Interview | Paige Julia
Whilst a well-known force in underground bass in New Zealand for some time, Paige Julia is now being embraced by the global music community as one of the very profound artists emanating from the south pacific island’s thriving Drum and Bass scene. Ben Black aka PlusGood had a chance to catch up with Paige about her production, Djing, career, New Zealand and all things bass.
Ben: The upcoming EP on Unchained really showcases the current diversity in the 160/170 spectrum. What was the dominant sound like when you first started getting connected to the scene, and how challenging was it for you to start connecting traditional DnB to emerging styles of bass music?
Paige: When I started DJing in 2011 I was only interested in traditional DnB, which for New Zealand has always had a very friendly underground scene. The music was a blend of dancefloor and neurofunk material for those early years. Another important feature was that a lot of the guys I saw before I would be interested in DJing were still playing vinyl and then later there was a gradual move to digital with the new technology which really accelerated the pace of the mixing too. I came into a scene of DJ’s eager to impress each other with very fast and slick mixing, so a lot of energy during the big sets. We even had a yearly national DnB DJ competition which was the holy grail for everyone mixing in the scene, I remember that was the whole point of me pushing my skills…I wanted to win the Rumble in the Jungle DJ competition but I never came close. That was the level of talent I grew up with.
My specific awakening to other styles of bass music would come with Ivy Lab’s 20/20 volume one and other tracks released around that time from Skeptical, Alix Perez and Clarity. I really liked the music and it shifted the basis of my production from trying to become a neurofunk producer into the half time style. I would still DJ DnB music throughout because I enjoyed the sound but as a creator I would shift into the umbrella space of “bass music” influenced by dubstep, hip hop, jungle and so on because it felt good to make and resonated strongly with what I wanted to dance to.
Ben: How did you get connected with Unchained?
Paige: I released a track called Kopiko on Samsara Beats in 2019 and ever since I’ve been talking to Lyndon from the label. I have always supported the music on the label like Cesco’s “Spiral”, H0st’s “Tron”, Radiax’s “Alright” and Subp Yao’s “Like” all getting played in my sets and at a certain point the idea of creating an EP came to the conversation when Lyndon heard the track Dreams in a promo DJ mix for one of my tours. It was unsigned and became the thematic anchor for the rest of the EP.
Ben: Your use of long, wide bass stabs creates a cohesive identity across tracks that otherwise seem quite different (ie the jungle breaks of “Digit” compared to the trap influenced “Dreams”). How conscious are you of creating a signature sound across your body of work?
[Paige]: I think that even though I choose to experiment with different tempo, rhythms and sub-genre I have a particular set of preferences that inform my taste. This is built up from a decade of DJing music, and the years of putting together a specific way of producing music without any formal education. So some examples could be my proclivity towards minor scales, or snare drums with short transients, or the ways I develop a bass sound from basic shapes into the sounds that make up the track. The whole process is informed by listening to sounds out there in bass music but also atmospheric sound, experimental noise or exposing myself to new genres and knowing what I like the most and learning to create that particular subset of sounds.
Ben: There seems to be a powerful energy underneath your tracks, how does spirituality influence your production?
Paige: I am forever curious about the nature of reality, the universe we inhabit and consciousness. I think there is some kind of magic to these things that we are slowly coming to terms with and understanding, but spirituality is a loaded word and any particular doctrine can be ridiculed for its lack of consistency, or its contradictions or its rituals so I wont speak to agreeing with any set of currently formed opinions on how these concepts work.
However as a creative I often have to wrestle with the magic of creativity, or the spirit of my emotions, or engage in the flow state. I have tracks that I have made that I have no recollection of putting together and hours of time that disappear in the state of creation. I am never sure about the inspiration for these pieces of work or where they came from, just as I am sometimes unsure if I am awake or dreaming, or if I am alive or dead, or if this universe is real, a simulation or a hallucination. Something beyond me is influencing my creative work, but I don’t have the answer to explain it.
Ben: New Zealand’s response to the pandemic allowed you all to open clubs and festivals relatively quickly compared to many other countries. What was it like when you first stepped back into an environment with a full system and a crowded dance floor?
Paige: I feel very excited for the rest of the world because this was a once in a lifetime feeling, a huge release of tension.
I actually played the first show only 4 days after the announcement of a return to alert level 1, which was a complete removal of restrictions in the country. We had initially booked the gig expecting a sit down audience and restricted numbers into the venue, which I was quite happy to comply with but also unsure about how to feel performing in such a manner. I know the UK and US are doing this now, I see vids on my socials so I hope everyone is happy with the compromise, but I never had to do it this way. In April2020 I was livestreaming locked up in my home, and in June 2020 we were back open.
The venue was more than packed. There was a line out the door and down the street. The whole front row was heaving and shirtless. It was the first time I had seen many of these people for 3 months, I think I hugged everyone by the end of the night. I opened my set with an audio clip from our Director General of Health talking about how we had no cases in the country. This hype would go on for months, every event last year sold twice as many tickets, there were lines out the door at the clubs I was playing. We had tasted what it was like to have restrictions and we knew that nightlife was on a knifes edge (any cases at all would trigger a move to alert level 2 or 3, heavily restricting hospitality and club culture) so there was a huge feeling of fear of missing out that drove people into the events scene.
