Women On Record Series \\ DJ Rebecca Vasmant: Not surviving – thriving

21st February 2019

Follow our ‘Women On Record’ series, with a new feature dropping each Friday until International Women’s Day on 8 March.

Rebecca Vasmant is an inspiration. From her Glasgow base, she’s successfully navigated her way as a DJ, musician, broadcaster, promoter and record collector. With jazz amongst the forefront of her passions, her career is as expansive as her touring record – she’s played 22 countries in the last five years. Back home in Glasgow, you’ll often find her at her Sub Club residency. In the daytime, she could be preparing shows for Worldwide FM or BBC Radio Scotland. Her selections – which are multi-format – represent a taste unaffected by trends, foraying into old jazz records, new funk and disco, global music and more. Not only has Rebecca brought her expert curation to more than twenty countries as a DJ – she’s even toured with eight piece Ghanaian outfit Kakatsitsi, showing off her skills as a composer and musician, too.

To kick off our Women On Record series – a trio of features that highlight female DJs, collectors and radio hosts in the lead up to International Women’s Day – Rebecca Vasmant talks to Tina Edwards and reveals a brand new track with Nadia Carveth on vocals. Their conversation roams from exercising honesty, navigating sexism and making the jump from DJ to producer. 

‘Irresistible Restoration’ was written and produced by Rebecca. On a slight neo-soul tip, the track allows Nadia’s rich and honeyed vocals to take the forefront, backed by hip-swaying percussion. It’s breathable and totally begs for a dance. Rebecca also worked with pianist David Austin Grey (Snarky Puppy/Soweto Kinch) and trombonist Chris Greive  (Scottish National Jazz Orchestra). Check out the premiere of Rebecca Vasmant’s ‘Irresistible Restoration’ and read the interview below. 

\\ You are constantly sharing music through several mediums; how did you catch the bug for presenting music? How does it excite you?

For me, I simply cannot describe with words the way that some music makes me feel. It is like a completely cleansing experience and can can allow us to feel however we want to feel. Whether this is good or otherwise, we just allow ourselves to feel emotion that we may not feel in our daily lives and this is a beautiful thing. Being open and free with out emotions, I feel that music helps us to do that. And I really do appreciate and respect musicians and producers for allowing us to be able to do that. When I hear a piece of music that I really feel, it can almost put me into a meditative state and I can allow myself to purely focus on what that piece of music is saying, whether it is classical, Jazz, Soul or Techno.. the emotion is still the same.

Music constantly excites me and surprises me, discovering a new piece of music that I didn’t know before is one of the most exciting things that I think can happen, it’s just such a fun and exciting thought, that in a week, I might have found a new record that means something to me still in 50 years time, and that might mean something to others through that too. I guess I caught the bug when I started to discover how excited discovering music makes me feel and it all went from there really! 

Music really is a privilege and I can honestly say that deep within my heart I am totally grateful for every piece of amazing music that I have been lucky enough to have been able to hear. I realise that even if we spent every waking minute of every day searching for music, we would not have enough time to discover it all and this thought is overwhelming.

I thank every musician; composer, maestro and producer for every piece of music, whether it has been noticed or unnoticed, and wake up every day happy to be able to just take the time to just listen and appreciate music.

\\ Your DJing journeys through electronic, soul, funk, disco and jazz and more, using both vinyl and digital; as someone that uses multiple formats, how do you feel about DJs who believe in only using one or the other?
I absolutely love collecting records, but I also feel like its a very special moment when an artist sends over their music across the internet digitally and you feel that it will be something that goes onto meaning a lot to me in the future. I am not a format snob in any way, and sometimes I feel that taking records abroad and checking them onto flights when they might be valuable or sometimes not easily replaceable is risky, so I like to play both formats. 
I do completely understand DJs who stick to only records though, I just don’t trust myself enough not to loose or damage my more expensive records when going away on trips sometimes. I scratched one of my most expensive records with my nail a few months ago, so after that day, I tend to take reissues or digitals or the less valuable records to gigs that I have to travel to. I guess I just have a lot of respect for people who have spent years building up amazing record collections. I hope that in another 20 years, my collection will be something that is even half as amazing as some of the collectors that I have met over the years.

