As the Mayor of London’s #SoundsLikeLondon campaign comes to a close we bring you our final profile on incredible women in music. We talk to drum & bass legend DJ Storm about how she became one of the most influential DJs of the 90s and how she’s finding her way back to the decks, today.
Jayne Conneely has just got back from a gig in Trier, Germany where she was eaten alive by mosquitos. “I experienced a lot this weekend,” she says, adding that the festival also played host to a traditional lederhosen band. Thankfully her bites have begun to clear up now she’s back at her home in Kettering, Northamptonshire, where she’s now looking forward to playing more genre-bending line-ups.
This is all part of Conneely rebuilding her career as the legendary ‘First Lady of Drum & Bass’, DJ Storm. It’s not that she completely disappeared from the scene, it’s just that things are a lot different now. “Social media is something that I’ve really had to get my head around,” she says. “It’s taken me a little bit longer maybe than most people. Now I seem to understand it a little bit more and how to use it for my career, you know what I mean?”
“We were a bit of a mystery to everybody and that worked in our favour.”
Back in the early-90s, Conneely explains that all ‘social media’ amounted to was coming across a flyer with the promoter’s number on it, or simply sharing promo tapes and gaining traction via word-of-mouth. That’s how she and her musical partner DJ Kemistry began their illustrious careers, along with Goldie – whom they founded the Metalheadz label with. “Goldie didn’t see us as women, he just saw us as really great DJs,” she says. “We came back from a rave one night and he said, ‘You two are going to DJ this music, I’ll produce it, we’ll make a label. We’ll make a lifestyle, we can sell t-shirts or make a logo’. We just lived that dream for a while. Being women for us, we had our blinkers on a little bit which was reinforced when the label at the time really picked us up.”
The duo got their dubplates from Reinforced – a London based label set up by Marc “Marc Mac” Clair, Gus Lawrence, Dennis “Dego” McFarlane and Ian Bardouille – who had met via London’s Strong Island pirate radio station. “The dubplates you played were the camp you came from,” Conneely says. “People would look at me and Kemi like who are these girls with these Reinforced dubplates, they’ve just arrived, how are they doing this? I think again, we were a bit of a mystery to everybody and that worked in our favour.”
When they first put their tapes out, Conneely says they didn’t mention that they were women. This wasn’t a particularly conscious decision but it meant that promoters would often be surprised once they turned up to do their set. “What you could do was open doors for yourself, as long as you were confident to walk through them,” she says. “We were a bit of a mystery to everybody and that worked in our favour. We all understand there’s a boys club and we get that, there are still guys who will pick a man over you if they’re doing their own rave or whatever, but I think slowly, that dissolves over years. In the beginning, once those guys realised we were serious, we were a bit more accepted. For me and Kemi, we were quite blinkered because there was the two of us – we didn’t have to interact, we had each other.”
Once they gained enough traction, Conneely began running the Metalheadz night at Blue Note in Hoxton Square. She took care of the line-ups – “it was the first organisation that had two female residents at it so everyone thought it was a shock” – and it’s regularly cited as one of drum & bass’ most important nights. “We picked up Flight because she was good, not because she was a woman. She wanted it like us, we could feel that.”
Flight went on to join Conneely’s all-female, drum & bass collective Feline, which she set up in 2007. She likens the group to London promoter Rupture, who’s ‘very conscious of making sure she’s got women in her dance and ethnic diversity in her dance’. “I think that’s really worked because Rupture is one of those old school nights where you get a really good mix of men and women and mix of ages. That’s quite rare in the drum ‘n’ bass scene,” she adds.
“If you really want it, you’ll make your path and make it work somehow”
As a mentor at the Red Bull Music Academy, Conneely has also found it interesting to watch women work their way through the scene from afar, adding that, “we do tend to be thinkers more than the guys.”
“If you really want it, you’ll make your path and make it work somehow,” she continues. “It’s really exciting to see all these excited women coming through – one girl in Leeds had a plan how she was going to become a DJ. I think women tend to think two steps ahead because we have to, we have to plan how we’re going to move in this scene. Mollie Collins has come through as a DJ recently,” she adds. “Watching her progress has been amazing and I know she’s making tunes now – she’s getting really good props for that.”
“My advice to everyone doing the same is to really take time when you’re doing a mix and have it well thought out. It has to be as though you’re doing a studio production,” she adds. “Me and Kemi, we really took our time, laying all our tunes out. The bottom line is, if you’ve got a good mix, it will stand out, we will hear it.”