviewed more than 200 different artists. I've been in the music industry ever since I was sixteen, when I started working in a record store where I'm from right outside Boston.
What brought you down to New York?
C: Well I always wanted to move down for the music, and I figured I would only apply to colleges in New York. And NYU won out. Well, it was really funny, I applied to three other colleges in New York and I got accepted to all of them, but I wanted to go to the one with the best radio station. I'd actually checked the radio stations!
The message there is do your homework!
C: Yes… I was the program director for the station while I was in college and I did it for four years straight.
Is that that why you were able to keep your show after you graduated?
C: Actually, they asked me back because they had a lack of DJs, believe it or not. It was in '92 that I started again, and I had to take a class and enroll, but I figured I paid so much money to that school that they owed me. I had loans and a lot of scholarships but I still had to pay a bit of money because the tuition is so high there, too high. I did get something out of it though, and that's good business.
So let's jump right in to the Loft Compilations [1 and 2]… You were credited as Co-Producer with David Mancuso on those projects, how did that come about?
C: Actually, [the project] was my idea and I was going to start a label to do it myself but then I realized the difficulty of all the different things you have to do. I really wanted to have a label in place that would already have connections in press, distribution, marketing… you know the deal. So in any case, I approached Nuphonic and Dave Hill was so excited about the idea that he wouldn't leave me alone, and we ended up doing it. Though we had been talking about it for years, I just wanted to wait for the right timing. We did contracts in two months from me [seriously]talking about it.
It's done so well for us, especially for David. It has really publicized him now. Your average underground person in New York kind of knew who he was, but across the world people didn't - only the true information die-hards. In Japan they had an idea, but now everybody knows. I mean you see displays in Tower Records, HMV and it's in all the press. It's really given him a lot of credit that he deserves. So it's really good.
Talk a little about your relationship with David; how did you hook up?
C: Well the first time I went to the Loft, it totally changed the way I heard dance music. I went every week for a year [before I spoke to him]. I was doing a radio show at the time where I was playing that kind of music and I asked him to come guest on 89.1.
He had never played outside of the Loft and since he'd seen my face there every week, he thought maybe she's okay. We had a conversation before the show and we got on so well; we really understood each other. When he talked about how he listened to music and how he played music, it was the same exact way [as me]. He did the show and about a month after that he said "Listen, I'd like you to come play with me." It started as one-on-one, then we started doing a little set, then a couple of times, I did the whole night. He's like a musical father to me. He's actually older than my father - maybe I shouldn't say that!
Talk about what the lifestyle really is - being a traveling DJ…is it lonely, always exciting?
C: It's always fun while I am playing, everything else is work. The traveling, I swear to God, I travel every single weekend - it's crazy and it does get lonely. I mean you meet a lot of great people but you do want to share these experiences with someone you know really well, not someone you met on the road and may not see again or you'll see the next time you go there. You know I love traveling - I used to travel anyways - but it's getting too much. It is a lot, and I actually want to DJ less now. But at the moment, that's paying the bills and it's exposing me and it's fine. Now I'm really concentrating on making music. I just finished three projects about two weeks before I got here [to Miami] so I'm really high on those.
Where's the Vinyl at?
C: Okay one is already signed, it's coming out this summer on DISORIENT it's called, "Are You Coming" and the artist is named,Tidal. It's something I wrote and co-produced. I just did a cover of "The Real Thing" with two other guys and we're signing that right now. And there's another thing I wrote and co-produced that's called "Mistaken"; we don't even know what we're going to call ourselves yet.
So how are you making the transition between all these different hats; is it natural or is it something you just feel like you are doing today and….
C: Well, I was DJing while I was working jobs, it wasn't really a goal that I had or was ever something that I thought I would be doing full-time. If it was, I would have done it. I just had jobs and was DJing on the side. I had left my job in NY and was really sick of working for other people so when I got over to the UK, I was kind of trying to buy time when I hooked up with a great manager. She came to me and said, "I wanna work with you" and she's fabulous! She just started getting bookings for me constantly, which is buying me time to make music. I had two records come out in '99, and after that experience, I realized this is what I really want to do… write and produce music. The DJ thing is good - I can't complain, but I want to lessen it and make more music.
What are your hottest tracks right now?