\\ Talk us through how you prepare for a live set? Do you plan your tracks or do you improvise?
Live sets: I would mostly write and rehearse with the musicians I am working with, sometimes I will improvise but I feel that for live sets I like to be as prepared as I can, which is the total opposite to DJing, where I never prepare sets and I like to turn up with an open mind and open heart, and just see where the energy takes us at the club. 
I like to have things go and move as a bit of a journey, going from one point to the next, I guess since I came from the back round of being a DJ and producing came later, I do things in stages of energy and flow rather than track to track, if that makes sense! 
\\ Tell me more about that; how did you progress from DJ to producer? What mediums do you use? Was it an intimidating jump or a welcoming one?
My move from being just a DJ to also producing music has been a long journey, it has been around six years of slowly learning the ropes on the software and building up my own self confidence in putting ideas into tracks. I still feel very much that I am at the beginning of my journey with it all, but it constantly challenges and excites me, so I look forward to seeing where it all goes. 
And yes, it was very scary and intimidating, most of all having the braveness to actually let anyone hear my tracks, which I am still working on currently. 

\\ Can you give us one of your best DJing hacks? A tip that you are so thankful to have discovered, or something you think about regularly? 
Playing records is a really privilege, and as a DJ you have the potentiality to help someone laugh, cry, dance, and form memories with their loved ones, so I always try to remember that anything can happen on a night, and I see this as a very exciting thing. Someone could form a memory from the dance floor that they might potentially never forget, so I try to always feel what people are feeling and try not to get too much in my own head when playing sets. Worry about everyone in the club as one unit, rather than just playing records for myself. 
I think that one tip I have discovered through time is just to be yourself, be honest about who you are, musically too, and then the rest follows once you are able to do that.

\\ What does that mean to you, “be honest to who you are, musically”?
By being honest with who you are musically – I mean have the courage to play what you want, completely. And not playing to requests of promoters or festivals who give music briefs that do not suit you, this way you will allow your own sound to form more. I guess for me, this comes from ten years of people not understanding how I could love and play House, techno, Jazz and, Latin and ambient music all in the same sets. I was often given advice to stick to one sound, ie. be a house DJ and then you will have more success, but I just didn’t feel that was being honest to myself so I never listened to that advice. 
Something I think about regularly is how to learn more and continue to improve, I think once you stop to try growing and improving then it’s probably no longer the exciting challenge that it is, and has been for me for the past ten years! Oh God, that makes me feel old! 

\\ How do you find the time to discover new music when you’re so busy?
Discovering new music is something that naturally takes priority in my life, as I said previously, it’s really something that I am so grateful for and to be able to do, and I can actually probably say that its one of the first things I do when I wake, and sometimes I am still doing it at midnight or 1am. It just kind of happens, and I guess will always be a huge and important part of my life that I allow priority over other things. 

\\ How do you achieve a work-life balance that you’re content with?
Achieving work-life balance is something I have never been particularly good at to be honest! I tend to have periods where I work all of the time, and then small periods where I have a personal life, but in general I try to combine the two which never really manages to work. So honest answer is; I am still trying to find a formula to have this! 

\\ From a female perspective, how has your gender (if at all) impacted your career in any way, either positively or negatively?
The answer to this question is probably going to be an extremely condensed version as there would just be too much to cover but in a nutshell, absolutely yes…
When I first started, I really felt I had to prove myself a lot more than the boys. I found myself constantly justifying myself, and I always remember this one conversation with a friend/peer who has ran clubs in Glasgow for a long time, he said to me one day at a club; “Rebecca… I think I have just realised what it is about you, and why you are so respected with people” I asked why and he told me “You are one of the lads… you are accepted as one of us” and at the time I took that as a compliment, but then when I thought about that later, I wondered why I had taken this as a compliment. My mind automatically felt happy that he told me this, but after thinking back… that shows a real lack in equality. Even if its not a conscious thing, there absolutely is a divide and difference. Now.. much less than before, but it’s still around for sure. 

