Skip to main content

DJ Flight wins Outstanding Contribution at DJ Mag’s Best of British awards 2022

A DJ for 25 years, the first woman to host a national d&b show on the UK airwaves, a producer, a label boss, a storyteller and a core member and mentor with the EQ50 collective, DJ Flight’s influence on the scene has been immense. She’s helped change lives through her work for the Prison Radio Association, and shone a spotlight on the members of the Windrush Generation and their descendants through her Windrush Stories series. For these reasons and more, she is the recipient of the 2022 DJ Mag Best of British Outstanding Contribution award

“It’s mad to reach 25 years of DJing,” says DJ Flight. “It’s obviously been like a lifetime commitment, listening to the music, raving, supporting it, but reaching 25 years as a DJ and an artist myself — I don’t think I can still quite fathom it.” 

A quarter of a century is certainly an impressive feat, but while all those impeccably crafted sets — journeys through the many forms of jungle/drum & bass, from clattering Amens to ‘Headzy toughness and soulful rollers — are an important factor, they’re far from the only reason DJ Mag has named DJ Flight winner of the 2022 Outstanding Contribution award.

Like so many, Flight’s story starts in the early ’90s, listening to pirate radio before progressing to under-18s parties and eventually the “big raves”: Desire, AWOL, Innovation and many more. It was at an Innovation event that a young Flight witnessed drum & bass’ most iconic duo, Kemistry & Storm, in person for the first time. “From the first tune they just knocked my head off selection-wise; they looked really different, really stunning, and the way they carried themselves. It had a major effect on me,” she recalls. The pair became her idols — “They used to call me their number one fan” — and after learning to DJ while away at university, she returned to London in early ’97 and got a job in a record shop in Battersea. There she met a DJ called Reflex (now Due Diligence), who invited her to join him on the graveyard shift at pirate radio station Flex FM.

After impressing Kemistry & Storm with a few mixtapes, they asked her to submit one for a potential slot with Metalheadz. But tragedy struck soon after, when in April ’99, Kemistry was killed in a freak accident coming home from a gig. Her death shook the scene, but one night after a Metalheadz show, Goldie followed up and Flight went on to become a resident for the legendary party and label. A few months later she also landed a residency with Fabio and Sarah Sandy’s Swerve party. Now a vital part of two of the jungle drum & bass scene’s most game-changing events, it was in 2002 that Flight would become part of a project that would have an even bigger impact. “We knew there was this new station starting up and we knew that [Bailey] was involved,” Flight explains.

That new station was BBC Radio 1Xtra, a brand-new national outlet dedicated to music of Black origin. Though initially reluctant to get on the mic due to her shyness, Flight recorded a few pilots and was offered a slot, becoming the first woman to have a drum & bass show on a national radio station. “It was a really crazy experience and really steep learning curve going from complete silence on pirate to having to present a whole two-hour show,” she laughs. Flight’s show The Next Chapter, alongside the other drum & bass programming on 1Xtra, would become a major mainstream outlet for the sound and access point for people across the UK and abroad.

“Even though drum & bass and jungle had gone global, 1Xtra definitely played a big part in helping the globalisation and the more internationalist aspect of the music,” says Flight. “I think a lot of people don’t put enough importance on those years at 1Xtra. So much amazing music was produced during those times.”

This includes Flight’s own music — primarily collaborations with Breakage under the name Alias — and in 2005, she launched her own label, Play:musik, with a single from a then-relatively unknown Dutch producer called Martyn. The imprint went on to release music by other up-and-comers like Heist and Survival, providing early support to artists who’ve gone on to great success. “I wanted to release music the way that I play,” says Flight. “It doesn’t really matter if there’s all these really popular people who are blowing up over there, there are all these people who could do with a bit more attention — they’re making amazing music, so let me put my support behind them.”

