Laura Jones talks about the art of evolution and breast pumping on tour.
One summer in 2011, Laura Jones' world turned upside down. A few years earlier she'd been diagnosed with an eye disease and was going blind but after passing a track to a DJ friend, she had a Summer Beatport hit which filled her diary.
Since then she's toured the world and last year, launched her own label. In 2017, she took the Summer off touring to have a baby and has just returned to work with a bang, playing dates in Paris, Dubai, Berlin, London and Ibiza. She's part of a new wave of female DJs like Cassy and Kate Simko juggling motherhood with the rigeurs of the road, so we catch up with her to find out what it's like to have a hit and juggle motherhood with DJing.
You're part of the Deep House class of 2011/12. While other breakout DJs from that sound, like Hot Since 82 and Maya Jane Coles are going strong on Beatport, you changed direction and started a vinyl only label, was that a risky move?
I haven’t really thought of it in terms of risk, I just followed my heart. The success of my first big track was a little bit of a happy accident. I never thought it would see the light of day. It was one of the first tracks I’d ever finished and I sent it to a few friends in the industry, and next thing, one of them wanted to sign it. After that, a perfect storm of things happened. I released on Visionquest just when the label was blowing up, the organ bass sound became suddenly fashionable around the time my track was released, and next thing, I’m quitting my day job and on the road every weekend.
After the initial success, I stood back from it all, and reflected and realised where I was going wasn’t really representative of my tastes. It all happened quite organically though. It was more of a transition than a sudden wake up call.
Artist are always evolving so when you’re flung into something so quickly and unexpectedly it’s inevitable that there’s going to come a point where you need to re-establish who you are. I hadn’t carved my sound when it all kicked off. I was purely still working my way through the studio by trial and error in between my nine to five. A few years later, I was turning up to gigs and coming a way feeling soul destroyed because people weren’t getting what I was playing, or on the flip side, I felt myself falling into a trap of playing music I didn’t truly believe in. So, it was a risky move but it was one that had to happen because I couldn’t carry on like that.
Is it difficult to evolve as an artist and break out of the pigeonholes you find yourself in?
Massively so. Particularly as the music you make is the business card that gets you gigs and once it’s out there you can’t take it back! People like to judge. Particularly if you’re labelled with a certain sound. They make assumptions that if someone’s doing things one way, they can’t do them another. In truth, everyone is always evolving. It’s art at the end of the day and you grow with your art as you become more knowledgeable, so you can’t expect people to stay doing the same thing forever.
What's it like being a female DJ in 2017 and juggling your instinct to become a mother with a career in a ferociously competitive industry?
I’m almost three months into being a mum and already back touring and travelling (I’m trying to answer these questions while my baby is coo’ing away in front of me). I’m not going to lie, it’s intense and full on and like nothing I ever imagined. It’s also a very fulfilling experience, but it does make you think, what the hell did I use to do with my time before? When you have a baby you have no time for anything, other than your baby.
I can see why Kate Bush had to take almost a decade off to become a mum. There’s the constant fear of neglecting your career, but at the same time, not being able to give your child your one hundred percent attention.
You don’t get maternity leave as a DJ. You can’t just waltz back to your old job two years later knowing that everything’s going to be the same. There’s a constant pressure to release music and keep up your touring schedule with the knowledge that there’s always someone waiting to take your place if you can’t make a gig. But even though you don’t have time anymore, it makes you even more focussed and determined to use what little time you have, as effectively as possible because you now have a little person to provide for.
How do you actually manage to tour while pregnant and then as a mother?
It’s a very surreal situation from start to finish. First you have the look on people’s face in a club when you walk into the booth with a massive, pregnant bump. Then it’s having to push a pram around an airport along with a DJ bag. Rather than just room service to your room, you need to order a baby sitter as well. Having to express milk with a breast pump on a long haul flight next a very confused looking neighbour. Or breastfeed in the middle of Ibiza Town hoping no one bumps into you because your baby can’t wait another second. It has its very bizarre moments but it’s also lovely to be able to share little moments with them while travelling.
You have an eye disease and are very recognisable by your orange glasses and it’s a big feature of your interviews, do you get annoyed by people constantly asking you about your eye disease?
