Originally from Moscow, Russia, Diane moved to Belgium in 2001. Very active in the Brussels music scene, she came down to chat to us before her set at Velvet Wednesdays on the 25th of October. As one of the few female DJs around, she gave us some interesting insight.
Airplane Mode: How did you get into DJing?
Diane: It started really early, though you couldn’t really call it DJing.
In Russia, where I grew up until I was 12, you had to buy tapes to get music and I didn’t do that. I was around 8 years old. Whatever they played on the radio that I thought was good, I would record it and cut out the radio host. I’ve always liked compilations, I just cut the films in the tape and pasted them with nail polish.
That’s really when my obsession started. My mum wanted to throw away our two deck player, because the decks had broken off. I asked if I could have it and just started experimenting with it when I was little. It wasn’t really DJing but I was making mixtapes of my own.
Three years ago, a neighbour of mine in a student residence was selling his Technics 1210’s. He used to be a drum & bass DJ and said he never used them and just wanted to get some money. I bought them quite cheap because now they are expensive! Just after he sold them, the rise of the vinyl was happening again and then he really regretted selling them. I bought a basic Pioneer 2-channel and did a few small private parties.
Airplane Mode: So, in a way, did you always want to be a DJ?
Diane: Yeah, maybe! Also, I have a very broad music taste, I have always been obsessed with discovering new genres and sounds. When I was in high school, I grew up listening to a lot of French hip-hop, old school hip-hop, beginning of 2000s that was the best time. I would listen to Skyrock Radio every day.
Airplane Mode: How did you start performing publicly?
Diane: It was in Leuven, a friend knew I was into DJing and he asked me if I wanted to do a small student party. Then I did a few little gigs that no one heard of, with maybe 30 or 40 people, but I really liked it. I wasn’t really active but I had it in the back of my mind. It was always kind of there on the low-key mode.
It was only recently that someone I know, Sarah Van Ransbeeck, who is an organiser of Mekitburn Festival, said they had an all-female DJ line-up and needed an extra. She asked me if I wanted to do it and I was surprised because she’d never heard me play… She told me that Beatsforbeaches, a friend of mine and a very talented producer, saw me play somewhere in a dark small space and said it was not too bad I should just do it! In the end it was really good and it made me gain in confidence.
Airplane Mode: How long have you been actively DJing now?
Diane: Less than a year probably. I always had a fear of audience, so that’s probably the main reason why I couldn’t go into it. Mekitburn and the other ones, each time they were sort of forced! (Laughing) I thought fuck it I don’t have a choice! I’m getting more confident but I still need to work on it. I hope to DJ a lot more, because now I’m ready.
Airplane Mode: DJing seems to be an overwhelmingly male environment, have you ever encountered difficulties in being taken seriously as a DJ because of this?
Diane: Yeah. There’s definitely a good and a bad side to being a woman because (1) you get noticed very quickly and (2) they might only book you because you are a female and they want to say they have girls, although I have not experienced that personally.
Sometimes when I DJ, people come over, usually guys, and really look at my fingers almost to check on what I’m doing. I interpret that as people not having a lot of confidence in me and wondering, “is she really doing this?” It shouldn’t be an issue though! Whoever you are, it all depends on your musical taste and what kind of atmosphere you bring into the room. The people who know me know that I’m very active in music and that I know what I’m talking about and what I’m doing. I have been involved in the hip-hop scene and I have a network, so I have never personally felt injustice but I do think it’s there because you don’t have a lot of female DJs. They get a lot of attention.
Airplane Mode: What are you listening to at the moment?
Diane: Just before I got here I was listening to a singer called Mabel, a song called Finders Keepers, remixed with a few Jamaican style MCs on it. She reminds me of a new Lumidee, a very popular urban artist in beginning 2000s. She had a specific sound and Mabel is like a fresh makeover of that. I just heard it on BBC radio 1 this morning and it’s quite catchy!
Airplane Mode: What inspires you in your day to day life?
Diane: The young, really creative and good artists I know. Especially in the music industry. They have these big dreams and they are trying to get somewhere, and when you see it happening you hope they will progress and I try to really support these artists.
Airplane Mode: Apart from DJing, what other projects have you got going on?
Diane: I have two radio shows now and I’ve just started studying full time again as a sound engineer. My first radio show is a collaboration between Chase and Bruzz, every Wednesday, it’s just called Chase x Bruzz on 98.8FM. You can even follow the livestream on the Facebook page. I don’t talk in it that much but I’m responsible for all the bookings, setting up the livestreams and coordination with VK Concerts, I check what events are maybe good to promote etc.
The second show is still in progress, called SECTION 16. It’s mainly about hip-hop and we also talk about the main challenges in the music industry for young artists and hope to provide some advice in it. It will be each Tuesday on XL AIR, it actually has already started but we still need to do all the communication and visuals etc.
