One problem with musical talent – from DJing and production to playing in a live band – is the fame factor. Once noticed, it’s 50-50 whether people disappear into their own egos or not, with the list of victims long and distinguished.
Part of the UK dance underground, but a prominent figure, Josey Rebelle has been a firm fixture on the Rinse FM weekly schedule for well over half a decade, and her reputation as a selector’s selector, with an ear for everything from rare groove to rolling techno, has grown in tandem with the dedicated followers of her Sunday morning show.
Nevertheless, when I catch her on the phone, from her Tottenham home, it takes mere seconds to figure out this is one incredibly talented player whose feet couldn’t be more fixed to the ground if she tried.
“I haven’t got anything to complain about,” she responds when asked how it’s going today. “It’s just that I can’t be bothered to go downstairs and get some biscuits. That’s about it.”
Over the course of the conversation we touch on subjects that veer between the genre-spanning aural journeys both her broadcast and club sets are defined by, and the best type of redbush tea- Twinings vanilla, apparently; a product she thinks the brand has ‘done really well to make’. Down to Earth, then, with an extra serving of friendly.
“Do you know I’ve never been camping,” she asks as the conversation moves to summer 2017, and how many festivals she has been to. “I’m worried that I’ll either love it so much, or I’ll hate it so much it will be the worst thing I’ve ever done.
“It’s like a gamble. So I’m almost waiting for a time in my life when I can afford to take a big risk. Some people go big on the stock exchange, for me it’s seeing what camping is like. What if I fall in love with it and just want to live in the wild? These are the dangers. Although it’s not really living in the wild, is it? You’ll have a shower, and a burger van. That’s not really the same as the wild. Or at least not the wild you see on those TV shows.”
If fields and forests aren’t exactly Josey’s thing, then basements quite clearly are, although she prefers to be front and centre, on the decks, as opposed to anywhere else.
“Everywhere I DJ people invite me back stage and I’m just like this old woman there. I don’t really know what to do. I sound like I’m no fun, but I am. Honest. I do some hilarious things. Oh, you can’t stop me, the things I could tell you… but I’ll leave it to your imagination.
“I’ve discovered I have a very special skill from time spent in clubs before and after playing, though; the ability not to catch everything someone is saying, but catch the bit where they try and catch you out. So the first time it happened I was speaking to this guy and couldn’t really hear him- ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ sort of conversation. Then he says ‘You can’t hear a word I’m saying, can you?’ Well, I heard that bit fine, so straight away just said ‘Yeah, ‘course I can.’ This has happened a couple of times now. You’re not catching me out, sunshine.”
Unsurprisingly, radio studios offer another second home to the lady in question, an environment she was introduced to before taking the reins at Rinse, and one that has only endeared itself to her more in the years since that first broadcast.
“I love it so much. At one point it got to the stage when I wasn’t really listening to that much radio at all, even though when I was younger I tuned into pirate stations religiously. Then when Rinse approached me I’m not sure why but I wasn’t so much.
“I was in a situation where suddenly radio was really fresh again and I found it difficult to catch up with it all. Just getting bombarded with all these tunes I couldn’t get from all these new sources on air, link opening up the floodgates to new music, and I couldn’t get any of it.
“Rinse was the first radio show I had ever done. My brother had a show on a classic garage station, and I went down with him a couple of times to that. And on another community station. I had been in that environment but never running a show.
“I just love it though. You’re free. A reason I feel blessed is that I can do what I want – play what I want. My show is on Sunday mornings and initially the idea was to play more chilled soulful stuff. But now I’ll go from that to some crazy techno or something. It’s a three hour stint so it’s possible to start at 70BPM and move all the way up.”
This type of variety defines what Josey will play at a party, not just whilst on air, a trait some would argue has been lost from the contemporary UK scene. Expectations on the part of promoters and punters tend to demand one style or other from DJs.
“A lot of my club sets aren’t that different to the second half of a lot of my radio shows, where there’s a lot of house and techno. But I don’t always get to play through the whole range. Playing out sometimes I think I get to do that more than on radio. Playing out I can play some stuff at peak time the I used to hear at the parties I went to when I was younger. Soulful stuff but all the music from those was peak time, not chilled. It’s rare for that to be played when the club is full of people now.
“It does depend, though. If you’re playing a predominantly house and techno night then that is going to dictate the tunes you bring. I’m not a DJ who would just wildly drop the tempo mid set. But I do think there are tunes I can mix into something else that aren’t the same genre, because it sounds great coming out of this or that.”
Put simply, Josey’s approach to spinning tunes is very much born from spontaneity, rather than carefully pre-planned playlists – and this is evident listening to her through the airwaves and in the flesh.
“I always play a mixture of vinyl and digital, so there’s still an element of how much you can fit in the bag. A lot of the time I don’t know what I’m going to play first, or I think I do and then the DJ before me chooses a last track that changes my mind. So there’s a lot of instinct involved. Same with radio – I can just realise that actually I don’t want to go in that direction.
“That’s the beauty of it all. Although there may be promos I’ve downloaded, I’ve not promised to play anything. It’s not like Tim Westwood with world premieres. So if I want to play all old music, or all new music, or a promo someone has just dropped with me, that’s fine. The closer I can get to that feeling of going wherever the better for me. The moment I start to feel pressure to play certain styles I think that will no longer be a good time for me.”
At the back end of September Josey arrives in Manchester for what’s set to be one of The Warehouse Project’s most far-reaching and wide-ranging line ups in the WHP17 calendar. Curated by Floating Points, she’ll join Daphni, Jon Hopkins, Madlib, Jeremy Underground, Benji B, Sassy J, and Alexander Nut, to name but a few, as part of a bill befitting her overall musical scope – ranging from futurist electronics through to urban rhythms.
“The line up for the night I’m playing is amazing,” she says enthusiastically. “I played there last year, which was the first time I’d been to The Warehouse Project. I think the feel and look of it is something that really got me. Like this magical underground playground, and it just had a really nice vibe.
“I was so happy when I saw the line up for September. I’m always happy when I see a good line up, but with this combination of DJs I knew instantly it’s going to be a quality event. And, do you know what, it might be one of those occasions when I actually do go backstage for a party. So I think it should be really fun, and I’m very excited about it, especially in this context with the line up. I should be able to play lots and lots of different things that maybe I don’t get to play that often.”
We’re all ears then.
Josey Rebelle returns to The Warehouse Project as part of Curated by Floating Points. Final tickets available here