Do whatever you want: Aletha is infusing acid and breaks into genre-melting DJ sets - Music - Mixmag

Do whatever you want: Aletha is infusing acid and breaks into genre-melting DJ sets

Aletha shares a high-energy mix to kickstart summer and speaks to Niamh Ingram about open-minded curation and platforming women, transgender and non-binary people of colour headliners at her CITRIC party

  • Words: Niamh Ingram | Lead photo: Ollie Patterson Studios
  • 14 June 2023

“I’ve always been interested in all different types of music,” Aletha ponders, reflecting on her sonic endeavours over the years. “I’ve never thought ‘I’m not going to listen to that, I only like house or techno’.”

Growing up in Manchester, the DJ spent her formative years attending festivals and listening to the soundtracks of her parents - predominantly Pink Floyd, Luther Vandross and the Fugees - and sister, a seasonal worker in Ibiza who introduced Aletha to the White Isle’s classics. Couple that with an uncle playing and promoting regularly at the Haçienda, and the varied musical palette in her DJ sets feels somewhat inevitable.

A move to Leeds in 2017 provided the opportunity to get creative. Influenced by the DIY-driven nature of the city, something still rife today, she launched event Puddles. Initially she was only promoting because of a lack of visible representation of women who DJ, but witnessing a Jayda G set at Wire changed everything. Soon enough, Aletha began to warm up her parties with her ever-growing record collection, before the dominos began to tumble and she started picking up shows for local crews Brudenell Groove and Equaliser. These years, she recalls, were additionally key in influencing the eclectic sound she offers dancefloors today.

“Leeds has a good minimal and house scene and a good jazz scene as well,” she explains. “It was where I started to get into jazz, so I’ve always taken that through into sets. I’ll find a house track with a really nice sax in, or a broken beat that has jazz stuff through it. Even Detroit techno - that earlier side of techno - where it’s a lot lighter and has that jazz vibe through it. I’ve always loved stripped-backed tracks and that’s definitely from being in Leeds and going to loads of minimal nights.”

After some time in the city, a relocation back to Manchester consequently presented a new plethora of clubs to explore, with Aletha noting White Hotel and DBA as two favourites: “I’d been in Leeds for seven years and hadn’t really grown up in Manchester besides the early, non-clubbing years of my life. The majority of time spent in clubs for me was in Leeds so to go back to Manchester, is almost like discovering a new city.”

This rich tapestry of influence, then, gives way to the variety in the DJ sets that Aletha has played so far. She’s recently held down slots at The Warehouse Project Rotterdam, Printworks, fabric and Risen Festival. In summer, she’s got Glastonbury, Love International, Lost Village and Dimensions Festival in the pipeline.

The forthcoming months show no sign of slowing down for Aletha, but she took a brief moment to sit and talk about her love for radio, new party CITRIC and the catharsis of curation through music, while also providing a stellar Impact mix meandering through the sounds of acid and breaks.

I’m keen to focus on radio, because I love how you’ve dotted around a few stations. You’ve been involved in radio in some shape or form for six years now and currently hold a residency on Rinse FM. What is it about the medium that is so appealing for you?

I think it’s just so accessible and you’re able to do whatever you want with it, really. All of the stations I have been on have been quite open about whatever genre I wanted to play, if I wanted to move my show around or do a bit of a longer show, or have guests on. I think, first of all, being able to get the chance to put music out to people is something - quite often it is difficult in itself to get booked to play in clubs and bars, so getting music out there by doing radio is quite easy. It’s easy to get into contact with the smaller stations and ask for a show or a time, or a guest slot, and I found that an easy way to get into creating mixes and shows to share to people who might then book you or invite you to have a mix with them. I’ve gone from KMAH to Sable to Narr to Melodic Distraction to Worldwide FM to Rinse.

What do you think about the current landscape of radio? We’ve unfortunately seen the closure of so many stations lately…

I think the time we’re going to now, on the cusp of a recession potentially, we’re going to see a lot of small businesses including radio, clubs, bars etc all closing down. For radio it could be more difficult as people mightn’t want to pay a subscription with them already paying for different things like Spotify or they’re already buying music and don’t want to add to that extra expense. There’s been a lot of funding cutbacks from the Arts Council and that’s where a lot of independent businesses, independent radio stations, got their money from, and that’s just being stripped back and back with the fight for that getting a lot harder. There’s so much to listen to online now – Boiler Room, HÖR, all the different radio stations streaming, people doing their own podcasts – it must be so hard to gain and retain new listenership.

Read this next: How The Cost Of Living Crisis Is Impacting Radio Stations

Can you talk to me about CITRIC, your event series?

Yes! We’ve done one event so far but there will be more coming. CITRIC is meant to be an event to platform women, transgender and non-binary people of colour into always playing the headline slots. We get this story - and I’ve seen other festivals this year say - that it’s really difficult to have the headline slots of women because there aren’t many people in those positions. But there are people with the talent and the skill; they just don’t get the leg up. There are a lot of white straight men that pop off within a year and grow exponentially, but you don’t see it as much with women, transgender, non-binary people, especially people of colour. I think that we have a lot more women who are white in those headline slots, so I suppose it [CITRIC] is trying to push more people into those slots and provide a platform for women, transgender and non-binary people of colour.