\\ Wow. And the thing is, he’s probably saying that from a place of good intentions, not realising that what he just said reflects what’s wrong in the scene. Do you sense that there’s an unfounded myth about female DJs being inferior? 
Yes, I know he absolutely did mean it with the best of intentions, but what he said does say a lot about peoples point of view and perhaps without even knowing they think that way, they are thinking like this.

 \\ Some women in the industry talk about feeling ‘imposter syndrome’. Have you ever resonated with this? Have you ever had to work on your confidence to stay resilient in a male dominated industry? 
Yes absolutely, the first six years of my career I felt this way constantly. I felt I had to prove myself a lot in the scene, and also there was an age thing. Coming in as a young female who was into old Jazz records was hard for people to understand I think, so I had the double whammy of the age and being a female to deal with. I had a lot of support when I first moved to Glasgow, which I am very grateful for, but I still sometimes get a funny feeling from people in regards to the whole record collecting thing and being relatively young compared to the age of a lot of the older collectors. 
And even things like, when I did my audio engineering in college, I was one female in a class of 30 boys, I ended up leaving early because I used to get made fun of so much for not liking the same music, or I would start to feel hostility because I was being booked and travelling a bit with gigs, and when I came back to class I would feel left out a lot because of that. 
One memory that sticks out too is when I was younger, I got signed to a big music brand and started to tour for them, I was taken to get press photos taken for their website and when I arrived, they heavily encouraged me to wear things that were a bit over feminised and I knew even as a young 22 year old girl that I did not want to be marketed in that way, so I guess that was the start for me realising that it would take longer to get respect as a female. 
That’s not even to mention the countless times of males in the crowd commenting things like ‘oh you are actually mixing and playing records’ and they would certainly not have commented on the boys before me who were playing. 
\\ I can imagine you have to work on not caring what other people – the small minority who makes those comments – think?
Yes, pretty much the way to deal with it is getting to a point where comments like this don’t affect your confidence.
\\ You manage your own bookings; what are the dis/advantages to being an independent DJ?
I think relationships formed with bookers and promoters is really valuable and I feel that its a much more personal approach, I have simply never used a booking agent, I have had various people help me over the years but nothing has ever really been a valuable as dealing direct with clubs. It always allows for new friendships, and making new friends is something I really love and feel is important too, and with booking agents it can be less personal. I think that is the main advantage. Disadvantages; I am really bad at the boring parts like asking for money, so I guess having an agent might perhaps allow people to earn more and grow faster, but those things are not really my main concern. I just want to share music that I love with people! 
\\ Great advice. Do you have any tips for DJs reaching out to a club for the first time, or for starting their own night?
Tips for reaching out, I would say just go for it. Go to clubs, meet people, ask to play, and you never know what will happen! Same goes for starting a night, reach out to clubs and go for it. Start a night and you never know what will happen with it in the future, see it all as an exciting challenge rather than a scary one! There is courage in doing things even if you feel fear about them, and thats what makes you feel sense of achievement after. I always remember that and it usually helps me. 
\\ What’s your advice for any women who are inspired but intimidated about getting into DJing?
DO IT, absolutely go for it, and if it is something you want to do, you will get there with it! Don’t let anything put you off, it may seem scary but if you really want to, you can follow your passions and dreams and eventually turn them into something! 
\\ International Women’s Day is approaching, how will you be marking it?
I will be celebrating by surrounding myself with all of the women I love, my mum, my best friends, my best friends’ babies and of course all of my favourite records. 

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