In Conversation With Promo Zo

A prominent figure in the drum & bass scene for over two decades, we have a good old chinwag with Promo Zo. We delve into the roots of her journey, her connections with various brands and events, and her thoughts on the evolving perception of women in the industry. With a passion for the authentic club experience and a recent foray into production, DJ Promo Zo shares her insights and aspirations for the future.

You’ve been a part of the d&b scene for a long time, when did it all begin?

I have always been involved with drum and bass in some way, shape or form. From Club Promotions to  radio. I had a few appearances on 2Shy MC’s Bassdrive show around 2015 . Over time, I approached them to become a regular DJ for the station, and they were enthusiastic since I had been on before. It has been a great experience. During COVID, I continued live streaming my shows on Internet radio, without video. I also had and still do have a chat room on Discord, big up the WuW Crew, where my listeners interact. It was especially meaningful during the lockdown when there weren’t many other activities happening. I started on Bassdrive in July, five years ago. The show I first covered was the Planet V show. I initially started on a Tuesday and then moved to Wednesday afternoons. The station has DJs from all over the world, although it is mostly based in the US. It has been a fantastic journey of over 23  years  for Bassdrive. 

You’re connected with loads of brands and events in the scene…

I mean, I’ve been around a lot. I’m quite old! So, Bryan  Gee and Jumpin Jack Frost have known me for a while,  I’ve worked with them in promotions for clubs and events. Bryan had a show on Pyro, and I was affiliated with them in the past. Then the show came up on Bassdrive, which may have been coincidental, but someone must have approved it. Recently, I’ve been involved in behind-the-scenes events with them, like the Paul T & Edward Oberon album launch at Peckham Audio and the Brighton event at The Volks. They feel like family, and they have always welcomed me into their fold because we’ve been connected through the music scene. It’s a natural progression, starting with being a DJ on radio and then representing them at events. I played at the Planet V events last year including Brighton and the 338 event. The timelines get twisted, but the next V event for me will be Hospitality on the beach in July, followed by Hospitality in the  park in August, and then I’m playing Sundown Festival in September. I’m really excited about those, but I’m also so excited to announce I’m launching my own night Four::mula which is in Brixton.

You’ve been part of the scene for a long time. Can you take us back to the very very beginning before you even got involved?

Do you want to go way back? All right, so we’ll have to go to school. Back in the day, we didn’t have streaming services. We relied on cassette recordings of radio shows, especially pirate radio like Kool FM and Nicky Blackmarket’s Black Market 15 series. I was obsessed with those tapes and other radio stations like Kiss FM, which was actually underground and pirate initially. It featured underground drum and bass DJs and established names like Frost, Kenny Ken, and Hype . Over the years I had the opportunity to play a few shows on Flashback FM and other pirate stations in SE London. I like to tell this story. When I lived in Maidstone, Kent, I figured out that if I hung a coat hanger out the window attached to the aerial on my radio I could pick up pirate radio. That’s how we’d listen to music in those days. I could pick up stations like Kiss FM. Despite being in Kent, the transmitter in Crystal Palace allowed me to catch the transmission. I would record the drum and bass shows and there were other DJs like Steve Jackson with his show “The House That Jack Built.” that I listened to too. It was like a lifeline connecting me to London’s dance music scene and drum and bass in particular.

There was this cool nightclub called Atomics where the drum and bass scene was buzzing. We had weekly events Heat and Pure Science every Saturday , while Fridays were reserved for house music for  Club Class. So, guess what? All those awesome DJs from Kiss FM would come to Atomics. We didn’t even have to go to London for the music we loved.

Of course, we did venture into London sometimes, but that was a mission in and of itself. I remember going to Ilford and being prepared to wait in the car if I couldn’t get into the venue. I recently posted about my experience at Camden Palace KoKo, where I had played for Moondance in March. The first time I went there, I was just 15 years old, packed into a car with friends. We didn’t have mobile phones back then, so it was a whole adventure. But we made it in, and it was amazing.

Atomics became our home, not just for me but for many others in Kent and the surrounding counties. People from London would come down, DJs and MCs included. It was a real community vibe. It’s crazy to think that it was right where I lived. I got to know the promoter and started helping out with flyer drops and ticket drops for Pure Science. The promoter at the time was Jungle Jim , and I would do these tasks alongside DJ Trix, who also plays for Moondance.

We would run around doing flyer drops and taking tickets to the record shops. Back then, if you wanted to know what was happening in the scene, you had to go to a shop and check out the flyers or get info from the staff. It was all about the physical experience of sourcing the music and events. Finding that flyer or ticket felt like discovering gold. It was a special time, and the sense of community was incredible. Nowadays, we’re so spoiled with instant access to everything.

I used to love my collection of rave flyers, I’ve still got some on the walls of my house now…

Yeah, they were like my mementoes. Back in the day, we’d keep all our tickets, and our walls would be covered in all the flyers and the rave artwork.

