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Jaguar: UK radio’s next gen champion

Jaguar is the DJ and presenter at the helm of the BBC Introducing Dance show, giving first plays to many up-and-coming producers from around the UK. Here, she tells DJ Mag what new artists need to do to get a play on national radio, and how she wants to use her position to represent and uplift POC, LGBTQIA+, women and non-binary people in the dance music arena

“I think 2020 showed us how important radio is. It’s that human connection and companionship,” says Jaguar Bingham, who sounds just as warm and friendly as she does when presenting for the BBC. “We’ve all felt disconnected for nearly 12 months now, and knowing there’s someone out there broadcasting to you, sharing music or knowledge with you, is extremely comforting.”

For almost a year now, the effervescent Jaguar has been one of those people beaming musical positivity, escapism and good vibes down the airwaves and into people’s homes. Her BBC Introducing Dance show has a specific focus on new music, and she’s managed to make a real mark in the last 12 months, despite difficult circumstances. “I’ve recorded every show from my bedroom, with my producer down the line on Zoom, with a Radio 1 mic muff I had from my time as an intern when I was 19 back in 2014!” she tells DJ Mag.

Although she admits January “really dragged”, Jaguar says knowing she has a platform for emerging artists on national radio has given her real motivation this last year. Musically, she says progressive and emotive stuff from people like Tibasko and Tommy Farrow, atmospheric vibes from TSHA, Kilig and Jasper Tygner, plus breaks and “a solid UKG/hardcore resurgence from people like Bailey Ibbs, Anz and Denham Audio” have all been big in the last 12 months.

As we speak, Jaguar is in the middle of packing and unpacking boxes for a move from North to East London. In the meantime, she spent much of 2020 at her girlfriend’s family’s house in Gloucestershire. “I was so grateful to be able to take time out from London and have a more wholesome life in the countryside,” she says. She also spent time back where she grew up, on the tiny island of Alderney in the Channel Islands. With a population of around 2,000 people, it’s famously safe and “has some of the best beaches in the UK”. Her parents moved there when Jaguar was nine months old, and she talks fondly of her childhood years spent exploring the island and visiting the beaches before being sent to boarding school in Hampshire aged 10.

By then, she was already interested in music and would download her older brother’s music — Timbaland, Chemical Brothers, Kanye West, but also pop like Destiny’s Child, Gwen Stefani and Black Eyed Peas. Around this time, radio was mainly background music or a fun but “cherished” soundtrack to car trips with her mum. Once at school and trying to bed down at night in lonely dorms, music became a solace and an escape. “I was glued to my iPod and was always the one introducing my mates at school to new artists, making playlists and collecting music. I loved the companionship of radio, like listening to a friend who has all this cool music to share with you. You really feel like you know the hosts of these shows, and they provide so much comfort. I really hope that’s what people get out of my shows, too.”

Back home on Alderney between school terms, Jaguar spent much of her teenage years at raves in the old German war bunkers that are dotted around the island. It was here that she heard more electronic sounds and fell in love with loud soundsystems. “I would always be searching on the internet as a teenager,” she says, before revealing that discovering Grimes’ ‘Visions’ album “was kinda a gateway into electronic music”. University then took Jaguar to Leeds, where the city’s bustling underground scene fully subsumed her.

It was also in Leeds where she first got properly involved with radio by hosting a show on the local student station before getting an internship at BBC Radio 1 in 2014. She spent two months working on Annie Mac’s show and at 1Xtra, picking up all the skills she would one day need to host her own show. She also threw her own club-nights in Leeds and won two Student Radio Awards in 2016 for her work on the mic. “It was an amazing night and felt like I’d won an Oscar,” she beams. “And the Radio 1 internship was a huge turning-point in my life and made me realise I had to pursue radio and that I wanted to go back to the BBC one day as a presenter.”

The Presenter

Jaguar initially did some BBC pilot shows in 2017 and was left “crushed” when they didn’t lead anywhere. Instead, she was mentored by The Blessed Madonna for the Smirnoff Equalising Music campaign which was, “a huge turning-point for me that helped rebuild my confidence”. Despite the experiences and contacts she’d already gained, after moving to London from university she felt “intimidated by everything, like a small fish in a massive pond. So many people will tell you no, or say, you’re not ready, it’s not for me, they’ll tell you to give up. And although it stings, it never made me want to stop.”

She spent two and a half years on Reprezent Radio, making a name by championing then-breakout artists like HAAi and DJ Boring, working on her presenting skills, learning how to relax on the mic and honing her own music taste. She also kept DJing around London and worked hard to go from “Jaguar the intern or Jaguar from the office” to Jaguar the presenter. After doing plenty of voiceovers for Radio 1 and 1Xtra, she got the call to cover for Phil Taggart on the Hype Chart show in March 2019, then for Huw Stephens on the Introducing Show. This one allowed her to play more of the dance music she knew and loved, so she naturally sounded more confident on air — and that no doubt played a part in her getting her own gig.

It was February 2020 when she got confirmation she would be hosting her own BBC Music Introducing show after five years involved, firstly as a Team Assistant at Introducing in Sheffield, then with the Central Team in London.

