Jane Fitz’s gig diary is enviable indeed. With little to no fanfare and no hyped-up hit release, she has established herself as a cult selector who plays a tasteful selection of clubs and festivals away from the usual headline circuit. She’s resident at Free Rotation and The Pickle Factory, co-runs her own sporadic—and un-promoted—Night Moves party with Jade Seattle, and can play acid on an Eastern Europe beach, deep techno in Berlin or psychedelic house in a UK warehouse.
The affable, twenty year plus DJ veteran has also started slipping out the occasional production as Invisible Menders (with Dom Ahtuam) but remains best known for her appealing obscurity in the booth. She says she “isn’t snobby” about the sort of gigs she plays, and enjoys the challenges of unusual situations and settings. Though a little under the weather when we speak, a few days later she is due to make her debut at Ibiza’s famous DC10, so that’s where we start.
What prep will you do for DC10?
I'll spend four or five hours going through my records, trying to put myself in the mindset of who I imagine will be there, what time of day it is, who I'm on before, who I'm on after. I do that for every gig, which is why if you come and see me it's always different. I'm not the sort of person who always goes out with the same bag, or who turns up at a gig and goes 'this is me.' I always try and adapt. There's a challenge in there for me, but I also think it shows a bit of respect for the people who pay money to hear you; that you've made some effort to try and consider them.
Do you ever theme your sets, or is that more for your podcasts?
I kind of do. Sometimes it will be overt and I’ll tell people, other times I’ll do it just for me. If you have a big collection and different strands of interest, a lot of the time it’s hard to know what to play unless you theme it in your head. I’m somebody who works much, much better with limitations. That’s why I never really got into Traktor and those things. People say 'oh, you can have your whole record collection.' The thought of that for me is absolutely terrifying. I wouldn't be able to enjoy the music I was playing or feed off the crowd. I'd rather do all that concentrating and choosing at home, and go out with a limited set of records—but I do take a back-up USB, usually of promos.
And what about for the Warehouse Project in November?
I've never played there before. It's actually my mum's 80th birthday the day after so I've asked for an early slot, so I've themed my set for myself already there. I'll be playing almost from the opening, so I'll probably go for some weirder shit, some quite chuggy stuff. How much does the musical history of a city factor into your planning? Some places it really matters. Sometimes I really go out of my way to put records from that place in my bag, especially random cities where I have maybe just one track from that place.
FEEL MY BICEP – SAT 18 NOV. SOLD OUT.
How important is the first record? Can it make or break what happens after?
No, I don't think so. I'm not too bothered about things like that. My first record, I never know what I'm going to play. I just know what's in the bag. But it will be based on a few things. What have they played before, what's the crowd like, what are they doing, can I see people who don't care if I'm here or not, are there people here specifically for me? I tend not to mix in. I tend to let the DJ before me play out, give them a clap or whatever, then start. I like to have that clean slate. I like to start with something odd. If I look at a crowd and think ‘you lot might not be into this,’ I try to give them something as challenging as possible, almost to clear out people I don't really want there. I'm happy to do that. I like to get rid of the part-timers. I don't want people who will muck up the groove or the vibe. I feel when I play I like to make it inclusive, so people feel they are part of it. If I see they're into it and vibe off me, that gives me something back, so I'm never up there playing on my own. That's why I don't like playing on a stage.
So the position as well as the set-up of the booth is important in making you feel comfortable?
Yeah, you have to have a well set-up booth, especially for me, playing records. You know, I'm 44, I come home with a bad back and think 'why the fuck am I still playing records?' But my girlfriend says I can't give up. It's a joke though sometimes, places are set up so bad. Even in big clubs, the set ups aren't perfect.
Do you do anything to make it feel more comfy? Shoes off, burn incense?
I have been known to burn incense, if I remember. I don't do it at every gig. Just if it's a stinky club or if I want a cheeky spliff. That's more what I would do if I was promoting a party where I present my own vision and want full control.
And do you have any mixer preferences?
Now there’s a question. I'm quite lucky in that I'm friends with Mike [Igglesden], who developed the Formula Sound/Funktion One mixer, and he will get that to me as often as he can. Not a fan of the Allen & Heath but I’ll take it. I don't like Pioneer. I've heard conflicting reports about the E&S, but I quite like it actually. Generally, I'm not one of these people who is a mixer wanker.
I guess mixer preference depends on your own mixing style, so what is yours?
