B.TRAITS: SOUNDGIRL STYLE
Signed to Digital Soundboy, stepping into Annie Mac’s shoes, and getting ready for a crazy summer of festival appearances, B.Traits explains how a Canadian country girl became the new face of English bass music...
In the music industry there are two types of meteoric rise. One is a scary, Susan Boyle-shaped process, where the basking lizard kings of pop pluck an unknown, polish them dumb, tell them what their new name, hairstyle and personality is, and thrust them mercilessly into the light, there to cavort for our pleasure. These poor sods have got no past and little future. One moment you’ve never heard of them and the next they’re eating rat’s bollocks on I’m A Celebrity and releasing singles with Flo Rida. Then there’s another type of meteoric rise, which, if you scratch away at it, turns out not to be meteoric at all. This kind of rise is the culmination of years of hard graft, passion and ambition, followed by the magical catalyst of a lucky break. You want an example? Look no further than B.Traits.
Some of you know B.Traits already. Last year the Canadian-born, London-based DJ broke into the Top 40 with ‘Fever’, a rush of piano euphoria that thrust a hyperactive ’90s rave aesthetic headlong into booming modernity.The night owls amongst you may have heard her on her 2am – 4am In New DJs We Trust Radio 1 and 1Xtra slot, where she races through “30 to 40 tracks in two hours,” demolishing dubstep, broken beats, house, garage, classic rave and drum & bass with a rare verve and pleasure.
Or you may have caught one of her high energy DJ sets as the original Digital Soundgirl, the first female signed to Shy FX’s iconic crew. But for those of you who still don’t know her, we can guarantee you will do very soon. Her profile is about to explode. Why? Because Annie Mac is taking maternity leave to have a kid with Toddla T, and B.Traits has been promoted to take over her two weekend shows throughout the summer, effectively becoming the new face of dance and bass on Radio 1. And she’s taking it in her stride just fine…
“Everyone keeps telling me that things are going to get crazy… Mista Jam was talking to me the other day, and he was like, ‘Yeah, you have no idea do you?’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I imagine it’ll do good things for my profile, but I’m just rolling with it at this point! I don’t know what to expect — I’m waiting for this backlash of angry Annie Mac fans, I’m very wary of it, like, OK I know it’s coming very soon! But I’m just trying to approach it the way I would play a set to a festival crowd, just be really passionate and bring the carnival.
” We’re talking in the Digital Soundboy studio, the label’s creative heart situated in an industrial estate sprawling on the edges of North London. B. Traits — aka Brianna Price — sits in front of the imposing mixing console, friendly, effusive, and beyond excited about her new role, laughing as we talk. “I listen to Annie’s show all the time, I find a lot of tracks for my show from it. I mean, I thought I might be considered for the Sunday show, but when they offered me the Friday night and the Sunday night I was like, ‘HOLY SHIT!’ I was totally freaking out when they called me, it’s so exciting, but kinda scary… I feel honoured.
The fact that I’m an outsider, and I’m bringing my sound to this country is fucking awesome. And people seem to like my accent! “This whole speaking thing with music is still very, very new to me,” she continues. “I mean, on my shows on Rinse I never had to talk, and on Radio 1 they kinda threw me to the dogs right away, my second show I did live, and I was like, ‘Aaarrrgghh!’ But that’s how you learn right? I mean I’d never done a two-hour live show before the Annie Mac one.
Listening back, my voice was really high cos I got so nervous, but I’m getting better. It used to take me fucking ages — I was doing it all in Ableton beforehand, like a two-hour mixtape every week! Crazy! It’d take me hours and hours. And I’d be writing when I was meant to speak, and I was adamant about saying what every single track was, and there was way less interaction. Now I’m trying to enjoy it more, feel the music more.”
CANADA TO THE UK
The presenting may be new to B, but the DJing isn’t. Despite her seemingly sudden rise, she’s “been around for a really, really long time”, and the story of her immersion into UK bass culture verges on the surreal. Born and raised in a remote Canadian mountain town called Nelson, where everyone smoked weed and was either “a hick or a hippy”, Price started tuning into late night TV broadcasts looking to hear something — anything — different to Canada’s pop playlist radio stations.
