Artist Feature: re:ni
In early 2019, after thousands of applicants and months of careful deliberation, Arts Council England, NTS Radio and Carhartt WIP announced the artists who have made it through to the first year of NTS WIP artist development program: AZADI.mp3 and Lucinda Chua, both from London, Contour from Charleston, USA, Crystallmess from Paris, Toronto’s LA Timpa, Lecx Stacy from San Diego, Manchester-based Aya and London based DJ re:ni. To introduce their work and vision, Carhartt WIP asked them to conduct a mix that showcases their recent musical output. Only re:ni, who isn’t a producer, is not part of the show. To introduce her skills as a DJ, Carhartt WIP asked her to prepare a mix that represents her way of storytelling as a DJ. Her musical journey is out now and can be found here. To gain some deeper insights, we also did an interview with her. Read the words below and enjoy the music.
Growing up listening to drum & bass, jungle and dubstep, re:ni's sets join the dots between her dub-wise influences and contemporary bass-driven techno, electro and breakbeat. With recent debuts at Panorama Bar and Fabric, she brings a UK sensibility to the dance-floor, bouncing across BPMs with a record bag stacked full of deep bass-lines and broken rhythms.
How did you first get into music and performing?
re:ni: I’m lucky to have grown up surrounded by music as my Dad is a musician. There were often vocalists or DJs staying in our house and we were pretty much always listening to music as kids. My mum had a mixtape which we listened to on the way to school every day, it was a total mixed bag ranging from Nirvana to B15 Project’s Girls Like Us. I sang and played the piano in a girl band at primary school and later joined my Dad’s percussion group Magic Drum Orchestra, which involved months of rehearsals in a freezing cold garage during the winter before doing the festival rounds in summer. I’ve never really linked these experiences to djing but they’re actually not a million miles apart. The anxiety of my early sets is definitely comparable to the nerves I used to get before singing a solo in at the school concert - hitting a bum note is deffo just as painful as botching a mix.
Biggest musical influences?
re:ni: We used to joke and say I absorbed the bass from my Dad’s studio in the womb and I actually stand by that! I have a deep love for bass and dub sounds so the stripped back quality of early dubstep and the rawness of drum and bass blew me away when I first heard them. My sister was really into garage but back then I was a diehard #dubstep4eva kid and found the melodies too cheesy. I’ve branched out since then, but the blueprint of interesting drum programming + a visceral bass is what I go back to when starting to produce my own music and digging for my sets.
It would sound more sophisticated to say that it was all down to the percussion group days, where I learned intricate drum parts and sharpened up my sense of timing, but in reality, I’d say my biggest influence has been raving. Some DJs aren’t into partying, and although I rarely find time to fit it in between gigs these days, having gone to raves consistently from crusty field parties in my hometown to Plastic People and Crucifix Lane in my first year of university, I can only understand what I’m trying to present to a crowd in the context of my own raving experiences, and I think that’s essential.
What was your recent touring highlight?
re:ni: Gotta be Freerotation at the beginning of July. It’s a 900-person festival in an old hotel in Wales and has been my favorite weekend of the year for the last 3 years so being asked to play was a huge landmark. Part of the deal is the artists being asked to attend for the whole weekend, so you’re encouraged to let go and get into the festival spirit. I’ve seen seriously inspiring sets from Batu and Gigsta in previous years and what made them so special was how personal they felt. It was great to have the opportunity to present my sound without the restraints of your average club night or festival, and the unconventional programming put me in an afternoon slot in the outdoor dome stage, where it felt like people were more open to hearing a mix of tempos and genres.
What “DJ Conversation” are you most bored of?
re:ni: DJs complaining! I count my blessings pretty much every day that I get paid to do what I love. Being flown around the world is a luxury unimaginable to so many people, so if the worst part of your job is being stuck in an airport, I think you’re doing ok. I would also like to see less skirting around the issue of wealth in music and more conversations around class privilege and its impact on accessibility in the scene. The house/techno scene is operated predominantly by the white middle class, and while we’ve seen many discussions around diversity, issues of class and wealth have been somewhat left out of the picture.
Part of my attraction to drum and bass parties was the feeling that people from all walks of life were united; this is something Mantra’s Rupture parties at Corsica embodies. Techno on the other hand feels more homogenous; with little distinction between the demographic of its journalists, DJs, promoters and crowd. I think it would be beneficial to discuss and debate these differences and hopefully bring about a greater understanding of how wealth privilege underpins certain scenes, and how those who perhaps have not come from private school education or inherited wealth can be empowered so that the next generation of techno is more inclusive.
How do you prepare for a gig, to feel in the perfect condition to play and listen to music, do you have any rituals?
re:ni: Eat and sleep as much as possible beforehand.
What are your passions/hobbies besides music?
re:ni: I volunteer with a disability charity focused on supporting individuals with learning difficulties and autism. I also run 5k every Tuesday night with a club called Tempo based in South London. It’s a mixed group which prioritizes the safety of women when running: any woman out there looking for running buddies, come through!