Jane Fitz has been quietly reshaping the sound of British dancefloors for over two decades now. The born and bred Londoner—who swapped that city's grey skies for the smog of Hong Kong for a spell in the 90s—is arguably best known for a pair of parties she's hosted through the ages: Peg and Night Moves. The former was a freewheeling affair that started life in a Shoreditch juice bar and saw her switch up venues with aplomb, and the latter is a serious party for people who seriously know how to party.
Fitz is also unarguably the UK's most unsung selector—a DJ with that rare ability to make almost anything sound like a proper Jane Fitz record. The records that me and other acolytes have come to think of uniquely Fitzian range from 8 AM-ready new age gurglers, to peak-time techno ceiling-drippers, acid-laced minimal, and andromeda-exploring pastoral electronica. But then again, with over twenty years' worth experience under her belt, would you expect anything less?
Recent mixes for the likes of Crack, Feel My Bicep, and Boiler Room have demonstrated both the breadth of her record collection, and the astounding level of technical expertise she has at her disposal. These mixes are organic, living breathing things; they're deeply alive and in love with the power and pull music has over us.
I met Fitz at a pub in Hackney on a Wednesday afternoon in late-summer. We drank a pint each, and over the course of an hour, she laid down a precise interpretation of club culture, and everything that phrase entails. During our conversation Fitz alluded to a residency that she'd been negotiating with a London club, but as nothing had been signed and made official, she was loathe to name the venue. Since our conversation, it's been announced that alongside Evan Baggs and Fred P, Fitz will be resident at Pickle Factory, Oval Space's gloriously intimate sister venue. It was, frankly, some of the best news we heard in 2016. We believe 2017 is Jane Fitz's year, and we think you'll agree.
THUMP: Let's start with a big question. What is it we're actually talking about when we talk about club culture?
Jane Fitz: Things don't change in a void and nothing happens on it's own, so club culture today, and how it exists as a lifestyle in terms who participates in it and who reports on it, runs in tandem with how other cultures are responded to these days. At the minute, the only way you can have something underground—a horrible term, and one I don't really think is relevant anymore—is to be a non-participant in the overall culture, to turn your back on it, to stand alone.
[THUMP] recently did that film about teenage warehouse parties in Canning Town [Locked Off]. As soon as you did that, that scene is over. It's been reported on, it's been discussed, and people then make a conscious decision about what they think of it. If you look at how club culture has evolved over the last 30, 40, 50 years, most of it has been organic, away from the spotlight. Now it's impossible to do that—the underground can't mature at a reasonable pace. As soon as something new and fresh emerges everyone wants to be involved. They write about it, Instagram it. Club culture is still about who's producing it, who's reporting on it, but the difference is things don't really have a chance to evolve naturally. I can only talk about the UK. That's different in other places. Maybe in other cities here that aren't London, but that's my field of reference. You can't do anything under the radar these days because everyone's desperate to discover it.
Do you think the rush towards being first to find something, first to say something, manifests itself in a culture in which less experienced producers or DJs or even writers are being pushed too hard, too young?
If you've got a 20 year old producer being booked for a festival by 20 year old promoters, then they're working with peers. They're not being exploited. I think the rush-culture comes from young people who have a different set of expectations, different kinds of ambition to what I had at that age. If you're 20 and someone's throwing money at you…take it! It's not going to last forever. Be aware of that. It's like any investment—you can go for a quick yield or a five year one. Don't be a pussy about taking the money. I spent twenty-odd years playing free parties, or earning £50 a night from crap clubs, there was no fast track to fame then. You had to put your tapes or CDs out, talk to everyone, work really hard to get gigs. If you want to fast track yourself today, you just get a good manager!
Not to namedrop but I interviewed Theo Parrish about this a while back, and he was very much of the impression that 23 year olds shouldn't be headlining clubs. Can you see where he's coming from?
I don't resent 23 year olds grabbing opportunities. If someone's stupid enough to throw money at a 23 year old for a set, that's fine. When I was 23 the concept of club DJing wasn't even there for me. I played house parties, friends' parties. The concept of DJing as a career didn't occur to me till I was in my 30s. If you're older and you've worked hard and spent a shitload of money on records and a shitload of time looking for them, then I'd understand how you might look at someone getting a leg-up and resent it. I don't resent it, it's just the way now.
I took my time doing this. I chose not to say yes to everything. You're talking to me now, I'm 43, I've been around —young people want to talk to those of us who've been doing this for years. Look at Harvey, he's having the best moment of his career. Danielli Baldelli's getting more international bookings than ever before. There's a lot of young people out there who want to learn! If you're 20 and you're being told everything was better 20 or 30 years ago you're going to believe it. I know a young DJ who told me that he thought he's missed out on so much that all he does is look for old stuff. I was like, "Forget the past, you're missing out on so much new stuff!"
Do you think, though, that it's important as a DJ to be aware of historical precedents but also keenly searching out the new music?
There's no general answer to that. What's right for you isn't right for someone else. I don't like this idea that there's one way of looking at how music works. If you want to hear fresh new music, stick a pirate station on. If you're interested in digging, go and dig, the internet's full of that shit! I'm a historian, I'm researching a history book, that's my background. So I like to look into cultural history. Other people don't give a shit. Not everyone gives a shit about the Paradise Garage. Why would they care about a 40 year old club in New York when they can go out on a Saturday night and hear a mate playing fresh dubs?