A month ago, after working for 6 years doing different stuff, I decided to start studying again. It was really good timing because I started managing a hip-hop collective called De Rand. I noticed they had material ready but they were struggling to find studios and mixing equipment. I attend a lot of concerts, I’ve always been obsessed with how the sound is there in the room and I started paying attention to the PAs and sound engineers, people who adjust the live sound and I thought: “Hey I want to do that too!” As a manager I want to be able to mix and master the music of my artists and supervise the live sound when they are performing.
Airplane Mode: What’s the next step for you in your musical career?
Diane: I think I will mainly focus on my studies and try to DJ a lot more. Also managing artists and two radio shows ha ha! I had an office job before and I couldn’t really combine everything. I have more time now to focus because I’m surrounded by music every day and with all this equipment.
Airplane Mode: Do you mix primarily hip-hop, or a bit of everything?
Diane: My musical influence goes from back in the 90s in Russia. I listened to everything there, they had a lot of “imports”, like the American boy bands mixed with the Euro 90s dance, they were even Turkish singers who were famous in Russia. So, I had influences from all over the place. When I moved to Belgium, during high school I listened to French hip-hop. When dubstep was really underground I listened to that too, until it turned shitty. I have always listened to BBC RADIO 1 and 1Xtra, they have amazing female DJs like Annie Mac, she’s my hero! DJ Monki, who I think is one of the best music selectors out there. You have a lot of UK bass, UK house, grime, I try to keep up to date with what’s going on in the UK because they really have the best music. My DJ sets start in hip-hop and end somewhere in housy stuff, everything in between is urban shaky sounds, like Sángo, anything that makes me feel good I play it!
Airplane Mode: What’s your idea of a good night out?
Diane: Being surrounded by my friends, which is a big group when we go to festivals sometimes. A good night, just hearing good music which isn’t monotonous, especially seeing a DJ who is really enjoying his set and totally in his element, I could watch that person for hours! There is nothing more captivating than someone having so much fun. It definitely reflects on the audience.
Airplane Mode: What’s your favourite memory of playing a set?
Diane: The best was Mekitburn in September. It’s the biggest venue I have played yet! I don’t have that many bookings I can compare that with. A guy I didn’t know came to me afterwards and told me my set was really good so that made me quite happy!
Airplane Mode: When do you switch off to “airplane mode”?
Diane: Well, since my week is usually very busy with thousands of people sending texts or emails, I try to really switch off everything every Sunday. If I don’t have my Sunday every week, I’m not ready for Monday! I usually just play jazz music on vinyl at home and try not to check any messages, I really need it. Sunday is my jazz and relax day, so don’t disturb me! (laughing)
Airplane Mode: What’s the most precious vinyl in your collection?
Diane: I have so many and from every genre… I would say the most memorable one is a vinyl by Snakehips, the electronic duo from the UK.
So, these two guys were performing in Antwerp, they were really not famous at the time. It was probably the very beginning of their international gigs. I ordered a vinyl from their website, it was just one track. The order never arrived! When I saw they were coming to Antwerp I sent them a very quick message on Facebook saying: hey guys, I ordered this vinyl it never came I’m so sad etc (laughing). They immediately replied and I was so shocked because they took time to answer me! They were apologetic and said they would send another out to me. I told them I was going to Antwerp and said “why don’t you just take it with you?!”
They came to Antwerp and after the gig, I saw them looking around with a bag and I couldn’t believe it I was like “oh my god I’m Diana who ordered the vinyl!!!” They gave me the vinyl which they had signed and dedicated! Now they are super famous, doing collaborations with like Zayn Malik, they are huge.
Airplane Mode: What’s the music scene like in Russia?
Diane: I think Russia is a really special case because everything they see, especially now with internet, they just copy paste and put Russian lyrics on it. They just copy the style of famous western artists, which I don’t really like because it lacks in originality.
You also have this big stream of Russian artists who are like Madonna who have been there for ages, they are not famous anywhere else, and they are really like the Russian equivalent of the Chanson Française. Since the Soviet time, those people are still doing business and everyone knows them throughout the generations.
So that’s quite an original thing from Russia and I prefer it to the copying. You also have some rappers like Timati, who collaborated with Snoop Dogg so now he’s becoming really big. So yeah, Russia is a bit weird (laughing). I’m not really up to do date anymore so maybe there’s new things going on.
Airplane Mode: What do you think about the music scene in Brussels vs in Flanders?
Diane: It’s a good question because it’s something I think is fascinating. Since I’m very active in the Brussels scene, I know a lot of young artists through my radio shows for example. You have a lot of people with the same spirit, energy and motivation, and when they all come together you get a really big buzz, a big bubble that’s almost exploding. I think the Brussels hip-hop scene is really booming now. Even in Flanders, everyone feels it’s happening and they’re trying to get into it, like when you see Niveau 4 at Couleur Café, this big super-group of artists. This energy is everywhere in the past two years and it’s probably historically defining for the Brussels music scene, especially hip-hop. In the coming years I think it will grow even more and it’s really exciting! It’s also motivation for me to keep going.
So come and groove on the dancefloor with Diane on the 25th of October for the Velvet Wednesdays!