It’s hard to know where to begin when talking about someone as influential as DJ Storm. A powerful force to be reckoned with, the First Lady of drum and bass is a role model to many in the scene and beyond. After just having an hour-long conversation with Storm on the phone, I was left inspired and motivated, ready to take on the world and I imagine she has had this effect on a lot of people.
Starting her journey in the early 90s, Storm started her DJ career as a way of being surrounded music 24/7 and there was nothing that could stand in the way of that mission. Having her best friend Kemistry alongside her, powering through the ranks and garnering early support from the likes of Randall and Fabio & Grooverider, it’s no wonder they become such an important duo within the drum and bass scene. After the Kemistry’s tragic death, Storm carried on with the music beside her, continuing to share their passion for the music and encouraging more women to come through in the scene such as running a female-only night, Feline.
Unlike the worlds of house, techno and disco, there seems to be a struggle for women breaking through. Club and festival lineups rarely include women and if they do, it will only be one or two unlike the 50 / 50 spilt more mainstream festivals have managed to achieve. Whilst it took a while for the drum and bass world to be recognised with the credibility it deserved, all different styles of the genre are being played across the globe, to thousands of people, yet the people in the midst of it all aren’t getting the support that they need or deserve. The argument for gender inequality usually goes back to the point of there not being as many women, however, as someone who is part of several women in music and specifically women in drum and bass, it’s clear that isn’t the issue at hand here. There are hundreds of women in these groups, sharing their productions and mixes daily and seeking advice from other women. There’s a massive community of women within the scene, yet it’s a shame that only now have labels and brands like Hospital come forward and admitted there’s a disparity, pledging to book and sign more women.
With Storm being a consistent role model, using her platform to support women especially, we speak to her about what it was like when she was breaking through, brand mentorships and what she thinks specifically needs to happen in order to make the scene a better environment for women.
Starting from the very beginning of your career, did you ever find it difficult to imagine yourself pursuing a DJ career because there weren’t many, if any, women doing it at the time that you can look too?
You know, we didn’t think about that at all. And I think we were trying to work out a way to be with music 24/7, and our decision was, let’s become DJs. And we really didn’t think about if any other women were doing it. I think it really helped that I was doing it with Kemi, you know I’ve done it without her now but I definitely think it was easier when it was both of us. Once we saw DJ Rap, which was the first female DJ, we were like if she can do it then so can we. But when there was both of us together I think we were never fazed with what’s going on in the scene.
In the beginning, we realised straight away that our technical skills have to be as good as the men. So we practised for hours and hours and I’ve always been aware that we don’t have to be better than the guys, just as good as them but to also find our own style within the scene. We had our heroes and we would take something from each of them. So Fabio taught us how to tell a story, Grooverider taught us how to select and Randall who was you know the mixing kind of genius. Still, to this day I will listen to a mix and if I like it, I’ll maybe try and incorporate a bit of their style into my next set. I’m always open to hearing different mixes and how people put their music together. This is how people started talking about us, you know that we were the sweet side and that kind of stuck. You have to come into the scene with a certain style in order to stand out and find your place. This was how you got your dubplates from people which was so important back then and when people heard you playing these exclusive tracks they were a little bit curious. So that’s how you start your career. Once you’ve had enough practice, you’d call promoters off the flyers and hand out mixtapes to people – it was so much simpler back then especially with pirate radio stations.
It was also that we were just surrounded by people and got picked up really early on by the Reinforced crew. Randall was with us early on too and these guys didn’t judge us because we were women, they liked what we were doing on the decks. Then when I met Goldie through Kemi, he taught us how to be fearless. As women, we get very scared about the technical side of things especially and guys would get together, throwing themselves into a situation. I do think we have to take on board some of the guy’s attitudes and say to yourself, well I think my style is good, it works and I need to get out there. I think we were also really lucky with the timing that we came through.
It’s interesting as you mentioned there were a lot of doors open for you but when you look at today, there aren’t a lot of women getting booked within DnB and I’m in several Facebook groups especially for these artists and there are hundreds of women in there. Why do you think they’re not getting the same support?