My advice to anyone who's a bit lost in club culture, is that it is a culture that existed as a response to society. An escape from the norm, from poverty, from reality, from prejudice. Escapist cultures are meant to be inclusive. Now, it can be divisive. Just find your niche, enjoy it, get what you want out of it. No one, though, has a right to tell people how to go clubbing . I run a party that's resolutely anti-joe public—we don't advertise, we don't work with brands, we make it difficult for people to find us, and we do that because it suits US! It's our tribe. If you wanna club like us, come and party with us. Or, do it your own way, a way that suits you.
When you wake up in the morning, do you open the curtains and think "I am a DJ."
I definitely don't! Because I'm not just a DJ. I'm not defined by my career. As much as I'm a record selector, I'm also a magazine editor. Those are equal. Being a DJ never occurs to me until I go my record room, or look at my schedule for the weekend, or wonder how I'm going to pay the mortgage that month. Then it'll occur to me. It's not the first thing on my mind, but I'm often reminded of it.
Are you glad to be free of the trappings of the superstar DJ?
I'd like the money a superstar DJ gets! I think every DJ who does it every weekend, who travels, who spends time in hotel rooms alone, who works silly hours and doesn't get a full night's sleep, understands those trappings. The difference for the superstar is just to stay in better hotels, have nicer meals, and a healthier bank balance.
What's the essential role of the DJ? Are you primarily an entertainer?
If you went to a restaurant and got a shit meal, would you pay for it? You can withhold your money, or complain, because you pay at the end. Say, though, you pay £80 upfront to see the Rolling Stones and they're shit and don't pay "Satisfaction", you're gonna slag them off. As soon as people are paying money, you become a professional, and if you're a professional, you need to act like one. There are DJs who exist outside that environment. If you see me at a free party, I'm not being paid. That's my time and I chose to be there, and I came under my own steam, and I chose to stay up late, and trekked through mud. I want to give those people the same enjoyment, but I don't really have the responsibility. But once you're getting paid, there's a responsibility.
I'll confess something I struggle with: Do you give people what they want, or do you do what you want to do? I'll get stressed about that away from the gig, or pull it apart after. I struggle with the idea of where I fit in. I really want people who come to hear me to spend a few hours having a kind of exercise in mindfulness—just being in a room and not thinking about anything else, just listening or dancing. I like it at the end of the night, or during the night, when people aren't looking at me but are going nuts in the corner. If things are going well I am also that person, except that I'm just behind the booth.
Is going to a club a genuine abdication of reality?
People go clubbing for different reasons. Some go out to pull, some to get fucked up, because they're bored, because they want to be educated, because they can't be arsed with the cinema this week. It is an alternate reality. Something that has changed in clubbing is that social media and online content has made people very aware of what's going on. Everybody can be cool. Or know what it means to be cool. But that whole Ritzy, sticky-carpeted mainstream disco thing I had growing up, clubs you'd go to to pull, to buy drinks for a pound, those places were massive, and they co-existed really well with music-head clubs. But those clubs have kind of gone and we need them. We need places for people who aren't as into the music, who dilute the proper clubs. Let them have an amazing time pulling or drinking or fighting. You need those places! The demise of the Ritzy means everyone's clubbing in one place. It's a lot harder now to have a pure musical night out.
Let's talk about records; the word I keep thinking about when I think about the records you play is "organic"—what is it you're listening for the first time you hear a record for the first time?
I just buy records I like! I'm always finding something new, and by that I mean new to me. I'm trying to stop myself but I can get completist about things. I'll binge on something for sixth months and then strip back—you don't need that many records with similar sub-bass sounds, or rhythm tracks. So I binge and cut back. If I like something it hits me in my stomach. I don't pick records with my head: I use my ears and my stomach.
I'm not listening for anything specific, and because I buy just what I like, I can cross genres. When I started out I was buying soul records and synth-pop, and Brit-funk, when I was a kid. I bought that because I liked it. Then I've evolved through things and I'm always looking for a fresh sound. I very rarely buy downloads, just because I can't find them again. I'm listening for a mood or a feeling and those things change. More recently I've been putting mixes out that are mood pieces. Sometimes people expect me to play those kind of things when they see me. That's why I try and quiz promoters when I'm booked: why was I booked? Was it on the basis of having been seen before? Or was it a mix? If so, what mix? What do they want from me.
Lastly, is the doom and gloom over the future of London nightlife exaggerated?
It's run out of steam, it's over-analyzed, and people want something new. You're governed by your limitations. Now more than ever Londoners need to think outside the box. The councils hate you, this city hates you, everyone wants your money, and property is more important than anything. These are your restrictions, what are you going to do about them? What are your intentions? Do you want people to have fun, or do you want to make money? Whatever it is, work out how you're going to do what you want to. You can work within those limitations or you can bust out of them, like we did with Night Moves. We knew we couldn't find a spot by the Thames, or a warehouse that wouldn't charges us two grand, so we moved it to a shit part of London that no one goes to? Now we get 300 people at our parties, you're free and everyone has a nice time. We found a way round things. And people used to have the balls to do that—that's why they broke into warehouses in the 80s. If you're interested and passionate about creating something more than a night out then it's essential that you make your own path through the limitations that this city's putting on you. It's infinitely more rewarding too, for everyone involved.
Jane Fitz's Pickle Factory residency begins in January 2017, and you can catch her playing the Percolate party there on New Years Day.