From a Brighton-based warm-up DJ to a Hospital Records artist in the space of just three years, Ellen Lewin’s meteoric rise in the industry pays homage to her positive, assiduous, and ambitious approach to everything she does in life.
Known better under the alias Lens, her career progress is made even more impressive when you take into consideration that half of her time as a DJ has been played out with the absence of raves, festivals, and just about any form of 170bpm-fuelled nightlife.
Decade-spanning, jungle-infused, and showcasing maturity and appreciation for the intricacies and history of our genre way beyond her age, Lens’ DJing style has caught the attention of many, including that of the one and only Hospital Records.
Now an artist at the brand, as well as the co-host of their Rinse FM show, Ellen’s relationship with the brand originally stemmed from the cornerstone of what most great drum and bass related relationships blossom from… A drunken conversation in smokers.
During the past year she’s put out guest mixes for the likes of Red Bull, Kiss FM and Radio 1, so we thought it was about time to catch up with Lens, delving into the details of her time in the scene so far, the serious graft that’s she’s put to get to where she is now, and her venture into producing as well as DJing.
The beginning always feels like a good place to start, so tell me about how you first became acquainted with drum and bass.
It’s not specifically drum and bass, but my first interest in electronic music happened during year 7 in school. This guy called Jimmy, who used to tour with the Chemical Brothers, started putting on an introduction to electronic music production class during lunchtimes. I didn’t even know what it meant but it sparked my interest, so I went along and we spent a lot of time playing around on Logic. He also taught me how to set up turntables and vinyl and I just remember loving it.
I’m guessing that venues such as Volks played their part as well. I’ve heard great things about that place.
Yes! Growing up in Brighton, it had a great drum and bass scene there and all the guys in my school year absolutely loved it. I started my residences at Volks, but I went to Concorde and Patterns a lot when I first started going out. I’d go to one on Friday and then one on Saturday haha.
What was it about drum and bass that captured your imagination?
I just get this feeling in my belly when I hear it. It’s the energy, the niche sound, and the feeling that you get from that first rave. My mum bought me tickets to my first dnb night, it was to see DJ Fresh. She felt too ill to go (thank god) and my friend and I managed to get some fake IDs and got in.
What an introduction to the drum and bass scene. So was your mum into her D&B as well?
Honestly, I don’t think she knows the difference between drum and bass and house music. She likes any sort of music so she was just planning on coming along for the ride.
Haha, I can relate. Anyway back to yourself, how did you go from drum and bass fan to drum and bass DJ?
I started DJ lessons in Brighton from a guy who taught me how to scratch and beat juggle over hip-hop. It was all on vinyl, really hands-on, and I just fell in love with it. The guy who was training me was constantly moving studios, which were just pub function rooms really because I think he was just getting kicked out all the time. He was a right character, but I’ve got a lot to thank him for.
How did it go from this to you playing out and garnering a reputation in Brighton?
I was studying an electronic music production course at Point Blank Music School in London and one of the guys there was the owner of the Flavourz night at Volks in Brighton. He said I could do a warm-up and set and that eventually led to me becoming one of his resident DJ’s. I was only playing to four people at the start, haha, but from there I began to draw more of a crowd and just worked my way up to other clubs in Brighton.
From where you were here in 2018 to where you are now is very impressive. How did you go on and get involved with Hospital Records?
I was at a Soul In Motion event at The Pickle Factory in London. I just got chatting to someone called James who happened to be interning at Hospital and he introduced me to some of the staff that were there on a night out. It was just a drunken conversation but I woke up with an email address in my pocket. I emailed them straight away, it was probably a horrific email, haha, but I landed myself an interview. I got an internship and was just waving my mixes in their faces, playing them out on the office speakers and managed to bag my first warm-up slot with them after months of trying to prove myself.
You’ve gone to co-host Hospitals Rinse FM show now as well, did you have any radio experience prior to this?
Well, I wouldn’t really call it experience. I’ve always been quite a wildly ambitious person which have led to me doing some very random things. I got a slot on my local community radio station in the town that I used to live in, playing 9-11 every Saturday night. I played drum and bass but I think it was a bit much for the old people haha. I actually remember getting told off for playing Original Nuttah.
Haha I can imagine. Local radio is quite the contrast to Rinse FM.
Exactly. I used to use it as a pre-drinks and then get the bus straight down to Brighton afterwards. Everyone used to listen to the show before we’d go out and then I’d meet them all at the venue.
Playing your own tunes, getting drunk, and then going out, sounds like a wicked Saturday night. Must’ve been quite daunting at the start doing it with Hospital though.
I wouldn’t have called myself a radio presenter at the start. Chris Goss was doing the chatting and I’d do all the mixing, which I was really happy and comfortable with. But since lockdown, I’ve had to do all the shows on my own. It’s actually really pushed me and I’m glad it happened, I’ve realised that it’s not as scary as it seemed. It’s been a really great experience, I love it, and I get to pick all the music that’s played which is so fun.
You’ve made huge progress in your career in such a strange and tough time for the nightlife industry. How has it been for you during the pandemic?
At the start, I was pretty gutted because I had a big summer of bookings ahead of me. Looking back on it now, it was a really good thing for my career. Livestreams gave me opportunities to not be playing the warm-up sets and let me play whatever I wanted. Before I had to keep a certain energy in my sets, hype up the crowd but not go all guns blazing. It taught me to think on my feet but I was always itching to try out a main time slot.
Sounds like you really had the chance to showcase your true DJing style.
Yeah, I could play them with the energy that I wanted to play with. My first live stream was for the Royal Rumble event and I was absolutely gobsmacked with the reaction it got. I knew that I had to take this opportunity to keep pushing my socials and putting out mixes.
Keeping yourself in people’s minds and feeds is so important nowadays.
It also gave me a chance to really showcase my style. I spend a lot of time digging, researching, reading books and learning all about the history of drum and bass because I really do love all of the music. I span across all the eras in my sets, especially the 90s. That’s the music that got drum and bass to where it’s at now.
There are so many releases every Friday now that means DJs are so bombarded with new music. People can forget about really good music a few weeks after it’s released so it’s nice to hear that you still love to dig through the archives.
I think it’s really easy for new DJ’s to just get lost in all the new music that comes out. It’s important to stick with your style and do you, rather than just play what’s new and what everyone loves.
I’ve also heard rumours that we’re going to be hearing some original Lens productions in the future…
I’m a firm believer in not rushing this process and not showing anyone anything until I’m completely happy with it. I’ve been going at it on and off for a couple of years now, so hopefully, this year will be the year, but I’m not making any promises. I’d rather build up to a release that I’m really proud of.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got some really exciting bookings coming up. It’s going to be fun to finally let rip and play the sets that I’ve been practising in lockdown to real-life people.