Laura Jones interview: Politics, parenthood and playing out
Sensoramic boss Laura Jones chats to Martin Guttridge Hewitt about juggling motherhood and DJing, pressure to produce and upcoming plans.
Last updated: 10th Nov 2017. Originally published: 9th Nov 2017
In many ways the conversation was only ever heading in one direction- the monumental amount of pressure electronic music places on its talent.
Skip back to the turn of the current decade, and Leeds’ Laura Jones was a rapidly rising face on the northern English, and then UK dance scene. Releases for en vogue imprints like Leftroom, Crosstown Rebels and Visionquest cemented her status between then and now, with dates everywhere from Circoloco to fabric doing nothing to harm that reputation.
When we speak she’s just back from sets in Ecuador, indicative of the ongoing demand for her selections, and the launch of her own imprint in 2016, Sensoramic, was a surefire sign of an artist who had long since arrived.
But the more observant may have noticed Jones was absent from club programmes and festival bills over the summer, when she was away on maternity leave and celebrating the birth of her daughter. Now back playing out, including an upcoming date in Manchester for Micron’s 11th birthday, it seemed logical to give her a call for a chat about why it’s never business as usual where kids are involved, and the pressures of parenthood in an industry fuelled by the ongoing output of artists.
Hi Laura. So how is everything at the moment? Hectic?
Oh god, yeah, I mean things were busy before but now it’s just like what the hell was I doing with my time? Even before the baby came along it was still slammed and not stopping, but now, I don’t know, there’s not enough hours in the day. We need to be superhuman and not need to sleep.
On the bright side, at least you’ve had some good practice at not sleeping after so many years in clubs.
Yeah, I know, although it’s funny- a lot of people have said that but when you have to get up for different reasons, not partying, it’s a lot harder. Although we’re quite blessed, she’s a good little sleeper. She was down for about ten hours the other night.
How old is your daughter then?
Four months, so still very little. Everything is a very different experience now. I was in Ecuador at the weekend and it was my first long-haul away from her. Just knowing that I was a 14 hour flight away was a very funny feeling.
A lot of friends have children now too, and one thing that really stands out is how unpredictable things are for parents. Trying to have dinner with them can be a month of rearranged plans. How long was the Ecuador trip?
It was a long weekend. It should have been a South American tour over two weekends, but then I said to my agent I just can’t be away for that long. Then there was the whole ‘do we travel with the family, with a baby?’ But I think she’s a bit young to be going that far. Apparently babies are good on long haul flights as the noise can send them to sleep, but then what if that’s not the case?
So it was the longest I’ve travelled for just two gigs. It was about 24 hours travelling on the way out because of where I was going. Yeah, it’s just a completely different thing, they did a video interview thing when I was over there, asking about DJ-mama life, and you can’t quite put your finger on how it’s different.
Apart from having a baby.
Yeah, exactly. But within that there are so many ways in which that changes things you didn’t imagine before. Like expressing breast milk, for example, which is a new one. And just being that far away and having this little dependent back home. I did Dubai in September which was a 14 hour round trip, but this was double that.”
Travelling for such long periods, for such a short amount of actual time in the destination, is really exhausting- even without kids. How difficult was it coming straight back into being a mum?
Yeah, touring is tiring anyway. But there’s stuff you didn’t even consider. Like having to get your milk supply back on track, which is tricky when you are tired as it doesn’t really happen when you are exhausted.
“When I went to Dubai it was the first longer trip I had done since giving birth. And I was thinking the only bonus to leaving my little girl was that I could get a good night’s sleep. But even that didn’t happen as I was having to get up in the night to express milk. I know why you get nine months maternity leave now.
I’ve had to sit in plane seats with this breast pump hiding behind my shirt. It’s just bizarre. Normally I would have just had my laptop out and be watching films or going through music, now here I am with no hands free because I’ve got this chunk of plastic in my hand.
So how long did you take off in total?
I stopped DJing in April, she was due the very beginning of July... I think it was a good time to stop, but all in all I had about four and a half months off, so half the time you would normally get.
Like I said, I can completely see why women have the time off they do, just to catch up with themselves and get their heads around being a parent. I had my first gig six weeks after she was born, which is pretty soon. But at the end of the day it’s the same for any self employed person, particularly if you have to stop a while before the baby is due, you need to bring some money in, particularly because you’ve now just had a baby.
Financials aside, there’s a lot of pressure just to keep your profile up when you’re a DJ, too.
