Hollie-May Presents Sofa Sound’s Serious Commitment to Equality

Dropping back in December, the Hollie-May Presents mix series has so far had a killer selection of DJs across the drum & bass spectrum. If you’ve got your skank on at home sofa style, you’ll know why these mixes deserve all ears.

In these more static months when we stay at home and stay safe, we have more time for reflection, time to kick back with a podcast or a mix and let the tunes play. In the absence of a dance floor, the abundance of mixes out there really offer a sonic lifeline in these still times. 

But this is also a great time for connection, albeit online, between artists and their audience. Hollie-May Presents, hosted by Sofa Sound Bristol, offers that little bit extra when you are selecting your next boss mix, with personality and story thrown in, adding context to the myriad of music which follows. Hollie does an introductory interview each mix followed by a full steam ahead session with some of the finest selectors in the scene, shining a light on the undoubtable talent within the underground. Dynamics got down to chat with Hollie about the mix series, her role within Sofa Sound, and her hopes for positive change within the scene throughout 2021 and beyond. 

Hollie, it’s wonderful to chat with you. It’s great to see Sofa Sound is committed to equality in bass music, as demonstrated by this new mix series. Who’s idea was that?

So this was through If Khan who I initially met through playing at Sofa Sound,   who’s involved with running the label. He hit me up after to basically say let’s put our heads together and figure out a way of looking at the diversity of the label. 

They were aware there were gaps where there could be more womxn and diversity amongst the creatives involved with the music. So they acted well, in the way they brought a woman on board to be involved rather than try to take the stance of we need to get more womxn on the label and scratching their heads, they brought a woman in to do the work of diversifying the label. 

Definitely a wonderful idea! How do you know the Sofa Sound lot?

I’ve known of DLR a while as I’ve played at a few nights over the years where he’s been there so we’ve crossed paths a few times, he put something up saying budding DJs wanted to have some fresh talent play at the next Sofa Sound event. I dropped him in email and he messaged me back saying they’d love to have me on so I went and played at Sofa Sound Trinity which is a sick night by the way! 

Props to the sinnai sound system. 

Yep that’s the one, it’s no bullsh*t, you’ve got people there who want to be there for the music. One of the best nights I’ve played in terms of vibes and that’s because they set the tone of no bullsh*t – they say ‘this is about music and this is about the soundsystem’. There isn’t much more to it because there doesn’t really need to be.

Back to the roots vibes then…

It’s pretty unique and apart from other nights and as a label – they certainly have a very distinct sound and flavour which stands apart from other labels.

For sure, and also they’re really doing such a great job and just facing issues, tackling them head on and not  afraid of being bold. 

You can see this boldness reflected in all they do; the music is distinct, the artwork is striking, and their approach to worldly issues is direct.  

When you don’t fluctuate your ego and you operate from a space of passion instead, good things happen. Coming from authenticity is where I feel most comfortable, so I feel like Sofa sound and I are good matches!

Word. 

So, even though we have that joke amongst DJs about ‘doing it for the exposure’- Sofa Sound is a well established brand and rightful winners of D&B Arena Awards: Best newcomer label – so it truly is really good exposure for DJs to be a part of Hollie-May Presents.

Hahaha yeah the ‘exposure points’, but yeah it is a fantastic opportunity for whoever wants to be involved. I will always try and bridge the gap for people, it’s something I am incredibly passionate about and it’s amazing to see someone having a well deserved opportunity.

It’s a big occasion for any DJ to build their audience and earn recognition. It’s great to see Sofa Sound on board with the push for diversity, we need everyone involved to help equalise the dance music scene – so it’s exciting to see also that you’re representing everyone musically in the Hollie- May Presents series.

This is what I came to – I started off thinking ‘ok we could make a mix series of womxn but actually that’s not creating equality’, that’s creating more of a divide so I basically wanted to make it predominantly womxn just to highlight that when you’re putting one woman on a line up it’s not good enough because there are plenty of DJs out there.

It should definitely be a standard the scene strives to uphold – 50 percent equal lineups.

Yeah, I wanted to show that actually…it’s pretty simple to make things balanced if you want to. 

You have a mixture of more well known and more breakthrough artists such as Creatures next to people such as myself – this also gets people to engage more when they see a name that they already know.

Yeah exactly! Just because that person may not necessarily be a name, doesn’t mean they aren’t sick! 

And this leads them on to discover new talent.

And it’s just about offering opportunities; every success has come from an opportunity that someone has given them, and that’s how we build a solid community! What I’m trying to do is highlight the fact that there’s loads of really good underground talent that we could be bringing forward if we choose to so I just find people that I like; it doesn’t necessarily matter too much about gender at that point.

That takes away the tokenism of the ‘one woman per lineup’ situation we see time and time again in clubs. Talent is just as important as equality but we can definitely have both.