On a show playing ‘world’ music, she fell in love with the ’90s breakbeat science of The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim. Soon she was buying imports of Ministry of Sound compilations, and against all odds, falling in love with the warping basslines, gunshots and clattering beats of speed garage. “I had a friend who was a jungle DJ and I was dancing at the time as a b-girl, and my friend was like, ‘I really wanna dance’, and we swapped, I’d give him basic dance lessons and he’d show me how to beat match, and eventually I started DJing at all the school parties, playing speed garage, drum & bass and hip-hop. There’s totally a generation of kids from Nelson that are 187 Lockdown fans!
That was a monumental time in my life when I was listening to that music… everyone was! And that’s how I got into jungle, hearing remixes like Natural Born Chillers [‘Rock The Funky Beat’].”
Moving on from the incongruous, if kinda charming, image of stoner kids raving to ‘Gunman’ against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains (and this is long before YouTube rendered the world a click away), B. tells DJ Mag how she finished high school and moved on to Vancouver as a 17-year-old. There she joined up with the promoters of Automatic, Canada’s biggest drum & bass night, and started DJing while still too young to be in the club — although she recalls paying her dues.
“I remember playing so early, I don’t think the doors were even open!” she laughs. Soon enough she was moving up the bill and promoting her own d&b events in nearby ski resort Whistler, booking international stars such as Fresh and Chase & Status. It was here that she met original don DJ SS, who was impressed.
“I opened the night, and he was like, ‘I have this gig coming up in Estonia and it’s meant to be an all-girl drum & bass line-up, it’d be great to get you on it’. I’d never travelled before, I’d had no passport before, and the furthest I’d gone was Toronto, so being able to travel doing something I loved was awesome! So I went to Estonia, and SS got me a few other gigs, I played in Herbal in London as well — Vadim was playing before me and Mixologists were there as well, and I was just, ‘I’m fucking playing Herbal now!’, I was tripping! When I got back home SS told me I did a really great job and offered to take me on tour on some North American dates, then he took me to a few Russian drum & bass dates that were massive.”
Whilst being a woman in a notoriously masculine scene may have helped B.Traits break into gigging abroad, this came with inevitable downsides, and on more than one occasion she had to resort to a hard ass attitude to keep patronising chumps in line. “Now there are loads of female DJs, it’s awesome… back then I got loads of shit, I paid my dues, and constantly had to stand my ground and be a bitch. I had my rules, always be professional with everyone, but I had my line, and if someone crossed my line I’mma fucking let them know about it — I mean I’d be like, ‘If I’m too nice to you you’ll think I’m hitting on you or something!’ I was much more aware that I was looked at a certain way because I was a girl in the industry.
I admit I was maybe a little bit harsher back then. The stereotype I messed with a lot was the idea that being a girl in this industry, obviously I was sleeping with someone to get where I am, which fucking killed me. I was like, ‘I do not date people in this industry’ — I had a really serious boyfriend at the time, and it would just drive me mental, a constant drama that was so unnecessary.”
Much to the disconcertion of her haters, B.Traits quickly picked up international renown for her quick mixing, bpm hopping, party style. Eventually she found herself touring with Shy FX, and the next major part of the puzzle fell into place. “I was on the World of Drum & Bass tour with Shy, and we just talked loads and loads about different music, different scenes, and the genres we were into. He was coming out early to watch me DJ, and said, ‘Yeah you’ve got the stage presence, I want someone on the label who can bring that kind of energy’. He asked me to send him some tracks, then eventually asked me to join Digital Soundboy. I was like, ‘Oh my God I’m on the best label ever!’
But then I kinda didn’t really do anything for years. I was living in Vancouver, I was in a serious relationship, I had a house and a dog, I wasn’t producing as much as I wanted to be, using Logic and getting really frustrated. I’d be phoning Shy for help and it’d be six in the morning in England and he’d be like, ‘It’s too early to answer your questions!’ “So then I decided that I wanted to move to London in 2010. I came over here and did some work with Donae’o, then I went back to Canada, and I was like, ‘I’m done with this place’. And I left my boyfriend, my dog, my house, sold all my shit and came to London.