It’s a tricky position to be in. I do tire of talking about it at times if I’m honest. I appreciate it’s a part of me and who I am, and I’m living it day to day so naturally it affects my job as a DJ, however there are often more questions about my eyes than anything else, and I want it to be about my music not my health condition. I don’t want the violins out and I certainly don’t want a sympathy vote. If my message can inspire people in the same boat or with a disability, however then that’s a positive for me.
You had a hit record that took you from being a warm up DJ to a headliner overnight, what was it like to experience success like that out of nowhere?
It was intense and overwhelming but exciting. One minute I was DJing here and there in Leeds and next thing I was touring the world and playing headline slots rather than warming up for headliners or playing after parties. It wasn’t without its challenges. Playing those kind of gigs are a different skillset. You need a different set of records to what you’re used to playing. The energy is different. It was all so new and I was having to learn as I went along.
Is it a difficult position to be in, playing big rooms and festivals while you're still effectively learning to DJ on the job?
You don’t really have time to make mistakes because people are coming to watch and see what you’re about. I’ll be quite honest, I was till figuring it all out and I don’t think you ever stop doing so. We’re always evolving, as I said, but at the time, I never in a million years thought it would happen so quickly and I just had to get on with it.
Laura Jones 8 months pregnant and back to back with Mosaic's Annie Errez on Kmah Radio.
Is it a sign of the times?
There’s a flipside to having a hit, and it’s when new, young producers get chucked in the deep end when they’re not quite ready for it. Because of the age of technology we live in, you can buy a copy of Ableton and make a track in a few months, videos of it being played could go viral on YouTube and you have a hit. But that doesn't mean you’re ready for the pressure and demands that the industry makes of you.
That’s why we see so many one hit wonders. I think I held my own given the circumstances. I regularly played big shows where I’d suddenly find myself playing a main room set alongside my heroes at a party like Circoloco or Fabric and overwhelmed with nerves. But I just had to rise to the challenge.
Tell us about the next release on Sensoramic? How did it come about?
I met the artist Kamran Sadeghi through his wife Julia Govor who I’ve played with a few times over the years. She sent me some of his music for a listen and I knew straight away it was perfect for the label. Kamran’s been making impressive headways on labels like Meander, Cocoon and All Inn over the last few years. He’s a modular wizard but techno is just one of the many strings to his bow. He’s also part of the esteemed New York art installation group, The Soundwalk Collective.
Why are you doing a vinyl only label?
The name of the label is inspired by exploring your other senses and I want it to be a tangible thing. It’s important for me to be able to touch a record, smell it, scratch the beat in with your hands. If music is good I think it’s important to have a hard copy of it.
The majority of music I buy is vinyl. I learned to DJ on vinyl. All the music I bought in the beginning was vinyl. Running a vinyl label is a labour of love. It certainly isn’t about money but I think it’s important to allow a record room to breathe. If you release on digital, your tracks become absorbed into a much bigger black hole of music and can become 'here today and gone tomorrow.' Vinyl has a timeless feel.
Because of the costs involved with it however, you’ve got to really believe in the music and the restrictions that creates, also acts like a filter. I find better music shopping for vinyl than I do on Beatport, but maybe that’s just me.
But you play USBs and CDJs in clubs?
I don’t play USBs out of choice. I can’t read the labels on vinyl or see the grooves properly to be able to play vinyl in clubs. The only way I can play, is via CD-J as I can read the backlit screens in the dark. So I play records at home and then have them digitised so I can play them out from USB instead. I’ve been looking into Google Glass style glasses to help me read vinyl labels in clubs but the technology isn’t quite there yet.
The artwork for the label is very distinctive, what's the idea behind it?
I’ve been very drawn to Native American art in recent years though being a bit of an artisan jewellery geek. I used to always collect a piece everywhere I went and that lead to learning more about indigenous art and culture from all over the Americas. Around the same time the idea for the label was germinating in my head, I had a life changing experience while staying with a tribe in Peru.
When the time came to attach an identity to the label artwork, I knew there had to be a Native American connection and I found an amazing artist called (coincidentally) Sarah Sense and asked her to design the artwork for the release.
Sarah takes photographs and splices the prints and uses the strands to weave textures in the style of the traditional basket weave of her tribe, the Choctaw. This distinctive weave has been passed down from generation to generation over potentially thousands of years and only very few people are left alive who know how to make it, so I’m very honoured to be able to help keep that tradition alive in our artwork.
Check out Sensoramic 003 below:
Follow Laura Jones here.