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Five Questions with Karen Valencia ’15

Known as Karennoid, Valencia works as a DJ in some of Chicago’s trendiest nightclubs, serving up reggaeton beats. She shares how Northwestern shaped her worldview. 

Headshot of Karen Valencia
Image: Alex Zandro

By Jacob Arnold
Winter 2024

Karen Valencia, perhaps better known as Karennoid, performs in some of Chicago’s trendiest nightclubs. She is also marketing coordinator and events producer for the Agua de Rosas collective, which organizes alternative reggaeton parties in Chicago and beyond. Northwestern Magazine’s Jacob Arnold talked with Valencia, who grew up in Chicago’ Gage Park neighborhood, about her favorite reggaeton styles and how Northwestern shaped her cinematic view of the world.  

How did you break into DJing? 

After I graduated from Northwestern in 2015, I worked as a people manager for Uber corporate until 2020. Before any of us even knew the extent of the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns, I decided to quit my job and become a DJ. It was a tough time to become a DJ because all the dance clubs and bars were closed.    

I knew a few other women who were DJs, but there were not many. My partner at the time knew how to use DJ technology, so he helped me in my early days. During quarantine I really learned how to DJ and officially started performing in 2021. 

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In Chicago, I DJ at underground venues across the city. I play bars in the Pilsen neighborhood and made my Smartbar debut in Wrigleyville last year. I play all over the Midwest, including Wisconsin and Michigan, and internationally in Mexico City. I go there every year on vacation, but last year was the first time I went on a DIY DJ tour. I booked gigs all over the city and in nearby towns. Mexico is my happy place, where I feel most like myself. 

I usually say yes to any opportunity that comes my way. Because I did this all on my own, I never want to shut something out until I try it.  

What is reggaeton and what attracted you to that genre? 

Reggaeton is a genre and culture in Latin music. It has Afro-Latino roots. The dance music originated in the late 1980s and became popular in Puerto Rico.  

It’s danceable, but it’s also tied to passion and to the body. It’s so rhythmic and celebratory. It’s a genre for any occasion. 

I always loved reggaeton growing up. In 2018 I discovered alternative reggaeton, which was being made outside of Puerto Rico — in Spain, in Chile and other South American countries. It has this very cybernetic sound. It is futuristic and femme forward, with an underground minimalist sound. 

The other flavor that I really love is neoperreo, a movement that started in Chile in 2016 or 2017. It’s women-led with a lot of autotune. It changes the party when I play that. It’s cool because it’s unapologetic. It’s completely different from any other reggaeton being made anywhere else. It’s not afraid to push boundaries, be explicit and exude pleasure. Neoperreo changed my life. 

Right now, I’m playing a lot of Latincore and Mexican reggaeton in the clubs. Latincore incorporates heavy drums, fun nostalgic samples and fusions of other genres like like guaracha, cumbia, reggaeton, techno and more. Mexican reggaeton has a lot of humor and honesty in it. It’s very camp. It’s just fun to play. 

How has your Northwestern education helped prepare you for your musical career? 

I majored in English literature and minored in film and media studies. I was already a creative person — I was a theater kid in high school — but what I studied at Northwestern made me even more cinematic about my art and about my life. With every gig, I’m always thinking through a director’s lens.    

I write and edit all of my promotional material. I do all of my own marketing. I’m my own booking agent. I’m basically the creative director of my brand. I really learned how to network in college, too. You meet so many people when you’re a DJ, so those skills come in handy. 

What was it like to come to Northwestern as a first-generation student and the daughter of Mexican immigrants?   

It was one of the loneliest times of my life, but it was a rewarding time as well. I experienced a lot of growth at an accelerated rate, and it was a bit of a culture shock. It’s an interesting sensation when you’re making a lot of people around you proud, but you’re not necessarily 100% confident in the choices that you’re making.  

But I also feel so privileged to have gone to Northwestern. I’m thankful for the people I’ve met and the education I received. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it, because I had a really great academic experience. 

What do you love most about what you do? 

Oh, so much! For a long time, when I was working in the corporate world, I felt like something was missing, like I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do. I wanted to be creative.  

Maybe other DJs don’t think of it this way, but at the end of the day, when I go out and perform for you, I’m telling you a story. I’m curating the environment. I’m choosing the songs, and I’m taking you on a journey!  

As a DJ, I love that I can express myself through music and also showcase my passion for fashion, dance and visual media. Every gig is a performance. Every gig has a story, an aesthetic, a visual concept. I take it very seriously. For some people DJing is their job, but this is my life.  

Jacob Arnold is a music journalist with a focus on dance music.   

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