“Think about the music you want to play, be passionate about it and put time into it.”
London born and raised, Alice M a.k.a. Moxie, has slowly but surely been making her way through the ranks. With her feet firmly on the ground, she now heads up a weekly residency on NTS, runs her own club night come label, On Loop – on which she releases a yearly compilation – all the while maintaining a jam-packed career as a touring DJ. As a woman with a mass of experience and an unwavering work ethic, we sat down with Moxie to pick her brain, digging deep into her past, present and future.
Are there any elements of your childhood relationship and experience with music, that has manifested in the artist you are today?
Yeh, definitely! From a young age my parents were always playing a lot of soul music, my mum especially loved Aretha Franklin and we’d play her tapes in the car. We’d also listen to a lot of Annie Lennox, Van Morrison, Mo-Town – that kinda thing. In my teenage years, growing up in London pirate radio was also a huge thing for me – UK garage, hip-hop and R’n’B. I was going out from quite a young age and there were a lot of under 18 raves happening; at Bagley’s, which is no longer open but used to be in Kings Cross, The Forum in Kentish Town, this venue called Rocket on Holloway Road and Camden Palace which is now Koko.
I used to go to all those raves, you’d go as a crew and get dressed up in themed outfits, it was all very garage. People like So Solid Crew and Dizzee Rascal would perform. It was a really exciting time to witness that and be on the tail end of it. I’d definitely say the UK sound of London throughout my teenage years – UK garage, hip-hop and R’n’B – started me off and formed the foundations for my future discoveries. This went into dubstep, house, techno and disco.
Cool so you started off with garage and hip hop and you’ve developed to play across the board. What motivated this shift, widening into other genres?
Well when I got into dubstep, around that time I was meeting a lot of people that were outside of my friendship circle. I was always quite intrigued and eager to know more about music. I was discovering a lot of things on my own. It’s funny to say this, but at the time the internet was only just becoming a thing, people were just starting to use Facebook etc, so discovering music was still very much about going out to the raves and listening. I was also tuning in most days to Rinse FM along with Mary Anne Hobbs, Giles Peterson and Benji B on BBC Radio 1. During this particular era, I was just starting my art degree at University in London and began meeting people who were into the same music as me. I also made friends in record shops and from going out clubbing, as sometimes I would just go out on my own. As scary as that was, it put me out of my comfort zone and looking back I suppose it showed how much I just wanted to know more about music. Sometimes you have to put your pride to one side and think ‘it doesn’t matter if I’m on my own, I just want to go and meet people who are into the same things as me.’
Around this time, I started playing dubstep out, but I never stuck to one sound. Labels like Hyperdub, 3024 and Hessle Audio were encompassing a mix mash of sounds and that really spoke to me. They were breaking the mould and releasing music across genres but still keeping “their” sound. Martyn’s Great Lengths album was and still is one of my favourite LPs. It’s a perfect example of how people from the dubstep scene were crossing over into new territories. The same goes with releases from Cosmin TRG on Hessle Audio. That was the point where I started to feel free to mix up different tempos and not just stick to 140 bpm.
You came into DJing when you were 14, you went to University to do a creative degree and in the very early stages of your career you interned at a PR agency. You’ve had a really early start, slowly making you way into the industry. Are there any valuable lessons that still stay with you?
Sure, for me I’ve always thought that if you want to know about something, doing work experience, meeting and speaking to people who actually work in the industry, is so much more beneficial. For example, you learn so much more interning in a music PR company than doing a degree in music PR. I worked at that PR company for free and the majority of the time I was just putting CD’s into envelopes, but I met a lot of people in that office. I became friends with Alexander Nut and he started getting me down to Plastic People. There were a lot of things I really benefited from.
A few things that have stuck with me – I think if there is something that you want to do, try to go directly to the source and see if you can learn on the job. I also think that if you have a business and you have people working for you for free for a certain amount of time, there comes a time when you should think about paying that person in some way. For example, now if I have someone who comes to work for me and it goes beyond work experience, I always want to respect and honour their time as much as possible; there is a line. Someone who is working for free is gaining knowledge and obviously the time they give is very beneficial to you. However, there is a point where you have to not take the piss; It works both ways.
