On Cue: Jaye Ward
Jaye Ward is a bastion of UK underground dance music, with a DJing career that stretches over 30 years and encompasses clubs, raves, squat parties and festivals of all kinds. Alongside a two-hour mix capturing the unbeatable energy of her Dalston Superstore residency, she chats to Ben Murphy about her eclectic music tastes, intergenerational dancefloors, and the pivotal role of LGBTQ+ people in club culture
What strikes you most when you talk to Jaye Ward is her endless passion and curiosity for music. This DJ’s expansive knowledge and love for it all shines through, whether she’s playing jacked-up acid house in a basement room hazy with sweat-streaked dancers, cosmic disco to nodding Balearic heads, or ’70s psychedelic rock riffs to a crowd of space cadets. Jaye can regale a club with hammering techno one minute, before swapping into post-punk mode the next, always knowing exactly when to change the mood.
“I suppose I have a name, so people know what I’m going to try to do,” Jaye tells us modestly over Zoom from their home in Hackney. “They know that in among the tracky bangers, there’s going to be weirdness, and there might be some curveballs — I might play Hawkwind or Sonic Youth, or some industrial.”
Jaye Ward’s DJing career reads almost like a history of UK dance culture. Into heavy rock, punk and industrial as a teenager in the ’80s, she started out playing at squat parties, then at the Club Dog events (which later became the huge Megadog club nights). Gravitating to house music and dancing at Sabresonic, Dirtbox, the Hacienda and many other places, in the early ’90s, they became a resident in the back room at Golden in Stoke-On-Trent, before going on to play The End in London with the For Your Pleasure crew, at fabric for WANG, Turnmills, and innumerable other clubs big and small in the capital. After a break from DJing in the late ’90s — during which she transitioned — she came back to the booth.
Jaye Ward is a ubiquitous presence in the UK’s underground dance scene today, playing events like Cosmic Slop in Leeds, the long-running PLU party in Bristol that she co-hosts with Ranks, as well as festivals like Homo Bloc in Manchester, the roaming rave Field Maneuvers, and Kala in Albania. One venue that many would associate with Jaye is Dalston Superstore, the famed queer club, cafe and community space in East London. Holding residencies there and playing the venue countless times, it’s a place that embraced her when she transitioned, and it’s close to their heart for many reasons.
“Dalston Superstore reached out a hand to me when I thought I was gonna jack it in,” Jaye says. “I will never, ever forget that. I get booked to play downstairs, which is brilliant and fun, but I love upstairs as well. I love the variance, the nights can be fucking entertaining. You wouldn’t have things like Adonis and High Hoops and other messy gay parties without the Superstore. It occupies lots of different things — it can be cutting-edge, it can be mad as fuck, it can be soft, it can be daytime drag acts on a Sunday while you’re eating your lunch. That’s a unique thing.”
"It’s telepathic, innit? Everyone I know who DJs talks about that kind of connection with dancers. It’s a real thing, it’s the truth.”
In conversation, Jaye is insightful, open and funny, with stories too numerous to include here that track her extraordinary life in music. Playing so many different clubs and being part of multiple musical scenes and styles, it’s unsurprising that her taste is eclectic. Take a listen to their Magical Real show on Hackney’s Netil Radio, and you can hear everything from horizontal dub-dunked weirdness to sunshine soul or murky techno.
“My radio show veers between what I’m in the mood for. I don’t plan sets, I just pull a load of records, put a load of things on my USB key, and go to Netil,” Jaye says. Being so varied, though, can sometimes have pitfalls. “I can understand people finding it quite hard to pigeonhole me. It’s more about, I’ll come and do what you want. Now, a lot of gigs I do, I’m constantly thinking, ‘Shall I play this?’ Which is good, it’s keeping me focused on what's happening.”
Part of Jaye’s expansive appreciation for music stems from playing and being in chill-out rooms, a part of UK club culture that has almost completely disappeared, but which she reckons needs to come back. “I’ve been banging on about it for quite a while. There’s a whole generation of clubbers who don’t even know what to do in a chill-out room,” she says. “People are going, ‘What’s this?’ ‘Don’t worry, it’s a space where you can listen to other stuff’. That lends itself to liking all sorts of different things.”
Something they love about dance culture today is its intergenerational nature — how many different age groups can mingle together in the same space, united by the music. After over 30 years on the circuit, she’s seen how older heads can be excited by new sounds, and how, in turn, the next generation can uncover a hoard of historical dance treasures, thanks to a newly-minted love of sharing partly fostered by the internet.
“This is why I’ve not gone off the boil, why I love it, because you can go into things that at that moment feel really zeitgeisty — in terms of what’s being played and the energy — but when you’re there, you realise there are all sorts of people there,” Jaye says. “The best thing that’s ever happened for widening people’s knowledge and broadening their horizons has been the internet, on loads of levels. I think everyone — older people, young people — want to share tracklistings everywhere. There’s that old thing where you used to white label up stuff so no one would know what it was. I think that boat has really sailed now.”
