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Sam Yates

Q&A

In Conversation With Paige Julia

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In Conversation With Paige Julia

Leading the charge in Aotearoa New Zealand’s jungle and bass music is Paige Julia. 

She properly emerged on an international scale following the infamous 1985 x Keep Hush Live set in Christchurch. Occurring during the pandemic, the whole world was tuned in to watch this mysterious breakbeat-head wreak havoc on a spoiled few. Under the pressure of playing directly after Alix Perez, it was a perfect DJ set that kept true to the 1985 sound, but with her own special twist that she’d go on to become renowned for. 

But as the story always goes, she didn’t land this position overnight. Paige cut her teeth in the competitive, temperamental Wellington bass music scene – a place that’s seen high highs, and low lows in popularity, and always been loaded with a swath of USB-wielders and vinyl heads ready to step up to any crowd (or lack thereof, at times). Nightclubs like Sandwiches, Fast Eddies, and The Grand were the stomping grounds where Paige could DJ and dance every weekend, developing her foundations with the genre. 

She quickly became a name in the tight-knit scene, working hard on the production side as a way to differentiate from a DJ-only crowd. But it wasn’t until an overseas experience that she found her focus. Coinciding with that was Alix Perez’s move to Auckland, her winning Best Electronic Artist at the New Zealand Music Awards, and the Keep Hush set – where all those years of preparation met the opportunity. 

Now, she’s achieving a dizzying height: A full EP signed and sealed for 1985 Music. UKF sat down with Paige to discover more about the journey to this position and discuss the dynamics of bass music in New Zealand. 

Paige! The last time I saw you would’ve been in some Wellington rave, probably at The Grand, over five years ago. Can you remember what you were up to around that time?

I’d have just come back from spending a year in Australia and the US. That trip for me was really important because I felt like I needed to see a broader field of music from other scenes outside of Aotearoa (New Zealand). 

By the time I’d gotten back, I was more firm in what my musical output was going to be. I felt more confident writing different styles of electronic music, and that was inspired by the dubstep sound coming out of Colorado, and the more niche types of bass music being featured at outdoor festivals and events – hip-hop influenced beats, jungle and breakbeat sort of thing. When we last spoke in person, I’d have just set up a studio in Wellington and was beginning to write my first pieces of music that would get me some international attention.

I think I remember you showing me some at an afters. Love how we’ve come full circle. It was around the start of COVID when you started making noise internationally though, right?

2019 was the release of ‘Kōpiko’ on Samsara Records. I had done a release with Forest Biz (based out of the UK) before, but for ‘Kōpiko’ a couple of wonderful things happened. Firstly, Noisia were kind enough to put it onto their Noisia Radio series, and their Spotify playlists – and secondly, the premier on Soundcloud by DNBDojo somehow gathered an absurd amount of streams in comparison to anything else I had done at the time.

What was clicking?

I was just getting to that critical mass of learning the techniques required and had many different life experiences to infuse into my music, plus the link-ups to established platforms like Noisia Radio and DNBDojo to push me into new territory. Then a year later, after the first COVID lockdown was over in New Zealand, we were the only place on the planet with no event restrictions other than a “closed” border. There were so many parties begging for headline-type acts and touring internationals was too expensive and difficult with the closed border, so I got so many opportunities in those couple of years to play very big festival stages and club shows.

Obviously to get to that point there was a lot of graft though – how many years have you been gigging and producing?

I started DJing in 2011, just for fun and originally for something to do with my little brother, it was more his idea actually. It was him who first showed me a DAW in 2010 and we decided to save up to buy a pair of CDJs together. He changed his mind before we bought them so I paid him back his half and continued on solo. After a couple of years of playing house parties I was gifted a copy of Ableton in 2013 and it eventually became my hyperfocus. So it’s been over 10 years now of making electronic music.

Long time. Did you ever feel like giving up?

Yeah, actually. I got really frustrated around 2016 because no one was responding to my demo emails. I cringe now to think of those tracks I sent. I had it in my head that because I had been producing for a few years that my music should be pretty good, but I was young and didn’t have the right perspective. I wasn’t even halfway through the journey that I needed to do. 

Was it the Wellington drum & bass scene that helped inspire you at points? My memory was that the scene ebbed and flowed quite a lot…

The most important thing, as a very young person, was it gave me a space to express myself. This is before I was even DJing. I found my high school years socially challenging and just having a space to dance and experience new music was a critical first step before we even consider how it might have shaped me as an artist.

You’re right about the ebb and flow. You and I would remember our first meeting in 2014 right after the US dubstep boom took the life out of drum & bass, we would go to parties with only 100 people sometimes, even for international artists. It was like… a place for only the purists. 

But it also had the effect of locking me into just one genre of music for the first 5 years of DJing and production, which I look back on now as a bit of a hindrance. That’s not anyone’s fault other than my own really, which was why the trip overseas for a year and a bit was so important, I needed to get some fresh perspective. Then upon my return, tracks like ‘Tour’ were being played on radio stations and the rise of acts like Wilkinson, Sub Focus and Netsky were now selling out venues ten times the capacity of anything we were experiencing in 2014… so really big shifts.

It looks insanely strong over there these days. 

You’ve developed a pretty unique sound amongst other stuff I hear coming out of NZ. Who are your main influences?

Eprom broke me out of my ‘D&B only’ mindset in 2016 when he performed at Northern Bass Festival, and he continues to inspire me. His Instagram got me into buying modular synths and gave me the confidence to try and make very very weird sounds.

Djrum has also been a consistent influence, with the way he likes to make music and perform at many different tempos. 

