“I’m the best myself when I DJ”: DJ Priya plays like her life depends on it – Music
What are the memories of youth and adolescence of music?
Growing up, there was always music playing in my house. It was more B4U Music, BBC Asian Network, Sunrise Radio and Bhangra. There was literally always music. and I have always liked high energy music in particular. If you watch family videos, I always do something sporadic and always dance! There is a video of me dancing at my brother’s birthday party and I’m on camera giving it my all, my brother was crying because I stole his birthday! I’ve always loved music, but when I started going to concerts as a teenager, I realized there was a whole different side to music.
I went to a predominantly South Asian school and no one really understood why I was going [rock] shows and why I had red streaks in my hair. It was rock and punk gigs – like Paramore, Enter Shikari and that sort of thing. I discovered this music on the internet in the early 2010s and on Tumblr, I was like “this music really expresses how I feel”, every hairstyle that Hayley Williams had, I had! Back then I felt pretty lonely because when I was a teenager no one else was like me. But now that I’m 20, I’ve met so many other alternative South Asians. I remember seeing for the first time Gracie T on a Zoom call with her hair dyed and thinking “I want her to be my friend”. Immersing myself in alternative music in my teenage years, I started doing doors to local shows, and then I eventually started DJing.
Musically, how did you make the transition from alternative and rock music to electronic music?
One day I was scrolling through TikTok and saw a video of this dance group and they were playing a remix of “Rude Boy” and I was like “this is amazing I never heard music like this – here before “. It was by someone passing to clean, he’s a 19-year-old from Brazil, and through that I started listening to his mixes, then other mixes. The funny thing is that he and I are actually friends now. It was through him, and through people like Manuka honey and Manara. These are all people who have influenced the sound that I love to play, and I like to think that I took pieces from everything and made it my own. So I found some electronic music on TikTok and ended up going down a rabbit hole.
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In what other ways have your friends and family influenced the music you mix? I know you use a lot of classic and contemporary South Asian sounds.
I guess being a DJ is a hard pill for your parents to swallow, especially in our community. I wanted to make music that my mom could also listen to, and while she might not know all the songs, there are samples that she recognizes. I wanted to make it as acceptable to as many people as possible; I always wanted to include my family and friends. I just wanted to merge as many things as possible. I wanted to almost breathe new life into the songs we know and love because they are classics but they just need a little oomph. My good friend Jayhaan is an incredible example of this, he is one of the first people to bring Desi Jersey Club to India. People like Manara, Gracie T, Yung Singh and I all play it. He’s such a great inspiration because he showed me the way forward and we’re actually talking about collaborating together! I remember I heard her Remix ‘Amplifier’ and I just thought “this is it, I heard the best thing I’m ever going to hear”, that really motivated me to want to include more stuff like that. I realized that I wanted to include my parents in my mix.
A really important person is Manara. I spent a lot of time in confinement and I was listening to her show, I was listening to her properly, she has this recurring sample of Pooja, what is this behavior that is, ‘you ask, you’re dying’ – and I was like ‘wait, can we actually do it? I tried doing something like this for a hot minute. Seeing someone like her do that and do it so well made me realize I had to do stuff like that too. It was a switch moment, I realized I could really take what I had in mind and make it a reality, she was one of my biggest inspirations. I also sincerely admire Gracie T, I am so grateful to be friends with her because she is actually an inspiration to me. I like to be inspired by people I know.
There are so many songs that are so special to me because I listened to them growing up. I want to share them with other people. My little brother, he just turned 18 and it’s so nice to me that he listens to my mixes, and my mom listens to my mixes too. These mixes all include songs that we grew up on.
How did your family first react when you said you were a DJ? It is still an unconventional route in South Asian families.
