Words: Lily Moayeri Pics: Nathan Damour
If ever there is a pick-up EDM soccer game, make sure you get Hannah Wants on your team. The Birmingham, UK-born and -bred Wants played professionally for her local Premier League football club, Aston Villa Ladies, as well as for England’s national women’s team for over a decade. DJing until the very late hours on Saturday night then having to get on the field on Sunday morning, or, at the very latest, Sunday afternoon for matches was brutal for Wants. After finishing her degree in sport studies, she made the difficult, but correct decision to give up soccer for music.
“I had been teaching/coaching PE part-time while I was doing my degree to help with my DJing,” says Wants who is in Malta for Annie Mac Presents Lost & Found, a three-day festival on the beautiful island and its surrounding waters. “When I finished university, I was earning just enough money from DJing to pay my bills.
I could either take up a full-time sports coaching job or put all my energy into my dream and passion, which is DJing. I chose DJing. It was the best thing I ever did.”
A peek at Wants’ gigging calendar indicates that she made the right choice. At Lost & Found she is headlining a noontime boat party and later, the Temple Stage. This summer at We Are Fstvl, she is curating her own tent. She is headlining a two-week tour across North America. She has a monthly residency on BBC Radio 1. She also has a monthly residency over the summer at the Defected Together party at Amnesia in Ibiza. This is in addition to her own monthly party at Ibiza Rocks Hotel.
Wants has grafted for more than 10 years to get to where she is. She played in her native West Midlands clubs to nobody for a long spell, building up her skills and establishing her name in the immediate vicinity. During her summer vacations from university she spent four months in Ibiza in 2010 and 2011.
Available to DJ at any time and any place, she got a call to fill in when a headlining DJ didn’t turn up. Her performance garnered her first UK residency at Glass, a big event in her hometown of Birmingham, which also ran a night in Leeds.
This got other promoters’ attention and she started getting regular bookings around the country. In 2012 she entered and won a DJ competition that earned her a slot at Creamfields—her first time DJing outside of a club and to 1000s of people. After all this, both DJ Mag and Mixmag crowned Wants Best Breakthrough DJ, with the latter also giving her the title of Star Of The Year.
A large factor in Wants’ dancefloor success is her asserting herself as a DJ first and foremost. Her wide-ranging taste and unerring abilities can be enjoyed via her downloadable bi-monthly mixtapes available on her SoundCloud. These mixes showcase Wants’ whole sound from slow and deep starts that build to heavier vibes and then back down again.
Wants makes physical copies of these mixes. If you are lucky enough to catch her sets in person, you can snag a free copy from the lady herself. In fact, fans are making a point of collecting every single one of these discs.
“I love making them,” says Wants of the mixes. “They take me days to put together. I spend hours searching for the music. I try to make the mixes as creative and intricate as possible. It’s another way of me giving back. People are spending their hard-earned money to come and watch me play. It’s like a memory for them, and my way of saying thank you.”
An alternate aspect to her DJing is experienced on Wants’ BBC R1 Residency. Here the mixing is a lot cleaner for radio purposes and she primarily focuses on playing chugging tracks with perhaps one down-tempo number at the end. Her club/festival sets are harder hitting with her style falling under what Wants loosely describes as “heavily bass-influenced house music.” Even so, if a track fits into what she’s playing and it works on the dancefloor -- it could be garage, it could be techno -- Wants will throw it into her set.
You’ll hear crazy, heavy bass tracks when she’s at a festival and when she plays the AMP Lost & Found boat party the day after this chat, it will be some beautiful deep house music. Whatever it might be, it will not be “jackin’ house,” a term Wants strongly disagrees with descriptively, associating it with classic Chicago and not what she is currently DJing or producing.
Her original productions—many of them made with Chris Lorenzo (Cause & Affect)—veer towards garage or bass house, but that depends on what the two are feeling on any particular day. Best known among these productions—and Wants’ personal favorite—is the 2014’s simple but effective Busta Rhymes-influenced, Daft Punk-sampled ‘Rhymes’, which has little in common with any of Wants’ and Lorenzo’s other productions. This year, Wants’ focus is on her solo productions.
“I don’t want to get pigeonholed with a sound or a person,” she says. “I’ve got a project with an amazing vocalist and another one that is a banger for the dancefloor, both of them works in progress. I don’t have any contracts with any labels, which I like, it gives me freedom to get my tracks finished, test them on the dancefloor, and go from there.”
Wants’ time won’t be freed up for the studio for a good few months. Her North American 11-gig 15-day tour is the first item on her schedule. After her previous time stateside as part of the Night Bass tour in 2014 with Jack Beats, AC Slater, and Kry Wolf where they did 12 gigs in 12 days, this jaunt seems almost leisurely.
“I’m headlining, which is a little more nerve-racking but I’m still super-excited,” she says. “Prior to coming to America on the Night Bass tour, I didn’t know much, only what I read in a magazine or saw online. I knew the house and bass scene was massive but I didn’t know what to expect from the crowds.
The two raves are completely different. Even dance moves are different. As a whole, you never feel on edge in America. Everyone is just so nice. That’s one thing that stuck out. They’re all lovely people who want to chat and be friends. It doesn’t matter whether you play the early slot or the late slot, they are there dancing so I absolutely loved it. The basketball jersey I’m wearing right now with my name on the back, somebody made it for me in Austin. It’s like being part of a family.”
Something Wants is hoping to be able to do in North America in the future is what she has been doing in Europe, which is a DJ search for the opening slot on her tours, one per city. She chose a successful eight candidates for her What Hannah Wants UK tour in early 2015. Out of those eight she is pulling one or two favorites and bringing them back for her fall UK tour so it’s not a one-time thing but something the DJs can build on and help develop their careers.
“There are a lot of amazingly talented DJs out there that aren’t getting the break they deserve,” she says. “I didn’t get a paid gig—or even a decent gig—for at least three years. Now I’m in a position where I can help people. I would have loved an opportunity like an opening slot competition when I was starting out. My first big gig was through a competition. It’s competitions and little things that you can apply to that can open up doors and give you the break that you need.”
For her What Hannah Wants tent at We Are Fstvl—a festival that Wants herself has never attended—she has the opportunity to highlight DJs who can really DJ, the primary requirement for her. Also, a reflection of her personal taste, she can choose a variety of styles that can keep the tent going for the duration of the 11 hours of the festival with the appropriate bpm at the appropriate timeslot.
“It was really fun to handpick the DJs,” says Wants. “We’ve got a great mix, a nice range of music, DJs I’ve seen before and know can put on a great set. I didn’t realize how much work goes into making sure we get the right kind of flow with the music.
But we’ve got a really strong line-up throughout the whole day. Waze & Odyssey early, which is going to work really well pulling people in. Cyril Hahn midway through, which will break up some of the bass heavy music with a lot of classics everyone knows the words to. And with T. Williams, Redlight, and myself as the last three DJs, we’re going to go in hard and make sure we end really heavily in a really big finish.”
The spring tour and We Are Fstvl tent are just a couple of the many ventures of the What Hannah Wants brand, which she has launched this year. “I want to be the DJ’s DJ,” says Wants. “Stage takeovers, boat parties, tours, competitions, opportunities, delivering a good time to the crowd. Growing the brand and having a name people can trust.”
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