Heels & Picks: From Waikiki to BET
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Hawaii’s own Tina Viernes, better known to the club set as DJ Anit, was among last month’s graduating class from Bae University with Grammy Award-winning producer and recording artist Pharrell Williams as her instructor — and she completed her studies in just four days!
Williams has definitely made an impact this year, and not just because of the outrageous hat he’s taken to wearing on stage. His latest album, “G I R L,” features a slew of hit songs, starting with the ubiquitous “Happy” (which first appeared on the soundtrack of hit children’s movie “Despicable Me 2”).
You know the song; it gets stuck in your head like gum that has been super-glued to the sidewalk during the hottest summer day. “Happy” received an Oscar nomination for Song of the Year and seven Grammy nominations.
But this isn’t Williams’ first rodeo. As part of production team The Neptunes, Williams produced songs for many of music’s major players and made guest appearances on many hit tracks. He was most recently featured on Daft Punk’s hit, “Get Lucky.”
But let’s take a moment and go back to school.
Bae University was the title for Williams’ opening performance at the 2014 BET Awards on June 29, and it was definitely a female-friendly class. In the spirit of his album title, the performance featured several dancers and two DJs — all ladies — with a cameo by rap superstar Missy Elliot. Viernes was one of the DJs on stage after getting a call from Williams’ camp a few weeks earlier.
The class performed Williams’ catchy, flirty funk song, “Come Get It Bae”, the third single off “G I R L.” Dancers wore cheerleading skirts and the entire crew wore Bae University shirts. Williams was the only man on stage among this sea of women, and after taking a look at his album cover you get the feeling he likes it that way.
When Viernes got her invite to be part of Williams’ BET Awards gig with just three days notice, she said there was only one thing to do: get her affairs in order and gigs covered for the week, pack up her pom poms (or turntables, as the case may be) and head to Los Angeles for four days of rehearsals before the live performance.
She scored the gig after producing an audition video on the advice of Montreal’s DJ A-Trak, who agreed to submit it to Williams’ management. It’s no surprise he was able to set it up, as A-Trak has built an impressive career of his own including working on Kanye West albums “Late Registration” and “Graduation,” as well as joining the rapper on the road as his tour DJ. In 2012, A-Trak was featured on the cover of Billboard magazine alongside Diplo and Skrillex.
Once in L.A., Viernes said she was prepared to impress Williams’ crew with her talent.
“I started out as a hip-hop DJ, scratching, and I evolved into a club DJ,” she said. “So I wanted to make sure they knew I could scratch.
“You know how Pharrell bobs his head when he’s performing? His team told me if I’m not precise when I drop in a cut, he’ll be able to tell and feel it, and he’ll lose his vibe. I wanted to go in there and show them what I’ve got.”
Viernes left Honolulu on June 25, but it was another two days before she would meet Williams in person when he stopped by a rehearsal to see how things were shaping up.
“Pharrell would come in the for the last hour of rehearsals to perform with us,” she said. “He went out of his way to acknowledge me and talk to me every time, which was really cool of him. I celebrated my birthday while I was there, too!”
Her take on the superstar singer and producer is that he’s “creative and humble” and for a massive superstar, he seemed “very genuine and spiritual.”
DJs were added to the performance to make the song sound more “live and funky,” and Viernes said she had more creative freedom during the performance than expected.
“They didn’t really tell me exactly what to do,” she said. “I ended up doing a lot of scratches during the first verse.”
On the day of the performance, Williams’ crew arrived at the Nokia Theater at 8:30 a.m. for a 10 a.m. rehearsal. After that, they had several hours before show time to hang out with dancers and backing bands for all the other acts performing that night.
“Usher, Chris Brown, all of their dancers and DJs were in the same section as us, so we all hung out backstage,” Viernes said. “I got the feeling that in L.A. many of these dancers and DJs run into each other again and again at different events, shoots and backing performances, so they all get to know each other.”
As for future endeavors with Williams, Viernes said she is willing and able to reprise her role.
“You have to be ready to go at the drop of a hat,” she said. “He has a tour in the fall, I had heard, so we’ll see. I will be ready if I get the call!”
Check out DJ Anit in action at Addiction Nightclub every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, plus Sundays in the Modern Honolulu’s lobby bar, The Study.
Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.