Edward Skinner can’t sleep. His body suggests that he should, but he’s too excited to do so. To him, sleep will come eventually. Taking in this day, this particular trip, is what’s important. That, and he feels bound to living and breathing in as much space and time as possible. Most of this sounds like self-affirmations, the powerful tools of internal belief that overcome even the smallest bit of doubt. It’s how he can excuse sleep because it will “be there,” whenever he says so. “They are showing me love,” he says. “My life changed out here.”
The “here” Skinner is referring to isn’t Houston. Far from it. Skinner, better known as DJ and photographer 9th Sage, was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, nearly 10,000 miles away from home. Manifesting to the world months ago that he would tour Asia at some point in the year, all of the connections were made and Skinner boarded a flight earlier this month to play his first of three international shows.
When the Houston Press reached him last week, it was 3:30 a.m. and Skinner was in a stoic form of relaxation. Both reflective and motivational, Sage’s words were delivered in grateful tones. He was in Asia because Malaysia-based DJ Roshan Menon discovered Sage’s mixes on SoundCloud in mid-2016, and the two struck up a mutual rapport.
“I tweeted I wanted to travel and do what I love in a variety of places around the world,” he says. “Literally two seconds later he replies and says that we needed to make Asia happen. This was in May. Three months later, I’m in Asia doing exactly what i envisioned. All thanks to Roshan for believing in me.”
Menon booked Sage for his Saturday Selects series, a Kuala Lumpur-based operation that travels all over the country and defines itself as both record label and collective of like-minded people who share the same passion for music. It has a similar base as that of the Hive Society, the nonprofit that not only promotes civic wellness through music but also charitable donations to the Houston Food Bank, yoga and more. A number of Sage’s mixes are found on the Hive Society’s official website, all of them geared towards relaxed, bright production with a number of dance-ready tunes blended in.
How Sage found a greater love behind the turntables and not his camera lens is rather simple. Capturing the moments and looks of a wide number of people is enthralling, sure but it no longer gave 9th Sage the type of push in creativity that he always beckons for. “To be 100% honest, behind the boards is where I feel the most free I could ever feel,” he says. “Music is life to me. That freedom and joy you feel providing an experience for others to be just as free as you feel, even if it’s just for that hour or whatever the case may be. Music is my heaven.”
Three years ago, Sage took up DJing after years of sharing various mixes with friends. Always primed to find new music and put people on, the Houston producer made it his mission to translate that into a far greater hustle. In the more than 1,000 days since, it’s become less of a hobby and more of a job. He’s keen on looking at how various DJs transition from being second in command to rappers to owning a stage by themselves. Larger acts, producer/DJ hybrids such as Metro Boomin, are currently on tour. DJ Khaled opened for Beyonce’s Formation World Tour last year. The only Houston DJ Sage believes is on this traveling rock-star level is OG Chase B, Travis Scott’s DJ.
“DJs have the power to create experiences and make a room full of people adapt to their energy. That’s powerful,” Sage says. “You don't know who you're touching with the music and energy you give out to these people. It’s even more freeing for the DJ. That kind of energy is addictive, honestly.”
However, that energy can be corrupted. There are DJs who create and actually chose to learn the trade. Then there are others, the aux-cord mavens attempting to cash in on current trends. As a purist, Sage sneers at the thought with a newfound appreciation for the craft. “Lazy” people can’t get by, according to him. Nor should they.
“It’s hella disrespectful to us who actually love this shit,” he says. “Go find another hobby to gentrify, my guy — or girl.”
Sage can laugh now, but he can recall the darker moments when quitting felt like an option. Friends would pull him back into place, but only he could ask himself what was right for him. That resolve parlays into his mixes. Approval from fans across the globe is one thing, but it’s up to him to solely slice together Austin Marc’s take on Daddy Yankee’s mid-2000s reggaeton hit “Gasolina” with D.C.’s own GoldLink and, lately, The Asia Tour Mix, a 30-minute quick selection of some of Sage’s favorite records that manages to take Houston Far East.
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With the world having zero boundaries in regards to accepting music, Sage tried to challenge himself by straying away from far more commercial material. (“A lot of people play it safe, where’s the fucking fun in that?”, he says.) Being afraid of reactions is what normally separates a good DJ from a great DJ. In one of his usual trusty nuggets of wisdom, 9th Sage smirks like an animé character ready to drop a poignant piece of exposition: “You have to make people adapt to your energy and gift, not the other way around.”
“This journey was not easy, bro,” he contends. “Risk after risk, network after network, hardship after hardship. It’s a blessing to have developed such genuine relationships w/ people who always had my best interest at heart. Although they were there for me, it was still up to me at the end of the day to not let anything stop what I’m destined for.”
Before he finally breaks down and pauses for the night, he responds, “I've never been so tired in my life, but all of this worth it. This experience and this feeling is priceless.”
By the time he returned to America earlier this week, Edward Skinner had played two more shows in Malaysia and more. He's already held out a reservation about moving to Kuala Lumpur in January to tour Asia for a few months before returning back to the States. Once his body readjusts to being back in Houston, he’ll situate himself in an area of optimistic discomfort. Every move from there on out is to strengthen his resolve. He already has a support network that will keep him sane. The rest? It’s up to him.