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The Flight Stuff

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DJ Flight is late. As we await her arrival in the foyer of the Radio 1 studios, house goon Pete Tong is playing Roni Size’s remix of Basement Jaxx’s ‘Good Luck’ in the basement. As the track blares out of the tannoy, Flight saunters in from the wintery wet outside looking rather dishevelled, with a couple of freshly cut Dillinja plates in one hand and a fruit twist Fanta in the other. “Traffic,” she grumbles from deep beneath a scarf and parka. But this guarded exterior doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the dreadlocked DJ who’s risen from pirate radio club goer to BBC presenter in less than five years.

With her acclaimed weekly 1Xtra show in full swing and ongoing sets at Swerve and Metalheadz, 2003 was a very good year for DJ Flight. An ever-increasing gig list, and the news that she’s now ventured into the studio with breakthrough edits-king Breakage, suggests 2004 may be even better. Success hasn’t taken long, and as we settle into a small meeting room next door to the 1Xtra studios, the 25-year-old Londoner tells us how her ascent began.

As big breaks go, they don’t get much bigger than being invited into the Metalheadz fold. In 1999, Kemistry and Storm were looking for another female DJ to join the ‘headz ranks and having bombarded the duo with mixtapes for months, DJ Flight was finally invited to play at the Sunday Sessions at Dingwalls. She’d been attending the night since its inception, and with minor experience and no dubs in her bag yet, the invitation to play alongside her idols was greeted with much apprehension. “I didn’t feel like I was ready,” Flight says. “I had a few gigs here and there, but all the Metalheadz DJs were just up there on a pedestal, so I was like ‘fucking hell!'” But thanks to a couple of cheeky drinks before her set, Flight got through it, impressing enough to warrant a residency.

At the same time, that mixtape was also about to secure her a slot at Swerve, Fabio’s long-running midweeker. So within the space of six months, DJ Flight was playing regularly at two of the biggest nights in the capital. Then in 2002, the BBC approached Flight to audition for their new digital network 1Xtra. Originally brought in to cover L Double and Bailey‘s shows when they were away, the powers that be were impressed with what they heard, and in November of that year, Flight’s own ‘Next Chapter’ Friday night show began in earnest.

During her pirate days, DJ Flight never once attempted to get on the mic and was now suddenly faced with presenting a whole show to thousands of listeners. “It took a long time to really get into the swing of things,” she explains, sitting forward and folding her arms on the table, “but I just did it, really.” Cue forward to today, and you’ll encounter a DJ Flight who relishes the advantages that legal radio brings. “Not being horrible, but I don’t feel I need to do pirate anymore,” she says. “I mean, you reach so many listeners here and people take you a lot more seriously.” After a brief pause, she adds, “and it also gives you a platform to do other things.” Namely, making tunes.

For someone so obviously passionate about the music, it seems strange that DJ Flight hasn’t ventured into the studio sooner. But she thought it was important to cut it on the decks first, before turning her attention to the desk. “When I was first brought into ‘headz, everyone was like, ‘so when are you going to start making tunes?’,” she says. “They told me ‘you can only make it as a DJ if you’re making tunes’. And that made me more stubborn not to do it straight away.”

Today, line-ups are filled with producers, and it’s clear that one of the main ways of getting your foot on the DJ ladder is by making tracks first. “That’s the way the scene has turned out, which I think is wrong,” Flight says, gulping down a mouthful of Fanta. So does she think the standard of d&b DJing has dropped because of this influx of ‚producer DJs? “Ooh, now there’s a question,” she says. Confronted with the conundrum, Flight takes a deep breath; leans slowly back on her chair, carefully adjusts the lime green Gap scarf around her neck, and laughs. “I think it has,” she says, after a long pause. “A lot of people are getting into DJing because they’ve made a few tunes. Which is cool, if they can back it up with the DJ skills. But just because you made a few good tracks, doesn’t mean you’re going to make a good DJ as well.”

But with her ‘good DJ’ tag now firmly assured, the Flight/Breakage partnership is starting to blossom. The two were introduced in 2001 through Trix Trax, the Clapham record shop where Flight used to work. The pair hit it off straight away. “He’s like my little brother,” Flight laughs. Recently she’s been making regular trips to his studio, armed with a stack of records and ideas. “Breakage is obviously the engineer,” she explains. “I’ve been learning – I went to Syntax’s house a few times, but I don’t think I was ready to do it back then.”

It certainly feels right now though, and the duo have been compiling a tidy portfolio of beats. Under their clever alias, er, Alias, the pair’s first track ‘One To Another’ went straight onto the Kings of The Rollers series on 31 Records. Now Critical is set to press up their next offering ‘Admit To Love’ in April. “We just go with the flow in the studio, really,” Flight says. “I’ll go down with some samples and we’ll both go through and choose which ones we want to use. Then choose the breaks, get a little loop going, and I’ll try and hum him a bassline or something!”

The respective sound that is generated from this process is a hard one to pin down, as when they started, Flight was eager to try and cover as many styles as possible, “because that’s what I like to play.” But it didn’t turn out like that. Apart from a couple of tracks, their results have tended to veer towards Swerve territory. “But with a ‘toughness’ to it,” she adds. “Just rolling, really!”

So is there anyone else Flight would like to collaborate within d&b? “Calibre,” she says, almost interjecting. The Belfast don is clearly a major influence. “I’ve loved his stuff ever since I heard Fabio playing it at Swerve,” she says. “Although I don’t think I could add much to the sound he’s got already.” And how many of his tracks does she normally play in a set? “Probably too many sometimes,” Flight says, laughing. “On average, about five or six.”

DJ Flight’s star is rising rapidly. Her deck performances, particularly at Swerve are consistently heavy, complimenting Fabio’s sets perfectly. Her 1Xtra shows prove she’s got what it takes on radio, and now drum & bass can expect the same high standard on vinyl. She attributes her success to a lot of hard work, being original and getting the right breaks, by the right people, at the right time.

“But obviously the people that have given me those breaks have seen a tiny iota of talent in there somewhere,” she tells us, as we descend back toward street level in the lift. Her recent exploits prove that the faith shown to her by others is paying off nicely, and as we part company, it’s clear that that ‘tiny iota of talent’ is really beginning to spread its wings.

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About Author

Colin Steven co-founded Knowledge Magazine in 1994. He also runs a book publishing company called Velocity Press specialising in electronic music and club culture.

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