Gauchoworld for Frequent Players | Jjess

15.04.22 Frequent Players


JJESS’ music has been making waves for many reasons. Her DJ sets feature musical transitions that feel more like spatial shifts, spanning geographies and genres. These mixes create a sonic crosshatch, weaving techno beats with Afro house, big name artists with avant-garde sound. 

This multi-genre trademark is the offshoot of creative ingenuity. But it’s also a reflection of Jess’s interdisciplinary approach to work and life, an unwavering tenacity to find her place within a variety of spaces, even those that might feel inaccessible. 

Growing up in east London, Jess established her DJ career after leaving university in 2017. Since then, she’s navigated the music industry from all angles, working in radio production, playing clubs and festivals, and curating a professional identity online.

“My background’s in radio,” Jess tells me. “That’s actually how I got into DJing. I was working with [people] that played so many different genres of music. It opened my ears and my mind to all the different sounds out there.” 

Despite early exposure to the industry, Jess tells me a sense of belonging took time; “I always wanted to DJ, I just didn’t really know how to start. I still didn’t feel like I could call myself a DJ […] for a few years.” This separation came from a feeling of inaccessibility. As a Black woman navigating a predominantly white cis-male industry, Jess recalls feeling anxious in certain spaces: “It was as though I didn’t really belong [in them].”

But a deep love of music pushed Jess to make accessible what had previously felt exclusive. “I’d never seen [music] as a career […] but I’ve always been surrounded by it. My dad was heavily into collecting CD’s and buying sound systems”. 

Starting work in radio production for the BBC was a way in, though Jess describes the constraints it had on her creativity. This encouraged her to navigate the industry on her own; “I wanted to explore how the different sounds in my head could sound to others […] explore my own avenues and work on my own terms.” By carving out spaces that once felt unattainable, Jess has found creative agency and a stronger sense of identity.

“That sense [of not belonging] can sometimes consume you […] but I just remember why I started. I wanted to be the DJ that elicited that same feeling I felt when I was listening to a set.”

Since the pandemic, the spaces which Jess moves in have shifted. Clubs have closed and digital platforms are taking over, forcing creatives to navigate more uncharted territory; “Social media is tricky, because it feels like so many opportunities come from [these spaces],” says Jess. “It’s just another place where I need to present a certain image of myself, and you can get lost in that”.

But despite these shifts, Jess takes new spaces in her stride. I ask her where she feels most creative – playing out in clubs, recording in a studio, or sharing her work online. She tells me she likes a balance. Playing out allows her to build a community: “I want my shows to be […] a place to discover new music”. And in the digital sphere, she cites playlisting as another means of sharing with that audience: “it [allows me] to be that kind of discovery platform for others”. 

This open dialogue is something Jess treasures in her work with the Girls Can’t DJ (GCDJ) collective, an initiative showcasing women and non-binary artists by giving them the platforms to network and perform. “Jords, who runs GCDJ, has been amazing at giving women the space to have certain conversations about things we all go through [in this industry],” says Jjess “Having that [space] to share things, it’s super important. It’s just made me feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.” 

Jess recognises the importance of these outlets now more than ever, with the post-pandemic landscape favouring mainstream venues. “Spaces for women, for people in the LGBTQ+ community, it’s just almost non-existent. I’m hoping small clubs will start re-opening but it all comes down to funding”. 

We talk about stagnant discussions to this effect. Every year within the music scene, Jess tells me, “We have the same conversation, that there’s not enough women on festival lineups. But nobody’s doing anything about it”. 

Despite her evident frustration, Jess maintains a calm demeanour as we talk. I’m struck by this pragmatic sense of hope, a sign Jess hasn’t simply found her place, but is becoming that space for others. “I’ve always said, if anyone has any questions, just ask me. Slide into my DMs. I know that’s really scary, but I want people to feel comfortable enough to talk about these things”.

In this way, JJESS’ music becomes a conversation. Despite the divisions between Jess’s physical, digital, and sonic environments, she’s found ways to bridge the versions of herself that inhabit each space. 

“It’s a very interesting thing, the different versions of yourself that exist in different spaces. When I’m DJing, I feel more confident. Whereas day to day, I think I can be pretty reserved.” This confidence ripples into all aspects of Jess’s life, “It affects your day to day mood. Just knowing that you’re talented, you can transfer that into other things.”