How did you move from working behind the scenes into DJing front and centre?

Maidstone, where I started out, wasn’t exactly buzzing with opportunities, except for Atomics and the drum and bass scene. But career-wise, it was pretty dry. Everyone had to head to London, including my dad and brother who commuted there. So, after working in Maidstone for a while, I realised I needed to make a move to London. At that time, I was working as a receptionist at Toni & Guy, even though I was actually trained as a hairdresser. I figured if I could get a receptionist job within the salon at Toni & Guy, I could easily transition to other places. Since I didn’t go to university and relied on experience, it made sense to build connections. So, I made my way to London and got a receptionist gig at the Limelight Club on Shaftesbury Avenue. It was a day job, so no late nights for me. I got to see all the action, though. The Limelight Club hosted both mainstream and drum and bass parties, but it was more famous for its Metalheadz nights.

This was back in ’99, so it was a transition from the ’90s. After my time at the Limelight, I worked at  React Records in Putney. They were known for curating and putting together compilation albums, like the popular Deep Dish, Artcore and Bonkers series, which had happy hardcore tracks. They also released tracks like Candy Station’s ‘You’ve Got the Love.’ The office had a couple of drum and bass enthusiasts, Ben and Chris, who were starting up a label, Industry Recordings.

Through some conversations they had, we collaborated with Drum and Bass Arena and released the first Drum and Bass Arena compilation on CD. From there, the internet was taking off in the early 2000s, so forums became a thing. I was active there too. Andy C did the accompanying mix CD for our compilation. Being part of React, an independent label, meant I got involved in various aspects of the business. Despite being a receptionist, I managed the website, handled CD sales, and even assisted with licensing and contracts. At one point I even A&R’d my own label- Illegal Frequencies.

I learned so much about different departments and products, which was amazing. It wasn’t just superficial knowledge; I genuinely understood drum and bass, which made me proud to be part of it all. I also did PR for a mix album called “Heavy Load” by Bailey and GQ. React had agreements and partnerships with different entities, so sometimes we did PR or other tasks for them. This experience eventually led me to work for Telstar.

During that time, the music industry was going through a tough phase due to digital disruption. Many companies went bankrupt, and there were countless redundancies, including mine. I ended up doing a lot of temp work all over the place, but listing them all would take forever!

 I started temping at Telstar and ended up working there full-time. Initially, I was on reception, but then I started working with Pete Hadfield, who was responsible for A&R and artists like Craig David, Misteeq and Victoria Beckham. At the time, Telstar was more independent than a major label. I helped out with PA work and licensing stuff from PR, which involved physical tasks like mailouts and  press. I learned a lot from my time at React and Telstar, but it was a turbulent period, and I eventually got made redundant from Telstar.

That experience made me realise I prefer being self-employed. It’s just a personal preference now. After that, I worked at Ministry of Sound from 2005 to 2007. I started as a reception temp and then moved into club promotions, eventually working there full-time. I worked with Laurence Bagnall and we were responsible for the weekly Friday drum and bass events and hip hop at Ministry. It was a great experience, and we had the opportunity to host artists like Skinnyman, Jazzy Jeff, Guru and Grandmaster Flash.

The club scene has changed a lot over the years. Weekly events have become less common, and now we mostly see huge events organised by bigger brands. Festivals played a significant role in this shift. It’s a shame that some clubs have disappeared due to various reasons, as they served as important hubs for the community. Nowadays, the focus is on massive events and productions, but I feel like something is missing. The scale has changed, and while the large events are amazing, there’s still a longing for the intimate club experience. I believe in the power of small, sweaty basement clubs where the music is banging, and everyone is there for the love of it, rather than just following trends.

The essence of going out and the clubbing experience is about connecting with like-minded people and being part of a movement without consciously curating it. The core sense of community seems to be fading in some larger events. I still appreciate the scale and energy of current events, but I think there’s value in smaller, intimate venues. They create a unique atmosphere and a sense of connection between the DJ and the crowd. It’s amazing to witness how the scene has evolved, but it’s important to remember the roots and the essence of what makes club culture special. There’s something magical about those smaller, underground spaces that can’t be replicated on a massive scale.

On the subject of change, I wanted to ask your opinion on how you think women are perceived in the scene, do you think it’s changed over the years?

Of course, I can only speak about my own experiences in my various roles in the music industry. First off, I worked in club promotions and following that as tour manager for my husband 2Shy MC. Club Promotions was my initial foray into being in the spotlight, as people recognised me right away. But to be honest, I didn’t have much authority or recognition beyond that. It’s a bit frustrating because if I were a guy, people wouldn’t question my role as much. They might just assume I’m a driver or something. But as a woman, I have to assert myself and make it clear that I’m there in a professional capacity. Otherwise, they’ll assume I’m just the girlfriend tagging along. It’s a bit of a challenge, you know?

