In case you missed it, there’s something quite special happening this Saturday 15th in London – it’s not the London Design Festival, not one of the confusingly located ‘closing parties’, and not the Mezcal Tasting Festival either (although I might need to swing by that last one – for research). No, for interested electronic music heads with their ears to the underground and their eyes on the stars, there’s only one place to be this weekend: Take Note Academy with Resident Advisor.
Now in its third year, the day’s programme full of talks, mentoring, networking opportunities and live performances is hotly anticipated as being one of the most worthwhile events in the calendar for aspiring talent. Featuring live shows from Silvia Kastel and Tom Demac, interviews with the likes of Alice Favre (LWE) and Steven Braines, and masterclasses with B.Traits and many, many more – it’s the hot ticket for young people looking to get some industry insight and a chance to meet their future bosses face to face.
Hosting the very first panel of the day is none other than Carly Wilford – powerhouse international Presenter, DJ, Radio host, and much more. The whirlwind that is Carly is a perfect example of how to take the music industry by storm: it’s been documented elsewhere how 10 years ago she gave up the path she was on to pursue her dreams in music, and never looked back. She’s interviewed some of the biggest stars in the world, hosted award shows and behind the scenes shows, and is no stranger to these types of events – finding her way onto lineups at IMS, Lost Village, and ADE to name a few. Alongside her long time friend and collaborator Shan McGinley, she founded SISTER, which has evolved from a club night to a brand taking a lead on gender equity in bass music.
So before she gave away all her available nuggets of wisdom on Saturday morning, we thought we’d catch up with Carly to talk about her journey into the industry, the highs and lows of the last decade, and some of what she’s learned along the way.
You’re kicking off the day at Take Note hosting a huge panel – the keynote talk you might say! How do you prepare for something like that?
It’s so crazy that I still get nervous when I host. I find the best way to combat that is to prepare as much as I can. I normally structure the session by researching the people on the panel and then create questions that cover the subject we’re discussing. I usually send these off to everyone before the panel so that they can have a think about their answers but during the session I always try and ask other questions that are more natural and in the moment, because that is where you find the real magic.
What are you most looking forward to about the conference?
Take Note is a very special conference for a lot of reasons. The venue, Second Home, is one of my favourite spots in London for hosting something like this. The panels and workshops are always really well thought out, and attended by some of the brightest minds in the industry. Take Note is really forward thinking and open. Sometimes panels can feel so far away from the audience, but here you become part of the conversation and no question is ever too bold.
Which do you find more interesting or challenging, interviewer or interviewee?
I love interviewing people and hearing their story and this is the part that I find the easiest. Over the years I have had phone conversations with the likes of Nas, J Cole, and Kelis, which changes you forever; and I have interviewed Nina Kraviz, Kendrick Lamar, Alison Wonderland, and A$AP Rocky face to face. With bigger artists, you never know which direction it’s going to head. Some can be pretty closed off if they are media trained, so it’s important to try not to be in your head and thinking about the next question. It really helps to listen to their answers, and guide them into talking about things that really mean something to them.
When it comes to people interviewing me, it’s something that I have had to get used to. When you’re the one that normally holds the microphone, you control the flow of the conversation. When you are the interviewee, that is totally gone – and you can feel quite vulnerable. It’s taught me to really think about my answers, and also given me more empathy for the people that I interview.
The panel you’re hosting is titled ‘The Electronic Music Industry: How Do I Fit In?’ Did you ever imagine you’d be fitting in where you are now when you started out?
I first stepped in to the music world as a Presenter and had no idea that I would end up doing the different things that I do now. If your skill set is transferable, in music, there are so many different roles that you can try out. I have managed artists along the way, tried my hand at PR and also stepped in to the Tech world too. Before I got into music, I taught myself to DJ as a way to chill out after work; I never imagined that I would be travelling the world doing it years later.
Over the last few years everything’s blown up for you: you’ve been DJing, pushing the Radio show, presenting for massive awards shows and festivals, A&R for Skrillex’ OWSLA… what else have I missed!? Which part are you enjoying the most?
The diversity of my schedule is what I find so inspiring. I step into different worlds every day, whether that be the business world, health, sport, fashion, or music. Meeting people from different walks of life, constantly having to jump into challenging environments, and then make sure that I rest and look after myself too can be a delicate thing to manage. Music for me is still my heartbeat and being around musicians is what makes me come alive. There is nothing more humbling than spending time in the studio with an artist when they are creating a track. The pureness of music away from the business side of the industry is why I fell in love with this world.
What was the hardest thing for you when you were starting out – and what’s the hardest thing now?
When I first started out I was working around the clock to create my own platform. With that comes with sleepless nights, early mornings, late nights and not much money to survive. It was a real hustle and something that was driven by raw passion and belief in my dreams. I remember that I used to struggle so much financially in the early days that I couldn’t afford the bus or the tube, so used to bike across London with my camera and tripod strapped to my back. Walking around the supermarket looking for the cheapest thing to eat, and worrying about payments bouncing from my bank account, was very real. I did so much for free early on.
Now, one of the hardest things I find is that the music world is going through a lot of change. Every day we are being faced with uncomfortable conversations and difficult situations that are not going to go away until we face them head on. In the past year I have spoken about some very raw subjects on the panels that I have been on, and that has sometimes created backlash. It hasn’t been easy to deal with, but the only way that things are ever going to change is if we are finally able to be honest.
What are the most exciting changes you’ve seen in the UK scene over the past few years?
It makes me so happy to see more and more festivals bringing through more diverse and exciting line ups globally. For a while they were becoming quite formulaic, and it’s so refreshing to see new faces and sounds being given space.
Tell us about SISTER Collective and what you’re trying to achieve?
SISTER started as a club night years ago that we decided to set up to put on balanced line ups in London. It then evolved into a Radio Show, and now is a Collective too. We noticed that within the bass music scene there weren’t that many female producers, DJs, and MCs, and we wanted to help uncover them and bring them to the forefront. I was very conscious that I wanted guys to be part of the movement too. The answer wasn’t about creating a polarity – it was to show a solution of what the future could look like within the music industry. That’s why I love that we called it SISTER because both guys and girls have sisters. It’s about us supporting each other and standing side by side.
Shan McGinley and I just warmed up for Alison Wonderland at her London show last weekend, and there is a very special synergy when a girl and guy DJ back to back. Not only is it amazing fun but it’s something that the audience rarely sees. Shan and I have both created our careers from the ground up and we want to inspire anyone that watches our sets to believe that anything is possible if you work hard enough, stay focused and never give up.
Reading success stories like yours and Shan’s can be intimidating for young people starting out! What’s your number one piece of advice for those just finding their path?
Your path is your path and no one else’s. So many people can tell you what they think, what they would do or what they think you should do. I have taken so many knocks along the way because I listened too much to other people, and they didn’t always have my best interests at heart. When you represent someone else’s business or platform, that comes with their set of rules and creative ideas, and they are then inevitably in the driving seat. Your voice and your intuition is key, they should always have the final say. That was one of the reasons that I decided to set up my own platforms so I could then have my own voice. Sometimes it can be the longer way to do things, but it always felt the most authentic.
See you there! CTC x