“Certain spaces can feel very intimidating. I think there’s still a lot of work to be done for women DJs, unfortunately.” She recalls being typecast as a Black woman, with bookers often expecting her to play rap or R&B. “After a while, you think ‘maybe this is what I’m supposed to play’ but I’ve realised I only want my set to be booked in spaces that will accommodate my sound.”

It’s inspiring talking to Jess, witnessing her steadfast response to adversity. But it’s also a reminder that, in exclusionary spaces, the burden of creating change often falls on the shoulders of those marginalised people. DJ training programs aimed at women and non-binary artists – like Mix Nights in Bristol – are positive signs, but they remain few and far between. 

I ask Jess if she thinks industry leaders are doing enough: “Definitely not. Booking agents, the people in charge of festival line-ups, they’re the gatekeepers. They’re the ones who have to be willing to make changes.”

Rebuffing the borders erected by these gatekeepers comes back to JJESS’ multi-spatial, multi-genre sound. She pulls inspiration from everywhere she can, telling me her home city of London is unmatched in its diversity and creative opportunity. And it’s not just music she turns to for motivation; “People who’ve started a brand, and built a community around that brand, I think that’s so cool. I love when people think outside of the box to elevate other projects.”

DJing is ultimately a way for Jess to express herself – in the many forms that entails. “It’s like music. It has different genres, and those come from certain subcultures with their own way of dressing, their own way of living. DJing is definitely an extension of myself, my creativity, and how I portray myself.” 

Perhaps most overtly, it’s her upcoming project, ’Code Switch’, that unravels this multi-faceted identity. Spanning various mediums, it’s a reflection of her transcendental sound. 

“I wanted to connect to my Nigerian background. I went every year as a kid, but I wanted to find my own way there as an adult. I’ve started going quite frequently by myself.” ‘Code Switch’ draws on this experience of diaspora and identity through soundscape, music and film. Jess describes it as a research project, seeing it as a chance to explore the backstories behind our musical identities. It highlights an inspiring truth: that Jess’s capacity to weave spaces together exists in each of us. 

“I’m speaking to people who live in lots of different spaces. Talking about growing up in a certain city, the music, sound, smells that describe that space, and how it’s shaped their creativity.” Jess says completing the project is her biggest goal this year. It certainly feels like a natural next step.

“Everyone’s a DJ” she tells me. Despite my lacking musical talent, I’m inclined to agree. Because for Jess – whose navigated a rigid industry by pushing a composite sound – DJing is more than a technical skill. It means trying to embrace the many versions of yourself that grow from different spaces, and filling those spaces unapologetically. If you ask me, she’s certainly succeeding. 

Editor – @igweldn

Photography – @stuartnimmo_

Photography Assistant – @rhysbawilliams

Words – @flobellinger

Styling – @rachel.parisa

Design – @jack___sharples

Production – @pifivy

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Rasharn Powell | Frequent Players

05.12.21 Frequent Players

Rasharn Powell is the man of the moment. An emerging R&B star pioneering his own adaptation of R&B, soul, alternative, Hip-Hop and jooks of rhythm. 

Still in the early stages of his career, Rasharn Powell has been making his mark on the music scene through his soul inspired beats and conscious wordplay as an honest depiction of his life.

Celebrating this year’s success with the R&B EP ‘Dusk & Dawn’ garnering over 2 million streams, we reached out to Rasharn to talk about all things music, positivity and how style has inspired his musical journey. 

Read the interview below!

Footpatrol: Rasharn before we get into everything! How are you?

Rasharn Powell: I’m a good man, I’m blessed. How are you?

FP: I’m good, thank you! 

Tell us a bit about yourself and how your upbringing was. Did the place where you grew up shape who you are and how your music is voiced?

RP: I am Rasharn Powell, 26 years of age originally from Redbridge. Some might call it East London, others may say Essex, It’s just IG4 to me haha! 

Single parent household, I was raised with my sister by my mum and a lot of strong females within my family, my aunties, cousins and my grandparents. I would definitely say where I am from helped shape me into who I am today. I have lived in a lot of places in my life and I think the knock on effect of being in those spaces and the people I have met have helped shape me. So in answer to your question, yes. 