You remained a bedroom DJ for quite some time before you started to play out. What was your first ever gig experience like?
It was a DJ competition at this bar in Camden called Bar Vinyl and Normski was the judge. It was the first time I’d played out on a sound-system in front of people. For me it was more of a case of playing out in front of a crowd for the first time as opposed to focussing on winning the competition. All of my friends came down and it was quite hilarious. I didn’t win it but it’s funny because I occasionally see Normski around and every time I say to him ‘do you remember me from that competition’. I’ll never forget that evening.
So how have you found the progression from a bedroom DJ to regularly playing on huge stages at venues like Fabric and Panorama Bar?
It’s definitely happened over time. I’ve moved with different genres in a way. I’ve seen the musical landscape in the UK change especially with clubbing and radio. It’s developed so much over the years, even with the way people market themselves on Instagram. It’s such an interesting thing to witness and take on board, it makes you adapt the way you do things. I think it was about four years ago that I went full-time with DJing. My last job before that I was working for Hyperdub. I’ve always had these jobs working in the industry, I think that helped a lot, but it has been a slow burner. I also don’t make music, so it takes a bit longer to reach certain audiences around the world, having the radio show, the club night and the label definitely helps things.
I do have these moments where I’m playing these huge festivals and I’m looking at the crowd – I still pinch myself. It’s a real bizarre experience to think, when I was 14 years old doing that workshop, I would have never thought in a million years that I would be doing this full-time. I actually think if they hadn’t come to my school I probably wouldn’t be DJing! I’m so grateful for them coming and that’s why those opportunities are so incredibly beneficial for a young person; you can surprise yourself. I came to realise it was fun and cool so I was like ‘can I have some turntables for Christmas’ and it changed the entire course of my life.
As a young woman, I only knew one DJ playing out – a hip-hop DJ called Sarah Love. Apart from that there was no one other than someone like Annie Nightingale on Radio 1; but those kind of people were unattainable, they weren’t within a scene. It’s very different now and it’s great, there are so many women coming through. I love it and it makes me so happy, that’s what I’m trying to do with the club night and everything, I want to push that gender balance.
You worked with Benji B for a while on his Deviation project. Is there anything from those experiences that you now channel into your On Loop parties?
Yeh, I worked with Benji for five years or so. I learnt a great deal from working on those parties, it was with another woman called Zainab; The three of us did everything together. We would sit down and decide who to book, looking at who would work well on line-ups. Attention to detail is definitely something I learnt from Benji, also little things such as considering the vibe of the party, for example something small but hugely effective is having incense inside the dance. Before we opened the club, we would spend so long making sure everything looked right. I’ve taken all of that stuff on board and that’s what I do with On Loop.
For my nights we set up the neon light and the balloons and I light incense before we even open the doors. Of course, the sound has to be tight and then throughout the night I’m making sure all the DJs are comfortable. Everyone that I book for my night, I book them and take care over all the line-ups, whether it’s a festival stage takeover or just a club night. If I’m not happy with the line-up it’s not happening. I really take into consideration who’s going to work at what time, regardless of how big they are, I look at musically what is going to be the best thing for the night. It’s not about one particular DJ, it’s about everyone in that room – the full crowd and the experience of the party.
As you’ve mentioned, you take care of all the line-ups for On Loop. You started the project to push female talent alongside male DJs and people you respect. How do you get the balance right?
I would never book someone just for their gender or background, the talent has to come first and of course whether they work for On Loop. We’re in a time now where the talent pool has changed so dramatically and the “boys club” thing is starting to finally change. For so long I would be the only women on a line up, now I have so many female friends playing with me at festivals and other club nights. When I book a night I try to take all of that into consideration and not only include women, but people of colour and people from the queer scene. When I look out into the crowd I always notice a spectrum of people at the front. It’s generally young girls that come up to me and talk to me; again, I just love that because you can see the effect that it’s having. Even if I get nervous or I’m not feeling great, I know that by being there and being present, I might inspire someone else (such as a young woman) to see themselves doing it to; just like the people who came to my school and did that workshop.