I don’t know. It’s interesting as when we started we thought we came into it quite late but in retrospect, we were right at the beginning of it. I think when we created Metalheadz with Goldie, it was a great vehicle for us as it would introduce us to a wide variety of genres and people would come to us. We realised our dream with Goldie and we didn’t have a lot of money, we worked hard and I think it was basically up to us to make something of it. We really immersed ourselves in the scene, we were always very curious. When we were running the label and cutting the dubs, we would be at Music House where legends were hanging out such as Roni Size, Krust and Jumping Jack Frost and because we had this really special label people seemed to trust us. We had a lot going for us very quickly and when I look at the rise of the label it was almost like it was meant to be. We knew we were doing the right thing. But don’t get me wrong, I still think to myself if I was starting off today is it really difficult to break through? But I think I would still find a way to make it work like going out with my USB and mixes and finding the promoter of the club. I think women tend to hold themselves back when it comes to confidence and guys find it so easy to throw themselves into it but you just have to forget about that, you have push yourself. As soon as artists hear you playing their tunes, you make friends with these people and they’re ready to give you more music. People need to support other artists, give them feedback – even if it’s not that long – I still make sure I try to give feedback on promos and mixes I’m sent.
And do you reckon you’ve managed to get to where you are because you’re an old school DJ? You have that experience of going out and getting it for yourself whereas nowadays it’s very reliant on the booking agent and social following. Do you think that artists and DJs have perhaps lost that drive because it’s almost like they’re entitled to gigs as soon as they get that good online following?
I mean, consistency is the hardest thing. You know, I’ve had my ups and downs and I think for me I couldn’t really get my head around social media at the beginning. Randall had a really good chat with me about it, he really told me off and I need to hear those things so I buckled down and got on with it. I would use it to scout for clubs and nights and I started liking stuff, this is when people would be like ‘Omg are you DJ Storm?’, yes, ‘Can we book you?’, yes! Outside of my agency I had to do some work as well, it was needed at the time. The ‘producer / DJ’ came and it changed the landscape a bit. That became more important than being a female DJ, it was like you’re not making tunes so we don’t want you in our dance. I really objected to that, I really pushed hard for myself at that time to get back and again I had to open doors for myself because I’m not naive to this world I knew how to go about it and you just have to grit your teeth if you want this. I truly want this, my favourite place in the whole world is to be in the mix – I love everything about DJing. I’m in love with the decks, I’m still having an affair with the techniques and I still have all my vinyl in my storage space – it’s not going on anywhere. I really love what I do and there have been moments where I thought I’d have to get a different job but you know I buckled down with it.
I think you’re right that because I come from this old school kind of situation where you’ve actually got to phone people, I have more confidence to do that now. You do have to get your head around social media, it’s a whole new way of communicating now. You become like people’s property. I didn’t really see the greatness or madness of it, however, you want to look at it until I did the Boiler Room session – I mean that was ridiculous! They were telling me don’t worry you’ll get a bit more flack than everyone else because you’re female and I think that’s sad that they have to tell you that, that they’re going to scrutinize you more than anybody else. Of course, I had a nightmare from the beginning of my set where one of the decks weren’t working and we had to change it but I just made it work. And usually, if you’re watching a programme and you don’t like it, you’d switch over, right? But these people hated me from the moment I started until the end and yes it was mostly males. The drum and bass scene came through and supported me on the comments like we know she’s skilled and she’s just having technical difficulties and I think because of this scenario and how it was handled I came out like a hero at the other end. All of a sudden people are getting in touch to book me, and it’s interesting that all it took is for me to do this session and I’m kind of thankful it happened.
What are your thoughts on Hospital’s equality pledge?
The women thing is interesting because it seems like even today promoters don’t want to put more than one woman on the lineup. It’s almost like Storm gets this bit and Mantra gets this bit and Flight gets this bit. Metalheadz is still the only organisation that had two female residents and that’s quite a sad statement really. I can’t work it out. I see a lot more women in the techno scene and they seem to widely accepted so I can’t work it out what it is about the drum n bass scene. I’m not sure what promoters are afraid of when they book a woman.
I think doing the EQ50 and Normal Not Novelty with Red Bull is interesting because there are definitely a lot of women that want to get into the scene so I think hopefully with EQ50 and Hospital’s pledge we can get somewhere. I mean it’s taken Hospital long enough to get on board and is it because they’re jumping on a bandwagon? Also this thing with Smirnoff, it’s like you’re here to sell products, stop dabbling in the music scene. Be smart enough to invest in a community centre somewhere and teach people how to mix and produce. Build a studio for people to go and make music. Smirnoff tried to do the thing with fabric and now Hospital. Props and respect for doing it but I do feel like it’s a little bit too late.