I think because it started out as a simple hobby, my mom was just happy that I was interested in something! Once I said I wanted to do this full time, she said “okay, but it’s yours”. It was only now that I think she saw the full extent of it – especially after the Mixmag LDN lab show. She was showing her friends and actually understanding the scale. She was still listening to me on the radio, but I think she thought I was just sticking to pirate or community radio – and probably even thought I was just streaming from my laptop – so she did. has certainly achieved the impact since Mixmag spectacle. Obviously, she’s super proud of me. In fact, I think she’s starting to take credit for it and tell people it’s her idea that I got into this business from the start, because she used to play the radio on me growing up!
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Classic Desi Moms! But when you told him it was something you wanted to do full time, how did you make that decision yourself?
Normally people say “I was so musically talented in school” and most of the time it was written for them – but it wasn’t for me! I had no idea what I wanted to do, I was taking the business route and studying for it. I took a workshop with Jyoty and the first time I got on the decks, something in me just changed. Honestly, it was like being reborn, that’s the only way I can describe it. I had never clicked on anything, I worked in a bar, I was in training to be a vet nurse, I did business – I tried everything! But after touching the decks, something unleashed inside me. After six weekly evenings, and only 10 hours on the decks, I played a festival in support of Jyoty! I remember just dancing, and she said to me “mix it up first and then dance!” But I’ve been the same since the very beginning of my career, no matter how I feel or what I do – I’m my best self, the most energetic behind the decks. During these workshops, I realized that this feeling is something really, really special and I wanted to go as far as possible. I was actually playing b2b with Gracie T at 180 The Strand for Stunned recently and Jyoty was giving a talk downstairs, she stopped her speech to tell people that “one of her mentees is playing upstairs”. It meant a lot to me. Playing has become an addiction, I’ll play your birthday, play in your bathroom, even play at Lidl – I just always want to be behind the decks. I really never had this feeling before.
Moving on to your music itself, your sets and mixes are so varied – describe your creative process to us. How would you normally do a mix?
It will seem so chaotic! I work best at night, there’s a ton of hours to spend in a mix that people don’t see, I’m going to spend so much time mixing and matching and trying to find a mix or something that works. I’m improving a lot now, before an hour-long mix takes me about 10 hours to record. For a one hour mix, there are sometimes sixty hours of pure experimentation behind where I find what works. I’m also very experimental, like sometimes I have an idea in my head and I think of taking the vocals out of something, playing it out of beat, putting on a different bassline, and I end up with a really mixed up. eclectic that works.
I am really lucky to love the music that I mix. I am my favorite DJ, I play the music I want to listen to. I always listen to my mixes and think about ways to change them. I’ll be at ASDA listening to mixes and think “oh that would work really well with this mix” and go home, try it out and then keep it aside for another mix.
Just thanks to DJing, you listen to music differently. Because I listened to a lot of bands growing up, I always listened to a different element every time, whether it was percussion or bass or whatever. Whenever my focus was different, and it really helped me when dissecting songs for DJing, I hear songs in a way that someone else might not hear.
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Tell us about your current mixing process, where do you make your music? What equipment do you use?
I’m a real bedroom DJ, I do everything in my bedroom with a controller that I pair with my laptop.
A little off topic, but I always tell people not to be put off by their lack of equipment. One of the best mixes I ever heard was from my friend, CloudKlaus. He broke it. It was so technical and so fun to listen to, that there were even flashbacks! He told me later that he had done it on a computer with his mouse and keyboard. I was so shocked, and I was like “but you had recharges and everything” and he said he was using his keyboard to line things up and make the mouse spin, he showed me how he had it made. I was dazzled. There are all kinds of equipment, but it’s mostly talent. I couldn’t do what my friend did perfectly without my controller because I was always a practical person – I learned from hands-on experience.
As a DJ you have collaborated with a lot of people, I know you started to spread the name of DJ Priya thanks to your appearance on foundation.fm – what was it like?
I remember being invited to their specialty show with Sita and Rani and I thought, “It’s amazing, there are so many other South Asian DJs!” The stuff that we play is so varied and also very heavy. Sita plays a lot of techno which is cool and I loved watching it because it’s still mostly played on the radio by a lot of white men. It was crazy to collaborate with her on that, especially on an all-female station like foundation.fm, I was on cloud 9!