We Can't Get May Kwok Out of Our Heads
May Kwok is more than just a globally sought-after DJ. Add in fashion tastemaker, fitness fanatic, visionary entrepreneur, event producer, surfer girl, total wellness and lifestyle advocate...and one extremely busy babe (did we mention she ran a half marathon the morning before we did this shoot and interview?!). Not only does May just get it (it as in the beautifully complicated point of life), but she infuses everything she does with consciousness. How does a nightlife queen live a healthy and whole life? She's learned a thing or two about balance.
Tell us a little bit about your your journey to where you are now.
I’m a New Yorker, and I was in the night life business for a really long time. I started a career in PR as an event coordinator. The New York scene is very small. I lived with a lot of other PR kids and once I started getting into DJ-ing, friends of friends were booking me and we kind of just all grew together. It was really nice because now a lot of the them are big PR honchos at big brands and they always just give me a ring whenever they need some music creation.
How do you manage to live a healthy lifestyle when you're constantly in the nightlife, event, party scene?
When I started out there was definitely a lot of socializing — a lot of drinking, lots of parties, and probably five-six years ago, I was like, ‘I definitely need to make a change…’ So I went to SoulCycle, I think that was my first fitness class ever, and I was like, ‘Wow, I feel amazing!’ Around that same time, I started dating my now ex-boyfriend, who didn’t eat meat, so I changed my eating habits. I stopped eating red meat, chicken, turkey, all that stuff, but I still eat fish occasionally. I’m Asian, so I love my sushi. Then, at that turning point, I just became more aware of my body and health and wanted to take care of myself. I started exercising daily, and nowadays, I try to workout at least four times a week. That’s the goal. To eat healthy and just take care of myself.
Besides being a DJ, I am also a full-time event producer. I'm a Production Director of a little agency here in Brooklyn, and that also takes a lot of my time. And, because it's production for events, I have to be very aware of what I'm eating because it's so easy to be on location, after working long hours and be like, 'Let's order pizza,' because it's fast and easy and I'm in a rush. But, I'm always aware of that. I need to order a salad just to make sure I have really nice, organic ingredients going into my body for nutrition and fuel. I also carry fruit bars and granola bars with me so I'm not eating chips all day.
I have this side project called The Notion and it's my health, fitness, fashion, art, lifestyle, surf, pop-up brand, so I'm focusing on that too. It's very health and wellness conscious. And that keeps me in check.
How has the relationship with your body changed since you’ve made these big lifestyle changes?
Physically, I just look better. I’m definitely more toned. I’ve never been overweight, but just inside myself, I feel so much better. And it definitely changed me mentally.
When I try too hard to be too healthy, I feel off-balance. I do let myself drink occasionally and will have two or three glasses of champagne — I’m not that strict. I honestly can’t let myself get too one-sided because then it can take me over and I'd get too obsessive about it all. So that’s my balance. I allow myself ice-cream, guilt-free. I let myself have a good veggie burger. I ran 13 miles today, so I went to Nathan’s as soon as it was done and got some chili fries [laughs]. That’s my balance.
Were there moments in your DJing career where you knew that this was something really big, and not just a side hobby?
Yeah! I guess when I first started it was mostly a few in-store brands, and denim brands and things like Refinery29 writing about me, and then PAPER, and then gradually, it was a Vogue write up. My photos and interview are on W and all these things, and I started getting calls from art museums to do their galas, and all of a sudden I was like, ‘Whoa, this is big.’ I think that’s when I realized that this is a real career, and that I’m actually good at it, because people keep calling me back to do it.
Where and how do you find your inspirations for everything that you do?
I grew up in Queens and wanted to be a cartoonist. I don’t really draw cartoons now, but sometimes I like to paint. It’s a bit of a sore subject on my part because I remember in high school, I was applying for a specialty art high school and I got my mom to buy all these supplies so I could put together a portfolio, and I just didn’t do it. Until this day, I always kind of feel like I made a mistake. But, my path is my path now. I’m here. I’m still doing creative things, but I’m not an artist. Well, I guess that I am, just in my own way.
Being in this industry, all my friends are creatives. I’m always reading magazines and online articles and going to events and openings and visually getting inspired by that — I turn it all into my own creativity.
The beach and surf culture are definitely big influences for me. I went to Sayulita a few months ago, and it was so beautiful. I’ve been to many surf towns, but there was this sense of creativity and artisanship in Sayulita because they hand-make all their textiles. All of their blankets are hand-woven and their ceramics are hand-painted, and it’s just this big sense of craftsmanship that’s tied to the surf culture there. I was like, ’Whoa I could definitely live here.'
The best part about surfing is when I get to do it with the sun movement. Sunrise or sunset surfing is the most beautiful thing you can ever do, and that’s definitely my inspiration.
Surfing can be a really special experience for a lot of people — what's the experience like for you?
I don’t know how to explain it — most of the time you’re in the water just sitting on your board. You’re waiting and you’re watching the waves. You’re sitting in the ocean and it’s so beautiful out and the sun is setting and you just really take it all in. It’s definitely meditative. I rarely sit there and think about my problems. It’s more like, ‘Wow this is amazing right now…No problems over here!’
The worst thing is getting tumbled over by a big, strong wave. It feels awful, but you just have to get up and do it again. It’s definitely scary, but everything is scary. Running a marathon is scary. Running a half-marathon is scary. Trying out new workouts is scary. You just have to go do it!
What are the fitness rituals or routines that you practice daily?
Now that I’m training, I’m so crazy. I want to get my strength training in. I also want to do yoga. I kind of fluctuate every week. It depends on the week. Mondays I like this certain teacher at SoulCycle, then on Tuesday I make sure I do high intensity workouts, and on Wednesday I’ll flip over to yoga and then go for a run on Friday. There’s so much to do out there.
Equinox has this class I love called Cut — it’s shadowboxing, and part kickboxing. They also always incorporate planks and ab stuff with intensity cardio stuff. I love that. And for yoga, I love Y7. I know that yoga is supposed to be all quiet and nice, but something about the dimmed lights and the loud music and doing your flow is just the best thing on earth, especially if you’re into music. Sometimes, music can be more meditative than silence. In my last class, I cried at the end.
Are there ever times when you feel burnt out from all of your career ventures?
I don't just have normal desk jobs. Two weeks ago, I did this really big project — it was a Creative Time gala and I was onsite for five days. It was massive. I felt all burnt out because I was also trying to run in the morning. Sometimes, I have to say, ‘Don’t force yourself to go workout because you’ll feel terrible after trying to incorporate all of that…so sleep a little longer.’
I always try to give myself a break to make some turmeric-ginger tea, and then I’ll be fine. It always makes me feel better the next day. I use turmeric a lot — that’s my thing when I’m sick or feeling lethargic.
What’s your idea of legacy?
There's a reason why I like to do this press about my workouts and stuff. Yes, press for myself, that's great and all, but at the same time, I want to inspire other women to do things they don't normally do, and be okay with trying out new things at any stage of their lives. When I wanted to get into surfing, I got into surfing. When I wanted to run, I got into running. When I wanted to beat my time, I beat it, which was this morning by the way, and I beat it by 15 minutes. There are things I want women to feel empowered about doing. If I can do it, you can too. We are our own self-motivators. And that's what's important to know.
I have a job, multiple jobs, but I'm also trying to be my own entrepreneur, and I'm also trying to live a healthy life and enjoy the things I love. If I can be an inspiration to women and girls, then I've done my part. Girl power, ya know?