New Mix and Interview feat. Jaye Ward
by Herb Essntls
A year ago
This week’s musical host is Jaye Ward, a DJ and record collector, who has become a major pillar in London’s nightlife scene over the last 30 years. We sat down to chat about the inspiration behind her new mix and the experiences that have shaped her career. And how music can help us all stay centered through these chaotic times.
Welcome to our musical family, Jaye! Thank you for creating this phenomenal mix. Can you tell us about your inspiration behind it? What are some standout records you knew you just had to include?
Thanks ever so much for asking me. NY has a very special place in my heart. I love NYC, I'd still move there in a heartbeat. I’ve been a Londoner all of my life and have found NYC to be the only city in the world that resonates in a similar way. It's harsh and unforgiving as well as astonishing. Full of amazing people all on the hustle. Full of life and oozing with creativity. I wanted to create a sort of soundtrack, less about banging it out or playing tracks synonymous with the city and more about the varied textures and different sorts of tangential places that you get from being there. I wanted it to sound like the various music and sounds you’d hear as you walked through this mad city. There’s lots of drums, angular sonics, ambient moments and features tributes to NYC icons as well as music made by quintessential NYC occupants. I’ve been listening to a LOT of new wave lately, i mean i listen to that sort of stuff a lot so wanted something from david byrne in there and there a sort of extra menace with robert fripp on guitar. The sonic youth and arthur russell covers had to be in there too for added downtown reference. Big fan of that 70’- 80’s new york arty club thing.
You’ve been a prominent name in the London nightlife scene for decades, I also know you lived in New York for a period of time in the 90’s. What parallels do you draw between the two scenes and cities? Tell us about some of your favourite dancefloor moments.
More of a zelig like figure haha! I’m just old and have been around a long time. Well a long time when we are talking about dance music and all that lark. I’ve really been a very enthusiastic punter most of the time. I’ve played records since the 80’s and spent all the 90’s and into the 00’s more or less working in record shops and manufacturing mainly, just so I could be connected to the music and what’s out there. We lived down by Washington square in the mid 90’s and just went out ALL the time. Sucked in culture as much as we could. I did the occasional party but wasn’t really connected in a club way for most of the time we were living there. I was working for an art gallery so it was much more art weirdness on a Wednesday evening at the pyramid that sort of thing haha! I think both cities draw from its margins for culture and music. Both cities, central creative points revolve around the mix up of cultures, classes as well as sexualities and genders and have done for many many many years. Both cities are magnets for the marginalised and seem to gestate and nurture culture that is always operating ahead of the curve. Many amazing moments, people meet, lives are changed & epiphanies happen all the time on the dance floor. Monday night Tonka at the zap club, chill out room at land of oz, early morning late sessions at the MOS with harvey, sound factory with frankie knuckles and how slow everything was, the warehouse in the bronx, first time David mancuso (god rest his soul) in London with the LOFT or the first time and THAT loft sound. People were crying. Haha!
You sit astride a wide range of music and influences - from playing chilled vibes at London’s Spiritland, to sweaty dancefloors and festivals across the globe. You’ve namechecked various influences from dub, 80’s post punk and synth pop, to more current cosmic techno. How do you draw a line between these disparate elements? What makes a track fit your sound?
People use words like balearic and cosmic to describe programming that takes in all sorts of styles and tempos but I really think our NYC founders were amazingly ‘balearic’. David mancuso definitely was. John peel was madly varied in what he played and liked. Larry Levan was totally balearic! I think its more about what you expose yourself to music wise that informs what you think will fit or move a listener. I got into the back room chill out thing pretty early on so was indulged in whatever I played because in some sense dancing isn’t required. You’re selecting music for the head. Once you get into that way of doing things you end up applying it to all situations. Its more about whats needed at the time. Dance floor, chill out, home listening, its all the same really. I’m really into the mix. I like to be able to move through something hard and edgy into something maybe more pretty and funky then into something dark maybe and full of texture and also change tempos before people have noticed. I like drama haha! I think a track has to grab me, interest me, make me start thinking of contexts to put it in. I’m always in awe of musicians and people that make music and wish I could listen to everything.
How has your approach to mixing and listening to records changed during the lockdown? Have you found any advantages to spending time away from people and clubs?
To be honest apart from the lack of parties and people to interact with AND the paying gigs its not really changed much of the way that I listen to music. I’m still digging in charity shops (when they are open) and music is still being made. 2020 has been a BRILLIANT year for new music releases, its just a shame so many of them are not being heard. Its not stopped me doing my weekly radio show on Netil radio or doing mixtape for various people and platforms. I REALLY miss going out and being part of parties and events. Covid has definitely isolated me in this way. I cant wait for us all to get back to the business of connecting and dancing together.
Speaking of music and isolation, do you believe music can have therapeutic effects on mental health? Have you noticed such effects in your personal life?
God yes! Music is the healing force of the universe haha! Its always been true to me and has never let me down even when sometimes the artists turn out to be bellends. Listening to music hasn’t changed at all since lockdown. I miss sharing it in a social way but am doing mixes all the time. Its remained the place I turn to, always! I trust music implicitly.
In addition to your career as a DJ, you pride yourself for being an LGBTQIA+ activist. How have the two paths intertwined? Does your passion for music inform your political activism?
i’m definitely not an activist. I don’t really go in for doing that as any main thrust but I am out and proud and all that lark. It's important to be yourself and to be as functional as you can be. I think growing up in such a mashup of cultures and classes like hackney meant that I either took that currently in vogue bullshit working class white defensive stance or free myself and Ii’m happy that I did that quite early on. Acid house definitely gave young people at the time a lot of momentum and it was met by force from the establishment. I think that reenforced an already politicised dance music through it coming from black and gay scenes of the 60’s 70’ & 80’s. Dance music has ALWAYS been the music of the disenfranchised and when I came out it was the queer scene that welcomed me with no questions asked. I don’t want a return to normal to be honest, normal was problematic. Dance music has been culturally ransacked for decades now and I think the white man making up the majority of lineups needs to not return and ‘in it for the cash’ types who have, as has been proven over lockdown, only been in to for the kudos need to do one as well. These things are overtly political and cant be avoided.
Finally, once everything we have lived through this year is over and the world reopens, what would be the ideal party you could host? Who would play, describe the setting and vibe.
God I just want us all to dance and chill together again. Any place that does that safely as the world reopens would be a dream. Local dj’s and their crews all mingling always makes for an ace party. Goooooooood sound, fun decor and visuals always help too. I think there will be over a year of amazing music that's not been heard in a club party situation so when we return everyone's sets will have zero filler just solid amazing music.