Arvi Mala On DJing in Chicago and His New Music [Mix+Interview]

DJ/producer Arvi Mala has been a staple of the Chicago club scene for nearly a decade and will debut several original productions for the first time this year.

Arvi Mala is a name that nearly everyone in the Chicago music scene will recognize. A diverse DJ with an expertise in house music, Arvi Mala has played countless clubs and parties throughout the city.

While Arvi has opened for a long list of artists throughout the years, his focus is now on his original productions and collaborations. He just released his debut single “Nervous” featuring GracieInRed and has new music coming this summer on Farris Wheel. Arvi recently opened for MK, Biscits, and Dombresky and has played at clubs like Electric Hotel, Sound-Bar, and Prysm Nightclub.

His recent opening set before Biscits at Spybar is available to stream exclusively on Premier EDM now. Read more about Arvi Mala’s advice for opening DJs, his plans for this summer, and his thoughts on the Chicago music scene below.

You’ve opened for artists like Green Velvet, Marshmello, Andrew Bayer, and most recently, Biscits. What do you enjoy most about performing opening DJ sets? Do you have any favorite memories from the many shows you’ve played?

Being an opener, whether it be at the start of the show or as direct support, is an important job. You’re there to set the tone and set the vibe for both the headliner and the entire night. It’s a challenge I enjoy, and it’s fun to dig deep and see everyone in the crowd connecting with my vibe. As an artist, I try to remember why I’m in this. I am always music-focused and being in the middle of the dancefloor and letting go is what got me first enamored with the whole scene in the first place. I like taking the crowd on a journey. Sometimes, there’ll be that one person that I see that is completely lost in the music. 

One of my favorite memories was when I performed with Phantoms at Prysm. I knew their music beforehand and truly loved what they were making, and I was invited to go b2b with them for the last hour and a half of the night.  Another notable show that made an impact on me is when I did a 3.5 hour direct opening set for MALAA. My friend Mike Lang (former GM at Prysm) asked me to play that show because my last name is Mala.

“Nervous”, your debut single with GRACIEINRED, was released last month. What does the release of this track mean to you, and how would you describe the music you produce?

I’ll be honest, releasing this song was a challenge for me. The track was finished in September of 2021, and I dragged my feet on self-releasing it because of how nervous (no pun intended) it made me feel. I’ve listened to that song beginning to end a thousand times and made so many shifts and changes. It was anxiety-inducing for sure, and saying “it’s done” is the hardest part of being a music producer. I always want to make tweaks that maybe the listener won’t notice, but I will. It was a learning experience and Gracie was the perfect vocalist to really tie the whole vibe of the song together. I’m grateful for the journey we had.

When I make music, I’m focused on percussion and groove above all else. I believe it is the core of the groove and the energy I’m trying to emulate. I always try to put myself on the dancefloor. How will this make my body move, how will this spark my interest, and how does it build and then resolve?

You also have several more singles coming later this year on prominent house music labels. What has been your favorite part of making the transition from DJing regularly to focusing more on production?

I have 2 singles coming out on Farris Wheel this summer: “Infinite” on July 15th with my collaborator L3XX and “Side to Side” on September 23rd. I also have a few other self-released tracks along with a few other label releases coming up. This has been a journey and I simply try to always align myself with what feels right. Gene Ferris, Steve Gerard, Orville Kline and Hiroko Yamamura have been incredible mentors. They don’t allow me to slide into mediocrity. They push me to make the best music I can, and I always apply the lessons I learn from them to future projects.

My favorite part of going from DJ to producer has been the ability to create. I’ve been DJing for over 10 years, and I have a solid grip on how to curate and mix a good set. But having a blank canvas to create, test new techniques, mess up A LOT and continue to get better has been very rewarding. I’ve disciplined myself to have at least 2 studio sessions a week and write a new idea every day. It’s hard sometimes to meet those self-imposed expectations, but I mean we’re all growing, right?

As someone who has been in the industry for over 10 years, how have things changed? What do you think the Chicago scene needs to continue to thrive in the future?

I think at its core a lot has changed, and that’s okay. Change is good. New blood and challenging the norms are a pinnacle for change. I believe creative collaboration is key. You can always learn something new from anyone and you can always teach something that someone didn’t know before. Plain and simple, I look at music as the best medium of sharing. It’s meant to be shared, so any sort of gatekeeping or control in any situation isn’t the move.

Digging deep for those hidden gems of songs or sounds that really bend minds is key. DJing is easily accessible to anyone nowadays, and anyone can download the top Beatport tracks and play them in an order or in a way that they bang. But the special moments and the true “OOOF” moments that come when you take risks. Risks are good – I’ve taken many shitty ones and many good ones but without them, I would have learned nothing.

Finally, what are some goals that you’ve set for yourself in the next few years? What do you hope to achieve in the next phase of your career?

Over the next few years, I’m looking forward to producing a lot more, figuring out my sound, and really dialing into my music. As I mentioned, this is a journey. I plan on releasing singles on labels that fit my style rather than just chasing big names. In the next few years, I’d love to take a crack at writing an album and tying in my Albanian upbringing and using some of those sounds and influences that I’ve come to love. I want to share my culture and fuse my love for house music with my heritage. 

I’ve also wanted to dive deeper into those long sets rather than just play the regular hour or two. I want to play 8 or 12 hour sets that really push me further and deeper. I believe that keeping myself in the ethos of good proper music is more important than following any sort of fame. Music saved my life and it’s a powerful therapy.

My biggest piece of advice: don’t give up. Always put in the work and be true to yourself; everyone else is taken. DJing is great, but being able to put your music productions into practice… there’s really no better drug than seeing someone lose themselves in a piece of you.

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