Don’t call it a resurgence. London’s NTS is one of several key radio stations in electronic music culture, alongside Rinse FM, Berlin Community Radio and Subcity Radio to name but a few. One of the most exciting and invigorating presences on radio is that of Debi Ghose, aka DEBONAIR, whose fortnightly show bridges the gap between dank EBM, hands-in-the-air French house anthems and upfront techno business. As well as delivering our 119th Truancy Volume, we spoke to her recently about her musical journey and why she chose bangers over (micro)biology.
What have you been up to lately? “I’ve been working on the mix! I went to Hong Kong and had a little holiday and played a gig out there. I’ve also just been working quite hard – I’ve done some voiceover work – had a couple of gigs, just the usual kind of things really – living life, trying to balance everything and mix it up!”
What led you to where you are now, DJ wise? “I’ve always been a music lover, which is quite a twee answer, but I started doing student radio back at uni, and I haven’t stopped really. After I graduated I did a community radio show and then I got an internship at 6 Music, so that’s why I moved to London and started working in radio. Then I started doing a show on Resonance called the Brixton AllStars, exploring the south London music scene. I did interviews with lots of south London artists, stalwarts of the area – I interviewed everyone from Linton Kwesi Johnson to Loefah on that show. After that I joined NTS at the beginning, I started working there and doing a show there, and it was only then that I found my sound and started getting booked for gigs. I think it’s been building quite nicely.
Which university did you go to? “I went to Warwick University; I studied a medical microbiology and virology degree – for a laugh. I did microbiology as opposed to biology because it’s a lot more human focused, it’s a lot more about epidemiology and human affliction, and I always found that aspect intriguing – as opposed to the life of proteins. I’m still very much interested in the disparity in the world, which was one of the main things my degree highlighted – I wouldn’t pursue being a scientist, I certainly left my degree there, but disease affliction and the economics of it I still find really interesting.”
All this time you were studying this, you were doing radio on the side? “Yeah, well I started working in record stores when I was 15 and was very involved in my local music scene growing up. I went to university and, to be honest, it was culturally dry, so I very much thought that I had to create my own enjoyment and create a scene for myself, so my little outlet was doing my weekly radio show. It was a really good student radio station, one of the best in the country at the time, and I’d always listened to John Peel and Late Night Love and various local radio in my teens – I started doing radio because it was quite natural to me. Having worked in record stores I had a lot of music, and the radio library was really great, so I didn’t have to get new stuff – I started getting a fair few listeners in the local area, and I never stopped.
What were you listening to when you were younger? “When I was a teenager I was very much into alternative rock, the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, the early Red Hot Chili Peppers stuff, but then I also started discovering mix albums. It was weird though because I didn’t have a context for it. So there were tracks by, say, Pépé Bradock that I really loved when I was young – but I didn’t even know until I moved to London that he was a celebrated artist! I remember listening to “Mouth” – that was one of my favourite tracks on a mix CD I had – and I remember thinking ‘this is a jam, it’s a shame no one else knows it’, and then I moved to London, and I think I was listening to it in the NTS office at some point and everyone’s like “classic tune!” and I thought ‘what, really?’ So I didn’t have any context for dance music growing up, but it was something I was quite drawn to. That 2manydjs CD was the first one that made me realise that I could mix all the strange stuff I was listening to with dance music.”
You run a night with Chloe Frieda (who presents Alien Jams on NTS) called Linear Space – how did that come about? “That was just me and Chloe really, we were friends from the station and I think we got booked for one or two of the same gigs, so we thought it would be good to start DJing together and doing gigs together. At first it was at The Star of Kings, but then afterwards we thought it would be good to take it somewhere like the Alibi where we could get on guests as well. It’s just quite nice because we have our distinct styles but there’s definitely overlap in what we play and what we like. It made sense that we could provide interesting music ourselves while also booking guests we both had a real interest in.”
You tend to play a lot of weird EBM-type stuff, but then a lot of fun party music – would that be your musical MO? “I definitely want to be playing things that other people aren’t, which I would hope is a reason to come and see me. Obviously there will be some classic tracks – I’m not shying away from that at all, and I don’t shy away from pop bangers either. I played some Cocteau Twins in my last show, I’m always reliving great pop tracks. But yeah, just experimental electronic tracks that maybe haven’t been celebrated in the past. I’m always digging to try and find them and use them in my show – I think there’s so much stuff that never really got much attention but is just brilliant music”
And that crosses over into your mix for us? “Absolutely. It’s a strange one because normally when I do a mix it ends up really weird or really dark, sort of entering into creepy electronic stuff – but when I started doing the mix for you guys I went with my gut. I thought it might end up being quite a banging dance floor mix like some of my shows – with the energy of the [online] audience behind me they can often end up quite banging in the last 20 minutes or so, but I just went with what I was feeling at the time. It was a couple of weeks ago, the first burst of really good summer weather when I was putting it together; it’s all pretty old music, there’s nothing that current in there – essentially it’s just a lot of my favourite music that is about as summery as it’s gonna get from a mix from me!
Have you ever considered going into production? “Everyone asks me this! If I bump into someone I haven’t seen for a while they’ll ask ‘so why aren’t you producing?’ I think it’s a good time to have a dabble, I might start playing this year, but that’s not to say I’m trying to become a producer or anything. I just think it’d be a nice to get a little bit more creative, and start looking at the mixes I put together in a slightly more creative or lateral way. Maybe. I don’t want to say yes! I’m certainly interested in having a play around and want to keep learning techniques and things, but I wouldn’t hold out for DEBONAIR the producer just yet.”
What’s your drink of choice? “A whiskey and soda please!”
And when was the last time you danced? “Wifey. Shouts to the Wifey crew! I was not up for going out at all, but it was the last Wifey and it’s held at a brilliant venue called the Lift which is also getting shut down – it’s where I’ve enjoyed some of my favourite parties in London so I had to go down. The Wifey guys did a sterling job, they played some of my favourite tracks from the last, what, five-six years, so in the end I was not expecting it but there was some dancing, there were some power moves.”
Will Powers – Adventures In Success
Can – One More Night
Howard Ingram – Sacrestone 72
Shinehead – Know How Fe Chat
Part Time – What Would You Say?
Anne Clark – Poem Without Words / Angel Haze Poem – I Like The Girls
Rhythim Is Rhythim – Kaotic Harmony
E.S.P. – It’s You
Rosa Yemen – Larousse Baron Bic
In Aeternam Vale – Give Me Your Money George
Josh One – Contemplation (King Britt Funke Remix)
Joane Skyler – Partial Recall
Medio Mutante – 17 Años
Todd Rundgren – Love Of The Common Man
Kenny Larkin – Sympathy