How was the first event?

It went really well! What was so nice was I didn’t really put out what the point of it was, I just booked myself, SUCHI and Amaliah, and I had a few people coming up to me whilst I was in the booth watching them saying ‘it’s really good that you’ve got women headlining.”. Not that it’s unheard of, other events do book headliners that are women, but it was nice for people to recognise that on the night. The crowd was amazing, there was no issues all night. They were super nice, all wanting to be there and all of different genders and ages. There were people from the age of 20 to 40 and it was nice to have that diversity, that is what I want all of the events to be like.

I find it interesting that whilst there’s an electronic basis to the party, you’re still quite keen for the event to not be bound by genre. Is that something reflective of your own sound?

Definitely. I just wanted it to be as open as possible, and there’s so many events which are specifically wrapped around genre, that I want to create a space for people who want to hear everything and don’t want to go to a night and hear one genre all night. If you go to an event and you don’t really like house that much but have to listen to house for eight hours, it’s probably not going to be that enjoyable! So by having an event where the music policy is quite open, the people who I book might think about playing a sound they don’t usually. It’s completely up to who is playing what they wanna play.

That’s refreshing, where sometimes it’s easy to get quickly pigeonholed into one genre.

I’ve been asked by so many people ‘have you decided what genre you want to play?’. I don’t want to pick! I like everything!

So, what’s the vibe you bring to the dancefloor then?

I feel like you’ll always hear some sort of acid in my sets, but acid stretches across so many different genres anyway. I always like to play around with that sound. I think it was ever since I saw DJ Pierre play at Bloc Festival and I was like ‘oh my god, I love this!’. I’d obviously already heard acid before, but when I looked into him as a DJ and the creation of the sound, I realised it was something I could find more of so I got into Posthuman and the whole I Love Acid thing. I love acid in different genres throughout sets, you’ll definitely always hear some! Lots of breaks, too. That’s influenced by loving broken beat and jazz in Leeds. The broken element to tunes always fits somewhere – whether that’s UK bass or broken beat or broken techno, it’s somewhere in there.

Read this next: How your favourite genre got its name

Your sets feel structured in a really nicely thought out way, especially as they meander through genre. Would you say piecing DJ sets together is a cathartic process for you?

Definitely. I think because I only plan the first couple of tracks, and then just go through, it’s always so nice mixing two tracks together and getting the cathartic feeling of ‘oh wow, they actually sound really good together!’. It can be quite exciting, but that’s always what’s worked for me. It’s feeding off the crowd, seeing if it really works for someone or if the crowd don’t really like it, so you’ve the freedom to move away from that kind of sound and move into something else.

Speaking of sets, I see you played the iconic bathroom, HÖR, at the end of last year!

I hate being filmed, it makes me really anxious, so that was a bit terrifying! I don’t know if you’ve seen the video but I can’t watch it back. I couldn’t look at the camera once, if I was checking the time I was looking all the way around the screen. It was fun to go over to Berlin and do it, though.

Looking forward, then, what’s on the cards for you this summer? I believe you’re quite packed…

Annual leave is running low! I’m going to play at Love International and Dimensions which I’m really excited for, and Glastonbury for the first time! I’ve never even been so it’ll be exciting to go. I’m doing Lost Village and Parklife too. I’m excited to play on the Parklife stage, I think it’s the Temple stage, it looks quite cool. I’ve got lots of different sets and different line-ups in terms of sound so I’m really excited to play around with different sounds for each festival.

Finally, can you tell us about your Impact mix?

I recorded this mix on my home setup, which includes two hifi three way bass Aiwa speakers, two Pioneer XDJ 700s, two Technics 1210s and a Xone:92 mixer. However, for this mix, I just used CDJs. I included lots of new music as there is so much amazing stuff coming out at the moment and it was hard whittling down the tracks. I also threw in a few tracks I’ve been playing out quite a bit at the moment, which have also featured on my Rinse FM show. Sound wise, it’s very acid and breaks heavy, with those styles heavily influencing the tunes I select. I tried to keep it high energy and fun as we’re going into festival season – it’s sunny and we all wanna hear bangers!

Niamh Ingram is Mixmag's Weekend Editor, follow her on Twitter

Arkajo – Sagan
Eric OS – Omen
Olsvangér – Darkroom Dubz
DJ Life – Hotdog Technology
Jotel California – Bulldoze
Jex Opolis – Pneumatic
DJ Life – Fermented
Laars & Cosmic G – Five Atoms
REES – Energia (Original Mix)
Pletnev – Wandering Mind, go f yourself
REES – Hydrate (Dream Mix)
K65 – Bad Tabs
Half Cut – Generate
Amaliah – Mespo Dance
Amor Satyr – Dragonfly Glider
Delicate Records – Sin Limites
Gzardin – AMBicious
Mabel – Equestrian
Mortar & Pestle – Wet on Sight
Perko – Prang feat. Huerco S.

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