FP: Would you say that’s down to the diversity of the areas you’ve been to or more to do with the people you have immersed yourself around?

RP: I would say more so the people. For the most part, when I am in certain areas I try to take in everything around me, but it’s the people that you come into contact with that help push you in those directions. For me it’s mostly the people that I have connected with that have helped shape me into the man I am today. 

FP: At what age (or how early) did you realize that you had “that voice” – was it a family member, a friend, a stranger or just self proclaimed?

RP: When I was in school I used to love playing rugby but I also used to love singing. In school if you didn’t know my name they would just call me singer boy or the kid that dances haha! In year 7 I was singing in school assemblies, it’s always been one of my main passions. I found sport though, specifically rugby –  as a positive outlet especially for things like mental health. I remember being 16 ready to go to college thinking, am I going to pursue rugby or am going to dive in with singing and which made me feel the most alive when I did it. It turned out to be music. I couldn’t do both as no one would want to see a battered face sing to them. I decided from that point to really hone in on singing. 

My mum really helped along the way – and prior for that matter – to put me in singing lessons or with different people that she knew who knew more about singing and the industry itself. She used to say that she knew I was talented but needed to hear it from an unbiased view to make sure that I was as talented as she thought. Those different people help me get to where I am now. I feel it was mainly my mum and myself that really gave me that push to go for it. 

FP: Were you classically trained when it came to singing lessons?

RP: No. Mainly for me I didn’t want to eradicate the feeling that came across when I was singing. I wanted to make sure I knew how to control that. When it came to singing, it was more focused on breath control and being able to project your voice without doing any harm to it. I was trained by people who were classically trained but I didn’t want it to be as strict as that. For me if you attach something so strict to something so emotive like singing it then becomes almost feelingless. That’s not the case for everyone but it was so for me. 

FP: Who were your musical influences growing up? Was it a mix of older generations to the current artists/groups at the time and has that changed over the years?

RP: Growing up I was raised in a very musical household. Not that anyone played themselves but, when I would go to my grandparents they used to love throwing parties. They had a sound system that would run through the whole crib, so when it came to birthdays or whatever we would just be out in the garden setting music alight! Artists like Gregory Isaacs, Feris Hammond, Marica Griffiths would just play throughout the house. In terms of reggae being Jamaican it was something I was already very rooted in. At home though it was more those pop/r&b centred artists that my mum and my dad play all the time. Being at home with her, she would be playing the Brandys, Usher, even people like Westlife and Blue! My Dad on the other hand would play artists like your John Legends. I would have my ear like an applaurer of music. Once I grew up and started going to college and uni I made friends that introduced me to genres like Afrobeat and artists like Fela Kuti, Arctic Monkey, Ben Howard, Banks, Coldplay – essentially artists that are more focused by melodies or song writing. The focus is all about storytelling. With that I loved r&b but just wanted to make sure I was saying something within my music and construct it so that it tells a story or in a way that was clever.

FP: When writing a song/s, do you have someone in mind or do you tell it from someone else’s perspective? Is it based on past experiences or do you like to create and tell a story?

RP: I would definitely say that everything that I have written is based on past experiences. Everything that is on ‘Dusk till Dawn’ are my own stories, anything from past relationships, my view on the world and people that I have been in touch with who have affected me in some way. There are times when making music that hasn’t made it out, where I want to talk from another perspective. Those are the things that I develop a story around someone’s experiences in some way. But for the most part it is a depiction of my own life. 

FP: Are you the type of person to write your lyrics in a notebook?

RP: I don’t write my lyrics in books but I do journal. In terms of my thought process and what helps me have a cathartic moment everyday, that is something that allows my thoughts, worries, great ideas or things to reach towards come out. When I’m in the studio though I need something quick so that’s when I usually just use my notes on my phone or anything I can just get things down quickly on. Sometimes though when we are jamming I need to hear it back and write down the lyrics and piece them together so that they make more sense.

FP: Congratulations on 2 Million streams on not just one but two tracks off your mixtape ‘Dusk & Dawn’ (Smithereens and Warm In These Blue Jeans – the latter which was a single from 2019). Did you know that songs like these would take off or do you just create it and let the songs take their course?

