A resident of Oxford hideaway Simple for 12 years, Em Williams has been refining her craft alongside some of the biggest names in dance music at her adopted home in the intimate pub back room. Now embracing the challenge of a new home after a recent relocation to Bristol, Em has got plenty planned for the coming months, starting off with a trip to Motion for a set at the Nightowl event this Friday. Ahead of the show on Friday 31st March, we caught up with her to discuss the big move.
Hi Em, you’ll be playing Motion at the Nightowl event on Friday; how has your time in Bristol been since the move from Oxford?
Really, really good, the city has so much to offer. I feel like I've only tapped into a small part of it. People are really open, welcoming and supportive. It has been such a good transition.
You have been a resident at Simple in Oxford for over a decade. Is it difficult to keep things interesting to you as a DJ when holding a position for so long?
Yeah, when I was 19 and started DJing the concept of DJing as a career didn't occur to me. I played crap parties in bars and clubs, at house parties and friends' parties, I used to DJ until the early hours midweek and then work a full time job. The Simple parties have grown organically, we’ve been away from the spotlight; perhaps because people didn't think of Oxford on the clubbing map, but it’s been there and we’ve always had a strong following – more so in recent years, when now you can't do anything under the radar because everyone's desperate to discover. Things are moving at a much faster pass than when I first started, maybe due to social media and online content which has made people very aware of what's going on.
Oxford is not the first city that comes to mind when you think of dance music, and nor is dance music the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Oxford. What made the city’s nightlife culture right for you?
Yeah, when you think of Oxford you think of bicycles, not mini-raves, but Simple is one of the best kept secrets in the country. It’s a dark and dingy club, in the backroom of a boozer, with a riotous atmosphere and a good sound system. Each month we try to keep things interesting and book headline acts that we know will bring the vibe. These DJs don’t seem to mind getting stuck into the no frills party. It’s a good space, with a good sound system, and good people... I think that’s why it’s felt right putting time and energy into making these parties happen every month.
Back in Bristol you’ll be playing alongside Loco Dice, Enzo Siragusa and B.Traits at Motion, but who would you say are the best DJs you’ve been named alongside?
That’s a hard one to answer, there’s been many. Ben UFO blows me away every time I see him, he’s a proper selector and I love that. You never know which way he’s gonna take it. Over the years, playing alongside the likes of Midland, Andrew Weatherall, Hunee, Tamo Sumo, Nick Hoppner in a back room of a pub in Oxford – it has been pretty mad. The energy on these nights were high.
Tell us a little about Bristol Women in Music, it seems like a great thing to be involved with!
Yeah, I’ve been working with Bristol Women in Music on these Mix Nights Sessions for the past 18 months after being introduced into the mentoring group by Shanti Celeste. We mentor 8 women every 6 weeks and it is a really enjoyable challenge. The number of times that I have met females over the years and they tell me things like, 'I wish I could try DJing,' is actually astounding. I learned how to DJ by watching my boyfriend at 15 mix happy hard core and going to free parties with him. I’ve DJed for so long it’s great to now be working with such an inspiring group of people at BWiM and actually teaching people, sharing knowledge and learning new skills myself. I’ve never taught, but being able teach and to watch someone learn a new skill and then have the confidence to get up in a club 6 weeks later and perform is really inspiring. The response has been incredible.
Despite female DJs becoming more prominent in recent years, electronic dance music still suffers from significant issues relating to gender inequality. How important are grassroots activities like Bristol Women in Music if we are to reduce male dominance in the industry?
It’s really important and although the female DJ conversation maybe passé to some, the industry is still so male dominated. You only need to look at one of those Top 100 polls or on festival lineups. We’ve created the Bristol Women in Music Mix Nights sessions to help redress this very issue with the ongoing gender imbalance. Our aim is to offer education, support, empowerment, and recognition to women but to keep a strong focus on skill. The talent is high and we believe the balance will happen and the time will soon come to stop labelling people as "female DJs", no one wants to be known as a "good for a girl DJ." We want to be to known as good DJs and that's it.
Do all artists have a responsibility to challenge social issues within their field?
I think it's up to the individual and if they feel comfortable to do so. If we're connecting with any number of people and feel passionate about something we all have a responsibility to challenge and shine a light on social issues, to open people's minds, to explore new ways of being, in any field.
The festival circuit will see you in Wales for Gottwood in June; have you got any other big plans for summer?
We have Helena Hauff booked for our summer party at Simple. She's literally one of my favourite DJs at the moment.
If you were able to organise a festival anywhere in the world, where would you want to locate it?
Somewhere warm! I'm all for the sunshine, and there's something really good for the soul listening to decent music and partying in the daytime.
And a final question before we let you go: what’s the best track you’ve discovered this month?
There are so many. My boyfriend Stav put me onto this - Julius Steinhoff & Moomin – ‘Blackest Forest Ever’. It’s a lovely summer jam.
Catch Em alongside Loco Dice, Enzo Siragusa, B.Traits and more when they play Motion on Friday 31st March.
Photo courtesy of Em Williams