Meet the student DJs changing the tempo of music at Vassar

Courtesy of GinGin Plehn ’22

GinGin Plehn ’22 and Diego Scala Chavez ’22 have a stage presence as effervescent as their music––a bright blend of hyperpop, hard dance, house, hip hop and recognizable chart toppers. On Oct. 8, Plehn and Scala––who DJ under the names Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas and neotech, respectively––opened for Vassar College Entertainment’s (ViCE) fall concert headliners, AG Club. Their hour-long set on Commencement Hill was an exercise in opposites: Plehn’s all-black outfit contrasted with Scala’s bright yellow shirt and pink cowboy hat. They moved separately but as a unit, swaying to and from each other as they mixed songs while taking turns at the turntable. Their setlist paired remixes of avant-pop artist SOPHIE’s “Whole New World” with City Girls’ “Twerkulator,” and t.A.T.u’s “All the Things She Said” played not long after “7AM” by Lil Uzi Vert. In my conversation with Plehn and Scala, they told me about how their AG Club set was an hour-long marriage of their individual music tastes and mixing styles formed during their time at Vassar. 

Plehn learned how to DJ as a first-year after getting involved with Vassar College Sound System (VCSS), a campus organization for students interested in DJing and organizing music events on campus. Plehn, who is now a chair of VCSS, has been interested in electronic dance music since middle school, citing Zedd and Avicii as early influences. During her sophomore year at Vassar, she settled on her DJ name, an homage to her New Jersey roots that cheekily plays on the “Jersey Girl” trope and the state’s ban on self-serve gas stations. “I just thought it was kind of a funny name, so I took it and ran with it,” Plehn expressed. 

Plehn has since honed her DJing skills, crafting mixes that encapsulate her broad music interests and follow in the footsteps of Porter Robinson, SOPHIE and Paris Hilton. Her enthusiasm for creating music shined as she described her process for creating a mix, a formulaic, yet experimental process that gives every DJ the space to explore their own unique play and mixing styles––one of Plehn’s favorite things about this type of musicianship. 

Music has surrounded Scala––a trained saxophonist, veteran of school choirs and a once avid LimeWire user––from a young age. “Because the drinking age in Mexico is 18,” Scala shared, “I used to go to clubs and parties when I was in high school, and that’s kind of how I got introduced to the experimental and electronic side of music.” While Björk is his biggest artistic inspiration, LSDXOXO, Arca, Susumu Yokota, Doss and SOPHIE have also strongly shaped his work.

“I was always into music,” Scala said. “I just never thought I could make it.” That changed when Plehn taught him how to DJ in the second semester of their first year, marking the start of their partnership as friends and musicians. Scala even came up with his DJ name while the two were at the Deece together. He had recently watched the cyberpunk cult classic “The Matrix,” in which the main character Neo navigates a simulated reality to a soundtrack of synthesizers, rock and electronic music. “I was thinking [of the words] techno and Neo, so I switched the order around,” Scala recalled. And thus, neotech was born. 

While Plehn and Scala’s music is undeniably distinct, their joint love of pop made collaborating on a mix together easy. They became friends by sending each other links to their favorite songs and artists, a practice they still continue to this day. Plehn and Scala are big fans of SOPHIE, Charli XcX and Kim Petras––hyperpop sensations whose undeniably catchy tracks and upbeat synths appear regularly in both Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas and neotech setlists. 

Plehn and Scala were aware that the AG Club set would attract an audience with a wide range of musical interests, so they intentionally chose artists and songs that would appeal to a variety of music tastes. While plenty of planning goes into their sets, the mixing and blending of tracks happens live on stage. Using Djay Pro, a DJing software, as well as a portable turntable, Plehn and Scala match song tempos and change the speeds of tracks in real time––adjusting volume sliders, experimenting with loops, adding sound effects and using countless other transitions to blend songs together and make them their own. 

From Nelly Furtado to to Deee-Lite to 박혜진 Park Hye Jin to The 1975, their set entertained everyone on Grad Hill without relying on the familiar throwbacks or top 40 hits that often play at Vassar events and parties. Plehn and Scala quickly tired of the steady rotation of singable 2010s hits that played at parties on campus. “They are crowdpleasers, and they are fun for a reason,” Scala admitted, but Plehn said, “We’re both really interested in diversifying the music that occurs at parties.” Once they became upperclassmen, the two started showcasing a range of different music at their own events. Plehn, remarking on the success of having diverse party playlists, noted, “I feel like there were just more options for everyone to dance and party to.” 

Every mix that Plehn and Scala create genuinely reflects their desire to bring people together through the music they love. They are committed to bringing variety to the music played at parties and on campus, not only through their individual sets, but on their weekly WVKR show as well. “Techno Crush,” which airs on Monday nights from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m., started as a series focused on the history of techno, highlighting Black artists and other diverse voices from the genre. “Techno Crush” has evolved since it first went on air last year. After running out of songs and artists to feature, Scala explained, “We started playing around with anything we’d consider electronic or fast, or whatever [music] we wanted to experiment with.”

For their next set, Plehn and Scala will DJ separately as openers for Vice Weekly’s Coco & Clair Clair concert on Oct. 29. Starting at 9 p.m., Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas and neotech, along with another student DJ, Serial MILF, will fill the Mug with tracks that might excite you, surprise you, confuse you or introduce you to new realms of music––but will undoubtedly make you want to dance.

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