In this series we shine a light on the people that make the wheels turn behind the scenes in London’s music underground. From venue owners and agents, to record label managers and bouncers, we chat to these individuals about their tastes and motivations.
Jessica Farley has her fingers in many pies, working across several different projects and companies. She began the Rhythm Sister collective in 2016 as a platform to support females and female-identifying artists through mentoring and workshops, while individually she DJs at events and festivals across the globe like India's Magnetic Fields, Gottwood and Albanian festival Kala and hosts a regular radio show on Bristol's Noods. Last year marked the first edition of Headroom, the close-knit festival Jess runs alongside Banoffee Pies boss Ell AKA DJ Autumn, which takes place in the beautiful countryside of Abergavenny, Wales. On top of this Jess works closely with Love International Festival and runs her own Digital Marketing company called BYND Digital, supporting and collaborating with various music brands.
It's still cold. It's dark. It's February. But as I come to catch Jess, things start to feel a lot more positive. She is spinning a few tunes as part of the ongoing Rhythm Sister residency in Hackney Wick. It's the start of the night and Liv Ayers is kicking things off. I catch Jess at the bar and she greets me with a smile. We have a chat behind the booth then step away for a few mins to chat….
Who are you and what do you do?
Hello I am Jessica, I'm a DJ, I co-run a festival called Headroom, I founded a collective called Rhythm Sister, I work for Love International and I run a Digital Marketing company called BYND Digital which predominantly works with music brands. I also have two cats.
Why and how did you get into music and did you have any preconceptions before you did? How has that changed?
I have always loved music but never thought in a million years that it could be a career option (I used to study law and worked in a bank!), but looking back even as a teenager or at university I was always at festivals, raves or organising events. I just loved being a part of it. I started off volunteering and seeking / saying yes to any music-related role that came my way in my early 20s and then took a huge risk and I quit my job to work in events management and artist liaison. After this I did marketing and artist management for two and half years at the record label Ninja Tune and since then I've run my own projects full time along with starting my company.
I guess a preconception was the fact that it was inaccessible (it's definitely not easily accessible), but with dedication and hard work it is possible to have a career in music.
The first record that really turned you on to electronic music?
Mr Oizo – Flat Beat haha. My Dad bought it for me on CD when I was nine.
Describe the overlap between your own mental health and music/creative industries.
Oh gosh haha. How deep shall we go here? I'll be super honest and say I've suffered with anxiety and self confidence issues in my life, more so in my early 20s. I had a tricky childhood at times and have had lots of therapy over the years which has been life changing. Music in all aspects, provides a very happy reality to live in, it's inspiring and mood elevating, it provides me with a purpose and connections to people I may not have met in life otherwise. A shared passion for something brings people together and I love that about it.
It's also a huge reliever of negative thoughts and in those magic moments on the dance floor, or just simply playing calming music at home, it's a reminder that it is possible to be and feel happy and it helps to take that feeling with you into day to day life. On the flip side of course, being a creative and putting yourself out there is incredibly anxiety provoking, especially since the working environment in music can be low paid, high pressure, with long hours and late nights. I definitely think navigating my mental health while working really hard was incredibly draining at one point. However I'd rather be working doing something I love than having the same stress doing something I don't love. I know the word is over used but self care and what is right for you is something you learn slowly over the years and it's imperative with a career in music (or any creative industry). It's important to listen to your body and take care of your mind.
Do you feel that mental health is supported within the musical community?
Yes and no – yes because I typically think lots of people in music are living a similar experience and the support between peers and as a community can be amazing. The awareness over the last few years has grown, which is super positive, so I think it's a lot easier for people to talk about it. And then no because – the pressure is next level high at a lot of music companies, and I think there needs to be improved education, staff training and support systems within these companies to ensure their employees are looked after as they should be.
In an overly saturated market how would you advise someone looking to express themselves creatively in music culture.
Just do you babes. What's the point other wise? I think you can consciously think of new and fun ways to present your art or your ideas but just ensure it's true to you and what makes you happy. I would also say be patient and spend time working out what that is, this would be advice I would of told myself eight years ago 🙂
What's more important; memes or music?
