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Music

DJ RQ Away Brings Electric, Playful Energy to His Sets

DJ RQ Away (Photo: Katie Sikora)

I met DJ RQ Away less than a year ago while touring with Tank and The Bangas. Jevon Thompson, or “RQ” —as we fondly refer to him on the road—joined the fray early this year as the band’s DJ. Thompson began DJing in 2006 while he was a new resident assistant at the University of New Orleans. It was during an effort to create programming and events for students on campus following Hurricane Katrina that his career began to take shape.

What began as poetry nights with curated music, themed parties, and workshops has flourished into a career that he didn’t even envision. I have spent the better part of the year watching RQ cultivate an inclusive freeness in his style as well as a fresh air of cheekiness in his interactions with the crowd. His energy is electric, playful, and humble. And if you have to spend four months of the year living out of a 12-passenger van, RQ is someone you definitely want there with you to share snacks with. Let’s jump in with DJ RQ Away.

DJ RQ Away (Photo: Katie Sikora)

Katie Sikora: When did you start DJing and what was the learning experience?

DJ RQ Away: Music was my happy place my whole life, as a kid I spent time at home “writing” and singing songs on my sister’s hand-me-down keyboard and recording songs off the radio and The Box. After getting a paying gig on campus using VirtualDJ, folks on campus started to see me as a DJ, but that felt fraudulent. I didn’t know anything about turntables or own any records and I’d never touched a mixer. Becoming what I knew a DJ to be felt impossible to me. The idea of actually acquiring equipment, learning how to use it on a basic level and then on an artistic level seemed crazy, but if I was going to explore the art I wanted to do it right.

Some of my Honduran homies and fellow resident assistant friends wanted to do the same and within a week of a hilarious conversation, we started a DJ crew (we still were not DJs). They were doing things on campus too but were more intent on doing clubs and venues in the city and they were very successful at it. I was super concerned with replicating feelings I got from Wild Style or Juice or Jazzy Jeff, A-Trak, DJ Maxmillion, Raj Smoove, and Mike Swift. I spent months in my dorm, missing meals, class, dates, brushing my teeth, and even RA duties learning everything I could before I’d play on tables in public. I mixed my first records in the south hall of Pontchartrain Hall [at UNO]. And then I killed my first official DJ “debut” and became known as the DJ around campus, spinning for the student organizations and events throughout the year. I was the official DJ of UNO’s football team, student housing, and new student orientation.

DJ RQ Away (Photo: Katie Sikora)

In 2009, I had no job and was sleeping on my best friend’s floor when I decided to turn DJing into a full-time thing. After a short stint at Best Buy and then Whole Foods, I began to DJ full time in 2012 after my first published interview in Offbeat Magazine (shout out to Brian Boyles)!

KS: Where did you grow up in New Orleans?

DJ RQ Away: N. Prieur Street in the Lafitte Projects in New Orleans, about an 8-minute walk from Armstrong Park.

KS: Describe your method/approach/music. Who are your local influences and mainstream influences?

DJ RQ Away: I always intend to approach music/DJing as a proud student, even on stage. The idea is that I’m always sharing what I’m learning. Every set is a little “this feels good” mixed with some “I just learned about ____, you should try this too.”

DJ RQ Away (Photo: Katie Sikora)

KS: What has been your favorite performance experience in New Orleans thus far?

DJ RQ Away: Opening for Ludacris for a sold-out House of Blues crowd on Mother’s Day 2008 with my Mom onstage. It’s still the only time she’s ever seen me spin in person.

KS: Which New Orleans musicians most inspire you?

DJ RQ Away: Christian Scott because he has literally created his own “lane” or space. Not just in a local or even national scene but within the genre as a result of years of defying boundaries with style.

KS: Favorite place to catch live music in NOLA?

DJ RQ Away: It doesn’t exist anymore but Handsome Willy’s Bar. It’s where I started The Tipping Point, my first recurring event. I moved it to The Dragon’s Den in 2016 and we celebrated the 11-year anniversary last month.

DJ RQ Away (Photo: Katie Sikora)

KS: What do you love most about this city?

DJ RQ Away: I’m not sure if this is a real answer or not but no place in the world feels like New Orleans. The air, the colors (especially at sunset), the constant connection to African history, and of course the food. No place like it.

KS: What is your favorite non-musical activity to do in New Orleans?

DJ RQ Away: Fishing and bike riding.

KS: Favorite food to eat in NOLA?

DJ RQ Away: Anything from my mom’s kitchen.

DJ RQ Away (Photo: Katie Sikora)

KS: Where would you like to see your career as a musician go in the future?

DJ RQ Away: More solo tours and traveling are still on my list, and I still haven’t tried music production.

KS: When is your next performance in New Orleans?

DJ RQ Away: My next performance in New Orleans will be with Tank and the Bangas at Tipitina’s on November 30.

Katie Sikora graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in Visual Journalism and worked as Photo Editor at The Peninsula Pulse in Door County, Wis., Media Strategist for Levy Restaurants in Chicago, Ill., and an Archivist at The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, La. before pursuing her namesake photography business shooting everything from shark tagging research to vodou ceremonies and—you guessed it—weddings! Her photographs have been published by The Chicago Sun-Times, Gambit, The Times-Picayune, RedEye Chicago, The New Orleans Advocate, Houseshow Magazine, Antigravity Magazine, In The Bite Magazine, Thrillist, CBS Chicago, NBC Chicago, and the World Wildlife Fund amongst others. She is the creator and director of The Sexism Project, an ongoing portrait and interview series featuring the stories of real women in real industries experiencing real sexism.

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