RP: I wish I could have said yeah I know this one will take off. I don’t feel like you ever know, you get a bit of an incline but that may well be down to it being a special track for you. Sometimes the tracks that I get gassed about aren’t always received well instantly by people. That’s just how it is. I am just grateful regardless. The music that I put out I’m very intentional with what it is I am saying and releasing to the world. So whatever one it is that takes off, I am just grateful as it still represents a part of me. At that point it’s just allowing whatever takes off to take off. 

FP: When choosing the right beats to lay your creativity on, is there a certain instrument or chord that catches your attention? Your versatility is evident on songs like Warm In These Blue Blue Jeans which is a groovy take with baselines and spotty synths to Smithereens and Joyride which are more of a slower pace but head-bobbing side of things.

RP: Not really to be honest. What I go for is that feeling that when you play a beat makes me want to write. If it doesn’t make me want to write straight away, then it’s not right. Music to me should be easy. Of course writing and enveloping the story and all these things can be tough, trying to get out what you are trying to say. But, in terms of melody and what I am searching I expect it to just come like that! *click* 

FP: With some of the lyrics you have already pre written then what is it about the beat that helps you match it together with the lyrics?

RP: I always say, I am going to create because I have an urge and intention to create. Any time I go into the studio I have that same intention, so when I hear something that makes me feel inspired then I am going to attach whatever it is to sit on that. It doesn’t matter if I have used it on something else that was never released. It’s about getting the best out of what you are trying to say. That could be however many takes it needs to be as long as you’re happy with it. The song is before the beat for me, it’s the thing that comes first, I want to be able to sing it completely acapella and make sure everyone else can do so also. If that isn’t happening then to me it’s not a great song. It’s the excitement that comes with it, if Sam or Niel play me something or any of the producers that I have worked with play me something and it gets me excited then I just feel like I need to share something and it just happens.

FP: I hear that, if the moments right , the moments right. 

RP: Exactly. For example when we played you some of the new stuff I wrote that – Niel what was it like 30mins?

Niels: More like 30 seconds! 

RP: Other songs though I sometimes need to come back to. I could have written one part or the main aspect but need to return to complete it fully. Sometimes you need to take yourself away from the situation to come back with fresh ears and go again. Imagine all the ideas that just die. 

FP: Just left them to do nothing. 

RP: Yeah and they weren’t inspired enough to want to do anything with it. In comparison to the amount of songs that are constantly coming out which is like 60,000 songs coming onto spotify everyday. It’s endless. 

FP: Do you have any artists that you would like to collaborate with?

RP: Andre 3000!

FP: Let’s take a little side step into your style and interest for trainers. Do you think your style was inspired by your musical journey or has it been something you have tried to immerse yourself of your own accord?

RP: Definitely my general interests, where I’ve been and what I have been affected by. I feel that people in general for the most part, if you are going to tap into that side of your brain. You are always going to be trying to search for inspiration in some way. That’s just what I am like. Anything that I decide to wear on a day to day basis is based on the reference points that I have collated in my mind. That’s why I chose these Asics besides the fact they are curated by Kiko. I knew it was the type of shoe I would want to wear based on my style already. That attention to detail is what plays in every single part of my life, whether that be my interior design interests, music I make or clothes that I wear. That is something that I think is very intentional, at the same time by chance too. You never really know what you’re going to end up falling into! My whole family dresses in a different way to how I dress. They always say that they never thought I would have dressed like this, but I wear it proudly knowing that this is who I am. You don’t feel like what you dress is weird until you’re in a situation where other people are wearing the same thing as you, that’s when you start to think that standing out is weird to some people. Just own it! 

FP: Before we let you go! Rasharn we like to ask our guests if they have anything they would like to share with the Footpatrol community and readers. Whether that’s something to get people gassed about or just a general message of positivity it’s up to you?

RP: I would just say go after what it is you’re inspired by and what makes your heart, mind and body feel alive. If you’re young and have no responsibilities go after what it is you want to do and if you’re older and have responsibilities still go after what it is you want to do.

There is also a lot of new music coming soon to watch out for! Otherwise, I am Rasharn Powell and that’s it! 

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