Passion projects: DJ Swanky makes you a mixtape

Miamians’ pervasive creativity is a delightful part of living in our city, so we’re showcasing your passion projects. Whether you’re a writer, a visual artist, a musician, a DJ, an urban farmer, a race car driver, a wrestler, or something else entirely, if you’d like us to feature you (or someone else you want to nominate), please email your contact information, information about your project, and samples to [email protected].

There’s an oft-repeated joke that everyone in Miami is a DJ. Joke all you want, but Miami has one of the most exciting electronic music scenes in the country, and we’ve got a ton of homegrown talent mixing up music for listeners around the world. DJ Swanky, a.k.a. Leah Weston, is an attorney by day with a decade-long history mixing music on Miami radio. She’s currently releasing mixes on Soundcloud, so we asked her to cook up a mixtape for The New Tropic community to enjoy on our daily commute.

So, what’s on the tape?
The opening track is a great Miami group, Afrobeta. The rest of the mixtape are various artists I have discovered on Soundcloud or on radio shows from all over the world. I listen to a lot of radio from Europe and L.A., so I assembled a world-wide mixtape of electronic music that I like, and that I thought people would enjoy hearing.

How did you get into DJing?
I moved to New Orleans in 2004 when I started college at Tulane. The first activity I signed up for was their radio station, WTUL.

I did that because my dad was an electrical engineer who was really into radio. He had radio at his high school and he was station manager at WVUM back in the ‘70s.

At Tulane, they had an apprentice program, so I wasn’t allowed to be on air for my first semester. I had to basically shadow a DJ. Then, I got my own show, but of course it was in the 2 to 4 a.m. time slot.

After Katrina, I came back to Miami to transfer to UM and the first thing I did here was go to WVUM. I started DJing at WVUM in 2006 and continued on throughout law school. So, I’ve basically been DJing on the radio for past 10 years.

DJ Swanky, aka Leah Weston, working the booth.
DJ Swanky, aka Leah Weston, working the booth.

Why did you stick with radio, even as you professionally pursued law?
I took a break between college and law school. I did a stint at WLRN, hoping I might be able to get a radio journalism job for NPR. As it turns out there are about as many radio journalism jobs as there are public interest jobs for lawyers, which is to say not many.

I wanted to keep doing something creative in law school, because it’s so left-brained. I studied music as a kid (classical violin), and as I got older, I really wanted to keep that creative outlet.

I would love to be on the radio again. Unfortunately, WVUM only allows full-time students to DJ and our local radio stations don’t really play electronic music. So, it’s been hard to find a radio outlet in Miami since I left law school. I’ve been putting together shows on Soundcloud since then.

You were working on a community radio initiative awhile back. What happened with that?
Everyone involved got very busy, and so we didn’t end up getting a license. But the good news is that there is a new low-powered FM station in Miami called Shake 108. I haven’t been able to reach out to them yet to see how I could be involved, but it’s exciting to have that in the community.

What is it that makes radio so special to you?
From the listening side, radio more than anything else, feels like a conversation. That’s more gratifying to me than TV or visual media.

From the perspective of DJing and being on-air, there’s just something really cool about reaching people around world. I’ll give you an example. Last year, I got a call at WVUM from someone who lived in London. They came to Miami on a trip and tuned into my show, and they had been listening ever since.

There ’s just something I love about putting music out there, and just never quite knowing who’s going to listen and connect. I like being surprised in that way.