The only thing that comes in with gender really is the initial idea to show that there’s much more balance than what the industry is putting forward, but with this I also go for people that I really like and rate. 

The idea for the mini interview at the start of each mix is wonderful. It really adds personality to the plethora of mixes out there, as there are many.

And it’s just humanises people, you can either put a DJ on a pedestal or you don’t even know they exist you’re just listening to their music when actually – I want to make it human, and about human connection. The connection to the music as well, so I thought that would be a good place to start by actually introducing the person as a person. 

Yeah, this really strengthens the connection between everyone that loves the music – between DJ and audience, and adds that humanity as you said. 

So despite the cursed Covid, will there be any opportunities for womxn to get on the Sofa Sound lineups in the future- competitions perhaps or straight up bookings?

I’d prefer to go for the booking angle; if we were actively trying to direct the competition at womxn it’s a bit tokenistic again, whereas actually giving opportunities as and when we can, like through the mix series where we can see how much talent there is, I feel is a better way to go about things.

I guess that kind of negates the need for a competition as the talent is there – you don’t need to search for it.

Yeah, so I think if there was a competition it would just be for everybody to win a set at a night rather than directing it specifically towards womxn. I’ve got a long list of lovely talented DJs on this mix series – I could actually just pick anyone off the mix series and they would smash any set!!

Definitely – so along with this, it would be cool to have womxn playing the peak hours – as sometimes it’s warmup duty with some of the bigger labels out there. 

I’ve been given so many warm ups sets even though I’ve been djing for 10+ years and now I’m not saying I’m entitled to a certain set time but if you are continually putting womxn on first and last – what does that show about promoters and their behaviour – the ones putting on the night – that they think one woman on a lineup is enough?

No, we need much more than that, this isn’t just about getting your token womxn, this is about making things more equal all over.

I’ve always found the term female DJ a bit stifling personally, as this segregates womxn. 

What I’m looking forward to is a more equal environment where it’s not a thing anymore.

Just phasing it out completely. 

Yeah it shouldn’t matter, it should be ‘right okay cool we’ve just got a group of sick DJs’, not ‘we’ve got a group of DJs over there and then a section of female DJs’ – we don’t need to define the word DJ with gender just to ensure that you’re doing the right thing.

It seems to be that we always need to prefix the word DJ with female when we play – and when does this happen with guys – can you imagine, ‘male DJs’?

Yeah, no one has ever said that in the whole of history!

Particularly in D&B where the womxn have been there since the beginning and it’s formation; people like Kemi & Storm, DJ Rap, pivotal figures from the start. 

Absolutely. 

Along with the mix series, I’ve seen that you’re encouraging demos to be sent to Sofa Sound.

I would heavily encourage anyone to submit a demo; Sofa Sound are actively looking to host a more diverse selection of people on the label.  They are self aware and want to push on helping to diversify the scene in all ways.

I would encourage womxn of any ability to send music in and actually just ask for feedback too.

Creative crew reading this –  pay close attention.

Don’t be scared to send stuff in because at the end of the day if someone can offer you feedback and advice on your track, that’s a good thing!

Also, that’s getting your name out there, even if the label doesn’t decide to release your music yet – they know that you’re there.

Exactly, building a relationship. I think that’s half of what this scene is actually about – building relationships with people – lasting relationships. Making sure you’re being authentic and sincere and you’re just putting yourself out to the world and owning that.

So, what would you like to see in 2021 and the years which follow? 

Obviously I’d love to see the scene become more equal and remove the segregation of womxn apart as ‘female DJs’. I’m aware that that can’t happen instantly; we need to bring awareness to something before we can balance it out.

I would like to see people supporting each other regardless of what they’re doing – and we are all guilty of it when we feel a certain way about something.

I want to see more open mental health talk within Drum & Bass – allowing that inclusivity that if you are feeling a certain way that that’s OK. You’re not going to be shunned because you’ve come forwards like ‘I’ve got this or I’m feeling this way’.

I also run something called D&B link up with one half of Revaux, which is basically a peer support for mental health group on facebook; it opens up conversations about things – we wanted to create a space where people can be quite open if they need advice or they want to offer it. We put up regular content about mental health and being in the industry. One of our ventures is interviewing people in the scene, the last session was with DLR & Gusto MC. It’s on the Sofa Sound youtube channel. Some insightful stuff, check it!

That sounds super. Sometimes we want to ask for advice but we feel intimidated. Some spaces online are more toxic than others related to music – so it’s great that this exists.

At the end of the day, it’s an individual’s life and perception, and not allowing that space for someone to grow is damaging so that’s what we try to offer. 

I want drum and bass to be safe, with how people want to express themselves. I have faith that we can make this a more inclusive space and one step at a time, we are getting closer to that!

Check out Hollie-May Presents

Words by Liohness

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