We catch up with the Yorkshire DJ as she prepares for a New Year's double-header
Laura Jones is the superstar DJ that nearly wasn't - and living proof that with enough talent and determination, physical disability needn't be a barrier to achieving great things.
Having discovered underground dance music in Ibiza in the early 00s, when she was in her late teens, she took up DJing and production, and was just starting to make some progress when, in 2008, she was diagnosed with Stargardt's macular dystrophy - a degenerative condition of the eye that eventually causes blindness, and that is currently uncurable.
Understandably - no one wants to be told they're going blind when they're 25 years old - she fell into a slump for a little while. But before too long she'd got back on the horse - inspired in part, she says, by seeing Stevie Wonder's triumphant appearance at Glastonbury in 2010. Now equipped with the trademark orange sunglasses that protect her eyes, Laura's career has been going from strength to strength ever since. This year has seen the launch of her Sensoramic label, and she continues to be highly in-demand as a DJ worldwide.
Laura's story is an inspiring one; the fact that she's a shit-hot DJ who produces some great dancefloor tracks is a bonus, too! So with a busy New Year's coming up - she's playing Back To Basics in Leeds on New Year's Eve, then Trust's New Year's Day bash in London with Nick Curly and Geddes - now seemed like a good time to grab her for a quick chat...
You're playing for Trust in London on New Year's Day, is that a gig you're particularly looking forward to?
"I look forward to any opportunity to play music, and New Year's Day in particular is always one where people really go for it. Most people in our world make more of New Year's Day than New Year's Eve. Also, Geddes is a good friend and someone who actually gave me one of my earliest gigs in London at Mulletover, so it's always a pleasure playing with him, and Nick and I have played together a few times now. We're with the same DJ agency and share the same agent, so keeping it in the family for this one!"
It's a gig that's in many ways symptomatic of our era, dance culture having moved away from big ‘superclubs' to one-off warehouse parties etc. You started as a resident at Back To Basics, so you've seen both sides. Are things better now, were they better then, or are things just different now?
"I actually started off with a residency at Louche at the Mint Club in Leeds prior to becoming a Back To Basics resident. I wasn't long out of Uni so it was a good opportunity to get my teeth stuck into playing to an audience.
"Are things better now? It's a shame party culture has become so over-saturated. What that's ultimately lead to are more 'events' than regular club nights, across the board. People are spoilt for choice, which in turn has led to the demise of the weekly club or party, where people would go to experience a sense of community each and every week.
"It's hard to foster a sense of community at a big, faceless dance music festival, and the kids of today are sadly missing out on the social circles that weekly club nights were able to provide, where everyone felt like they were part of the family. Places like Back To Basics or Sub Club in Glasgow are some of the few in the country where that sense of community spirit is still alive and kicking."
Rewinding back into 2016 a minute, your biggest news this year has been the launch of the Sensoramic label. What was the impetus behind setting that up this year?
"I've always wanted to have a label of my own and be the one calling the creative shots, both from a musical and an artistic perspective. I love having a hand in the art side of things as well as the musical side.
"Also, having your own label gives you your own freedom to be who you want to be in the studio. When you're writing music for other labels, it's easy to fall into the trap of writing music to please someone else's ears rather than your own. I'm still going to be releasing music on other labels, of course, but it's nice to know that I have an outlet for my own creations, even if they don't fit someone else's definition of what their label should sound like."
How's the label been doing?
"It's doing really well so far! The first release sold out, thanks to amazing original material from Karousel and an equally great remix from Mandar man of the moment, S.A.M.
"My release was number two and came out in October, and I've been really pleased with the feedback from some of my most respected peers. We're now hard at work on the third release, which all being well should be out February/March time.
...and what have you got coming up on the label that iDJ readers should know about?
"The next EP is by New York minimalist Kamran Sadeghi. Kamran is a modular wizard and a member of the Soundwalk Collective, an art installation/conceptual music band who have been making waves in the US. He has released on labels such as All Inn, Welt and Nerv Music, and both his tracks are mesmerising minimal techno at its best. I also have a very special remixer working on one of them as we speak."
