As well-loved for her deftly selected club sets as her Sunday radio shows on Rinse FM, Josey Rebelle’s consistency is admirable, but consistency doesn’t have to mean stagnancy. In our interview, we talk with this scene staple about how London has influenced her musical style, how she keeps her weekly shows fresh, what she looks for in a track, how she adapts to surprises, and the importance of (literal) darkness.
Interview by Alyce Currier (aka Lychee)
How has the London scene/community influenced your approach to DJing?
It’s been a huge influence. London is such a multi-cultural city and it has a really raw energy and spirit. When you put all these elements and races and communities and genres together, the end result from a cultural point of view is untouchable. I’ve lived in London my entire life so it’s difficult for me to really break down its impact, but when I DJ abroad, I get a lot of people coming up to me after my set saying that, regardless of the myriad of genres I play, they could tell from the music and the way I mix that I am from London. That always makes me feel proud.
Your selection is quite eclectic – how do you dig for music, and is there any theme or sound you feel ties together the tracks you enjoy?
I spend a lot of time every week listening to unreleased promos sent by email, trawling through all the latest releases, and digging backwards for classics, whether that’s on vinyl through record shops and Discogs or online.
Within a few seconds of hearing most tunes (not all, but most) I usually know if I’m into them or not. There is so much out there that I’m really selective: if don’t buy it unless I love it. I try not to analyse why that may be – I prefer for it to be a beautiful, gut feeling rather than some kind of science.
A regular weekly commitment can get old fast – how do you stay excited about your weekly radio shows and keep it fresh?
I’ve had a weekly radio show on Rinse FM for seven years now and it’s always exciting because there is a never-ending supply of amazing music in the world. I still get ridiculously excited when I hear a sick tune for the first time, whether that’s a new promo or something old I found in a second-hand shop. It feels like I’ve won the lottery or something. I think radio is also good because doing a fresh show week in, week out helps to keep you on your toes.
How do you choose the guests for your radio show?
I don’t have guests on all that often as I’m a bit rubbish at coordinating things that involve other people. I think that’s why I love DJing and writing so much, they feel like solitary pursuits well suited to an awkward introvert like me. But I have had some wonderful guests on, including Boston’s very own Dee Diggs who I am very excited to share a line-up with in ‘real’ life this week!
In your bio, you mention that you learned to DJ from your brother and that it took a while for you to transition from bedroom DJ to the club – what made you make the jump? What were the first parties you played like?
My brother never stopped encouraging me, and I had people around me who gave me opportunities here and there that gradually had me leaving the comfort zone of my bedroom and making the club my second home.
The first party I ever played was at university and it was amazing, but even after that I quit DJing for a while because I didn’t feel good enough. I was practising for hours every day and getting good feedback but I had no self-confidence whatsoever and was terrified of making a fool of myself. I had to let go of the idea of perfection and just accept that being outside my comfort zone was the only way to progress.
I feel very lucky to have been surrounded by positive people my entire career – there are countless people who have given me chances and helped bring me through.
I’ve only seen you play once, at the pool party at Sustain-Release, and whoa. You were supposed to play a different timeslot that night but things got switched around, how did you adapt to that moment and what advice would you give to budding DJs about how to be adaptable?
Sustain-Release is an incredible festival and I was just so happy to be a part of it. It was also my very first time in America and I was pretty high on that, walking around like a tourist with my head in the clouds. At first, when they said I was swapping from a nighttime indoor set to a daytime pool party, it kind of sounded like my worst nightmare, like Beverly Hills 90210 or something!
But I soon discovered that Sustain-Release is not like any other festival on the planet. I don’t really plan my sets so I just followed my instincts on the fly as ever, and the pool party set was so much fun. Being adaptable is essential as things can always change, whether it’s the vibe on the dancefloor or equipment acting up or whatever. You have to be able to roll with the punches.
For you, what are the conditions that create an ideal dancefloor?
Darkness, a good sound system and an open-minded crowd are probably my top three as a DJ. And, as a raver, I love hearing DJs that are in love with the music they play and have an ‘I don’t give a fuck’ energy to boot. DJs who believe in their selections and aren’t afraid to clear a dancefloor. And that’s where the open-minded crowd come in, people who stay and dance instead of just walking off if they don’t recognise any of the tunes.
How are your radio sets different from playing live for a visible audience?
On radio, I get to play pretty much anything I want and there’s no pressure at all to create any kind of ‘vibe’ or make anyone dance. It’s very liberating – there are so many genres of music that I love and I feel totally free.
When I’m DJing a standard-length set in the club, I still incorporate a range of styles but I’d say that house and techno – the two genres that I first learnt to mix with – are the nucleus of it all and I might weave in other things around them. If I’m playing an all night long set, as I’ve done in London a few times, then I can have the best of both worlds and play it all!
As someone who’s been DJing for a while now, how do you keep learning? What’s something new you’ve figured out in the last year?
For me, the learning never stops because there’s always new music to play and new and varied crowds and places to play it in.
The hardest thing for me is that I am an introvert and, despite having a very public-facing job, I feel very uncomfortable being the centre of attention. You’ll never find me dancing on the decks or making lots of eye contact with the crowd – that side of things is very painful and unnatural to me, I am a very head-down kind of DJ and I get my energy from the music rather than the crowd.
Conversely, I have to work hard to generate an outgoing energy purely through the music, so people aren’t looking to get their energy purely from me as a human being standing before them, so they just feel the music and dance. I’d say over the last couple of years, especially when I’ve been playing more festivals during the day, that’s probably been the biggest thing I’ve had to adapt to.
That’s why I love DJing in the dark so much. It’s like being invisible.