Recognise is DJ Mag's monthly mix series, introducing artists we love that are bursting onto the global electronic music circuit. This month, we catch up with Manchester’s purveyor of radiant club sounds, Anz, to discuss her frenetic process, playing Panorama bar, and her landmark EP, ‘Invitation 2 Dance’
Anz tracks are like rogue fireworks: fusions of UK funky, electro and ghettotech, with flourishes of R&B, grime, and dancehall; all underpinning a versatile take on contemporary UK club music that is as bright as it is unpredictable. The Manchester-based DJ and producer is “fully in the snare vortex” when she picks up the phone, getting familiar with her home studio set-up again after a hectic phase of gigs and day-job commitments. She sounds palpably excited, ready to transform six month’s worth of ideas into tangible, danceable realities.
“We’re at a certain stage of my music making process at the minute,” she says, “a kind of ‘bedding in period,’ where I just remember how I do things. Usually I don’t really get to make anything for months, and I get this increasing feeling of unsettledness until it gets to critical mass and I actually need to make something.” It might sound intense – it is – but it’s a system Anz has gotten used to, with long, busy spells in her job as an event coordinator and culture specialist leaving her with only a few short gaps in the year to focus on making music. By the end of a few weeks in the production vortex, she says, she could well have up to 50 tracks ready for the floor.
It’s never at the expense of quality, though. Over the past few years, she’s been sharing “dubs” mixes on her Soundcloud page. The four mixes (to date) are goldmines, filled with everything from percussive pop mutations and robust grime workouts to jazzy breaks and a frenzied bassline edit of the ‘Inspector Gadget’ theme. Anz's ‘spring/summer dubs 2019 mix’ also marked the announcement of her second EP, ‘Invitation 2 Dance’, released in April via Finn’s Local Action offshoot, 2 B Real.
‘Invitation 2 Dance’ is four tracks of animated club sounds, and one of the strongest UK releases of the year – with gravelly bass plumes, playful vocal alterations, and packed with melodic swing. It sounds like a laser-focussed statement of intent – dedicated “to all dancers from here and beyond, and to the boys who used to muscle me off the decks at house parties” – but at least half of ‘Invitation 2 Dance’ was produced in an alarmingly short time-frame, with that same febrile energy.
“I made ‘Helps Your Two Hips Move’ a couple of days before the EP went to mastering,” she remembers. “Then with ‘No Harm’... I completely changed it. It was supposed to be with Alex [Gordon] from Abbey Road at 7PM or so, but at like 6:30PM I was changing the whole thing. I think about half of it was completely made on the day of mastering because that morning I was like, ‘I don’t like it’.”
“I think when you look at an EP, it always seems like it’s inherently purposeful – like it’s taken months to think about the order, and this, that, and the other,” she adds. “I’m not flippant about it, it does all have to make sense, but then, I think it matches up with my last-minute type situation. It’s like, ‘Okay, no - I want to change it, let’s just change it.’ I think that when I get it down really quickly, and capture whatever is going on in my head, that’s the most exciting to me. When I listen back, I can hear how excited I was to make it.”
The response to the EP has been heartening, and almost immediately after its release this summer, Anz played a series of landmark gigs – including the Metalheadz 25th birthday party in Leeds, the Unsound Silent Disco with Teki Latex in Kraków, and Berghain’s Panorama Bar, for Modeselektor’s 10 Years Of Monkeytown Records party. She admits she’s had hardly had a minute to allow it all to sink in, never mind to take a day off – she can’t remember the last one of those she had. “I’m having trouble matching it up to the fact that it's me,” she admits. “I'm not dissociating from it as such... I'm just in awe of it.”
If the frenzy of the past few months has proved anything, it’s that Anz’s instinctive approach to the dancefloor is hitting the right nerves. When she played at Panorama Bar, a venue she’d never visited until then, she spun “lots of hardcore and rave music, some afrobeats and lots of my own stuff,” and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. She didn’t expect the room to be as full as it was – Skream and Modeselektor were playing a 140bpm b2b set in Berghain, and “that made me realise how mad it all was... the fact that people had chosen to see me, instead of them!”
Anz played a variety of instruments in her childhood – trying out piano, violin, and guitar – before hitting her stride in her teens, becoming proficient on drums and “anything I could find... apart from wind and reed instruments”. When she was studying music at GCSE level, she was even given the chance to go to London’s Royal College of Music, to see a jazz troupe perform a piece she’d composed at school. Though she was “never a big fan of sheet music,” and left her instruments behind when she went to university in Liverpool, it didn’t take long for her to feel the pull of music-making again, especially once electronic sounds took centre stage.
After a few stop-start attempts on a Native Instruments Maschine Mikro, it was on a sick day from work that Anz made the first track on her Soundcloud page “for my 13 followers” – no days off, remember. “It was like an R&G thing with some harmonies,” she remembers. “I left it on there for two or three years! I still really, to my memory, like it! I could even sample it.”
Anz’s production work has taken her to Europe this past year, but she’s a core figure in Manchester’s club scene first and foremost - as a club DJ, and a resident at Manchester’s NTS Radio studio. The city’s had a massive impact on her. “It’s always nice to feel part of something,” she says. “I don’t think I would necessarily feel as ‘part of something’ if I was still in London. Manchester is the first place I chose as my home. Not for university, not for my parents – Not for ‘where’s the best place for this?’ but for ‘where do I want to be?’”
“I think it could be the scrappiness that being outside of the capital gives you,” she continues. “You’re ready to represent. You don’t feel like anything is going to be handed to you, in terms of opportunities, press, or anything like that. You really fight. I guess it gives you more of a sense of pride when things are going well.”
The openness and freedom afforded to Anz and her Manchester peers means that she’s never felt confined by genre constraints beyond “music to dance to, or what I think music to dance to is.” It’s an ethos that she intends to run with, and she already has a lot of new music in the works. For now though, she’s stepped up with an hour-long mix of high-energy club sounds as part of our Recognise series. Boasting plenty of familiar and unreleased productions from her own arsenal, it’s a certified belter.
“This is the first mix I’ve ever approached without doing the exact same thing I would in a club,” Anz explains. “I tend to hold the same frantic, pacey mixing and selection, no matter what, but this is the first time I’ve dialled that back a tiny bit. I’m still a big fan of recording in the style of ‘first take, one take,’ though, so there are a couple of lumps and bumps along the way, but I reckon that rolling [like that] is my favourite way to maintain energy and warmth. It was recorded in my little living room in Manchester, where all of my music stuff tends to happen.”
Photo credit: Paula Abu