DJ Flight with her Outstanding Contribution at the DJ Mag Best of British Awards

Supporting others is a dominant theme throughout Flight’s career. After leaving 1Xtra in 2007, and a stint at Rinse FM, she got a job with the Prison Radio Association (PRA). She’s spent the past nine years working directly with people serving sentences to create radio shows aired at prisons across the UK. “It’s been probably one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever been involved in... because the journey that you see people go on from when they first come into

the station, most of them don’t have any experience of radio at all, but it’s the growth in confidence and how it helps them interact with people as well... having a lot of faith put into them, to see them change in response to that is really...” She pauses. “Heartwarming doesn’t feel a big enough word or term to use for that.

“It’s been quite incredible to see some people’s journeys,” continues Flight. “I don’t think people quite realise the importance of it and how life-changing it can be for people in prison to hear people like them on the radio.”

It was through PRA that Flight began another important project, Windrush Stories, a series in which she interviews members of the Windrush Generation — people from the Caribbean who came to the UK from 1948-71 — and their descendants. From her own dad to MPs like Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler, the poet and activist Professor Benjamin Zephaniah, and many people involved with the music industry, like Jamz Supernova, Cleveland Watkiss MBE and 4hero’s Marc Mac, the show creates space for the stories of multiple generations of personal Black British history to be told. “I feel really privileged to have spoken to so many amazing incredible people and heard their stories,” says Flight. Since first airing in 2020, there have been three series, and Windrush Stories was nominated for a British Podcast Award in 2021.

Back in drum & bass, Flight has been supporting women and non-binary artists via the EQ50 project. Launched in 2019, the current core collective is formed of Flight, Mantra, MC Chickaboo and Sweetpea — “the best crew of women, who I’ve grown to know and love quite deeply” — and has been encouraging the diversification of the scene via talks, workshops and the aforementioned mentorship programme, which paired budding producers up with powerhouse labels like RAM Records, Shogun and Critical. One particular success story is Nia Archives, who was mentored by Flight and paired with Bryan Gee’s V Recordings. Alongside putting out numerous smash-hit tracks, Nia has scooped multiple awards this year, including with NME, the BBC, the MOBOs and, most-recently, DJ Mag’s Best Of British Breakthrough Producer award. 

“The trajectory that Nia Archives has been on is just incredible,” Flight says with pride. “It makes me wanna cry.” Alongside EQ50’s own work, the conversation the group started within the scene has led to other initiatives and a general upturn in consideration and gender diversity: “The sheer number of women artists and DJs that have come through in the last few years since we’ve been running it is phenomenal.” 

This year also saw Flight work on the Turn It Up drum & bass documentary, in which she interviewed numerous artists about key moments in the genre’s history across eight 15-minute episodes for BBC Sounds. Fittingly, the thread through it all was Storm, herself celebrating 30 years as a DJ right now. “I’ve never worked so hard and for so many hours on something like that in my life. I literally had two or three days off all summer, I had Covid during that time as well, but it was another really great learning experience,” explains Flight, giving kudos to the rest of the team behind the project. “One day, I would like to make a proper extended version that’s visual as well, for maybe Netflix or something.” Now that we would love to see. 

As we near the end of our interview, we reflect on the driving force behind Flight’s continued success and support for the scene. At the essence of it all, she’s a storyteller, we suggest. Whether through her wide-ranging sets, short-lived but excellent label, radio shows, or projects like EQ50, Windrush Stories and Turn It Up, she seems to have a need to unearth untold stories and push them into the light. But what does she think has kept her uplifting and contributing to her community for 25 years?

She speaks about the closeness of her mother’s family, the places she grew up, the community centre her dad worked at and summer trips she attended with a diverse group of kids. “They were really formative experiences, really community- minded,” says Flight. “I’m a huge believer in helping others as you were helped when you were coming through. Like, none of this was possible without people helping me. There needs to be a lot more of that, and not just when you’re trying to bring through a producer who’s signed to your label. Just give people a bit of your time... use some of your power and influence in positive ways.”

Read profiles of all the winners at DJ Mag's Best of British awards 2022 here

Ben Hindle is DJ Mag's deputy editor. You can follow him on Twitter @the_z_word