I know that you have spoken in the past about the idea of community. Whether that be going record shopping or the family vibe of NTS radio. Do you see a community forming with On Loop? Are there always familiar faces on the dancefloor?
Yeh we do, especially in London, I see people who are constantly coming down, the same goes for Edinburgh and Manchester. Certain people go to all the nights within the UK and I really love that. We want people to keep coming back, the crowd is so important for the night. Along with the music, it’s the second most integral part of putting on a club night. We want people to be engaged and not on their phones, really letting loose and having fun. That’s what On Loop is about for me.
On Loop is also a label, and you recently released your fourth ‘Moxie Presents’ Compilation. Am I right in thinking those compilations came before the label?
The compilation was an experiment really, to begin with, I hadn’t even thought about doing a label. I wanted to do something with the people I loved from throughout that year, people who I’d had on my radio show who I wanted to support more. I hit them all up and asked them if they would be up for submitting a free track that hadn’t been released yet and told them I was going to put it out myself. With my experience working in PR, I did a whole PR campaign surrounding it. I had lists of everyone in radio, and presenters were kind enough to listen to everything because they knew me. I got loads of support across online publications too.
I did all of that on my own for the first two years and it was a lot of work, but it was really fun. I was basically doing a label without realising that I was doing it, so then I started the label from there and did a vinyl sampler for the third comp. It’s a bit confusing with dates as everything crosses over but the compilations happened first, then the club night and then finally the label – but it’s all interlinked with each other.
I can see an evolution in the overall sound from the first through to the fourth compilation. Has this correlated with your changing musical influences over the last four years?
For sure, it’s also reflective of that year and where things were musically. There were a lot of things I was into, but I try to have a track for every different kind of moment on the compilation. It usually takes about a year to do it because I constantly have a list of people who I want to contact. It’s always a really big project but it’s really fun.
To sum up, you’ve done a lot in your career and it seems all of this is a product of you just being interested in music and always wanting to be involved. You’re obviously also very independent in the way that you work. Do you have any advice, particularly for female DJs coming through?
I would say, hone your craft and practice – get good! and be patient. Things don’t always happen overnight, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. There’s been a lot of hype around some people and then a few years later there’s nothing there. I think it’s about being really confident in what you do and not comparing yourself to others; having your own aims, thinking about what you want to do and what you want to play. You also need put yourself in the shoes of a promoter, think about how people will think of your sound; if everything is a bit messy it’s hard to think about where to place you on a line-up. This isn’t to say that you should be one thing, as I’m not one thing but for example, if you do a mix, think about the mixes that you put out having continuity. If they all sound different it’s hard to know where to book you.
Educate yourself, think about the music you want to play, be passionate about it and put time into it. Patience is definitely key, people want everything so quickly now, but I’ve learnt that I’m happy with the way I’ve steadily been doing things.
What do you have coming up? Anything particularly exciting we can know about?
We’re going to The Love Inn in Bristol with On Loop this weekend, with Daisy Moon and Dave Harvey. I also go on tour in India with Leon Vynehall and then on to Australia touring there. For the radio side of things, I’m planning my best of 2018 show and then I’ll be taking a bit of time off in the new year to move house, but I have my very good friend Louise Chen covering my NTS shows throughout January. Then in March we have the On Loop 3rd Birthday, it’s going to be a back to back with three of my close friends – when we get into the new year I can talk a little more about that; There’s going to be a whole tour from that as well. Lots of exciting things to come in 2019!
Catch Moxie at The Love Inn in Bristol on Saturday December1 for the final On Loop of 2018.
More info and tickets here.
Words: Sophie McNulty