Will Lynch hears about the ever-evolving style behind one of the UK's favourite DJs.
Records, of course, were a big part of the move. Fitz isn't sure how many she has—somewhere in the ballpark of 8,000—but by the time I got there they were all unpacked and filed away in the shed out back, handsomely lining one side of the room. Tucked away nearby were old mix CDs and issues of DJ Mag and Jockey Slut, which Fitz says she can't get rid of, partly for sentimental reasons but also because she still gets tips from the reviews.
Everything in this room spoke to a moment in the last 30 years of Fitz's life, a period over which she's carved out a living, in one way or another, through music and records. She's lived in London, Hong Kong and, briefly, Serbia, has worked as a music journalist, a promoter and what she calls a "jobbing DJ"—the anonymous person in the corner of the room playing records for little or no money. These days she's a different kind of DJ: someone whose extraordinary history with music, embodied in a vast collection and a mixing style honed over many years, creates a transportive dance floor experience for countless strangers and admirers around the world.
Most of Fitz's fans know her for a deep and cosmic sound defined by excellent track selections, but her style is always changing. Since she was a teenager, she's loved and played everything from soul to trip-hop to techno to ambient, and she thinks of her sound today as a culmination of her many influences over the years. It's also the result of the personal experiences she's had, from Body & Soul parties in New York to psytrance raves in Jakarta to festivals like rural in Japan and Freerotation in Wales, both of which are proud to have her as a regular. Sitting beneath the skylights in her kitchen, drinking tea and eating biscuits, she walked me through her life playing records in what amounted to a three-hour conversation on her favorite subject: the art of DJing.
When you're DJing, do you try to create that feeling?
You know what? In absolute truth, a lot of the time I'm completely winging it, I really have no clue what I'm doing. I don't drive, but it's like that thing with driving: when you get in a car, you don't think about looking in your mirror, that's just shit that you do. Same with DJing. Once you know what you're doing, you just do it. Sometimes I'll be having a mix, and I'll have the headphones off, just listening to the booth monitors, and I'll be like, "Fuckin' hell, I can't believe it! I can't believe this is working!" And I'll be buzzing just as much as everyone else. But I can never remember exactly how it worked, I can never repeat it.
I never set out trying to pull off a huge, long mix, but it will happen, because I just like the possibilities of where that kind of mix can go. And I also think, well, I don't play an instrument, I might as well do something here that represents my personality, you know? In addition to picking the records, in addition to putting them in this order, there's got to be something else.
Also this is my opportunity to hear those records out, as much as anyone else. A lot of the time when I'm DJing, as conscious as I am of everyone else who's there, I've also kind of forgotten about them, and I want to hear these records. I never mix at home, I just have one turntable here for listening, so when I'm out I'm mixing them for the first time, and it feels fresh. I'm always like, "Wow, those two went together really well!" I know some DJs have pairs of records they always mix together, but I couldn't do that. I love the thrill of the possibility. And I like to create slightly stressful situations for myself, because that's where the fireworks happen. If you can surprise yourself that's such a buzz.
Do you ever regret putting yourself in that stressful situation?
Maybe for ten seconds? There will be certain times where I'm frantically going through my records, you know, "Oh god what am I going to play?!" Then you think, "Jane, you spent five hours packing this record bag, you really put a lot of time and effort into this, trust your earlier judgment." So yeah, I'll do the work ahead of time, but then leave a lot of space for the moment, the mood, whatever. And then it's a buzz when you get it right.
Even if you're winging it, you're also very prepared.
The thing with winging it, there's two things you gotta be aware of. Number one is to really know your source material, then you can go off in any direction you want. And number two, you need to be super alert. You can't wing it if you're not taking notice of what's going on in the room, or if you keep flicking past the right record. The only way to wing it is to be awake and concentrating, otherwise you miss stuff.
And I think you should be willing to fail, that's a good mindset. You might think, "Well, I could really fuck this up in front of a lot of people." As soon as that's not an issue for you, you'll be fine. You've accepted the worst thing that could happen, and it isn't that bad. All you have to do is make people dance, and people would dance to a drum banging, so you've got infinite possibilities there. If I turned up at a gig and played Scottish piper music, OK, that might be a problem. But the odd fucked up mix? Or one thing I've done many times is play the wrong track off a record, but I'll still see it through, I won't cut it out early or whatever. Fuck it, see what happens.
What was it like when you changed from being the person playing records to being Jane Fitz? In the sense that people come to see you and are curious what you're going to play.
Kinda weird, I gotta be honest. I was always one of the people at the party who knew a lot of people. I was social, I was a journalist for a while, I was big on message boards, I put on parties, I always knew plenty of other people at clubs. So I didn't really notice it. It was other people noticing it for me, and as soon as that happened I was freaking out. Going to a festival and someone you don't know going up to you and saying hi, I was like, "W-w-w-whaaat the fuck?" A couple of years ago at Freerotation I became very, very aware that it wasn't just my mates coming up and talking to me anymore, it was total strangers. Which is fine because you're in small environment there, but inwardly I was freaking out.
The thing is, I said it earlier on, the reason I started DJing parties is because I didn't really like people that much. I knew that I had to be social, and it allowed me to be in a social situation without talking to people. So, even though I became super social over the years from going out, part of that version of me is still there, and I'm kind of going back to who I was back then, just the random person playing records. I love playing in the dark, in the corner, I hate playing on stage. Being a focus makes me feel weird. You don't sign up for that. At least I didn't.
What about in terms of DJing? If people walk into a club and there's an unknown DJ, that's different from people walking into a club where there's a DJ they know and expect something from.
Well, that part's kind of nice. It's like people have done their homework, they've invested in you and they want to stay for the whole set. And I'm aware that I play quite differently from one set to the next. I could play a few gigs with the same bag of records—I never do, but I could—and sound very different each time. So I know the people who come to see me won't always get the same sound.
I've got friends who think of me as Deep House Jane, and they say, "What's going on with you these days? Where's the old Jane?" Some friends have really said that to me, and it's kind of like, well, she was temporary! She was just a moment in time.