However, what’s nice about this though is that there are a lot more women coming through, we’re a lot stronger now. Perhaps with organisations like EQ50, we can encourage women a little bit more. Every female DJ I’ve met are very conscious of what they do and do everything with integrity because we’ve always felt like the underdog. We need to know what we’re doing when we have a problem, rather than turning to the men and asking for help. The most biased I ever feel is by the sound men, you know if I’m doing a back-to-back with a guy, they’ll always speak to the guy and it’s like I’m here and I have to tell them about myself in order to get what I need.
It’s crazy that even today you have to tell people your story and explain who you are in order to gain the trust that you know what you’re doing.
Yes, yes, it is. I think we’re working hard on changing the face of things. And I think last year, you know, with the whole suffragette situation, I did more talks about women in the industry than ever. I just have to hope this time we don’t go backwards because you get this rush every now and again but I think from last year we gained a lot more momentum. There’s a lot of strong characters with the likes of Flight and Mantra and what Mantra’s doing with her Rupture series, she’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s joined the same agency that I’m on and I’m really excited about her as she’s moving forward in a really positive way. It’s good to see her so productive as I always have done. We, women, have to keep going as we don’t get as many chances and we have to keep fighting all the time. You know if you take your foot off the pedal for a second there’s somebody new that’s going to come in and take your place.
There’s still a boys club don’t get me wrong. If a guy is going to open a club he’s probably going to book all his friends which are most likely men so you might have to wait a few nights in order to get booked but you keep pushing and reminding the promoter that you’re there. Yes, it was difficult phoning a promoter to tell them you want to play at their night but now I’ve got used to it and I will just have a word with that promoter. I would think that’s quite reasonable.
You’ve lost that fear of rejection now. I think these days there’s the fear that’s constantly looming which stops you from throwing yourself out there.
I think you have to. I’ve always said this, whether you’re male or female if you feel like you have something new to offer you’ve got to find a way to do it. I’ve always had confidence in my skill and you’re always going to have a bad night. I started out with pirate radio for heaven’s sake and that gives you the best grounding in the world because you never know what you’re going to be playing on or if you have monitors etc. The drum n bass scene came from very small beginnings and you never knew what you were going to deal with in a club. I can pretty much sort most problems out.
I would advise anybody that’s going out and getting their first gig is to put something together at home so you’re a little bit confident when you first go out. Maybe your first four mixes, prepare them and then start becoming a little more adventurous. I would say that to anyone really. Also confidence-wise as a woman that’s a difficult thing as well, to engage with the crowd. Men have this bravado, this ego and this real confidence. Don’t get me wrong, women can have egos too but I think it’s much more subtle. I know when I’ve done a great set, I think oh wicked they’ve got a great value for money today. You also need to be respectful of the fact that people play a lot of money to see you play, you need to remember that you’re the entertainer for the night. Of course, I still have my diva moments but they are very few and far between. I think I am humble about this, that I’m doing a job that I completely love, not many people get that in their lifetime. But in the last few years, I have met a lot more female DJs when I tour across Europe. Look at Mollie Collins, she’s stormed through in the last year and she only DJs, so it is possible.
Yeah, I was going to say one of the comments you made in your RBMA lecture was that you didn’t think you could come through just as a DJ anymore and that Mollie Collins’ success surprised you?
Yes. Yes, I was really happy for her recognition because I’ve often thought to myself how would I go about it now and I think it’s really important to see DJs like her coming through. Yes, she was picked up a little by certain people but she had to be talented for that to happen. I think it’s amazing that this day and age she’s managed to do that and it gives power, hopefully, for more women to try and come forward.
“They were telling me don’t worry you’ll get a bit more flack than everyone else because you’re female and I think that’s sad that they have to tell you that”
And going back to the all-female parties and organisations such as EQ50, you said that you’re happy to support these offers for all female parties, but have you ever had an experience where it’s felt like the promoter is just capitalizing off the movement or using females as tokenism to make it seem like that actually care and trying to be involved in this movement?
