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Hannah Wants Nearly Died in a Plane Crash in Mozambique

Birmingham's bassline upstart talked to us, alive, from the coast of Africa—where she was about to spin for 2,000 people.
December 10, 2013, 11:30pm

Call it bassline, call it 4x4, call it jackin' house—whatever. Another distinctly British sound has been steamrolling dancefloors worldwide recently by mixing melodic deep house textures with a garage swing and a healthy dose of undeniable donk. At the forefront of this jackin' house scene is a Jill... and her name is Hannah.

Hannah Wants is a Birmingham, UK-based DJ and producer whose tracks with Chris Lorenzo have been regularly pulling 100,000 listens on Soundcloud and getting love on BBC radio, despite either being self-released or put out through boutique bass label Food Music. Lorenzo is one half of duo Cause and Affect and is an essential figure in the scene; in particular, he's been blowing up dancefloors with "Coke Diet," a collaboration wIth Neville Bartos that's an undeniable appropriation of N.E.R.D's "Everybody Nose."

The jackin' bassline sound has origins in early 2000s Midland and Northern British cities like Sheffield and Birmingham, where MCs would regularly taunt each other over speed garage-derived beats that slammed at 140 or 150 beats per minute. It was referred to as "grime's northern cousin" by The Guardian, thanks to a shared reputation for "anti-social behavior and violence."

The regional bassline scene folded unceremoniously in November 2005 as Sheffield club and homebase Niche was raided by a 300-strong police force following a spate of stabbings. Without its mothership, the scene went dormant for a few years while its cousins in London took on the world.

Bassline's bashy synths and low-end fetish stuck around, though, slowing down to fit into a less frantic groove. At the dawn of 2014, the sound has leveled up and has begun to move feet outside of the provincial British territories. More and more prevalent are American hip-hop samples laid on top, or clever remixes that build dramatically and drop suddenly from a melodic R&B hook to a sparse, irresistible groove.

Hannah's been in the scene for some days now, wisely building her career by bypassing snobby London tastemakers and cultivating a fanbase with the rest of the UK via Ibiza. She will be the first to tell you that it's crazy the places music can take you. I caught up with Hannah before she performed in Maputo, Mozambique, on the day after Nelson Mandela died. We talked about near-death plane rides, bassline history, and how to keep your brain unfried while raging nightly.

THUMP: I heard you almost died on the plane ride on the way over to Mozambique.
Hannah Wants: I'm a bit scared of flying, y'see. We thought it would just be a normal plane to Mozambique and it wasn't. It was the smallest plane I've ever seen. You couldn't even stand up. There was a tiny propellor on either side and plastic little wings. There was turbulence going up, but it was okay once we got above the clouds. It was not a pleasant hour and ten minutes, though. It was scary. I put in my headphones, whacked Bear Grylls on TV, turned the volume up, and tried to concentrate on it. Even in your wildest fantasies about blowing up, did you ever think you'd end up performing in Africa?
It's so weird, but so humbling to know you've travelled to the other side of the world and people know your music and people know you. I find that surreal. I don't think I'll ever get used to it. It's very weird. I didn't know much about the Mozambique scene. Apparently it's getting bigger. I'm playing in Maputo. The venue, Coconuts, holds 2,000 and I've heard that they fill it out. It's mental. What has it been like on a personal level?
This whole trip has been an eye-opener. We gave the porter at the hotel a £5 tip for bringing our suitcases up. His face when he left was like it was Christmas and I didn't know why. We were talking to the promoters and they were saying you're meant to tip them about 20 pence and that we'd paid him basically half a week's wages. It was crazy to be able to affect someone's life so much with £5. Performing live, are you the kind of DJ that gets down or are you more of a reserved technician?
A bit of both. I've been doing it a long time now so i've learned how to not go crazy. I am one for a good party now and then but it's got to the stage where i'm gigging one side of the country on one night and the other side the next so I suffer if I do go a bit crazy. I've got so much to do so I need to spend my days working and not recovering in bed. It depends. Sometimes when you say you're gonna be good, you're really not good. I can never sometimes stick to my word. Tell me your story and how it fits in with the trajectory of bassline and jackin' house.
I started DJing when I was 16 years old on some beltdrive Numark decks. I taught myself to DJ. I started playing speed garage and bassline house and it took years of learning and DJing about to get anywhere. Bassline kind of died out where I was from in England because of the trouble that was associated with it. It had a bad reputation. It wasn't aggressive music but it just attracted the wrong crowd of people. It came back big time around four years ago, just a little bit slowed down, and people started calling it jackin' house and it's evolved since then. I never used to call it jackin' house. It's gone more into bass-house and all sort of molded into one. I'm lovin' it.

It all broke through for me personally when I went to Ibiza in 2010. I decided to go out for the summer and see what happened and I won a few competitions and played a few big gigs. Every since then it's gotten more and more crazy each year.

Do you have plans to come Stateside?
Yes I do. Next year—I don't know when. It's somewhere that I'm dying to get out and tour. I've never even been to America. I'm going to tour as much as I can in the coming year.

Jemayel Khawaja is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist -@JemayelK