The Rise of The Female DJ: Esi

Meet Esi: the absolute boss when it comes to music selection. Not only does she have radio on smash, she will supply the vibes at any and every event. She discusses the challenges faced as a young DJ rising up the ranks and drops some gems for those looking to enter the field. English Literature degree in hand, read on to hear how Covid-19 has impacted the industry, how her mum reacted to her decision and having to call security during a booking…

What first attracted you to DJing?

I wanted to make a Valentine’s Day mix with UK rap in it. I was listening to rap all the time. At that point, it was about being able to mix the music that I liked. To just make everything sound nice sonically. That’s probably another reason why I throw parties as well, I like to see people having a good time.

What role do you think DJing plays in society?

Especially during lockdown, it’s played a massive role:  keeping people entertained, keeping people’s spirits up. Being able to “link up” with your friends on a DJ’s Instagram Live and listen to music and radio – collectively, it’s been so important to keep everyone functioning. Outside of the pandemic, DJs play a massive part in music discovery and helping artists’ careers – I don’t feel like a lot of artists recognise the part that DJs play. Some do.  I can hear a song and won’t even know who the song’s by or what it’s called but I will know it word for word from banging someone’s mix. DJs play an important part in the music ecosystem.

Are your friends and family supportive?

At the beginning, my mum didn’t want me to be a DJ: “You went to uni! You have an English Literature degree! What am I going to tell your grandma?” My dad was supportive. He managed bands and has always been in music. And for one of my birthdays, maybe my 24th birthday, my friends got me a controller. They come to my bookings, they repost, they tune in. They’re the best.

Who do you look up to for inspiration?

When I was first starting, it was the BIGGEST DJs. Now, I look up to my peers for inspiration. I look up to Davda, all the dancehall DJs, RBC, Siobhan Bell. What she’s done is amazing. She’s created her own lane, she does her thing; she’s a trusted voice in music.

How did COVID-19 impact your craft?

At the beginning, there was a massive rush to do everything. I DJed on Instagram Live and on Houseparty and didn’t enjoy it. It’s exhausting – I commend all the DJs that have jumped on live. I’m on No Signal every fortnight. With Sanctuary, we do Sanctuary Sundays with other DJ streams. But it’s affected everything. I had wedding bookings that were cancelled. My work is predominately physical – I have to be in the club. Now, everything’s gone virtual: I bought a mic, I made more mixes. I just did a voiceover session today from my bedroom.

Any highlights to reflect on?

I DJed on Capital Xtra with Robert Bruce and Sian Anderson on BBC 1Xtra – major, major highlights for me. I also DJed for Megan thee Stallion and DJ Spinall. That was a good year. Another highlight was DJing in Gambia at a wedding, that was lit! I have been blessed in the fact that I’m on radio as well – people automatically think I’m a good DJ from being visible on radio.

Has your gender impacted your journey?

I’m going to be real, very, very real. It can work in your favour or negatively. If you’re visible, people might think “she’s lit, she’s doing her thing, she’s a good DJ”. Secondly, if you’re “pretty” as in you dress nice, you have nice make-up on, hair, nails – it’s going to be easier to cross over into the influencer category. When you can DJ well, you know your music, you know your stuff, people think: she’s sick, I’ll support her. People like seeing women do good things.

Negatively, I’ve had guys approach me to see if I can DJ. This was at the beginning of my career – my first booking ever – someone came up to me and said: “I wanna see if you can actually DJ”. Security are really good when it comes to women DJing. They do their thing. If you’re not solidified in who you are and what you can do, as a DJ or presenter, people think you’re doing it for clout. I’m past that now. I am confident in my ability. It comes with time. You don’t hear what people say. You don’t care what people say when you’re confident in your ability.

Any advice for upcoming DJs?

Make sure you don’t run before you walk. I was shit at the beginning and I had a lot of space and time to be shit. I wasn’t getting bookings that I wasn’t ready for – that’s the most important thing. Your first booking isn’t going to be Glastonbury. Your first booking isn’t going to be Wireless. Your first booking isn’t going to be opening for Stormzy. You’re not ready and it’s not where you should be.

Make sure you are ready for everything: practice, practice, practice. Make sure no one can say: “she doesn’t know what she’s talking about”. Focus on you and do your thing – you will get to where you want to be in the end. It’s not a career that you can go in for the money. Especially during lockdown, no one’s making real, real money as a DJ.

Sometimes you might fall out of love with it. You’ll fall back in love with it. Follow other DJs you look up to. When you reach out to other women there’s no ego involved. You can create a good working environment for other women in the industry. Reach out.

What would you tell your younger self?

Be confident. I would never go back to being a teenager. I was the most unconfident, anxious and depressed person ever. Obviously, that wasn’t all of my teenage years but I would never go back. To my younger self, I would say: start earlier. I wanted to DJ when I was at uni but I was scared. You will have to live your life regardless. Don’t be scared.

What’s the long-term vision?

To DJ abroad and for artists that I love. I want to be seen as a respected voice in music. I want to continue to DJ at sick, sick parties and sick events.

Stay connected with Esi’s journey by following her on IG: @esildn


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