On The Decks: Spinach

I guess I first wanted to DJ when I first heard a mix, aged around 13 or 14. Before that, I didn’t really realise it was a thing. I was listening to some music I’d put onto my brother’s PSP and then this Daniel Hills mix came on shuffle, who is, funnily enough, a Leeds boy. It’s called Kiss My Teeth Vol 2 and it mashed up some of my favourite genres at the time, taking you through hip hop, RnB, grime, UK funky, through to soul and dance music, with a grime-y dancehall section sandwiched in-between. It concluded with a notable a mash up of the acapella to Chris Brown’s ‘Freeze’ over Major Lazer’s ‘Pon di Floor’. Woah.

I remember going through those transitions for the first time like what the hell is this?! And ever since, I started to think about how tracks could be contextualised to guide you through some kind of feeling.

What keeps me DJing is the fact that I keep falling in love with music over and over again. I also feel like I know absolutely nothing about it, and that there are so many more cultures and points in history to musically explore, as well as loads of sick new developments in contemporary sounds with the exponential progression of sound-technologies. I also like the idea of being visible to women of colour trying to get into art scenes. I’ve experienced some difficulties trying to make ends meet with my Pakistani, Muslim and British heritages as a first generation immigrant. Having struggled with this for a while, I know now that I can’t deny my love for music and awe in the way it has brought people together throughout history. I’ve learnt that the people who matter would support me in that. It’s not something I should have to feel guilty about and I ought to embrace and be grateful for the coincidences in my parents’ lives that have led me to this privileged position I find myself in today. It’s a difficult conversation to have but I hope to be approachable in that dialogue.

Thankfully, I’ve not really experienced overt sexism as a DJ. I felt awkward trying to get into the scene or finding opportunities to learn how to mix when I lived in Bath. There weren’t any female DJs visible to me at the time. My friend Nick, a resident at Origins in Bath, gave me a tour of his CDJs though, which I really appreciated and tried my best to follow. Using vague memories of that time, I went to a BPM open decks event in my first year at Leeds, and can remember being behind the decks and feeling how I imagined a dog would feel if it were given the task of driving a car. I knew I had no reputation in Leeds to lose though, so wasn’t afraid of embarrassing myself, making loads of mistakes, learning loads of lessons, and would encourage anyone interested in DJing to do the same! BPM is a great place for that. Nothing to lose and only knowledge, experience and connections to gain.

It’s been a super fun ride DJing alongside the megababe that is Lucy Jade Williams, starting our radio show Bath Time Sessions at LSR back in January. Since then, the DJ sisterhood in my world just seems to be growing, for example through the Equaliser project. I got butterflies at the first event, looking around and seeing everyone’s contribution to the space under Ranyue’s gorgeous selections during the opening set. I have a very positive feeling about it and hope that the music scene continues to grow increasingly diverse, reflecting the very special community of the UK.

Other than that, I think that a lot of Leeds’ promoters have made recent efforts to boost the female bookings, and I feel like I’ve benefited from the raised awareness of the standard gender inequality on line-ups. Having said that, I hope that it’s for the music and not my XX chromosomes that I get asked to DJ. I’m very grateful to be in Leeds’ nurturing & encouraging environment, the community of guys and gals here is truly special

Zoya Ahmed

Image: Elemental Leeds

Check out one of Zoya’s mixes for Leeds Student Radio on Soundcloud below

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