Music interview: Leeds DJ Laura Jones
Laura Jones realised she wanted to become a DJ after spending the summer in Europe's capital of clubbing, Ibiza.
Having just graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in management and Spanish, she and a friend set off for the Balearic island “for what was supposed to be a celebratory weekend”. The pair enjoyed it so much that they decided they wanted to spend longer there and, after a brief return to Leeds, they managed to land seasonal PR jobs.
“I came back from there and decided I wanted to learn to DJ, so I packed myself off to a crash course at Point Blank Music College in Sheffield,” Jones recalls.
“It’s funny because I had several friends who DJ-ed who I’d met through clubbing, they were offering to teach me, to show me the ropes, and I didn’t want them to. I wanted to go off and do it on my own. I didn’t want to be on anyone else’s time or putting anyone else out so I went and did it myself.”
Jones was to spend several years juggling a job in marketing while “pursuing music in the background”.
Her DJ inspirations, she says, are varied.
“I have many inspirations from over the years, some from my first years going to Ibiza, others I’ve discovered along the way. One DJ whose vinyl I’ve been collecting since the start and who to this day has played some of the best DJ sets I’ve ever heard is Ricardo Villalobos. He and Fabric resident Craig Richards probably hold top two position for me. They both play very eclectically and bring together lots of different types of electronic music in to one seamless mix and they have a sense of showmanship while educating the crowd. They entertain and educate in equal measures which I think is really important as a DJ.
“When you hear them playing b2b in room 1 at Fabric for extended sets, it often doesn’t get better than that.”
Jones landed her first residency – at a night called Louche at Mint Club in Leeds – but her fledgling career was to take a serious knock when at 25 she was diagnosed with a serious and incurable eye condition, Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, which affects her central vision.
“I began getting severe migraines at work. At the time I thought it was a tell-tale sign for needing glasses,” she says. “So I went for a yearly check-up, they noticed an irregularity across the back of both eyes and referred me to St George’s Eye Hospital. I got seen and they told me they needed to monitor it to see if it was progressive or stable. When I told my parents that put the kibosh on that. They very kindly paid for me to go privately to get to the bottom of it in case it was something serious, which it later turned out to be.”
“Two weeks later I get seen at Nuffield Hospital in Leeds, they did various tests and I pretty much got told on the day I’m going blind. I have a terrible memory but I remember that like it was yesterday. They say you’re supposed to suppress the bad stuff but it really turned my world upside down. I didn’t expect it at all.”
After the diagnosis Jones admits she suffered “a severe bout of depression” and feared her DJ career was over. “Everything just took a back seat for a while,” she says. Fortunately support came from her sister, with whom she lived in Meanwood, and her boyfriend, Gavin Herlihy, a fellow DJ who moved back from Berlin to Leeds, who told Jones not to give up her dreams.
A turning point came at Glastonbury in 2010. “I remember seeing Stevie Wonder perform at the [festival’s] 40 birthday and it sounds cheesy but I remember crying really positive tears. I was stood with some of my friends on the brow of the hill looking down at him on the big screen and it was a really powerful moment where I did consciously have that thought where ‘If he can do it I can do it’. After that point I turned a corner. Gavin moved back from Berlin, we pooled all our resources in the studio. It was really helpful because I was teaching myself to produce before that point on a little MacBook with Logic Pro that I’d bought off eBay and when I was stuck on something I was able to ask him for help and it just sped up the process considerably from where I was at before.”
In the six years since then there has been no holding Jones back. She has DJ-ed all over the world – the day after we spoke the 33-year-old was due to jet off to gigs in France and Italy – and she has also set up her own record label, Sensoramic.
The NHS orange glasses which she wears to protect her eyes from light have become her trademark. She also has a pair of wraparound sunglasses with dark Space Lenses that were developed by Nasa.
“I can’t do anything about [Stargardt’s] except eat well, sleep well, exercise, so I have to at least try and do the other things I’m supposed to do – keeping out of UV,” she says. “The orange glasses are from the hospital, they keep blue light out which is the damaging spectrum of light in the rainbow.”
Jones admits that on a practical level she’s had to “continually adapt” to her visual impairment but technology, such as back-lit screens, has helped. “It hasn’t been without its challenges but there are ways and means around it,” she says. “One thing I’ve found most beneficial is keeping your mind positive. It’s been a rollercoaster ride but there’s been lots of positives that have come out of it as well. It’s definitely character building and it’s made me a better person, I think, in lots of ways.”
Herlihy now manages Jones and provided the first release for her new vinyl-only label, under the alias Karousel.
“He was making this track and I fell in love with it straight away,” says Jones. “I said, ‘I have to have this track.’ He said, ‘What for? You’re not putting other people’s music out.’ I said, ‘I am now.’ I pretty much told him he had to give me the track, he didn’t get a choice in the matter. That was when the label was re-born as being for other people’s music as well.”
Jones says she is not limiting herself to “a strict music policy” for Sensoramic. “It would be false of me to do that because I like a lot of different styles. I like a diverse array of music so I’m going to make the label about anything that I really like, stuff that stands out.”
The second release was her own EP Cohesion. “The next release will be from a New York minimalist producer called Kamren Sadeghi who is actually part of an art installation sound walk and he has just created these beautiful tracks that I heard and got. I’ve got a really cool remix on board for that as well.”
The artwork for Sensoramic has been created by Sarah Sense. “She’s Native American but she’s based in Bristol,” Jones explains. “I’ve always had an affinity towards Native American art and craft and jewellery and so when I cam across her it couldn’t have been more perfect. She’s quite an open-minded artist who likes to have her teeth in many different things. She’d already licensed her work to book covers so she actually liked the idea of being on the front of a series of vinyls.”
As for the future of club culture, with so many other distractions around today, Jones feels: “Virtual reality is looking like it’s going to revolutionise live entertainment. Much like it’s going to change how we experience live sporting events it’s going to change how we experience dance music too.
“The audience for live mixes is already great so imagine what they will be like when in the very near future promoters start broadcasting their events with VR technology. So that even if you’re not able to attend one of your favourite DJs playing a club say in far away places such as Brazil or Australia, you’ll still be able to experience it from the comfort of your own home.
“I wasn’t sure how I felt about this at first as it encourages laziness and nothing will replace the live experience of being in the club itself, meeting people etc. However it does globalise the dance music world even further and that can only be a good thing.”
Laura Jones DJs at Back to Basics at The Church on New Year’s Eve. Also on the bill are Miguel Campbell, Ralph Lawson and Basics’ own Dave Beer. The party goes on from 10pm-4am. In The Chapel there will be a special showcase from Constant Sound, the label headed up by two of Basics’ most exciting and younger residents, Burnski and Jon Woodall. It includes Jones’s set as well Mosaic founder Steve O’Sullivan.
For details visit www.facebook.com/churchleeds/ or for tickets http://bit.ly/2gWRX4r