The New Orleans DJ/producer wants to spark Millennial-led change with house music.

lil jodeci photo
Lil Jodeci

“All this shit goes together at the end of the day,” said local DJ/Producer Lil Jodeci. “It’s dance music, that’s the point.”

Lil Jodeci, born Keith Cavalier, started making house music with fellow producer Brandon Ares in his Gentilly shotgun home just a few years ago. Back then, it wasn’t clear whether tradition-centric New Orleans was ready to ride the wave of a youth-driven electronic scene. Thumping computerized beats over futuristic sound morphs seem antithetical to the local musical experience promised by French Quarter brochures. This is a city that values live music above all else. If you can feel the performer’s spit on your face, you’re doing it right. Generation Y, however, doesn’t mind a less-traditional live music experience, and those young people are leading the way in EDM. For us Millennials, a personal, visceral musical experience is equally as valuable as the spectatorial kind.

Cavalier started out by throwing low-profile underground parties which slowly evolved, growing bigger and louder. It’s been almost three years since he co-founded the artist collective Pink Room Project in 2016. Today, he’s a resident DJ at the Hi-Ho Lounge where he throws his weekly “Set De Flo” party, and recently began a residency with The Drifter Hotel. Along with acts Unicorn Fukr and Dohm Collective, Cavalier’s one of a handful of local electronic artists playing Buku this month--in his case, Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on The Wharf stage. His upcoming EP is about 80 percent done, and he expects to release it in May. My Spilt Milk is pleased to debut a new song from it, “Flip Phone.” He says people should expect “a lot of dance music, a lot of house music, but it’s also gonna be entrenched in the vein of New Orleans. It’s gonna be gritty.”

DJs are often criticized for being impersonal, but Lil Jodeci doesn’t think that’s a problem for him and other local artists. “The thing about being in New Orleans,” Cavalier says, “You carry some type of energy that you’re not even aware of. It’s some type of funk that you can’t even smell.” Throwing parties is a piece of a greater story he wants to tell to his city, that all you need is a laptop and the right beats and you can bring people together to dance.

His music is all about young people leading the way. “The youth,” he says, “are taking the bull by the horns, making a lane for themselves in the city.” Electronic music is notably Millenial and wears its Do-It-Yourself attitude as a badge of honor. As a young, independent producer, Lil Jodeci’s spearheading of a scene is emblematic of this DIY zeitgeist.

Changing demographics in the city account for part of his and his peers’ success. The waves of Millennials who’ve put down roots in the city since Katrina are the likeliest to be receptive to what Lil Jodeci does, and youth-driven culture, Cavalier says, “is important to the betterment of our city.” New Orleans, as he sees it, is completely compatible--ripe, in fact--for Millenial-led cultural innovation. “[We’re] carving out a lane in that [New Orleans] tradition and adding to it. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

VICE ran a story on The Pink Room Project in 2017, and as exciting as it was for Lil Jodeci and his crew, the national attention  “just comes with the territory that comes with doing something a little bit different,” he says. That ‘little bit different’ is the local flavor he brings to house music. Lil Jodeci doesn’t see any tension between EDM and his city’s music. On the fusion with hip-hop in his tracks, he says, “House music has a strong relationship with bounce music. They have a real tight relationship and connection.” He doesn’t see a contradiction between the city’s old and new, traditional and innovative. For him, dance music is urgently hybridic, cross-genre and cross-generational.

New Orleans isn’t going to be the next Berlin, and that’s just fine. Local electronic producers like Lil Jodeci aren’t trying to take over, but they are joining a long line of New Orleans musicians whose music was subtly political as it ignored restraints and called for young people to dance. Cavalier’s tools and sound are different, but the impulse remains the same.