Photo: Press (Desiree)
“South Africa is a country of house music,” says Desiree and considering how much the nation’s dance music community has pushed the envelope in the field of house music and beyond in recent years, that almost reads like a modest understatement. While afro house is making more and more waves internationally, the sound of amapiano is getting more and more recognition beyond its birth place Johannesburg. In her mix for our Groove podcast, the scene activist and Boys Club co-founder Desiree brings together afro house with the hard-hitting rhythms of gqom and lush electronica.
First off, how has the past year been for you?
Tough! I think that is the best way to describe the past year particularly for people in the arts and entertainment sector. Despite the trials and tribulations, there are some good things that came out of the year though. For me particularly, lockdown has given time to reflect on various things; the most important being making my own music. Over the past year I have taught myself how to use a DAW as well as learning music theory. I am happy to say that I have learned a lot and I am stoked to share my experiences, thoughts and inspiration through music which I have written pretty soon. Another great thing lockdown has done for me is pushing me to invest in my craft through getting things like controllers and ring lights and after doing quite a few live streams last year, I am definitely in a better position to do more streams in future because practice makes perfect, right?
You cite Thom Yorke, Atoms for Peace, Gui Borrato, and Jon Hopkins as early influences. What made you become a DJ?
I have always been intrigued by alternative genres of music. As a black girl who grew up in the townships of Johannesburg, genres like rock, electronica and techno were sounds I generally was not easily exposed to. However, for some odd reason that is what eleven year-old me was listening to and everyone around me thought I was a weirdo. (laughs) My taste and love for music which differed from that of my peers and surroundings grew the older I got. I was collecting a lot of music and I would introduce it to some of my friends who were willing to listen as well as my family. Surprisingly, they loved some of those tunes which fuelled me to keep digging for more tunes. When I enrolled into university in 2015, I discovered the vibrant nightlife of Johannesburg for the first time and I fell in love. South Africa is a country of house music. Literally everyone grew up listening to some deep and soulful house and this has lead to genres of electronic dance music which originate from South Africa such as amapiano, gqom and most importantly afro house. I remember seeing the likes of Da Capo and Culoe De Song live. That was a defining moment in my life where I resonated with a genre of music like never before. Afro house fused those electronic sounds from the likes of Thom Yorke, which I grew up listening to, with my African roots. It was literally the most perfect thing I have ever heard in my entire life. Of course in true Desiree fashion, I began to collect hundreds of tunes I was shazaming from live sets and some which I was beginning to discover myself, as digging and finding rare but beautiful songs has always been my forte. Fast forward, I started to learn how to mix and the rest is history.
Besides music and also fashion, you also have an academic background. What made you choose the creative life over a career as an economist or diplomat, both of which you have considered in the past?
Although I did quite well at school in things like maths, science and history, I always knew from the bottom of my heart that I am a creative. I really connected with different forms of art in a unique way. I also did drama and theatre when I was in high school which I really loved together with music, which I religiously collected, and appreciating other forms of art like dance. Unfortunately, I did not have the privilege of studying music theory and ended up studying a degree which was not in the arts due to various things like financial issues and general societal pressure. I do not regret majoring in politics, philosophy and economics though. The degree has given me a well-rounded view of the world and has positioned me to have a high learning agility due to its fusion of qualitative and quantitative subjects. There are many skills and lessons I learned during university which help me right now as an artist and for that I am eternally grateful!
You’re a co-founder of Boys Club, an initiative dedicated to “mitigat[ing] the misrepresentation of the marginalized.” What was your motivation to start Boys Club?
It is no secret that the electronic music industry is dominated by men. I love a good party and so even before I became a DJ, I used to rave almost every weekend. After some time I started to notice the lack of women, people of colour and queer folk on line-ups. It was quite weird. That’s actually another reason why I became I DJ. I wanted to show people that women can do this too, as cheesy as that sounds. (laughs) So myself and two other DJs started Boys Club to throw raves which prioritise women not only in our line-ups but also on the dancefloor. We are also looking to host workshops to teach aspirant women how to DJ as well as share with them some of the knowledge we have which could help them in their careers. The goal is an equitable industry. Equity is the word in this case, not equality. We want women to be booked because they are amazing spinners and producers and not just because they are women, you know? And that is why we are trying to equip them with the necessary skills to go out there and blow promoters and crowds away! We want to hear things like “Desiree is an amazing DJ,” and not “Desiree is an amazing female DJ!”
Boys Club is mostly event-based, even though it has been quite hard to organise proper shows for most of its existence. How do you go about programming your events, whether online or – if possible – in the physical space?
Our philosophy entails organising events in unique spaces to give the event-goer a memorable experience. So for in-person events, we host our events in rare or unconventional spaces. Unfortunately it has been quite difficult to do this since our inception which was just before lockdown last year. We have hosted a couple of intimate raves subject to lockdown rules and regulations from the government and we are hoping that things will get better over the course of this year so we can fully implement our plans.
For Xpressed Records, you have compiled and mixed a best-of compilation that was released in early 2021. What’s your relationship with the label and what was important to you when selecting the tracks for the mix?
Xpressed Records is one of my favourite labels. Their releases, which are mostly in the afro-tech genre, have always been staples in my sets. Nelo HD, a dope DJ, producer and owner of the label, has always been super supportive towards my career. He treats me like a DJ and not a female DJ and I love that. After supporting the label and their releases for quite sometime, Nelo asked to me select my favourite songs from their 2020 catalogue and compile them into a mix for the Best of Xpressed Records 2020 compilation. What an honour! It was so difficult for me to choose which songs to put into the compilation because their catalogue is so good! For this mix and any other mix, I like to take the listener on a journey. A musical journey for consists of going from one vibe and gradually building it up to another vibe. In this compilation, I tried to start quite chilled and soulful and build it up to those songs I would play at 4 a.m.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
I wanted to showcase my versatile taste in electronic music. Of course the mix largely consists of afro house tunes, but I decided to add sounds which I do not normally play in my sets but absolutely adore. The original mix of “Manifesto” from Clemente and Martin Herrs is one such example. I put this song into the mix as it reminds me of my electronica roots. It is definitely one of my favourite releases of the year from one of my favourite labels, Monaberry. There is also a gqom song from DlalaThukzin and Kususa which is in the mix which I really love. That contrast between genres like gqom and electronica is what inspired this mix. I hope it is dynamic and people will enjoy it as much as I do.
Last but not least: What are your plans for the future?
Releasing my own music. I do not want to say much. Stay tuned!
Stream: Desiree – Groove Podcast 294
01. Myazisto – Call Back
02. M.O.S., Diiptrip, Leonid Sivelkin – When She Leaves
03. LevyM – Many Changes
04. Tswex Malabola – Many Changes
05. &Me – The Rapture (Da Africa Deep Remix)
06. Mr Joe – Joy
07. Daniel Rateuke, Awen – Gold (Manoo Abstrakt Remix)
08. Clemente & Martin Herrs – Manifesto
09. Dlala Thukzin feat. Kususa & Bongo – Small Boys
10. Afro Victimz, Sky White – Mosquitoes
11. Pierre Johnson & W.NN.E – Menkaura