Vanessa Maria: Playing Boiler Room

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Vanessa Maria is a DJ, broadcaster, speaker and mental health advocate. Appearances to date include Wireless Festival and BBC 1Xtra, and she recently got the call to play Boiler Room this November.

Ahead of this massive booking, we caught up with Vanessa for an interview. Below, find out how it came about, how she's preparing and why (for a split second) she was tempted to turn the opportunity down.

Let's start with what you’ve been up to recently and over the Summer, what's been going on?

I’ve been DJing at a couple of festivals which have been really nice.

I've helped to set up and launch Don't Keep Hush with Fred from the Keep Hush team which looks at talking about mental health through music.

I've also been busy at Black Butter which is a record label, I’ve been helping them with digital marketing.

Oh, and I've been running a whole podcast with Resident Advisor. That’s still ongoing and it's a partnership with Black Minds Matter. We’ve had guests like Errol from Touching Bass, Tiffany Calver, Jojo who’s the founder of No Signal, Henri who’s a DJ and presenter, we’ve had loads of amazing people so that’s been great.

So, how did the opportunity to play Boiler Room come up?

I think it was a video that I posted from GALA festival where I was playing with Foundation FM.

We did a takeover in this little space at GALA and it went off. I think people saw the video from that on social media, because the next day, I got an email from The Warehouse Project team asking me about the Boiler Room booking.

Did you say yes right away?

I’m not going to lie, obviously I was always going to do it, but I was also thinking maybe it’s a bit too soon, do I really want to, do I need to do it now. Then I realised you just have to take these opportunities.

Can you speak a bit more about how a big opportunity like that can be a bit frightening?

100%. I think it's interesting because when I started off in music, some of the things that I've been doing recently, I wouldn’t have ever thought they were going to happen.

Now that I'm in it and things are getting a bit bigger (like the shows that I’m playing), I've started to feel a lot of pressure. I never expected to be so anxious and nervous and doubtful. I feel like I was more confident and less aware of the pressures around the industry before I was actually in it.

When people are at your gig because they've heard you before, or seen a video, or heard about you, and when they've spent money on a ticket because of you, you feel like you have a responsibility to make sure everyone enjoys their night. Someone might have had a stressful week, or maybe they've been waiting a month for this night out. That can feel like a lot of pressure.

Recently I’ve learnt to take a step back and accept that you’ve just got to do your best. That’s all you can do and that’s fine. With each opportunity you take, you’ll either win or learn. I think that’s where I’m at at the moment, but it’s definitely been a journey. Even when you’re really excited about something new, you’ve got to work hard and make sure you’re in a positive frame of mind.

You’ve got the Boiler Room gig, how are you preparing for it?

You've got to think about track selection. Also, now that I'm at this point, I want to make sure I’m really representing my current state as a DJ. I know everyone always diverts and everyone always changes, but I want to really hone in on my current sound.

I’m going to be going back into my tracklist, finding those bangers you sort of forget about, and reaching out to producers for unreleased music to make it something really special and memorable.

I’m going to be practicing a lot as well. No matter what stage you’re at, you need to practice. I’m going to be booking Pirate every week, enjoying the music and getting even more excited. I can’t wait.

There can be a tendency with DJs to over or under prepare for gigs, how do you balance that?

I've done both. What I like to do now, is know my opening track and then have a folder of certified bangers that I know are going to go off, then you can just match tracks to the energy.

I used to study psychology so I love trying to tap into the energy of the audience. You want to create a feeling of community, like we’re all experiencing something magical together. That’s what I love to do.

Where is the Boiler Room? How can people tune in? Can you buy tickets?

Yes. It’s at Warehouse Project on the 19th of November in Manchester.

DJ EZ is headlining, P-rallel and Yung Singh are also on the lineup. Yung Singh's been killing it with day timers and his Boiler Room popped off last Summer. Jess Ajose is also playing. She's an amazing DJ from London and she's been killing it since way back when.

Lastly, what are you hoping comes off the back of this?

Do you know what, I just want to be doing the same things I’m doing but on a bigger scale.

One of the big things that's been important to me is having the freedom to take on projects and work with the people, organisations and brands that I want to when I want to. I feel like that freedom is really powerful.

I also love creating things for the next generation: spaces, workshops and programmes for people coming up. This can feel like an impossible industry so doing things on the side to support the next gen, like the Resident Advisor podcast, DJ tutoring or pop-up workshops are things I want to keep doing. The goal is to have a huge community of people who are pushing music forward.

You can grab tickets for for Vanessa Maria's Warehouse Project x Boiler Room show here.

Keep up with Vanessa Maria by following her on Instagram here.

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