Photo credit: Pretend
The world of DJing can be a daunting space to operate in. The pressure to be perfect is at times consuming, which means the fun can take a backseat. Technical transitions and perfect beat matching have become the benchmark of quality, a dick-measuring contest for males to massage one another’s egos. But there are some DJs who are shunning convention, instead finding new, interesting and experimental ways to blend and layer records. LUCE_ is an advocate for this more unorthodox approach to mixing. For her, it is an opportunity for more creative freedom, to manipulate and play with different sounds and textures. If you let nature take its course something magical could happen. And ultimately the fun lies in the unknown.
In her home of Leeds she makes up part of Equaliser, a DJ collective with a mission to support and promote women, trans men, and non-binary people through workshops and parties. Aside from this she’s become a regular face behind the decks (bar) at Outlaws Yacht Club, one of the first spots – along with Ryan Lewis’ Leftovers club nights – that she felt comfortable enough to embrace and explore her weird and experimental tastes. More recently, after picking up a lot more bookings across the UK, she’s moved into playing club-focused sounds, but she still manages to find ways to fuse this with her experimental approach.
Alongside an interview about her entry into the world of record collecting, she delivers a vinyl-only mix that represents her experimental digging journey, playing with transitions and tempos throughout.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
I definitely remember my mum dancing around the kitchen to Prince. I would join in but it was more about the dancing aha. She would always be playing music in the house to motivate her cooking or cleaning but as for record collecting there has been no influence from my family members. Records were never around in our household.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
Well, I’d say I have become a “digger” accidentally. I’ve been a music lover since I was very young. Dancing was also a main hobby. I would put on tracks as soon as I got home from school: Destiny’s Child, Beyonce, Britney, Missy Elliot etc, and dance in my room for hours. And then it all started from partying at nights in York and going to Beacons festival in 2013; this inspired me to dig for electronic music.
My partner at the time was also learning how to DJ and I was really inspired by this. We were visiting London and I bought my first record from YAM in Peckham. I got really into buying fast techno, a range of house and UK-based stuff but would always go for something more on the experimental side.
When I moved to Leeds for Uni I would go out every week and experience the music scene. During my second year I found the bar/record shop Outlaws Yacht Club, which is when my music taste started to get obscure and w e i r d. The job I was working at the time was also a turning point as my boss lent me his Technics and mixer. I originally just wanted one deck to play the records I had been collecting but he kindly lent me his so I could practice what two at once sounded like. Without this platform I probably wouldn’t have started to dig as often as I did. After having these in my room and discovering how you could layer and play around with the sound I got hooked! Buying records every week, waiting for that student loan to drop so I could spend it all…. Classic. I definitely don’t dig as much now I don’t have that luxury of the student loan but what inspires me to keep digging is to support the local record shops in Leeds like Tribe Records and Disque 72 Social. When I visit a new place, it’s also an excuse to find some music originating from that place and support local labels the shop has in stock. I like doing that.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I have sections of moods or situations stored in the classic Ikea Kallax. If I play at Outlaws Yacht Club quite a lot, I have a section just for playing at that place. The bar has a certain vibe to it so a lot of my digging happens with Outlaws in mind. I have sections for dark ambient, experimental soft, experimental heavy, music for dancing is just one whole category without specific genres, then there’s sassy pumpers, easy soft listening, sound recordings and film soundtracks, slow chuggers, 90s R’n’B acapellas and so on.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I’d say Tribe Records in Leeds, the guys are good pals of mine and know my taste very well. If some good bits have come in I often have a pile waiting for me, collated by Si! Also charity shops and second hand stores. I’ve often found the funniest most bazar records here and they are super cheap, for example yoga lessons from the 80s.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
When I was in Frankfurt about three years ago on a Uni trip I visited a record shop, annoyingly I can’t remember the name, it’s something like Mythos Records. But it’s where I met Jacub the owner. They had a lot of post punk and punk rock sections and I found some really nice spooky music originating from Frankfurt. It’s a record I’ve included in this mix – Deuter’s ‘Call Of The Unknown. He was great and talked a lot about the music he had. It was just a really nice experience, I must have spent a couple hours in there! Another is Andy, the owner of ASA90, a camera shop in Berlin I went to in Kottbusser Tor. I went to get my film developed and I ended up chatting to him about records. He showed me some of his bands music and some of his own stuff too. He had this small selection, all really weird, which is where I found the ‘Liquid Sky’ film soundtrack. Probably the weirdest record and film I know of. And, of course, Si Scott the hero of Leeds finest Tribe Records. A huge big ups to Si – he’s always really quick at picking out records for people after gauging what they like.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?
Pauline Anna Strom – ‘When Dubs Cry’ has recently been celebrated in 2017 but before this she was very elusive. She was an American electronic music composer and synthesist. This album beautifully compelled in the early 80s and then after that she sold all her gear and vanished. Ariel Kalma – ‘Evolutionary music’ and the Liquid Sky film soundtrack.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
Depends what I am digging for. I prefer digging on my own for dance, party music and stuff I’m going to play out. I need a big chunk of time and need to be focused! But if I’m going to find some weird random stuff in charity shops then going with friends can be fun.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
I like chatting to the people running the shop and telling them about labels I like, this definitely speeds up the process as they’ll point me in the right direction. But sometimes, if I have time, I just randomly flick through the second hand sections to see if I can find any gems or something obscure. I always love saving the pennies of course!
