The Rousing Tale of TOKiMONSTA

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Illustrations by Meggyn Pomerleau

Jennifer Lee is TOKiMONSTA, one of the leading prolific Korean-American producer + DJs from Los Angeles, California. Her first album, Midnight Menu, and following EP, Creature Dreams, were both released through Flying Lotus‘s Brainfeeder, deeming her to be the first woman on the label. 

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This year, she’s been touring to support her latest album and creative achievement, Lune Rouge. Portland’s sold-out date for The Lune Rouge Experience quickly approached and as I stepped into Holocene, I had no idea what to expect. Last time I saw TOKiMONSTA, she had opened for Chromeo with a set leaving me craving and needing more. 

TOKiMONSTA’s stage presence is bouncy, positive, and uplifting. She’s small and stunning, and her love for both playing and listening to music transpires through the blatant smile that never left her face. It’s easy to be left spellbound. 

Having shared her personal story with Pitchfork last month, her mission is clear: to bring awareness to Moyamoya. Following her diagnosis in 2015, two brain surgeries, and grueling recovery, the culmination that is Lune Rouge emerged.

“I had brain surgery in January 2016. By the end of March, I went to SXSW and by April, I played Coachella in front of 15,000 people. I went on full tours after that, and still no one knows that I went through this whole experience. I’m sharing the story now to bring light to Moyamoya, because it is such a rare condition, but also to give attention to all personal struggles. I think people sometimes forget that artists are human. We all go through really terrible things and face hardships.”

Moyamoya is an aggressive and uncommon brain disease caused by blocked arteries. The name “moyamoya” means “puff of smoke” in Japanese and is directly referencing the scrambled mess of brain vessels formed from the disease.

“The whole album took about a year and a half to make. Lune Rouge is the result of all the correct sequences of events that have happened in my life until that point. If I took any other path or made any other decision, I still would have made an album, but not Lune Rouge.”

When asked about her creative process, why she sought out to create Lune Rouge, and how she’s become an inspiration, TOKiMONSTA expressed that “creating is a relentless challenge that causes you to seek and push your limits. At no point in my life did I ever expect to be in such a position [to be an inspiration]. That being said, I will continue to exist as an artist with integrity.”

If overcoming the mental challenges of brain surgery isn’t impressive enough, TOKiMONSTA has exhibited a love for rock climbing. Her beta for fellow climbers? “If you have issues developing calluses like me, tape up because flappers are not fun.”