Ben: You’re involved in electronic music education, what is your program like and how has being an educator impacted your own production?
Paige: Primarily, I have focused on an accessible way to teach aspiring DJ’s the mechanics of the modern DJ set up. The program allows anyone with any interest in music to come in on the ground floor and learn without needing any experience. Originally this was set up as a 1 on 1 tutoring scheme, and the first DJ’s I took through those sessions are now actively performing and touring through the Aotearoa New Zealand scene and absolutely killing it. What really accelerated this was the development of group lessons at local venue Laundry with my good friend Katie Martin. We expanded the beginners lesson to fit a class of 16, with 5 set ups of CDJ’s around the club and this considerably upped the efficiency. All of these classes have sold out, sometimes with a waiting list. We found there was an incredible amount of people looking for a way to be taught the mechanics in an accessible way.
I have now taught over 120 students over the years, with more than half of those people being women. We were listening to the scene ask about where the women performers were and we felt we could help by potentially flooding the market with more women DJs. So far so good.
The production side of education is a little less developed, but I am always working with new artists who are making the transition from DJing to making their own electronic music. Since my style is not informed by a specific curriculum it can be a bit difficult to know if I’m teaching things the right way but I try my best to answer the questions of my students and tailor the lessons to their needs. There is more to come in this sector from us in the future.
Ben: Projects like EQ50 are working to improve representation in DnB, what has your experience been like as a female producer?
Paige: In general, the response to my work has been positive and I have been supported by my community, with the end result being a successful career with a full performance schedule and opportunities to release music. There have been situations where my identity has caused me to be treated differently, both positive and negative. The more visible situations are quite obvious and I think have been expressed by every woman who’s been asked a question like this. Sometimes people will sexualise you, sometimes people will elevate and prioritise you above men, sometimes people will say you’re so important for women, or that you surprised them and they didn’t expect that from a woman. I can’t say for certain if I am treated better or worse than a man in my position, only that it is different.
It is important to me that my career is primarily driven by the merits of my ability to perform and my music, and that my identity, appearance and gender has a smaller influence on my success. I can’t know the motivations behind every booking and every opportunity, and since there’s a gigantic media and community push for more women acts so you can drive yourself crazy thinking about it too much. I want to make timeless music and create joyful memories so the hope is that these things are coming to me because the music is good, luckily I do get reminded of that. People will reach out and say that they think a certain track I wrote was really great and they want me in their show or to come to their city, which is good evidence that their heart is in the right place.
If we want to improve representation as a whole, I think we can look at how we treat women and determine and solve any tropes or circumstances that might lead to individuals leaving the difficult path towards a career in electronic music. We can also help with education of those women interested but unsure which direction to go, which is where my work in education is based. On the plus side there is currently an incredible amount of opportunities for women acts, here in New Zealand. I am consistently asked if I am available for shows and if I am not the next question is who I recommend that is a woman act. So the demand is definitely there, and if there were gatekeepers and a degree of misogyny in previous era’s then this generation seems to have a more balanced approach in mind. Of course this information is specific to my country and my own experience only and also doesn’t mean that the representation question is necessarily solved.
Ben: Where do you find support when/if you experience micro aggressions?
[Paige]: I find my community incredibly supportive. I find it very easy to talk about when I’ve been made to feel upset or uncomfortable and getting the feeling out of my head and into a conversation to be very therapeutic. I don’t have a combative nature, so I will try to politely withdraw or appease the aggressor and deal with the emotions later in the comfort of my community.
Ben: How important is it to create spaces dedicated to female identifying DJs/producers?
Paige: If the music industry is dedicated to something like 50/50 representation then it might be helpful to have these spaces, to assist in the development of potential acts. Most established acts don’t suddenly appear on their own, they had communities and spaces to share ideas and learn techniques and build together. Some great examples would be the Neurohop forum, or your local beatmaker/production facebook group or the open-deck Thursday night at the local bar. Community is the answer to creating great acts! Look at your favourite artists and in so many stories, they’ll talk about in their development and come-up that they had people on their level and around them learning and pushing them to the next level.
In the past few years, I have seen women-led, women focused groups develop for online and offline spaces. That’s an awesome development that I wish I had in 2011 when I got started! It’s a cool experience to meet and connect with other women acts and grow together.
Ben: As a DJ, how do you approach your sets and what type of preparation is involved before hand?
Paige: It’s all about framing my current productions with the other great music that is out there. Currently that space is in 140 dubstep, halftime and jungle music. So if I have 90 minutes I’ll split it into 3 sets of 30 and find the music in each of these genres that I like and a track at the end of each section that transitions nicely into the next. Once I have the sets I will decide on the night about the ordering or read the room if it is time to up the tempo or intensity, but the underlying idea is to showcase the music I’ve made.
Ben: What are 5 tunes that never leave your crate?
Alix Perez/Ivy Lab – Fortuna
Kahn/Commodo/Gantz – Crystal Collect
Las – Uuha
DKay/Lee – Tuning VIP
Paige Julia – Kopiko