Jewelssea: The South Philly DJ helping revive the city's rave scene
Philly’s newest DJ-in-demand has Puerto Rican roots. She brought the city’s scene back from the pandemic brink and it’s paying off.
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Philadelphia’s rave culture, like many music scenes across the globe, hit a critical low in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic that ceased all public events for what seemed like the foreseeable future. Although the process was tumultuous, vaccines were administered, restrictions loosened, and people were able to be around one another again. The following year saw the return of live shows and large public gatherings, reinvigorating the surviving music venues, and inspiring people to create new spaces of their own. Philadelphia’s rave scene, specifically in the Summer of 2021, experienced one of the most explosive bounce-backs in the city.
An artist who played a role in this resurgence is the producer-turned-DJ, Jewelssea. The 23-year-old South Philly native of Puerto Rican descent has been an active force in the local rave scene, playing at countless clubs, bars, warehouses, and parks throughout Philly. She is a key member in the new generation of the city’s electronic artists.
Jewelssea is best known for their eclectic genre-bending DJ sets, but has an extensive musical background. She played the guitar, piano and oboe while attending a music-focused middle school in South Philly. They shifted towards digital musicianship in highschool, producing lo-fi Hip-Hop instrumentals.
“I had friends who were in bands, and I wanted to get back into making music through beats. So I started it off on my own,” she explained.
The burgeoning producer spent the rest of their time in highschool and first years at Temple University working on experimental Hip-Hop production with friends dazegone, BEAUTFULMVN, BNYX, and Vicdeni.
“That was a time in my life where I was just hanging out with friends and making music,” they recalled. “That was like being in a band for me. Just little jam sessions on Ableton.”
She released her first EP Dreams in 2017, followed by a collaborative instrumental tape with dazegone titled Transcend the next year.
Jewelssea purchased an SP-404 beat machine off Craigslist during this time, allowing them to do live sets at house parties and spontaneous cookup sessions in friends’ basements. While gaining these first DJ experiences, Jewlessea continued to hone her sound, fusing Electronic and Hip-Hop elements into sample-filled production. They would land a placement on the 2019 international compilation tape Women Of The World Vol 2, featuring over 50 different women producers across the globe.
Although Jewelssea’s experimental hip-hop production had grown into something distinct, she embraced the electronic side of her sound in late 2019.
“I was like damn, I like dance music, I wanna play dance music, and I wanna make people dance,” she explained. Through Temple University’s study abroad program, Jewelssea spent a semester in Berlin, Germany that Fall. She used her time in the country to explore its dance scene.“I was going to all the Techno clubs, seeing what was out there. It was very intriguing to me.”
Jewelssea returned to the U.S. with a clear vision of their musical path, vamping up DJ appearances, and spinning primarily electronic music or remixes of hip-hop and R&B songs. She assisted her friends Vicdeni, Keenanfromlimbo, and Mowitcher develop the ALT+ESC rave series that ran from late 2019 into early 2020. It was one of the first underground rave parties organized by younger creatives in Philly at the time.
“ALT+ESC is like the start of the younger generation, It’s where all the baby-ravers now came out of,” Jewelssea explained.
She played the first show in the Fall of 2019 before leaving for Berlin, and would return for the third and fourth iterations.
“They were all huge parties with 400-500 people coming out to warehouses to party,” Jewelssea recalled.
The fourth and final installment of ALT+ESC took place in February 2020, and was the largest and most successful. Unfortunately, the momentum came to a screeching halt less than a month later due to the COVID-19 lockdowns.
The isolation and political unrest of 2020 shifted Jewelssea’s creative output.
“I ended up not DJing for like a year after that. I didn't even pick up my controller,” they said.
Instead, there was a re-focus on producing music.
“[The pandemic] gave me more time to get back into it, and be weird with music. I’m still a producer at heart, that's what makes the music happen,” they said.
Jewelssea would put out their largest release to date in the fall of 2020, a 28-track project titled it’s all love.
After a year-long hiatus, Jewelssea returned to the electronic turntables at the beginning of the rave revival that took place two Summers ago.
“It was just like rave after rave after rave,” they recalled “[After that Summer] I was like, ok, I'm a DJ now.”
The time period saw a new generation of creatives ingrain themselves into the scene, creating a shockwave of excitement throughout the community. Jewelssea, and DJs across the electronic music spectrum like Brick Ashley, ElectricxHoney, Low1ron, Pumpfake, Tethra64, Coolaidhippy, and Parunormal, were in high demand at skateparks, railroads, piers, warehouses, or anywhere in Philly that was capable of holding a few hundred people to party.
Jewlessea maintained the momentum from that Summer well into 2022, becoming a full-time DJ this past May. She joined the American roster of the German booking agency, /none.
“They’re my booking agents basically. They do some managing stuff for me too, but it's very organic. We just talk about the direction I want to go on things,” Jewelssea explained.
Their partnership comes with the expectation that she’ll eventually return to Berlin, where /none is based, for a residency.
This Summer was Jewelssea’s busiest to date, frequently traveling back and forth between Philly and New York City for different gigs. They even flew to San Francisco to play a Spongebob Squarepants-inspired Bikini Bottom rave. The DJ in high demand also performed on major stages including The Lot Radio stage at the annual Making Time music festival, and opened for Tierra Whack and DJ Diamond Kuts at the three-day Adult Swim Festival Block Party.
In August, Jewlessea began a monthly residency at The 700, a longstanding bar and event space in Northern Liberties. She normally incorporates DJs from the rave scene into the monthly gig.
“Being able to give those opportunities, and have there be more spaces for this type of stuff to exist [has] been pretty cool, and I'm grateful for it,” they said.
Despite the packed schedule as a full-time DJ, Jewelssea still finds time to produce. They recently worked with Philly creatives Jah$tar and larry, and consistently collaborate with Working On Dying producers BNYX and Faxxonly on tracks for rappers like Robb Bank$.
“I'm still connected to the [Philly] Hip-Hop scene for sure,” she emphasized. “That's still a big part of what makes my sound.”
They’ve also worked with rap artists outside of Philly, DJing for Atlanta’s Zack Fox and Texas’ Tisakorean.
Jewlessea accomplished a lot since picking her controller back up in 2021, and plans to expand the artistry even further.
“I'm ready to develop myself as an artist beyond being a DJ,” she explained. “I am making a lot more House music and Drum and Bass. I started singing too.”
They plan to start rolling out singles in the upcoming months.
“[I want] to get my current sound out there for people to understand me,” she said.
A large amount of Jewelssea’s career advancements can be attributed to the support she's received from Philadelphia’s rave and hip-hop communities. When asked about aspirations for the city’s music scene, they note: “I want to make sure there are things in place so people can feel like they can keep doing this.”
Jewelssea’s well-founded worry about the city’s creative communities is brightened by a staunch belief in her peers.
“I have a lot of hope for the scene. There are a lot of people that are doing cool shit, and I know we're gonna figure it out. In the rave scene, and hip-hop scene, the talent is there,” they said.