Listen to Leeds-based DJ and The Leaf Label A&R Thea HD’s monthly show on NTS, and you’ll hear everything from country to krautrock. ‘70s soul and R&B ballads slide effortlessly into smoky dub techno jams; abstract ambient tracks and experimental electronics from The Caretaker, Aphex Twin and Domenique Dumont are woven around lesser-known hits by Nina Simone, The Beach Boys and Tom Waits. “I really enjoy moving through genres,” she says. “Whilst trying to maintain a certain feel.”
It’s a skill she’s been honing on the station for five years now, with an archive of shows that swerve release cycle hype and DJ trends. Vibes are relaxed and meander at an easy pace, more like an evening spent idling on a friend’s couch than a night on a packed dancefloor. “The thing that’s great about NTS is the freedom you have,” she says. “I love starting a show and having no idea what I am going to play. I just slowly flick through my records, and that’s probably why the shows are so varied. Although, I am always thinking about what works with what.”
While Thea’s infant years were spent hearing her parents’ Ronan Keating, Elton John and Savage Garden albums, music really took root once she started learning the drums at age seven. By the time she was studying music at university, she was composing for percussion ensembles; her love for anything with a great beat is reflected in the rhythmic wormholes her shows go down now, be they jazz, dance-punk or something in between. It’s captured in her club-friendly Fresh Kicks mix too, where minimal techno cuts from Sutekh, Thomas Brinkmann, deadbeat and Jan Jelinek sizzle, glitch and pop around off kilter beats by Cappablack and Burnt Friedman & The Nu Dub Players, and percussive dancefloor peaks from Bel-Air Project and Eternal Sun. You can listen to that below.
A love of classical music also flourished while Thea was at university, and she credits this for her varied tastes today. Another early obsession came in the form of Irma Thomas, known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans, whose 1966 album, ‘Take A Look’, she holds as a firm favourite. Lately, she’s been listening to a lot of “real sad country” by Blaze Foley and Ari Balouzian’s orchestral jazz soundtrack to Lance Oppenheim’s retirement village documentary, Some Kind of Heaven.
Her wide-ranging tastes have served Thea well in her A&R role at Yorkshire-based independent imprint The Leaf Label, where she has worked for six years. Since launching in 1994, the cult label has released visionary electronic music from Susumu Yokata, A Small Good Thing and Murcof, globetrotting folk from A Hawk And A Hacksaw, avant-pop from Wildbirds & Peacedrums, groundbreaking jazz from Melt Yourself Down, Sarathy Korwar and The Comet Is Coming, and so much more besides.
A personal highlight for Thea has been working with ghillie-suited motorik dance / "fence post punk" troupe Snapped Ankles, who signed to The Leaf Label shortly after she joined. “I’ve worked so closely with them and they quickly became my good friends,” she says. “Which made plugging and managing them so much more rewarding than I ever expected.”
She even played drums with them on stage throughout Glastonbury weekend a few years ago, reigniting the percussive spirit she’s had since childhood. “They played a gig at 3 AM at The Crows Nest and I was dressed up in one of their ghillie suits. There was a bunch of us all tripping on mushrooms, dancing with random people in the crowd and bashing drums. Need I say more? It was ace.”
Looking ahead, Thea HD will be launching a new label this year and has an armful of DJ gigs in the calendar over the coming months. In the meantime, dive into her Fresh Kicks mix below.