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Not massively but it can sometimes play a role. I’m quite visually drawn to certain colours and patterns, and if the sound is what I love and the art is bangin too then it’s a win win! Pauline Anne Storm’s record artwork is one of my faves, it compliments the music beautifully!
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
So I thought about what got me into digging. I’ll try and make this a small(ish) version of quite a long story. When it came round to having turntables in my room and having the chance to play around with combinations, I never thought ‘I want to learn how to DJ at a party or a club’. I was quite put off by this beat matching bullshit at the time because it just reminded me of boys queuing up to put tunes on at an afters. For me this wasn’t really listening to music and celebrating artists, it was all about the individual’s ego and how well they could mix, so I guess this was me putting up a middle finger to it all.
I thought I wonder if there’s a way round this beat matching thing, so I got really into buying records with interesting intros, breakdowns, short weird sound intervals or bonus tracks and acapellas at the end. I became fascinated with finding the BBC sound recordings collection as well. Alongside this I would also buy music by artists I really like and learnt how to blend the two in an experimental way. I somehow got away with it and played my first club set like this at wire a few years ago.
One thing that the music scene does to a lot of people, like it did for me, is put pressure on you to be perfect. Having this constant worry that you might clang it out when playing in front of a crowd. I just wanted to have fun with it and find a different way around this where I embraced chance and let the records be, sometimes layering a few together until something magical happened. For me this was a far more interesting way to learn about the technical side and sensitivities of how record playing could work.
Anyway the mix resembles this story, highlighting some of the records that got me into this experimental world of mixing, and celebrating some of my favourite artists, manipulating and playing with the records potential by being tactile and messing with tempos. In the past year I decided I wanted to finally try beatmatching because I was being booked to play at more events and felt like actually this could be cool to properly get this nailed now. I feel it’s right now, not because I need to or have to, but because now I know for certain moments it might actually work well. Now I love finding ways to beat match but still applying an obscure approach.
You like to experiment and play with transitions and tempos during your sets, something you’ve spoken to us about before. Do you think that fixating on technical transitions can be a hindrance?
I think it depends on the individual. Everyone has their own way of learning in the DJ world, and if technical beat matching gets you more focused and in the zone then you can take it in so many directions. It’s the same with experimental transitions, there’s more of an essence of chance, freedom and the unknown, which there’s something magical about. Something unexpected might happen and you learn to enjoy it, listening to it more if you know it’s not going to clang. There’s also a technical element behind experimental mixing as well, it all works the same way in some respects.
Just whatever gets you going. If you’re enjoying it and its stimulating you creatively, I don’t feel it’s a hindrance. I’d say when some start learning they think they MUST be able to beat match perfectly because they might not have been exposed to experimental sets. But as soon as someone gets inspired or listens to a different set, they might want to try it out for themselves and realise this tight beat matching isn’t for them straight away.
What is it about experimenting with these elements that stimulates you? Do you feel that it gives you more creative freedom?
I guess that element of chance and the unexpected. Sometimes leaving two tracks on and just seeing what happens means something freaky or beautiful might happen. I love layering three or four things together at once and when it works it’s so much fun! One way of experimenting I’ve used is if the track playing is about to run out and I wasn’t quick enough but there’s a cool sound at the end of a record, I just slowly pull it backwards whilst I quickly put something else on. This got me into manipulation and tactility with my record playing. Playing with the pitch is also fun. Obviously you’re way more limited on turntables than you are with CDJS but the limitation excites me and makes me more creative I think.
Are there any DJs that you admire who go against the grain in this respect?
Yes! Excelsior Ruth, Ece Özel, Dj Marcelle, Beatrice Dillon.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Hmmmmm… Zmatsutsi from Leeds. Their latest release ‘Hooked up’ on Macadam Mambo. Bloody great bunch, including Joe Gill, the owner of Outlaws, Heidi and Tim. As Longitude – That’s When The Animals Turned Into Humans (Eva Geist) is one of my musical heroes. Another is a Wilson Tanner track off of their Sunroom album. The whole album is beautiful and has gotten me through my break ups lol. Listen out for Destinys Child and another of my favourite sassy acapellas layered over stuff. Kenji Kawai from Ghost In The Shell, the best anime film and one of my most recent film soundtrack discoveries, which was a recommendation from my mate Slacky. I play two tracks in the mix from Fantastic twins – Obakodomo (soundtrack).
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
Joe Gill. When we first did a KMAH show together it literally inspired me so much. I always looked up to him for his obscure rare finds and not giving too much of a fuck, a change from all the seriousness that is very apparent within the scene. He’s also shared a lot of his finds with me which has lead me on to discover some of my favourite music! Si Scotts mega collection upstairs in Tribe – I feel lucky to have been shown through it. His collecting represents his musical journey and the nights he’s put on through the decades in Leeds, his music knowledge is insane! You could spend hours and hours going through everything. Raf Bogan, a close friend who’s really passionate about his digs and always talks me through the context of everything. He really studies the background of where the music has come from and I just love hearing him chat about his records. Gesine Zeitgeisty Kühne, she’s my power woman who grew up and lives in Berlin. She used to DJ and still does sometimes now over there, I met her a few years ago on holiday and she’s very special to me! I’ve stayed at hers when I visit and spent time going through her collection that she’s had for decades.
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
Sayang, Zoe Pea and Ranyue Zhang of equaliser, Sofie K and Slacky AKA Callum Slack.