inthemix meets the She Can DJ top ten

Sitting in EMI’s Sydney office with the ten She Can DJ 2012 finalists, you can see why the word “colourful” keeps coming up in conversation. This year’s line-up boasts ten vibrant personalities from various corners of the country, each with a distinctive skill-set to bring to the table. When inthemix meets the finalists, they’re in town for an intensive week of press commitments and studio sessions. There’s already a creative energy buzzing around the group.

This year’s competition will culminate with the final event at Sydney’s ivy on Wednesday 5 September, and the ultimate winner will be looking at a whirlwind end to 2012. The winner, selected by a core panel of ambassador judges, will secure an EMI recording agreement, an international networking trip and a weekly mix on the Southern Cross Austereo dance music show Party People, amongst other career-accelerating opportunities. In 2011, the inaugural She Can DJ was won by Minx, who recently released her debut single Taking Chances and spent a summer stint in Ibiza. The ambassador panel also couldn’t go past Alison Wonderland, who was swiftly signed to EMI. Since then, her production portfolio has stepped up, with BBC Radio 1 anchors Pete Tong and Annie Mac giving her remixes regular play.

While all the She Can DJ finalists are aspiring for the main prize, the top ten this year is enjoying the collaborative spirit. Adelaide’s Leah Mencel made the top 10 last year, and she’s back again for 2012. “The dynamic’s different,” she tells inthemix. “Last year it was a fresh project, and I think this year there’s a lot of exciting talent.”

Sydney is represented in the top ten by Alley Oop, Natnoiz, Cassette, Elly K and Fingertips. Leah Mencel and Dusk represent Adelaide, while Girl Audio and Juliet Fox hail from Melbourne. Completing the picture is Brisbane girl Hannah Parker. There’s some crossover in their influences as DJs, but – as their mixes for ITM-FM proved – each She Can DJ finalist has her own sound.

Elly K quotes homegrown disco exports Flight Facilities and Cassian as a benchmark, while her ultimate hero is Nile Rodgers. Her mix for ITM-FM keeps things deep and groove-led, with the likes of Storm Queen, Fantastic Man and DJ Kaos all represented. Juliet Fox quotes “fidgety, bouncy tech” as one of her main loves, with Laura Jones and Shadow Child at the top of her ‘influential producers’ list. Both Hannah Parker and Cassette quote Claude VonStroke as someone to aspire to.

“He’s basically my idol,” Parker says. “I love anyone on Dirtybird. Justin Martin’s new EP Ghettos & Gardens was out of control. On the deep house side, Danny Daze. Anyone who produces bass-heavy tech-house.” Cassette agrees: “My style’s quite similar to Hannah’s from the sound of it. Nu-disco, tech-house, deep house…just good house.”

VonStroke gets another nod from Sydney’s Alley Oop. “I started out on the soul, funk and rare grooves side of things, but my addiction to the dancefloor and late night clubs have lured me further down the electronic dance music track,” she says. “My favourite producers at the moment are on the Dirtybird label, plus Huxley, Eats Everything and obviously Claude VonStroke is all-time.” The Dirtybird style of house is namechecked by Natnoiz, who regularly plays at Sydney parties like Trashbags and Girl Thing. “I was a resident DJ at Hot Damn on Oxford Street, playing punk rock to hip hop to dance music,” she says. “My favourite style to play is bouncy house music.”

While several of the She Can DJ finalists deal in the various shades of house, that’s not the only direction amongst the group. “I play dubstep and trap and anything that’s bass-heavy and crazy,” says Mencel. “Guys like Dillon Francis, Major Lazer – anything signed to Mad Decent is amazing.” Adelaide’s Dusk also loves bass. “I started DJing quite a long time ago playing drum & bass, then moved through breakbeats, electro, house, then techno, and now I’m doing a lot of genre mash-up stuff,” she explains. “I’m into artists with an overarching concept, people like M.I.A. and Peaches.”

Another of the DJs tapping into the Mad Decent vibe is Fingertips. “Fingertips is the name of my indie-rock project from Adelaide, then I moved to Sydney and started DJing,” she says. “My style is ‘anything goes’, but driven by alternative pop: like Robyn, Charli XCX, with a lot of hip hop, dancehall and ‘90s R&B vibes. I love everything Diplo’s Mad Decent label does; he’s just a god in my eyes.” Given Girl Audio released a track called I Like The Bass in mid-2011, you can guess where her loyalties lie. “The music I play is electro-house, with complextro in there and some Dirty Dutch as well. I look up to Porter Robinson.”

The production element of She Can DJ is what’s most exciting for the finalists. The top ten all agree that the competition should change some tired perceptions of females in the dance music industry. Alley Oop sums it up: “One of the challenging but wonderful things about being a woman in the industry is that you can present yourself in so many different ways. You can be a bikini-model-turned-DJ or you can come from an artistic background, and for a long time it seemed punters and promoters didn’t know what they were going to get from you. They didn’t know if they would be getting a serious artist and musician or someone who looks really pretty.

“We all work really hard in this industry,” she continues, “and with DJing there’s less of a benchmark. You don’t have a salary review or promotions at the end of the year to tell you how you’re going. So this competition is that benchmark.”

The She Can DJ final is set for Wednesday 2 September at Sydney’s ivy. Head here for details and ticket options.