I have a few quirks I've always had. I like long mixes. I think it's ‘cause when I learnt to mix, in about '96--I was just fading in and out before then--I really enjoyed layering stuff. Sometimes I play on three decks, ‘cause I just like layering stuff. I think some of the early parties I used to go to, a lot of the DJs were doing long mixes, and that excited me. I often leave two channels running, so one just runs out, and does a natural drop. I like the sound of that. And I'm quite good at timing. I instinctively known when a drop or change will happen. I'm not one of these 16 bar mixers. Most of the time I think I'm winging it. If I'm comfortable, the booth is OK, the crowd is good, I'll be doing mixes and I'll be impressed with myself or be excited by myself and be like 'fuck, how did I get that to do that?' Most of the time I have no clue what I'm doing, and I feel lucky.
People say knowing your records is key...
It's essential, but at the same time if you've been buying records of a certain kind, for a long time, you find you know what a record will do. It's more knowing them in terms of mood and vibe than progression.
How much do you EQ?
Not much. I don't see the point if a record has been mastered. I'll do a little tweak here or there. I'm more into levels. I'm really, really, really anal about levels. If you see me fucking about on the EQs, it's cause I'm trying to get levels identical all the time. That's the thing I obsess about.
What about poorly mastered records? Would you just not play them?
No way, I'll just tell the sound guy to do something. That's the point of a mixer—to control the sound of a record, and if you cant do that, it's not the record's fault, it’s cause the guy before you turned all the gains up, but that's not what they are for. That's not how you mix. They aren't volume control, they're adjustment. If that's the case I'll get the front of house adjusted, cause I need a bit of headspace. I think a lot of sound guys are used to young men going in there, whacking everything up, pumping it into the red. There is an innate competitiveness with male DJs, generally, I think, from my experiences over the last 25 years. So because of that you can get into a position where a booth is not working like it should, so I make a point of meeting the sound guy and telling him what I want. That will immediately make them go 'oh, ok' ‘cause they don't usually get told. Then they will work with me, so it's important to meet them, shake their hands, spend five minutes with them.
How do you arrange records in your bag, and how do you arrange them at home?
Don't arrange records in my bag. Maybe there is a slight organisation, but I don't tend to think about it. I tend to think 'that's the 80 records I've picked for the weekend, and that's it.' If I have two gigs in a weekend they'd get mixed up anyway, so I free myself from that anxiety by not arranging them in the first place. At home I'm super anal. I have my records arranged in a very specific system. It's arranged geographically because I have about eight or nine thousands, but I'm trying to get rid of at least a third of my collection at the minute. I'll give you the full run down: First of all they're divided by continent, then countries, then cities. That's the first tier. Within those parameters, say you have Chicago for example, then any producers I have a lot of, I'll bunch them together and arrange them alphabetically. Then I'll have labels alphabetically. That's the way I do it. For me, I can put my hand to anything, but then I have shit loads on the floor that I'm playing now or that need filing away. I've had a Discogs account pretty much since the site started so I have six or seven thousand on there, too. It's great for insurance purposes but the value of some has gone up so much I just don't take them out any more.
That said, you’ve always been a proponent of playing as much new as old music.
I spend a lot of money on new music and always have. I don’t understand people who only play old records. Number one, this is your industry, support people in it—labels, shops, distributers, artists. Why are you just giving your money to speculators on the internet? Two, all the records you play were new once, so why abandon new stuff now? There is good shit coming out all the time, you're just not looking hard enough. Also new records tend to sound better, the production values tend to be a lot better. And I don't want to become known for playing music of one style, When I started I was playing soul, hip hop and rare groove. It all came from different times so the first sets I played were old and new records, so it's always been like that. The only thing I've resented this year is that travelling so much means I haven't had the time to check new music as much as I'd like.
Might there come a point where in order to be the DJ you want to be you might have to limit the number of gigs you take?
Good question. I don't think so, I don't need new records to keep being me, I just need them because I'm inherently nosy and want to know what's out there and find new things and support labels. I still get the same excited feeling about a new record that I got when I was going to Soul Jazz—as it was then—when I was young. Playing a second hand record for the first time doesn't give me the same feeling as playing a fresh new record that still has the static on when you pull it out.
When you play do you play a few records ahead, or have a pivotal record you work towards?
No, I might have three or four where I think I need to play these, but yeah I am always playing a few records ahead.
Do you ever get to a point where you think in a set 'fuck, now what?'
Oh all the time. Often I'll put the wrong side on or something. That happens frequently. Do you have to redirect the whole set then, or just ignore it and go back to the track you were on? You just redirect. I think your ability to cope with those things is the same as dealing with a spilt drink, a fire alarm, someone knocking the decks. I don't really panic. It comes from having grown up playing shitty little parties in a forest, or to five people or whatever. Once you’ve played the worst party you can, you don’t really get bothered.
Do you ever asses your sets after they’re done?
Never. For me it’s a moment. I just like to get onto the next one.