Another aspect where I notice a big difference is in the lineup of events. Sometimes it feels like there’s tokenism going on like they’re just trying to check a box. I mean, it’s great to have more women in the mix, but it’s also important to give them their own individual spotlight. When you see back-to-back sets, it might seem like there are more female DJs, but they’re actually sharing time. It would be nice to see them given their own dedicated sets, you know? It’s like, “Hey, let them shine on their own!”

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining too much because there are valid reasons for the way things are. As someone who’s been around the scene for a while, I understand that artists also need to prove themselves and have substance. It’s a tricky balance for promoters, and maybe they need to get more creative in their choices when booking artists. There are plenty of talented women out there who can rock the stage, not just as DJs but also as producers or radio hosts or in other creative roles. We need that depth in the lineup. I’m glad to see positive changes happening and more women getting recognition in the industry. But there’s still room for improvement. Lineups should be more balanced, and women should have their own dedicated time and sets to showcase their skills and individual styles. It’s not about favouring one gender over another; it’s about giving everyone a fair chance. You know, not just having that one or two women always doing back-to-back sets. We should explore platforms like Dynamics, where we can discover talented women in various genres and support them based on their skills and creativity, not just their social media numbers or popularity.

Ultimately, what I’d love to see are more inclusive lineups that represent a diverse range of artists. It’s important to give everyone, regardless of their gender or background, an opportunity to shine. Let’s aim for depth and diversity in the music scene!

I totally agree with your sentiment about depth and substance.

Let’s talk about your productions. I read that although you’ve been about for years your first production was only a few years ago. Is that right?

So back in 2010, I collaborated on a track with Meth and 2Shy on Raiden’s label Offkey. It was more focused on vocals than production. During my time at React, I took a production course with Point Blank, a music school that started in Deptford in 2000. We were like newbies, and all we had were paper printouts. Nothing was available online back then. I always had a PC and messed around with Cubase 5, but I never had enough time to fully focus on production. My music career in London paid the bills, so I couldn’t dedicate as much time as I wanted. Then COVID came along, and it gave me the chance to revisit production. I had an iMac sitting there, waiting to be used, so I finally had the time to do it properly, especially  right after releasing  “The Truth” as a self-release just before COVID hit.

“The Truth”  has a meditative vibe. It’s not meant to slap you in the face. I believe production is a journey of growth. I don’t want to see instant success. I want to grow gradually, just like how we used to see artists evolve. That’s why I’m all about things being organic. I want listeners to witness the progress. They might think, “Oh, that’s not great,” but when the next one comes, they’ll say, “Oh, that’s better!”. “The Truth” received support from BBC Introducing  in Kent and Hospitality’s Women in D&B playlist.. It was a Bandcamp release, something I put out just to get it out there. Then Moondance happened during the lockdown, and they invited me to play on their live streams. It was a pleasant surprise. I usually play upfront d&b, but then I realised I knew all those old jungle tunes. So, I ended up doing a jungle set.

It went well, and they included my track “Jungle Ting” in their compilation album “Moondance Together 2022 .” The compilation did amazingly, charting at number one on Beatport twice, which was a first. My next release will be “Sandi” forthcoming on In-Reach – 5 years of IRR LP. Alongside my solo releases, I’ve been working with 2Shy MC as a production duo called Konnect (UK). Our first releases were on Conjunction Recordings, a Kent-based label. We also did a track called “Grass Roots” on Program’s “Pieces” album, and we’ve got a release entitled “Dystopian Summer” on Conjunction Recordings coming very soon. 

So, yeah, things are going well, and I’ve always been on it, although maybe a bit slow. But I’m here, and I’m excited about what’s to come!

I’ve heard some news about an All Crews Audiobook, can you tell us anything about that?

We’re not allowed to say much, so you’ve got a scoop, but there’s a super exciting All Crews project coming up. It’s going to be revealed soon. It’s an audiobook version of the classic by Brian Bell-Fortune, and I’m sure you’re familiar with his amazing book. It was a real honour to be asked to be a part of it.

Initially, he invited me for an interview to talk about Bassdrive, and I was featured in the update. Then, after covering for Uncle Dugs on Rinse FM and Brian listening to Bassdrive, we started communicating more. Coincidentally, I had just finished recording a voice-over showreel, and when he told me about the audiobook, I thought, “Why haven’t I sent Brian this demo? What’s wrong with me?” So I sent it to him, and he asked me to voice some stuff.

I ended up doing the titles and chapter headings, and there will be events and other exciting things happening too. A thrilling project that will be revealed soon, and that’s basically what’s going down. I hope there will be some really cool launch parties, and I’ll get to play at those. Being a part of this is such an honour because I really resonate with the book. I was there in my own little capacity, doing my thing. And now, to be among those legendary artists and reading chapter titles, it’s surreal to think it all started with me listening to the radio and looking up to these people. Now I’m a part of it! It’s not just about the audiobook though. It’s also about preserving the history of the scene, how it evolved into what it is today. So it’s really special. I’m super excited for it!

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