Music Soup with Noodles
Micah Mahinay, better known by her DJ name Noodles, is a multi-career creative whose hustle never ceases. She's worked as a stylist, runs her own clothing line, and tours as a DJ with hip hop artist Kehlani. Noodles created her signature style by mixing R&B classics with rap, weaved with electronic synths and leads. A current resident of Los Angeles, Noodles stopped by Giant Robot to share how her art school background helped shape her career and her struggles to showcase mixes in a digital age.
By George Ko
Photos by Kevin Vu Kim. Video edited by Sharon Choi.
Giant Robot: What's the origin of the DJ name Noodles?
Noodles: One night I was at a party when I saw a group of boys freestyle rapping, so I chimed in and started to rap like I knew what I was doing. Back then I had a perm, and my hair was really curly. One of the boys kept calling me Young Ramen the whole night; another referred to me as Young Noodle. We kept seeing each other at the party, so I got to run around with this name. It was funny, and it worked because I’m Asian.
GR: How did you get into turning tables?
N: My dad was a DJ in the ’80s playing in nightclubs in Alameda, California. He went by Mobile Disco 2000. After sneaking out to so many clubs, I just put two and two together – my dad should teach me how to mix! So one day we sat in the garage for nine hours and he taught me to count beats.
GR: You also worked in fashion for a while.
N: I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) before I turned 21. This was a head start because I used to fashion blog, and I got my foot in the door by networking. I got the job offer at Karmaloop, a huge street e-commerce site back in the day. They told me they loved my style and wanted me to be their head stylist right off the bat. I don't think anyone gets that opportunity fresh out of college; it was definitely a blessed situation.
People always talk down art school and how much debt you’re going to be in. But it’s up to you to make the most use of it. I learned fashion design, graphic design, even how to draw buildings. And then I was deejaying at Halloween parties and graduation parties.
GR: What about the clothing line you started?
N: My line Send Noodz is provocative, but I branded it to focus on the female body shape – just the lines – and everything's embroidered. It’s simple and basic: I released crew necks for fall, and I’m probably doing hoodies next season.
I've noticed a lot of kids are collecting the items because they sell out within the first release day. They can't wait for the next one to drop. In a business sense it would be easy to make a ton of easy money off my fans, but I want it to just be a fun thing. 10 years from now, I want someone to say, “I have all the Send Noodz stuff that came out.” Or who knows – maybe it’ll turn into a Supreme. I’m not trying to be like anyone; I just drop it the way I like it.
GR: Were your parents okay with you pursuing fashion and music professionally?
N: In middle school, I was one of those girls who would wear mismatching socks thinking I was cool, so my mom always knew I was going to do something creative. At first they didn’t understand why I would DJ full-time. My mom would ask if I had health benefits, and whether I was saving money. She definitely saw me struggle in the beginning, but once I finally paved the road for myself they understood. My parents came to my first solo show in Santa Cruz, and that was when they realized I was really doing this. Like, our daughter sold out a show, she has fans. The fans will even stop my parents for pictures; my mom loves that shit. Now they’re so happy for me.
GR: I’ve heard you have 1,200 turntables.
N: No! There are different styles nowadays, but Technics 1200 are the basic style turntables most DJs grew up learning on. It's the standard 12-inch vinyl you scratch and play records on. My dad’s Technics 1200 were basically broken and I had to get them repaired, so that's probably what got lost in translation.
GR: What was it like starting with vinyl and seeing everything shift to digital?
N: I saw the benefit with going from vinyl to digital because you get the whole experience of deejaying. Anyone can be a DJ now. Back in the day I felt like I got to know every step of what a DJ needed to do. Nowadays people just get a MacBook laptop, download music, and start playing music, but there's no better feeling than knowing that classical touch of how to swap out crates and put in vinyl records. It’s a rewarding feeling.
GR: Are there any specific songs or records you go to today for a set?
N: I usually get booked for hip hop and rap parties, so I use whatever the top hits on Billboard are. I try to mix in R&B with a nostalgic vibe when I DJ while playing modern rap. But I'm very open format, so I can't give you a direct answer with that. By now I read off a crowd to know what I want to play. I'll go from a Panic! at the Disco song to Yo Gotti or Nicki Minaj.
GR: Could you give a breakdown of how you prep? To what extent do you practice versus improvise?
N: I used to rehearse my sets before I'd go on, but nowadays I freestyle more. I'll have a prepared set of what I'm going to play, but it can take a one-eighty turn where I'll completely change the whole set. But it doesn't take much for me to think quick; I like testing the waters. I'll play a couple of tracks from different genres to see what the crowd likes and then start mixing as I go. One thing I’m good at is switching up a vibe while keeping the tempo.
I will definitely go into a set thinking I'm going to play something easy with the Top 40. But then the crowd doesn't want it, and I have to change it. I have to be prepared in all aspects for that.
GR: How do you transition when a crowd isn’t feeling a song?
N: Basically I'll get on the mic and- [laughs] I’ll ask how they're feeling, and then drop an instant banger where I know everyone will go crazy.
GR: I was listening to your Soundcloud mixes and I noticed they’re named after noodles.
N: I did a series where I was Fettuccini, Lo Mein. I think some of them got taken down.
GR: Are you going to make any more series like that?
N: I'm in the process of looking for another site to showcase my mixes, because they keep getting taken down, and I don't want to put out good mixes that just disappear a week later. But also, there's been a drastic drop in Soundcloud listeners because Spotify and Apple Music have been growing, so people go to those playlists. Mixes aren't completely dead, but people are not focusing on that platform. I’ve started doing public playlists on Spotify instead.
But it's not the same: you want to listen to a mix through the transitions while you're driving. So maybe I’ll start doing that again.
GR: What was it like working with Kehlani? I heard she reached out to you through Soundcloud.
N: Four years ago, David Ali, who's now our manager, was the only person who would book 19-year-old me to play at his 21+ parties. When David started managing Kehlani, he pitched me as a DJ to her, and she was like, “Oh my god, I follow [Noodles] on Soundcloud!”
I didn’t really want to do it because I was already styling clothes, and I didn’t think I was going to DJ full-time. But then I moved from Boston to L.A. and fell in love with her story when I met her. And ever since then, we've inseparable.
GR: How has your tour together been?
N: We've been on the road for eight months. We finished in Australia and Japan. My favorite city would have to be New Zealand; that was an eye-openers for us.
The crowd was so lit for the entire set. The whole set is about two hours long, and it’s hard to carry that momentum the whole way because the kids will get tired. But New Zealand was the best show we've ever done. It made us feel like we didn't even have jetlag. Another city that stood out was Toronto; Canadians always show a lot of love. And also the hometown show Berkeley, where Kehlani went to high school. She performed at the Greek Theatre, which is a 15,000-person venue she sold out.
GR: Any dream collabs?
N: Chance the Rapper would be cool. SZA is one of my favorite female artists aside from Kehlani right now. Other than that Rihanna would be the ultimate goal, but she doesn’t use a DJ. If they didn’t have to be alive: Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain. I don't even want to work with them, but just meet them and watch them in the studio.
GR: What words of advice would you give to young women, or DJs starting out?
N: Don't take any shortcuts. That's the biggest advice I could give anyone doing anything in the creative field. My manager used to tell me to work from the bottom up. You need to get the OGs respect before you get booked for things. He told me to be consistent with things as I started dropping mixes. You've got to keep working every day, even when you get lazy with certain things. There’s no excuse.
Visit Noodle's website here.
You can also check out her Soundcloud mixes here.