There are no self-imposed rules, nor BBC guidelines, for the music Jaguar plays on her show. She curates it all herself, she listens to 500-plus tunes each week and her tastes are super-broad, so “even if it’s a track I maybe wouldn’t play in a set, but can see that it’s great and the artist is talented, then I’ll 100% play it!” As such you can expect UKG, disco, d&b, 140, breaks, electro, house or techno in any given week. “I love playing around with my voice, which I’ve been learning to do with voice-overs, so I like to show light and shade in my tone,” Jaguar says.

After name checking many women and POC broadcasting heroines like Annie Mac, Clara Amfo, Jasmin Evans and Jamz Supernova, Jaguar says she hopes they “inspire more underrepresented people to want to have careers in radio”. She adds that her own mission is also “to use my position wisely to represent POC, LGBTQIA+, women and non-binary people in the media space, as well as open up the doors of opportunity to emerging artists” as the ongoing mission to diversify dance music continues. “There’s still a huge gap in percentage of men, women, non-binary producers, so I have to use the non-male produced tracks wisely, and spread them out between shows. Hopefully it’s making a difference, and marginalised music can feel that this show is for them, and that their place in society is heard and cherished.”

Introducing 

To get music on the show, it must be properly finished to a high standard and “sound fresh, different and diverse”. Jaguar also looks as much as possible to find unsigned artists. “Whatever genre you make, we encourage all artists to make a profile and upload their tunes to the Introducing uploader. I love to educate my audience about dance music’s ethnic and queer roots and try to encourage as many women, non-binary, POC, LGBTQIA+ artists to upload their music as possible,” she says. 

Wherever you are in the UK, your music will get sent to the local team and, if it’s loved, will get played on the local Introducing show. There are 36 in all around the UK and music can then be forwarded to anyone at the BBC and even on to BBC Introducing festival stages at Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, SXSW and so on.

“All dance music comes to an inbox that I go through every week, and this is where I find tracks to play on the show,” she explains. “I am always sending bits over to Pete Tong, Danny Howard and Annie Mac, who often play these new artists on their shows. It’s an amazing platform that works really well, especially for dance music! So many people get signed after I play them on Radio 1, which is mad and incredible.”

So, if you fancy your chances but haven’t made your profile on the BBC Uploader, that is what you need to do. “And,” adds Jaguar, “make sure you fill out all of the questions so we can understand as much about you as artists as possible.” Jaguar reckons the reason new music in particular is of such interest to her is “the buzz” of discovering new artists but also because she takes joy in helping, connecting and platforming people: “I feel like it’s my calling in life.” As a queer mixed-race woman, the importance of her role as a representational voice also cannot be understated.

“Going to queer clubs like Dalston Superstore or Wharf Chambers in Leeds helped make me feel connected to dance music’s roots. It helps me accept and discover more about myself and my sexuality. There are some incredibly talented LGBTQIA+ artists that I’m proud to call my friends such as ABSOLUTE., Elkka, Sonikku and Jess Bays and Nimmo and it’s so important to me to support them, and make sure that dance music’s queer roots are elevated, respected and not forgotten. Equality is hugely important to me, and I feel like I can help achieve a more equal world by representing marginalised artists as much as I can.”

UTOPIA

Away from presenting, Jaguar has also produced and voiced documentaries for radio about LGBTQIA+ safe space clubbing, and written articles about the importance of recognising the Black roots of dance music at things like the MOBO Awards, which traditionally focus on grime, hip-hop and R&B.

“I am mixed-race, and countless times I’ve had people assume that I play hip-hop and rap music on my shows and DJ sets,” she says. “People assume I must have grown up in London and talk in a certain way. I’ve been called a ‘coconut’ before, because I grew up in a white area, and for some reason this means that my ‘Blackness’ is diminished. I want to challenge these perceptions of what it means to be Black and mixed-race. I think the world is becoming too divided, and I think that the most progressive way to live is to come together. I feel I represent that, as a mixed-race person, and want to be able to bring people together, from different walks of life, to achieve a utopia.”

It is that desire which gave rise to Jaguar’s own UTOPIA party and talks, with artwork based around West African Moon Masks, which Jaguar has been obsessed with since a family holiday to Ghana three years ago to meet some maternal relatives. The community-minded party launched with a sell-out event at Night Tales in September, while UTOPIA Talks was a two-day conference aimed at empowering the next generation of artists, and included industry professionals from the likes of Ministry Of Sound and Bandcamp.

“It was cool putting together something so ambitious, and I learnt loads from it,” she says. “I think it’s so important to learn about how the industry works, and we’ve built a cool community around it. Many of the attendees were people who are a part of my WhatsApp group full of artists, creatives and music lovers, so we’ll definitely do another one.”

With the promise that a UTOPIA podcast will also soon come, the DJ reveals she is also working on a big project to encourage and introduce more women and non-binary artists in the electronic industry. With Jaguar leading the charge, the next generation is very much in safe hands.

Read about how independent radio has thrived during the pandemic here, and about how to get your very own show here

Kristan J Caryl is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @kristanjcaryl