You Should Know… Michal Bilick

Michal Bilick (Photo by Hannah Monicken)

Michal Bilick lives something of a double — even triple — life. By day, the 31-year-old Fairfax resident manages a mediation program for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for those accused of low-level misdemeanor crimes through Washington’s first-time offender diversion program. She’s also a Jewish mindfulness teacher.

But by night? That’s the domain of DJ M Dot. On a recent sunny Thursday in Dupont Circle, Bilick talked to WJW about her DJ name, being a woman in a man’s world and what DJing and mediation have in common.

How did you get into DJing?
My grandmother was a conductor and pianist and I feel like conducting and DJing are similar — you’re conducting the vibes of the music. And, for some reason, I always wanted to be a DJ. I was really obsessed with radio.

And then I had a show called “The Red Line” [at American University’s student radio station WVAU] and it was a hip hop show where I featured local artists and interviews. I was just using my computer and the radio station equipment, but there were turntables there and so I started reaching out to local DJs to teach workshops and tutorials. And from there, I just started shadowing DJs and hanging around gigs and stuff to learn from behind the scenes. I also worked a local radio station in Brooklyn called One Caribbean Radio and I got really into reggae music. I actually have a residency at 18th street Lounge once or twice a month for reggae night.

What other variety of gigs do you do?
For about three years, I was doing a party called Rise, where I featured local musicians and played with them. And it was just a fun, very participatory event, like we handed out small shakers for people. Just having something to do, people really like that. It’s like when you’re in a club and the song is like “Get your hands up,” people put their hands up. People really like simple instructions.

Well, that’s why those songs like “Cupid Shuffle” are so popular.
Yeah, it’s like it makes it more comfortable. People are like, “Yeah, I can do this.”

I also DJ at Saint-Ex once a month — I do an old school hip hop night. And then I DJ at Marvin once a month. Those are the residencies I have right now. And more recently, I’ve been doing a lot of private events, like corporate parties or weddings.

I feel like DJing is one of those things where everyone, on some level, feels like they should be able to do it. So, when you teach it, what are people most surprised by?
How hard it is! You have to do like 10 things at once, because you have to be listening to the song that’s playing and listening to the song you’re going to bring in next and figuring out what the best way to mix them. There’s a lot going on. I remember that moment when my brain did the switch. For months, I was like, “I’m doing this and I know I’m sounding horrible, but I don’t know how to fix it.” And then, something happens and your brain makes the switch. Like anything, it’s muscle memory and creativity.

Most often, when I see a DJ, it’s usually a man. So, what’s it like being a woman navigating that space?
Oh my God, I don’t know where I should start. I feel like it’s an immediate lack of trust.

Like you have to prove yourself?
Like I have to prove myself more and, I can’t say for sure because it’s not a tangible thing, but it’s a sense you get from people — they come in with their arms folded, like, “Do I even want to stay?”

I’ve definitely made some enemies in the DJ world for calling some people out for labeling women who are DJs “female DJs.” We don’t call women who are doctors “female doctors.” We just call them doctors; just call me a DJ. I feel like I’ve worked just as hard as my male counterparts and I don’t want to be boxed in or shown off as a female DJ. It’s a funny line I’ve walked for a long time. But it just comes down to respect, I guess.

How did you get your DJ name?
I was always told — or it was part of DJ culture that I knew of — that you were given a name. You don’t choose your DJ name. So, one of my first gigs was an open mic in New Jersey and I was doing a little set and, of course, they couldn’t pronounce my name. They were trying to call me up and were like, “M … dot.” And I just went with it.

I know your day job is in mediation and I feel like, at first glance, those two things are very different.
They’re pretty different on paper, but my role in both those things is pretty similar. I’m interested in listening to people’s stories. I’m not a house DJ, I don’t play a lot of electronic music. I love hip hop, I love disco, I love music that tells stories. And I like learning, growing and reaching people through those stories. My motivation, my inspiration, my role is similar in the conflict resolution work I do and DJing — it’s making people more aware of other people. I feel like a lot of my work is about listening. It’s reflecting back to people so the other person can hear.

It sounds like you’ve found a way to bring them together, too, in Community Mixtape.
Community Mixtape is my baby. It is, the way I see it, a nexus of all of my interests. It’s building empathy and cooperation through music.

There’s always a theme and the participants choose a song and tell us their reason for choosing it. Then, as a group we decide in what order to make this mixtape and the second half is people physically mixing one song into another. So you end up with this tapestry of stories through song and it’s really beautiful. And people love it. It hasn’t quite reached the place I want it to be yet, but ideally, I would like to move it into a space where people are experiencing conflict and to use Community Mixtape as a way for people to find commonality.

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