In conversation with Shauna Stapleton

If you’re well acquainted with the Leeds music and club scene, you’ve probably seen Shauna Stapleton. The 20-year-old Psychology student is not only a regular attendee at DIY events across the city, she can also often be spotted navigating the dancefloor from behind the decks, sporting her signature buzzcut and accompanied by a collection of effortlessly spun, self-proclaimed “hot n spicy bangers”. Following her recent slot at the iconic ‘pumping gay dance party’, Love Muscle, Shauna speaks to us about the struggles of growing up around a meagre music scene, Leeds’ thriving nightlife and the lowdown of being an emerging DJ.

Being from a small town with a strained arts scene is a familiar struggle for young people across the UK, with slashed funding and gentrification endangering culture and independent venues. Originally from Derby, Shauna’s experience is no different: “the music scene in Derby is shit. The only venue for young bands got taken over and they stopped putting on gigs there. It’s even worse for DJs ‘cause there isn’t any independent bars or venues.” Thus, it’s no surprise that since starting university in Leeds two years ago, Shauna has harnessed the creative wave of the city and carved a space for herself, from first attending Leeds Student Radio’s DJ workshops to honing her skills independently at gigs around the club circuit. How does the Leeds scene compare to her hometown? “It’s ace, there’s so many opportunities for new bands and DJs.” Specifically, Shauna praises independent arts venues Wharf Chambers and Chunk for their accessibility and diversity, both of which have enabled her to co-host events as last year’s president of the Union Music Library.

Naturally, then, the city in itself seems to be a driving source of inspiration for Shauna as, beside her wider influences Yaeji and Peggy Gou, she also admires those closer to home, notably the DJs associated with Equaliser, the Leeds-based collective that offers a platform for cis-women, trans-women, non-binary and trans people. However, her enthusiasm and motivation seems innate and undoubtedly predates her arrival, as is clear in her attitude to her work: “I get most of my gigs during term time, but I’m a morning person so I don’t mind getting up early to study.” Furthermore, her practicality can be seen as she stresses the importance of beginner DJs taking time to get to know their decks and troubleshooting as “things will go wrong at some point so you need to know how to fix it.”

Through her sets, Shauna seems able to capture the mood and successfully respond to her audience, regardless of the venue and event. Her trick? Winging it. “I don’t really decide my sets beforehand,” she states nonchalantly. Instead, she will “wait to see what the audience is like and play what I think they’ll want to hear.” Despite her spontaneous approach and open mind, Shauna’s go-to is “techno bangers mixed with classic pop.”

Her open attitude, which infiltrates both her personality and her practice, led her to play Love Muscle’s annual ‘Pride Pumpathon’ at Sheaf Street earlier this month—a reputable LGBT+ night that she commends for its inclusivity, safe spaces policy and tip-top DJs. It’s therefore no wonder why Shauna was, and still seems, so excited about the gig: “since being in Leeds, I’ve always wanted to play at one of their events. It was the first time I played my new set (which I’d actually practised) so I was super nervous.” Despite admitting to making a few mistakes, Shauna claims that “the crowd were really receptive and it was such a good atmosphere, especially when I dropped Lauryn Hill.” This alone sums up the qualities that make Love Muscle and Shauna Stapleton a perfect match.

Those who missed Shauna’s Love Muscle debut can catch her return to its co-venue Sheaf Street next month for a Friday evening “underground boogie”. Bangers guaranteed.

Safi Bugel

Image: Leah Wareham

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