The name presumably refers, at least in part, to your having Stargardt's macular dystrophy. You famously haven't allowed that to hinder your DJ career, but can you imagine a time coming when it might? And if so, how do you go about preparing for such a reality?
"Looking back on the names of my tracks, they always address something that's been happening or a theme at some stage in my life so it's no surprise that the name of my label would do the same!
"Sensoramic explores the idea of expanding the senses. There's also a connection to the overall idea of expanding your mind and your abilities. The world more than ever needs to expand its collective mind and its senses, so it's a theme that resonates very strongly with me. We need to be more empathic towards others and more sensitive to what's happening around us, be that to the environment, our relationships with other people in our communities or the world as a whole.
"The last five years for me haven't been without their challenges, it's a constant case of having to adapt as the condition worsens, which can be frustrating sometimes as it can really slow you down in places. However I've also been on a journey of self-development as a result, and I find that maintaining as positive a mind and spirit as possible can keep you going no matter how tough things get.
"I'm always on the lookout for ways to make production or DJing easier. I record my vinyl and play with USB CDJs, as I can see the backlit screens in a dark club but I'm not able to read vinyl labels. I've been reluctant up to this point about having a tour manager and letting go of any remaining independence I have left, but I'm now at the stage where I need to use a tour manager. On the plus side, that lets me spend more time thinking about my set rather than trying to find my way to a departure gate in an airport or a hotel room!"
Dance music culture generally prides itself on inclusivity, but do clubs, promoters etc do enough to make clubbing accessible for those with physical conditions, do you think?
"No, I don't think there are enough provisions made for disabled clubbers. Particularly those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. I have a friend who would love to go to Glastonbury, for example, but worries the mud will be too difficult to negotiate and that he will be a burden on his friends. That makes me really sad, to think he's missing out."
So what steps could budding promoters take to ensure they're doing better?
"Listen to your audience. Use Facebook to speak to your fans to ask what they need. I'm sure if promoters posted to their fans or someone started a page to ask disabled clubbers what they needed, we would very quickly have a database of useful tips for promoters on granting universal access for their parties."
Speaking of matters socio-political… I was looking at your Twitter feed and you're not afraid to speak your mind, which is good to see. But is our culture generally, as we're often accused of, guilty of unthinking hedonism at the expense of making a stand?
"Now more than ever we need to make a stand on so many issues. We are allowing fascists to be voted into power all over the world, and yet in dance music world there are too many artists worrying about losing Facebook likes instead of using their pages to make a stand.
"Some people argue that musicians and sports stars should just stick to entertainment, but I disagree. This is the age of social media and everyone's voice matters. We need more good ideas being spread because currently the bad ideas are winning."
I found the first review of a Laura Jones record I wrote, back in 2011. "According to the classic Bacharach & David song, what the world needs now is love, sweet love. Well, I disagree. What the world needs right now is actually a MASSIVE FUCK-OFF ORGAN TUNE. And here, Laura Jones delivers just that in Love In Me. Freakin' ace." We haven't heard any big organ tunes from you in a while, though… any plans?
"Ha! Yes, it certainly set me off on a very fortunate path. I did toy with the idea of more organs in the months after Love In Me but at the time everyone seemed to be using an organ bass and I wanted to keep my sound moving. That said, perhaps the time is right for another organ hook!?"
Finally, what else have you got going on right now that iDJ readers need to be aware of?
"I've just released a new EP on the excellent Constant Sound. It's a split EP with one of my favourite producers Stephen Brown on the other side, and a remix of my track by Endian. After that I've got a remix of Burnski and a remix of Francesca Lombardo, and I'll have new original music out before summer also."
Words: Russell Deeks
Laura Jones, Stephen Brown and Endian's Crystalline EP is out now on Constant Sound. Catch Laura in action at Back To Basics, Leeds on New Year's Day, and at Trust in London on New Year's Day.