Depends what meme? lol.
Is dance music fundamentally artistic or does it serve the simple purpose of making people dance?
The word art is very subjective, I would say some dance music is fundamentally artistic yes. Lots of dance music makes you feel something: emotions, nostalgia, invoking memories, and that is art. Some tracks just wanna make you absolutely have it, I guess that is art too.
Should electronic music be political?
I think electronic music IS and always was political. Existing is a political act.
What would you do without the internet?
Play board games and eat all the time.
What role does social media play in your identity and dance music?
Social media is a mirror held up to society, we're all a bit vain and we're all voyeurs, a friend of mine used to say. So as a result I think this paired with our desire to stay connected to others plus our curiosity to follow people's journeys (which isn't a bad thing), means that social media is something lots of artists feel pressured to partake in, and actually to an extent there's a fear of being left behind if you don't.
The role it plays for me is to keep people updated with what I'm doing, to stay in touch and collaborate with others in the community and to discover new music. It's also excellent for complete nonsense and cat videos haha. I also use social media within my Digital Marketing company, here I do see the positive impacts it can have, music is meant to be heard and the internet can be used as a fantastic tool to spread your work further.
Please tell us how to monetise music in the digital age.
If you find out let me know yeh?
Does ‘real' tech house deserve a second chance?
'Real' tech house doesn't need a second chance 😉
If you had one piece of advise to people starting to consider a career in dance music, what would it be.
Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and ask for help. Sign yourself up for networking events, courses, find others who like the same music as you. Start your own thing, even if it's in your bedroom! Joining music groups online is a great way to connect with people in the community. The internet is your friend, you can Youtube tutorial A N Y T H I N G.
Last gig you went to?
Feels like forever ago *cry face* It was a party I put on with my boyfriend Ell who co-runs Headroom with me, we had Voigtmann play for us in our hometown Bristol.
Most Iconic Venue?
Barbarella's Discoteque <3
Last thing you shazamed?
Hodge + Nico – Akita
Last set that really impressed you?
Katiusha at Bruce's Get Loose party and also the set she played after me at ADE – she is really great.
Last record you bought?
SHKN – Domesticated 003
Best bit about working in music?
The community and friendships made.
Toughest challenge about working in music?
The pressure I think, the constant pressure to keep going and doing. This pandemic has really made me realise that now the whole world is at a halt. Everyone probably could've done with chilling out a bit (minus the lack of income, economy collapse and the impending doom though of course haha)
Last time you stayed in a club until the lights came on?
My set at Secretsundaze in London at the Cause, before that it was actually Headroom because I've been taking some time to chill out recently WHICH I AM NOW REGRETTING.
Person that you have worked with that you found most inspiring?
Ell inspires me loads, we work together on Headroom and I work on his label Banoffee Pies Records sometimes. It's nice collaborating with people close to you.
Is there an open door for the underprivileged?
I wouldn't say the door is open wide no, it's open by a crack! There are lot of barriers that exist for certain demographics and while there's some incredible initiatives in the scene, I think we can collectively do more outreach to where it matters. I do think the music industry can be elitist in some form, it's really hard if you're from a family with not so much money, if you have to support yourself, or if you don't know anyone. Being creative is a risk and takes time, and time is a privilege, especially when you're struggling to pay your rent or if you have issues at home. You're less likely going to think about buying music equipment if you can't afford it, or volunteering at your local festival if you're not aware that this is accessible to you, let alone pursuing some type of career in the arts! I took a huge huge risk by quitting my job to do an unpaid internship, I used my overdraft to pay my rent for that month, if I hadn't have been offered a job after one month I would of had to leave London with no safety net – and not everyone even has access to an overdraft to be able to that – that was a privilege I had. I know there are different avenues but it is a lot lot easier and more comfortable to be creative and work in music if you're financially secure or your family is. I think it's important we all acknowledge this more and help others as much as we can.
Your label of the moment?
Here's a few: Seekers, Subsequent, Banoffee Pies, Planet Euphorique, Phone traxxx
Follow Jessica and Rhythm Sister.