Totally. I actually know a lot of female DJs that weren’t even that up for exposing the fact that they were having a baby. Whether it was fear of promoters assuming they would be out of action, or not wanting to book them because they thought it would be too difficult. I don't know what the thinking was exactly.
The relationship between pregnancies and employers is stereotyped as quite difficult, particularly in terms of starting new jobs. When every job is new, in effect- new promoters and parties- are those issues even more pronounced? A lot of women are worried they will not be offered opportunities when people know they are pregnant.
Yeah, I guess that’s probably what it’s born out of really. But there are two ways of looking at it- it’s good for people to know why you’ve been missing for a while. Kate Bush, for example, put her whole career on hold to go and be a mother.
I mean, it’s a bit different to be Kate Bush versus being an underground DJ. But if you have the ability to do that then definitely go and do it. For the average DJ or producer this really isn’t an option, though, and for some it’s probably not what they want to do. I definitely have a bit of guilt already about being back at work.
Obviously I’d love to spend nine months hanging out with her, but needs must. Ecuador, for example, didn’t feel nice being there- a whole heap of emotions involved. I think that will become easier with time maybe, as she gets older. Manchester will be a lot different, only being an hour down the road.
Considering the number of female DJs that have had babies, there are very few whose news was common knowledge.
Yeah, it’s actually quite sad if women feel they can’t talk about it. I don’t recall reading a lot about other artists getting pregnant, although admittedly I don’t read as much as maybe I should about what other people are up to.
And in terms of making music, has that just been put on hold at the moment?
Yeah, definitely more than I wanted it to be. I had a really tricky pregnancy, which just knocked me for six with nausea, morning sickness as they call it even though it isn’t just in the mornings it’s all the time.
So it was like having this permanent hangover, and it was really bad. Some women are lucky with it and don’t really get it, but mine was really bad so I didn’t have the most productive time at all, which was a shitter. There were deadlines a year ago that I’m still sitting on now, which is just craziness really.
Do you think to an extent that’s a good thing, though? The industry places so much pressure on DJs and acts to keep themselves visible.
Yeah. I mean you can become very out of sight very quickly in this line of work. I was speaking to someone the other day who was saying how his tastes have changed radically from one genre to another to another, in a matter of years.
So you find people’s tastes change, but then they might disappear for a bit too because they’ve settled down, had kids and stopped raving, so the next generation won’t really have heard of them. Obviously, there are the high-high profile people that you just see on line ups all the time, over and over again, but yeah it’s crazy really. You need talking points every step of the way.
Within that context, do you think maybe everything just needs to chill out a bit? There’s so much expected of artists, often their lives outside ‘the scene’ don't seem to be taken into account.
Yeah, I know what you mean. I think the internet is partly to blame as there are so many platforms you need to keep on top off- SoundCloud, all the various forms of social media, and I think people could do with chilling out a lot to be fair.
There’s an element of quality over quantity that needs to be reinforced again. It definitely does feel like pressure as an artist, and there’s nothing worse for hindering creativity. Some people do work well under pressure, I’ve always been someone who needs that space and freedom in order to do the best thing. I’ve definitely suffered from artist’s block because of pressure, and anyone who says they haven’t I’m surprised at and wonder how true it really is. But I guess everyone is different.
Even for people who can work under pressure there’s surely a limit to how much they can be expected to create? They have three great EPs, but demanding a fourth to be just as good within quick succession seems crazy.
I don’t even feel the talking point needs to be music. Some artists now are just prolific messengers, tweeters or whatever, and seem to be keeping their profile healthy just through social media, without any recent releases out. I think that’s an interesting one, and it comes back to the whole thing about it being a popularity contest, rather than the skill or whatever.
Absolutely. Finally, then, what’s happening between now and the end of the year?
I’m trying to focus my energies on getting the third release on my label out, which will be the end of November. It’s from a New York minimalist called Kamran Sadeghi. All the art is done, it’s pressed, just waiting to be distributed and go on sale.
I’m just wrapping up Sensoramic number four, too, which will be me on one side, and the other Karousel, the artist that had the first release on the label, with a remix from 100hz. So I’ve been working on that, and also focusing on getting back in the studio.
I’ve got Printworks on New Year’s Eve, my first time there, as it opened when I was pregnant, but I’ve heard amazing things - the production is meant to be exceptional so looking forward to seeing that. So that’s the plan really, focusing on music making rather than touring. And those deadlines.
Dare we ask how are you’re prioritising things with so much going on?
That’s a very good question. I absolutely love the idea of prioritising and having a checklist and ticking them off one to ten, but at the moment I’m just doing what I can.
Laura Jones headlines Micron on Friday 17th November.