The first few months were very weird and emotional for me, I started from the absolute fucking bottom again, no gigs, no way of making any money, Digital Soundboy were helping me scrounge along. It was weird, I had no control over my own money— I didn’t have any support system, but Shy and Breakage really helped me out, and they became my family. If I hadn’t had them it would have really sucked. I’d spend every day in the studio watching them, just learning. I wrote ‘Fever’ in the first two months I was here, I was in such an emotional state!Then I did the remix of ‘Raver’, which did good things for me — and I just started working my butt off, doing little gigs here and there for £50, £100. I started doing more mixes for Digital Soundboy and people started picking up on me a bit.”
The rest has happened in a burst of energy, and when we talk to the endlessly enthusiastic Bri about the last year, DJ Mag feels that after a decade of shake and pressure, everything has popped in a sudden fizz of chaotic good times. First the Digital Soundboy shows for Rinse, then the monthly In New DJs We Trust spot on Radio 1, which evolved into a weekly slot simulcast on 1Xtra, and now the Friday and Sunday Annie Mac shows. DJ Mag wants to know if the higher profile role will mean less control over her playlist, and more attention that isn’t necessarily benign. “I can say no. I’m pretty certain on what I like and what I don’t like. If someone pushes a track on me that I hate then I’m just not gonna play it,” Bri shrugs.
“I’m only going to get anywhere in this industry by being true to myself, I’m not gonna get pushed into liking a fad. So it’s not so much mainstream, but maybe a little bit more ear friendly for Friday nights... I’m getting sent so much music, so many different styles, and I feel blessed to be getting the opportunity to hear all these tracks. Everywhere I go, every gig I play, kids are giving me CDs of their music and I’m always considering those tracks — I just played something last night from a kid called Juniper who gave me a CD in Glasgow — it happens all the time, I like to encourage people to give me stuff, I’m always listening to things, seeing if I missed something, giving everything a chance.”
As it turns out, it’s not just CDs the listeners are sending to B. Traits. “This one time this one guy sent me a dirty karate belt. That is fucking random! I was like, ‘WHAT IS THIS?’ I had no idea what it was for. The only reason I knew who’d sent it was cos he’s put all these stickers in the box, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s that guy from Twitter’. It was dirty, like, used and dirty, but folded really nicely. When the box came I thought it was gonna be a box of Tic Tacs because I’d inadvertently let slip on the show that I loved white Tic Tacs. I thought it was going to be a lifetime supply. But nope.”
CRAZY SUMMER S
talking ninjas best left forgotten, she goes on to hype up the acts she’s been championing on her show. “Mele is a big one right now. Reset Safari, I love their grooves. Cashmere Cat’s stuff is killing it — I think I gave him his first Radio 1 play. Real Connoisseur, who’s a young kid from Oxford, is great — he’s signing his music left, right and centre now. I love that! “I don’t see a lot of the new house stuff, the 128-130 bpm stuff really as house. I was talking to a music writer the other day, and I was saying, ‘This is breaks’, and they were like, ‘You can’t call it that!’ It’s like a dirty word! But for me, all things like the French Fries stuff is just Florida booty breaks! Really, I kinda like that there’s no name for it, if it gets a name people start calling it cool, and then it’s gonna be over really soon. Keep it nameless!”
Currently the BBC’s plans for B. Traits don’t stop at the Radio 1 shows. They’ve already suggested she goes to visit Canada now “because I won’t have time in the summer”, and her forthcoming festival slots are exhaustive, taking in Glastonbury, Love Saves the Day, Amsterdam Open Air Festival, Hideout, Knock Festival, Global Gathering, Ibiza, Boomtown, Outlook, and Bestival.
“I was thinking I might start getting on the mic at festivals,” she muses. “The MC I have is quite minimal just to hype the crowd, so I wouldn’t want to talk over every track, but it’d help me with my presenting skills. I think I’d probably be fucking petrified though…”
Somehow we doubt she’ll let that, or anything else, stop her for a moment…