I’m maybe not that cynical to be quite honest, I think all the female nights I’ve done have been legitimate. I remember those female nights back in the day where it was on Valentine’s Day and women enter for free but now I think we’re all together, supporting each other. There were nights where the women were from a variety of genres with Kemi and I and then house and techno DJs, it was weird. I don’t think it was until those Feline parties where I got to a point that I knew enough female DJs in order to rotate. That took long enough really to get that to that point, especially in London. I do think some things are contrived for sure. I did notice after Mantra put out those stats last year that a few of us got more bookings because of it. It’s a shame that it needs pointing out because we’re not recognised just for being women, it’s actually because we’re quite talented. Don’t judge us by our sex, judge us by our talent. That’s why I think EQ50 is a way of achieving that but we’re not saying it has to be 5050 lineups, just allow more than one of us through and accept that we’re DJs rather than the fact that we’re women. Don’t do it because your stats were appalling. It would be interesting to speak to Hospital about this because I haven’t yet. I want to know their motive as they could have booked more female DJs but they haven’t. It’s definitely not a step back what they’re doing, it’s just interesting. We’ll see!
Maybe the pledge will make them dig a bit deeper into finding new artists because I feel promoters get really lazy and be like, oh here’s what my friend is recommending, this DJ played that huge gig and oh this DJ played Boiler Room!
Yeah that goes on doesn’t it and I think that’s changed the way things are being done as well. It’s like you have to get some media attention too. It’s strange to me.
With a title like the ‘First Lady of Drum and Bass’, do you ever feel like there’s a pressure to be a role model for women in the DnB scene or being the person to give them a platform?
I just think I do that naturally. I think it’s very, very easy for me to promote women because if it’s not me, then who? I got a lot of help from all different sexes, but I mean, most men if I’m honest but I still got help. That’s the way I look at it. I’ve helped out on a few Red Bull music academies over the years and run workshops. Promoting women is still very important to me. I mean let’s not be crazy about it, we are still a tiny minority but it’s just a natural thing for me to do. I would never not support women. I don’t get funny about these all-female nights. I heard a few DJs say they don’t them and I’m just like well what’s wrong with doing these nights? I played an amazing all-female night in Bristol recently with a female running the night too and it was packed out like any other night so it made no difference. Rupture is an all-female night and that was going up against Andy C at XOYO but they both sold out. That was kinda brilliant. Nothing catastrophic happened because it was an all-female lineup, it was a night filled with brilliant music and there’s no harm in that. Yes, we do have to strive for more of that.
Do you think there’s anything in particular about the DnB scene that needs to change in order to make it a better environment for female DJs?
Something needs to change but I don’t think I can put my finger on what. To any of the ladies out there that want to get into, be brave. You do need to be brave and have a belief in what you do. Work a few steps ahead of yourselves to get where you want to go. If you’ve got something to offer then you need to go for it. I want promoters to be more conscious out there, bringing more females into their parties. Why are you making them go back-to-back, why can’t we have two separate sets? You’ve got to ask yourself those questions. Promoters need to be a little more braver. I was working in Switzerland a few years ago and I was doing an interview backstage with another DJ. She was saying she was really annoyed that this guy made the comment ‘Let’s be honest that women look better than the guys’ and got really offended by this. I don’t have time to sweat the small stuff like that, after all these years. At the end of the day, we are better looking. I don’t think that comment is meant to be offensive. It’s like when people say ‘omg you’re girls, you’re not bad for girls’, we were just like oh wicked thank you, we were excited and I think that’s a better way to approach things. It’s hard but sometimes you have to be a little bit selfish and selfless just to get through. You have to make a dream for yourself and achieve. I know it’s hard, I’ve seen some female DJs go up and down in the scene. I’ve always been in a very lucky position where I came in so early that I got my foothold in this scene, that’s the key and there’s no pressure to produce even though I would like to try it, you know, at some point. Again my DJ career has been as a pure DJ and Mollie Collins is fantastic for doing that. I do think it’s achievable, you just have to be determined. You have to come up with a plan and stick to do it. Reach out to us older DJs, there’s nothing wrong with that. I have a lot of to and fro on Messenger with female DJs talking about mixes and stuff and I think that’s really cool as well.
You can catch DJ Storm at Dekmantel Festival, taking place from the 31st July to 4th August – buy tickets here.