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Hannah Wants: 2015's DJ phenomenon

Hannah Wants’ rise may seem to have been rapid, but there are years of hard graft behind it

  • Words: Louise Brailey / Photos: Perou, visionseven.co.uk
  • 15 September 2015

Beneath the blistering afternoon sun, Hannah Wants is giving Mixmag a tour of Ibiza's San Antonio district. "I literally came here with a dream…" she says, breaking off to take a photo of the poster for that evening's gig at Amnesia. Her logo, front and centre, completes the sentence for her. Walking the sunset strip, Wants' distinctive appearance – masses of dark, pre-Raphaelite curls gathered in a headband, Moschino accessories and Boy London garms – causes heads to turn. Not just those belonging to the young Brits gathered shirtless under branded parasols, though they do stare with increasing expressions of recognition, but waiters and bar owners too, with a hug here, and a wave there. And Hannah is at the centre of it all, prickling slightly with managed shyness, but clearly in her element. Just as she is a few hours later, when she reduces the rammed Amnesia terrace to a humid mass of smartphones, beaming faces and grasping hands. Blending and cutting between Daniel Bortz and Dusky, thundering sub-bass and 'Professional Widow', it is, in anyone's estimation, a technically compelling and joyous performance. The realtime response is more succinct: someone raises their hands, thumbs together, index fingers splayed in a 'W' for Wants. Then another. Then one more. Dreams, eh? Funny things.

For the girl born Hannah Alicia Smith in a village near Birmingham, and who just five years ago was eking out a living in San An as a jobbing DJ, this journey takes on the cadence of a Hollywood blockbuster, the kind they stopped making in the 80s because they were too unrealistic. The elevator pitch? In 2012 she won Mixmag's Creamfields DJ competition. Three years on, look at her. "It's surreal," the 28-year-old beams. She's right: Hannah Wants is one of the biggest British stars in house music. When we meet she's coasting on a few hours' sleep after T In The Park, but her newfound fame, which is heightened in San An where she's approaching local legend status, keeps her on her toes. And with an eyewatering global touring schedule to keep to, the list of places where she can go and not get recognised is dwindling. She's well on her way to conquering the US, too: this April she headlined her first North American tour, her techy, bottom-heavy house and dynamic DJing style chiming with the Stateside fondness for supersized Brit bass music. Not content with being a DJ, she's upsizing to brand, curating festival stages and tours under the 'What Hannah Wants' banner. How she manages to squeeze in a Radio 1 residency is anyone's guess, but it wins her an even bigger audience than the gargantuan festival crowds she's used to commanding. At face value, tonight's Amnesia gig feels like a glorious homecoming – but this is her residency, and she's back in a month to do it all again.

We pause in our stroll for strawberry Daiquiris, and as we talk it doesn't take long to hit on the key to her success: graft, and lots of it. "I haven't been the most normal of children. I've never had a proper job, I've wangled my way through," she says, taking a sip of her brightly coloured drink. "My mum was the one who taught me not to settle, to not have normal standards."

Hannah set the bar high early, becoming a promising footballer who played for England and Aston Villa's youth teams. Injury, and her burgeoning clubbing lifestyle, would terminate that career, but not before a period of crossover: "I used to party at Kudos until 9am, go home, shower, get on a coach and travel the country to play Premier League football," she says, sheepishly. "There was a particular moment when I was playing for Aston Villa, either against Arsenal or Doncaster... I remember scoring a diving header when I was wired still from the night before." Um, so you'd describe yourself as focused, then? "One hundred per cent, yes. Whatever I do, I want to be the best at it."

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