In the Middle with Equaliser

As part of LGBTQ+ History Month, Rosabella Allen caught up with two DJs involved in Equaliser, a collective of female, transgender and non-binary artists based in Leeds. Carlos, a sound designer and resident at Brudenell Groove, and Luce, the event organiser and workshopper, have both been involved with Equaliser since their humble beginnings. Here, they discuss their journey so far, as well as the need for more safe spaces within the clubbing scene.

So what inspired you to first get into DJing? Was there any sudden point which really sticks out to you that made you think it was something you wanted to start doing, either as a hobby or a career? 

Carlos: I kind of got into it by accident – I had been going to a lot of nights and collecting music for years but never had any equipment or ever thought about really DJing. Then I started doing my radio show on KMAH and then people just kind of started asking if I wanted to play at stuff, and even though I didn’t really consider myself a proper DJ – and still probably don’t really – I just thought fuck it, that will be fun!

Luce: Similar here really with it being accidental, I never intended or wanted to become a DJ. I was lucky enough to borrow decks off my old boss about 3 or 4 years ago, he lent me 2 turntables and his old mixer. Initially I just wanted one turntable to play my records, and thanks to the equipment being in my room I just got hooked. Then it turned into a hobby and still is really. I love doing it and just being able to play tunes I love to my mates. Also, after noticing the lack of non-cis men DJs, I wanted to make a difference because it always inspired me to see the minority gender categories in the scene playing out.

Did you have people around you to help and support you to pursue DJing and did you face any difficulties or challenges trying to do it?

C: The Leeds scene is very tight-knit and encouraging, I’ve always felt really supported. There’s too many wonderful people to name specific names, but members of Brudenell Groove, Equaliser, and Love Muscle have been endlessly helpful, generous and inspiring over the past few years.

L: Yes. Like I said before, having my old boss Andrew Blake lend me his turntables and mixer – that for me started everything, someone seeing the potential and knowing it’d be worth them being in my room, rather than collecting dust in his garage. Also, just going out and seeing my idols play and having them to look up to, Lena Willikens being one of them. These role models help massively. Outlaws Yacht Club crew, I’ve been playing there for a few years and they’re like family and have really given me a solid platform to play the tunes I love, and have confidence in doing so. Lucy Locket has also been an inspiration and supportive of the whole of Equaliser, giving amazing advice and experience, sharing knowledge and skills. She’s just an all round super star!

Have you ever felt uncomfortable when playing a set or felt any sort of prejudice?

L: Yes, many times. I often feel uncomfortable in most spaces I’m not used to playing in. It’s a confidence thing for me. I’m getting a lot more used to it now – but I have experienced many mansplaining situations in the past.

Saying that, are you noticing a change or an increase in diversity within the electronic music scene or even just an increase in representation and creative spaces for LGBTQ+ people?

L: Yes, definitely. It’s getting better. Just the awareness and choice for people is really important in the LGBTQ+ scene. One of the most important factors for me is being able to create and have access to a safe space for people. A lot of the ideas which have come with the need to create awareness of LGBTQ+ communities and genders has often stemmed from experiences people have faced in certain clubs or dance floors. For example, negative, passive-aggressive comments, feeling unsafe or judged by people, others not being aware or making you feel small or unwelcome and unable to express who you are, even being touched or stared at by men without any indication that it’s ok to do so. These are the issues mostly women, non-binary and trans people are faced with most of the time they’re in a club or dance music environment. Luckily, it doesn’t happen as much in the underground music scene than the mainstream, but it still can regularly. Spaces like Love Muscle create this safe space very well – absolutely no tolerance for unsafe behaviour. This is what all club spaces should be making a priority. Thank god there’s a space and choice for us in Leeds because freedom of expression is so important within LGBTQ communities.

What are your personal future dreams and plans for the year and Equaliser as a whole?

C: By the end of 2019, I want to have released an album. I have all the music, I just need to stop being afraid of starting the recording and mixing process. For Equaliser, I would love to start collaborating with other collectives doing similar stuff and try to encourage similar collectives to start up in different cities and towns, so that we can help create these opportunities for people in other places.

L: I would love to focus on the music side of things more, getting a mix series properly going with guest shows and expanding in this way, collaborating with other collectives, and so on. We have some really talented DJs and producers in the collective so it’s time to celebrate our talents and show them off. Also, getting better at hosting workshops and opening up the idea and option for people to explore experimental mixing and layering of textures and sounds, which is how I learnt to get to grips with the equipment before beat matching. 

Finally, what words of wisdom and advice can you give to aspiring DJs out there? how can they get involved with events around Leeds and are there any upcoming Equaliser events that people should look out for?

L: One word of advice is, as much as anyone tells you that there’s a specific way to DJ, do not listen – there is no right or wrong way. Everyone learns at their own pace and when you’re watching someone in a club, they practice a lot to get to a level of being able to DJ on their own. DJing in a club is a whole new level in itself, but it also helps you to learn and push yourself, so be patient! Also, tune selection for me is a priority over learning how to beatmatch, unless beatmatching is your thing and gets you more excited, I’d say try not to put too much pressure on yourself to be technically perfect. Like I said, things take time! 

C: The Leeds scene is great because it’s small and friendly enough to get to know everyone, but there are also lots of people who are interested in hearing all different kinds of weird stuff and creating platforms for people to share it. So some advice would be to go and listen to the music that you like at the nights you like, and then have a chat and get in contact with the people running those nights. The DIY nature of the Leeds scene means that most people are super friendly and willing to help people out with advice or let people get involved in some way. If you’re not really sure what you like yet, but want to try some stuff out, come to one of our Equaliser workshops, and we’ll help point you in the right direction.

L: Come join one of the Equaliser workshops if you’re interested in learning or just trying something new. I’ll be helping one on the 22nd of March and we have such a friendly crew who love to share skills for all levels. We have an event on the 8th of March for International Women’s Day at Sheaf Street. Myself and some past workshoppers will be taking over the decks, so come along. Also, check out the Equaliser Facebook page for more information about future workshops and events.

Rosabella Allen