For British-born DJ Firestarr, it was the US rap scene that birthed his love for music, way back in 1995. His first ever music purchase was Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s ‘Tha Crossroads’, and further facilitating his infatuation was Yo MTV Raps!, a show which, at the time, aired in the early hours of the morning. “I used to record it every night and watch it before or after school,” he laughs.
Growing up in East Anglia, Firestarr recalls travelling to London eager for a bite of rap culture. He and his friends would visit iconic West End record store Dark N’ Cold as teenagers — years that were pivotal in shaping his inaugural relationship with music.
Back then, Black cultural productions such as hip-hop, and later grime, were outside the mainstream purview in smaller cities such as Peterborough, where Firestarr began his journey as a disc jockey. “It was harder to access these spaces,” he acknowledges. Despite this, local hub The Park Nightclub provided a foundation for Firestarr’s start in the music industry.
“These guys were ahead of their time,” he says. “I was so young; the first time I actually DJ’d, I was underage.” As he laughs at his desperation at the time, he recalls DJ Supa T being instrumental in helping him navigate Peterborough’s somewhat desolate space. “This is a guy who was giving me designated slots in his sets. When I got to know the ropes a bit, he would give me an hour to do what I wanted.”
Other formative moments came in 1999, when then-BBC DJs such as Chris Goldfinger and Tim Westwood visited and played at the Peterborough hub, helping to build its recognition and the expansion of diverse sounds across the nation.
“These guys [had access] to reggae and dancehall, so this naturally brought soundsystem sounds to Peterborough. They were bringing through the likes of Stone Love, Mighty Crown.”
This shaped Firestarr’s early palate and fed his knowledge of what was happening on the ground in cultural epicentres like London. Alongside tracks from staples like Giggs, Lil Wayne, French Montana and K Koke, Firestarr mixes are still garnished with markers of this time. Whether bashment horns or charismatic, over-the-top DJ tags and call outs, it’s clear that lessons from dancehall culture have helped form who he is as a DJ.