NTS mainstay DEBONAIR spoke with Marko Kutlesa in one of her most in depth and musically revealing interviews to date.
Date published: 30th Jan 2018
The past two years have seen DEBONAIR undertake her most high profile club dates, appearing alongside the likes of Gerd Janson and Midland and at places like Panorama Bar, Bloc Weekend, Fabric, Oval Space and Corsica Studios in London and Glasgow's Art School.
As she currently concentrates solely on DJing, rather than making music, it's fitting that her profile in clubland now equals her reputation among radio listeners. She has been a fixture on NTS Radio since it started and remains one of its most popular homegrown resident DJs. She previously also worked as part of the station's management team and also used to work for BBC radio.
Prior to her playing a couple of exciting looking dates in the north of Britain, including a headline date at Soup Kitchen in Manchester on 1st February, Marko Kutlesa caught up with DEBONAIR for one of her most in depth and musically revealing interviews to date.
Hi Debi! You've got some really exciting dates coming up over the next few days! You're playing with Gerd Janson in Sheffield and headlining at Soup Kitchen in Manchester, which is a great venue!
Hi! Yeah, I've got those two and I'm also playing up in Edinburgh at Sneaky Pete's. All of them should be really sick gigs at really sick venues. Should be a good week. Normally you might get one or two gigs max in a week that you would be really excited about, so to have three, I'm pretty hyped.
So, you've just been to India. What were you doing there, was it your first time and which part did you visit?
I was in Calcutta. No, I've been lots of times, but I've been quite busy so I've not been for seven years. I thought now would be a good time to get a little bit of sunlight. It was actually really short, I only went for about nine days, but I had a gig in Norway the week before and was in Brixton at the weekend, so I couldn't go for longer. I saw a bit of family out there.
What shows specifically did you work on in your time at Radio 4 and Radio 6 Music?
Ah, that was actually quite a long time ago. At 6 Music I worked on the Shaun Keaveny show. I also worked on Huey's show. At Radio 4 it was more working on the documentaries, research, behind the scenes. I was an obsessive listener of 6 Music before I moved to London. So, it was a dream to work on those shows and I learned so much.
I did various internships and freelance work afterwards and I was able to do that because I'd learned so much in such a small amount of time while I was at the BBC.
Shaun Keaveny hosts his show on the fly, he's quite spontaneous, yet your work at that time, you were coming from a more laid out, organised place as a show producer. Which of these styles more informs how you present your own shows on NTS?
That's interesting, because I tend to know what I'm playing and what order I'm playing in. Doesn't always happen because sometimes I'm digging for stuff right up until I'm due to leave the house. But the ideal is having it all together and having a running order.
My presentation is totally on the fly. I have more confidence when I know exactly what the music's doing. I can sometimes slip up if I'm talking and also thinking at the same time about what's coming next. You learn after a while when to talk and when not to talk, and for how long.
I noticed that you've quite recently done the Fact Mag mix. When you're playing on the radio so often, how do you feel when someone approaches you and asks to have a mix? Is there never a feeling that, well, I basically do that each and every week on the radio? Do you step into a different role when you get asked to do a mix for a different outlet?
That's a super pertinent question. That's essentially part of DJ life. People ask me for mixes all the time. It's a great opportunity, don't get me wrong, it's wonderful that they take enough of an interest to want a mix. But, yeah, exactly, the struggle is that I basically do a live mix every week. That's how I see my radio show.
I think, more and more, what I want to do on radio is support other people. I've always had guests on and this year I think I'm going to be focusing on bringing through new talent. So, a few more back to backs and guest mixes.
On the studio mixes, and I think I've done five so far, I really try to have a different objective, a different feel, to each one of them. All of them have shown a slightly different side of me. They all need to be distinct, basically.
You worked for a while in the Fopp record store in Leamington Spa. That chain has rather more of a focus on albums than a specialist dance music store. How old were you when you worked there and what kind of things were you taking home from there?
I was working there from the age of 15 to 19 so, yeah, it was a while back. Even before then I was buying quite a lot of music. At Fopp though it was no holds barred, I had a staff discount and I was buying loads. I was buying really broadly. I always have.
That's where my love of dance music really flourished, through buying mix album series. But, also I was buying things like Tindersticks, Mazzy Star, New York block party comps, classic albums, guitar albums like Jeff Buckley. Tim Buckley too. I played those a lot in my teens. I bought jazz.
I think I was building a foundation for a really broad appreciation of music. I think now, of course music is my passion, but it's also my profession, so I can't help but be conscious when I'm listening to music, whether this is going to be something that will fit in my show or if I'll be able to play it at the club.
I think back then I really did appreciate the beauty of an album and give it quite a few listens. Because I had the space and time to. I think now, if something doesn't grab me straight away, it's unlikely I'd find time to go back to it.
I also used to work in a record store and one of the best things, apart from listening to music for eight hours a day, is picking up on selections from the people you work with, who might have totally different interests.
Yeah. Dizzee Rascal 'Boy In Da Corner' dropped while I was working there. That was a big album. Completely different to everything I'd heard before. Alien sounds. We didn't have anything like grime in Leamington Spa.
What we did have was The Streets 'Original Pirate Material'. That meant loads to me. That was us. That was Birmingham, where we'd go clubbing. That was a lot more easy to relate to, but both of those albums had a big impact on me. Instant classics.
You're known for playing quite a bit of post punk and proto-techno. Some of that music can be quite obscure. Can you tell me a little about your journey of exploration in those sounds?
I get asked a lot how I found those bands and even how I find music now. I actually feel like I don't know. I grew up on guitar music, My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, alt rock stuff. Then I started to buy some more electronic stuff, like Ladytron, that was still quite band based. Talking Heads.
I think my entry point was listening to connected stuff, mixes like the Ladytron mix album, delving back from there. There wasn't a day where I thought, let's get into post punk, what's that about. It was more finding artists like Cabaret Voltaire, The Fall, Throbbing Gristle, Talking Heads, Joy Division and then ending up in these wormholes on Youtube.
Since you left your management position at NTS have they made any changes that made you think “I wish I'd done that”?
Ha! I'm sure they've made lots of changes because I left about four years ago. To be honest I don't really know, I guess because I'm quite happily just a presenter these days. I don't keep an eye on stuff like that anymore.
Who has the cleanest NTS studio, London or Manchester?
I haven't been to the Manchester studio.
Have you been to the one in LA?
Unfortunately no. I've only been to the one in London. I've been to both LA and Manchester, but never to the studios, so I have no idea, ha!
Is there any noticeable difference between the club audiences you play to in the north of England and Scotland compared with those in London?
Yeah. Don't get me wrong, I'm quite fiercely defensive of London, I think it gets a bad rep when people talk about a night out there. I think you just have to know which parties to go to. But that's the same in most cities.
It's partly my fault, because of the parties I go to in London, but everyone at the cool parties or the cool nights that are going on, everyone's in the industry. Everyone seems to be involved. But one thing that I can't deny loving in Manchester, Sheffield or some other places outside of London, is the people are just there to rave. That's really nice. Very liberating, refreshing. I feel like I can get away with a little bit more. I do feel a little bit scrutinised in London. That might also be because I know a lot of people.
In general, I think I also end up playing better in places where I don't know anyone, because it's literally just you and the crowd. Nobody has a fixed idea of what you do, they don't know you from what you've played before, you're just there to make your mark.