Breakage rounds out my top 3. I just love dancing to his music, it’s always well put together, all substance, no fluff. I aspire to create music with this ethos.

Are there any tracks from this EP where you’re channelling some particular influence?

Not in terms of other artists, but certainly in terms of my emotional feelings when I wrote them. The lead track, ‘Anathema’, was an intensely angry time for me. ‘Nostalgia’ I was feeling wistful and ‘Indisputable’ I was feeling manic, like I could do anything.

Can you talk a little more about those times? What was causing the anger for example?

Nothing extreme in particular was going on, I’m just a very emotional person and I come from a community of people that feels okay to express that openly, even if the emotions aren’t always happy and positive. 

I’ve found that working on my art in these times can be helpful to me, it might even be the case that all of my best work over the years have been made in tumultuous times: the loss of a loved one, relationships with other people going sour, the stresses of balancing work and finding time to create. None of this is very unique, it’s something we all feel from time to time.

When were these tracks produced? 

After Alix signed and released ‘Ease Your Mind’ in late 2022, I wrote and sent him ‘Indisputable’ and ‘Anathema’. I think the first version of ‘Indisputable’ might have been from early 2022 but went through a couple iterations before I sent it to him. Then ‘Nostalgia’ in April 2023 and ‘Tōuarangi’ a little bit after. I think it’s important to mention that there were about 40 tracks over that time I never sent and a dozen or so tracks that I did send that didn’t make the cut. I write a lot of music and send only my favourites to him and trust his vision for what he wants on the label.

How did you meet Alix Perez?

Honestly, the first meeting was a bit embarrassing. He came to Wellington in 2014 and I sort of invaded the green room with some friends to talk to him and ask for a selfie. I was so drunk and mischievous that night. 

We wouldn’t meet again until 2020 when I opened for him in Christchurch. I remember Guy (Ebb) introducing us and I actually said “Do you remember meeting me before?”, and when he said no I was so relieved! I could probably pretend the meeting in 2014 never happened instead of talking about it in an interview, but I find it funny how much I’ve changed.

Six months later I was asked to join the Christchurch 1985 Keep Hush night and…that event changed my life. You can see the recording on YouTube, I was so full of anxiety because Alix was dropping a ton of ridiculous music and I just had to somehow follow that up. But that was the night I first asked him if it would be okay to send him music and 18 months later Ease Your Mind was on the Atlas 2 VA.

What do you think he liked about your sound and approach?

I feel like this would be a better question for him, but I’ll try to paraphrase from what he’s said to me and what I’ve read on his socials…

I have the feeling he gets sent a lot of music trying to emulate what’s already on the label.  He’s been quite outspoken against copycats, and I think he’s the kind of guy who just enjoys something fresh and different. I’ve never sent him any tracks that are deep-minimal-steppy-rollers-in-minor-key-at-172bpm for example, because I’m not going to out do him or Monty or Visages, and if I had sent him a bunch of that, I don’t think we’d be having this interview.

It’s always been my approach to reach out further than D&B culture, infuse my weirdness and unique sounds, and be confident and carve my own path where I can. I recommend everyone else do this too! Our genre of music is so much better when it doesn’t just reference itself.

Given D&B’s popularity in NZ, I struggle to wrap my head around why we don’t see way more talent emerging. Do you have thoughts on that?

I definitely have some insight. Aotearoa New Zealand is one of the rare countries in the world where you can be just a drum & bass DJ and get booked fairly regularly. It’s a great feeling being in your early twenties, smashing sets and meeting internationals – getting that thrill of performing in front of big crowds. You can do this pretty quickly too if you’re quite well socially connected, maybe within a year or two. 

If you compare this to the arduous and tedious journey of learning music production, the thousands of hours sat in your room like a nerd learning about the techniques, and THEN trying to figure out how to be original and express yourself…and through it all you get no external validation. If you play your crappy early WIPs in your DJ sets you’ll lose the crowd (trust me, I know) so you feel naturally compelled to just do the thing that feels fun and easy: go out on the weekends with your friends, play big sets and be in the culture.

If we remember what I spoke about earlier, this learning process took me about seven years before ‘Kōpiko’. By which time I was nearly thirty years old. I only persevered through this process because I became obsessed about making music. To make it even worse, seven years in today’s hyper-speed social media landscape is like…an era. The entire landscape of the scene and culture can change, an online platform can die and be replaced in seven years. You can feel like you’ll lose your audience while they wait.

The difference I found while travelling in the US and doing shows in the UK is like…almost everyone performing is a producer. It’s so much more competitive for performance slots. This can be an incredible motivator that will push you through the frustrating parts of learning. If it were up to me I would love to see more producers here at home because I want to hear more of the sound of my country.

But with all that said, I do want to shout out some new names: Hound, Kiljoy, Willy Mav, Unwell, Pirapus, Scout, Dynamix, Azifm, Zuke and of course, Rova are all talented people from my country putting out drum and bass or jungle music.

Wonderful insight I hadn’t thought about before. And I’m the same – I’d love to see more, and for there to be a ‘NZ sound’ of drum & bass.

Ok, last question. What’s coming up for you outside of this EP? 

I have more music in the inboxes of interested labels but no complete projects to announce just yet. This EP has been my focus over the past couple of years and it feels really great to have it in your arms and ears. I have a tour through Aotearoa celebrating this EP as well as dates in the works for Australia, and I’m always open to other opportunities further abroad. If you’re interested to see what I’m like performing, definitely check out the Keep Hush recording. It’s a great representation of my energy and I play a lot of my tracks from that time period as well.

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