C: I'm playing a lot of stuff by these producers out of West London - Orin Walters who does stuff called "Bugz in the Attic", Phil Asher, Modaji… My own stuff!
What do you do in your down time?
C: You know, that's one thing about me, I can't really unwind easily and I always feel like I have to be doing something. Cause when you don't work a regular job, you don't have regular hours. If I'm home, I'm always feeling guilty if I'm not doing something productive. Lately, I've been making myself stop - like I have to stop. I swim every day and that's something I have to do to keep my sanity. Cause let's face it, DJing is not really the healthiest job; you're always breathing cigarette smoke and there's always alcohol around so I try to do something… I'm getting old! The other thing is I read a lot of books…
C: On planes... I love going to book stores. The other thing I do is watch movies; I rent movies, go to movies.
What's the last one you saw?
C: Let's see I rented two movies the other day… THE GREEN MILE and ANGELA'S ASHES… in the theater the last one I saw was HIDDEN DRAGON, CROUCHING TIGER… that was absolutely brilliant. Also Bjork's movie DANCER IN THE DARK.
What are some of your thoughts on the current "trend" of Lady DJs? They're currently enjoying a lot of hype.
C: Yeah the ones with big boobs; they're enjoying a great hype.
Well you obviously got around that!
C: Why, don't I have big breasts?
Well you don't use them.
C: Not for DJing I don't. I use my hands and my ears!
Do you think they have real musical knowledge or is it just about image?
C: Honestly, I think it's just the same as men. There are females out there that I think are good, and there are ones out there that I think are crap. I mean some are using their feminine whiles to get work, okay whatever, guys do it too. I don't really think they are any different at the end of the day. I think it's great there are more female DJs and I always support them, even if I'm not really into their music. I'm like good, there should be more. I'm hoping in five years it is no longer an issue. I remember when all-girl bands came out, not just trios and singers but bands were a big thing for a while. Now, it's no big deal; it's like normal.
Who are your peers, who do you look up to in the industry?
C: Francois [K]. David, Harvey…
Harvey… who's that?
C: He's from the UK; they do it for me.
Now that you've lived overseas for while, do you see a difference in the way the business works?
C: Yes a huge, huge difference. America is a big, big country… we're talking about 200 or 300 million, compared to Britain where it's just 30 million. Stuff gets around a lot quicker there and plus the people are little more edgy - they will go out and find new things. Which is good for me, cause I'm playing new stuff. I feel like I'm challenged more there and things move a little quicker. Whereas Americans are more complacent - they wait a while till something hits them over the head, then they like it. Plus, there's more venues to play; going out is something that most Europeans do - they love to go out and drink, smoke cigarettes, go out to dinner...
C: Exactly! Spend money, they spend money on living. Americans spend money on things. Americans are very materialistic. When you go to people's house [in Europe], they don't have as much stuff. It's much different that way. I'm not saying Europe is better - because there's things about America that I like more and there's things I love about Asian culture as well. I've traveled a lot; I've seen a lot of the world …I've lived on different continents… but no place is better than another place, they're just different. But musically, there is so much great music that comes out of the States. But sometimes getting it exposed is difficult, I mean the artists here are fantastic.
Do you think you'll come back?
C: No! I don't. If anything, I'll move to Spain or Portugal, that's the next move. I wouldn't mind having a little spot over here - once I'm rich and famous - but I'm not going to live here. I think it's really a screwed up country. Bush is in power, kids are bringing guns to school and shooting each other, the death penalty and the government is so involved in people's morality. The governments in Europe are not involved in people's morality… it's a very puritanical culture here.
Yet, we're supposed to be so free…
C: And it's not, that's why I just can't deal with it. Once you leave, and I've been gone for two years now, you really see it; the racism that exists. When I went to NY the last time, I really felt it. Then you listen to the news and all that stuff happening with the police in NY and the shooting black boys… it's really weird and it's totally institutionalized and I'm not saying there's no racism in Europe cause there is, but it's because they're Indians, Turkish people...
Yes it's about nationalism more, the bias not English, German or whatever…
C: Exactly. Since I'm here. I really feel it.
Well thanks for taking so much time to talk to us and America's loss is the world's gain! Continued success to you in your upcoming projects and we look forward to hearing lots more!