“Queer people are a massively important pillar in dance music, always have been, always will be”
When she plays a club night, Jaye likes to arrive early and listen to the DJs on before them, and gets into the crowd to get a sense of what they want to hear. The most vital art when it comes to DJing, she reckons, is a tried-and-tested method that is used for good reason.
“There’s so many DJs that are itching to play and they’ve got their 30 bangers ready, and they turn your track off and crack on with theirs,” Jaye says. “But I think reading the room is really important — you’ve got to get in sync with the intensity of what’s going on. It’s telepathic, innit? Everyone I know who DJs talks about that kind of connection with dancers. It’s a real thing, it’s the truth.”
A vital voice in the trans community, Jaye uses her social media platforms to speak out on political issues, and is a key advocate of mutual respect and safe spaces in club culture. Though it’s evident that the dance scene (and society in general) has a long way to go in terms of inclusivity, Jaye reckons that things have improved in recent years, with LGBTQ+ people no longer relegated to the sidelines of the music they had a pivotal role in creating.
“Queer people are a massively important pillar in dance music, always have been, always will be,” Jaye says. “I defaulted into being queer, in that by transitioning, that gained me entrance into all this. Now we’ve got a whole raft of people who are amazing DJs, amazing party-starters, making amazing music, who happen to be trans. Now you see at mainstream parties, ‘We don’t accept homophobia, we don’t accept transphobia’. It’s just, ‘Be fucking nice, be respectful’. For a long time, we had to eject people [who were disrespectful], we had to have a bouncer come in and chuck those people out. Now, through that becoming an accepted policy, we have it filtered out to begin with.”
In the year ahead, Jaye is continuing with the PLU night in Bristol — where she’ll play b2b with Ranks as peoplelikeusdj — and in April appears at Risen festival in Hackney Wick. There’ll be another appearance at Kala, at Dimensions in Croatia, and at Flow festival in Helsinki. Jaye has ambitions to play further afield too, and is keen to DJ in the States especially.
Along with the radio show, they’re working on several productions, with a remix for Justin Robertson on the cards. Jaye is more active than ever, then — and deservedly so. “This is like my second wind,” she concludes. “I want to go and play more, experience different parties, different crews, different people. Yeah, I love it!”
Listen to Jaye Ward's On Cue mix, capturing the unbeatable energy of Dalston Superstore, below.
The Parallax Corporation ‘Anti Social Tendencies’ (Cocadisco)
Skatebård ‘Akatebård Loves You’ (Digitalo Enterprises)
Mirror People ‘Ahut Up (Oito/oito Instrumental Remix)’ (Belong Records)
Lauren Flax ‘Your Mom Likes Flange’ (Dance Trax)
Jesse Velez ‘Girls Out on the Floor Dub’ (Trax)
Manik ‘Sh-101 Dalmatians (Audio Soul Project Version)’ (Fresh Meat Records)
Dharma ‘Plastic Doll (Tiger & Woods Heritage Remix)’ (Goody Music Production)
Austin Ato ‘Discolombo‘ (I Love Your Energy)
Warboy ‘I Am Ft. Andre J (Andy Blakes World Unknown is Burning Remix)’ (Batty Bass)
Ron Trent ‘Altered States (D’oke Edit)’ (Doke)
David Harrow ‘My Darkness’ (Unreleased)
John Rocca ‘I Want It to Be Real (Farleys Hot House Piano Mix)’ (City Beat)
DJ Spin ‘Blow My Mind’ (Deepology)
Cdvscd ‘I Really Do Believe (Chicagodamn's Baseline Pressure Dub)’ (Extended Play)
Sarco ‘Walking on’ (Sarco)
DJ Rawcut ‘Acid Boy’ (Freestyle) (Djrawcut)
Alix, Ximena & Maldito ‘Cula’ (Roam Recordings)
Caucasian Boy ‘Tribe’ (Unreleased)
Processman & Lady ‘Adopt (Dicky Trisco Ruff Dub Mix)’ (File Under Disco)
Mark Grant ‘Spirit of the Black Ghost (the Blackest Mix)’ (Guidance)
Underground Resistance ‘First Galactic Baptist Church’ (Ur)
Seven Davis Jnr ‘Wendy & Lisa’ (Sevendavisjrmusic)
Idjut Boys ‘Gurn Saucer’ (Droid)
Session Victim Ft.Ras Stimulant ‘Motivation’ (Delusions of Grandeur)
DJ Doom ‘Dungeon Crawler’ (Goddess Music)
Nightmares on Wax ‘aftermath (Acid Mondays Remix)’ (Warp)
Forbidden Cremme ‘12am to 4am’ (Haircuts for Men)
Man2.0 ‘Software Cracked’ (Death Decay Magic)
Gene Farris ‘Visions of the Future (Roy Davis Jar & Dj Skull Mix)’ (Force Inc.)
Lubelski Ft. Danke ‘Satisfied (Nikki Nair Remix)’ (Dirtybird)
Black Bones ‘Coming on Strong’ (Duct Bianco)
Golden Bug ‘Barbies Back’ (La Belle Records)
Limp Wrist ‘Systems in Place’ (La Vida Es Un Mus Discos)