UNIIQU3 is taking Jersey club to new heights
This article is taken from Issue 130. Get your copy now via the online store.
“I wanted to make noise,” muses Cherise Gary, better known as UNIIQU3, as she reminisces about the early days of her career. It’s a statement – unswerving and resolute – delivered with the warmest of smiles. Her silver tooth gem twinkles in the light.
The DJ, producer and vocalist has done exactly what she set out to over the past decade. As a steward of Jersey club – the fierce and frenetic dance music style that emerged from Gary’s hometown of Newark in the early 2000s – she’s helped to steer the sound from a locally recognised movement into an international phenomenon.
Bodysuit: Helix by Mucilage, Skirt and boots: Jonathon Kidd, Rings and earrings: Parc Jewellery, Sunglasses: Coperni x Gentle Monster
Gary first discovered Jersey club as a teenage ballerina venturing downtown for classes at Newark Symphony Hall. She was often running early and would explore the area to pass the time. “I would hear club music,” she recalls. “So, I’m like, ‘What is this music?’” As it turns out, DJ Tameil, the founding father of Jersey club, was selling his CDs at a booth nearby. Gary would bring them back to the hall to show her classmates; lessons often ended this way. “Everybody would hop in a circle and dance,” says Gary, breaking into a dance herself. “I brought them this CD. They were like, ‘Oh you’ve got a club CD?’ We put it on and that’s when they started doing all of these lit dances.”
An induction into Newark’s party scene swiftly followed. As did a consequential realisation: “I was like, ‘Man, all these DJs are lit, [but] how come there are no girls behind the decks?’” It would have been easier for Gary to remain on the sidelines, enjoy the music for what it was, and ignore how she felt about the lack of female DJ representation. But easy just wasn’t (and still isn’t) her style. She learned how to DJ in 2011, and two years later, she began producing.
These days, Gary is considered the queen of Jersey club. She’s a fixture on the international festival circuit, with her high-energy sets every bit as revitalising as a wellness shot. Her bountiful catalogue, which comprises everything from standalone club cuts and reactive rap remixes through to the numerous projects she dropped during the pandemic, echoes this same sentiment. If you listen to a UNIIQU3 release and feel an immediate desire to be shoulder-to-shoulder with swaying strangers on a sweaty dancefloor, then Gary’s mission has been achieved.
It’s Gary’s latest release, a six-track EP entitled Heartbeats, that she’s currently touring across Europe. Right now, she’s in Edinburgh for her debut show in the city, and fuelling herself with a brightly-coloured smoothie bowl. A leopard print bucket hat (“I like textured stuff”) covers her hair, and a pink dinosaur backpack can be seen in the background. She brings it closer to her camera to show off its spikes. “It’s a signature piece – I’m big on those.”
Bodysuit: Helix by Mucilage, Skirt and boots: Jonathon Kidd, Rings and earrings: Parc Jewellery
Released on London label Local Action, which is home to the likes of India Jordan, E.M.M.A. and DJ Q, Heartbeats was inspired by a real-life breakup and speaks to those who’ve been dumped or played. Not forgetting the girls who fall in love with the wrong guy at the club. “Something that I’ve lived a thousand times,” she grins.
Gary poured her heart into the EP, which features hip house heater Microdosing and the anthemic Shame on Me. In doing so, she created her most authentic and relatable release to date. It’s also her most ambitious, with Gary buffing her raw and kinetic club sound into a glossy pop sheen. This shift in aesthetic also influenced her songwriting. Given the EP’s intimate nature, she needed the lyrics to depict not only heartache and vulnerability, but also self-love. “I wanted [the tracks] to still have a dose of confidence,” she explains. “I feel like a lot of women feel like that; even though we’re heartbroken, we still know – whether you’re gaslighting me or not – I’m the prize.”
Gary has never struggled to project confidence. Growing up, she felt most at home while performing. Alongside ballet she studied hip-hop, tap, jazz and modern dance. She played piano in her high school concert band as well. “I’ve always been a multi-genre chick,” she says, noting her affinity for musicals and rap music.
These interests, and especially her passion for hip-hop culture, were foundational in developing her personal style. Missy Elliott and Janet Jackson were key inspirations, and Cam’ron’s iconic pink moment continues to inform her visual language. Gary also admits that Kelis was the reason she first experimented with blue hairspray. “It was not the best at the time,” she laughs, “but it was cool to me.” She still views fashion as an extension of her personality. Factoring her musical career into the equation, her look is now an extension of her music, too: fun, loud, experimental. “I’ve always been drawn to just making myself a little bit unusual,” she says with another bright smile. “I’ve always been really creative with how I like to dress myself – definitely for the club.”
Speaking of the club, the day before our interview, she posted an Instagram Story in which she revealed a goal to open a queer club in Newark that was reminiscent of now-defunct New York venue, The Globe. Gary, who identifies as a bisexual woman, first encountered ballroom culture and artists like MikeQ, a then-resident, at the venue. She quickly became a regular there – both as a partygoer, and as a booked artist herself. “I appreciated the space it held for so many queer people,” says Gary, who currently runs an event called PBNJ (short for Philly, Baltimore and New Jersey) with Baltimore’s Bmore Than Dance collective. “Once I got introduced to that scene, I just [felt] really OK being how I was. They were so welcoming of people who are different and Newark deserves to have a space like that.”
For now, though, Gary is focused on touring. “I released so much music during lockdown. I just really want to play that music out, see what resonates and gives a good show.” It’s easy to see why an artist who thrives off connection and community feels compelled to give back to her fans. “I don’t always want to have to throw something at a warehouse or a straight club,” she states, her voice steadfast with conviction. “We should have spaces for [people] to be at and feel comfortable and maybe test somebody else’s comfortability. I’m all here for the mesh, that’s what Jersey is for me. That’s a UNIIQU3 party.”
Heartbeats is out now via Local Action