It’s been quite the whirlwind year for Eliza Rose, but she’s only getting started. The DJ, producer, and singer behind the cultural moment that was ‘B.O.T.A (Baddest of Them All)’ is still reeling from the massive success that followed her song – or the “People’s Rhythm” as she likes to call it. She still has moments where she can’t quite believe it but after writing the song in just 20 minutes, Rose knew ‘B.O.T.A’ was going to be special. “What's so good about it is that you can hear it playing from a car window or in a wig shop, but you still hear it busting out in a deep blue underground rave. That’s what is so special about it,” she tells me over Zoom from a sunny Jamaican bedroom.
Eliza Rose grew up in East London; it’s a part of her identity that she’s particularly proud of and has featured in several of her music videos. And you can tell there’s a real love and excitement for her community in the way she talks about the area so passionately. It’s where she first discovered going out and raving at Rudolphs, Opera House, and The Alibi aged 15 and fell in love with the world of music, especially UK garage. “I'm East London until I die. I bang on about it all the time, I absolutely love it. But it was very hard to watch it change, become more gentrified, and have locals being treated badly or pushed out of the area altogether.” But Rose isn’t interested in harbouring too much anger anymore and is instead focusing her energy on giving back to her community in any way she can.
An artist of many talents, Rose’s first experience musically was, in fact, learning to play the clarinet from a very young age through a Hackney-run music programme at her school. “I was absolutely shit at it,” she laughs. But a musical love that she did find was in singing, which she pursued more at her secondary school under the encouragement of one of her teachers. “He nurtured me and boosted my confidence with my singing and that’s what set me on the track to feeling more and more like a singer.” This growing love for music grew exponentially when Rose found herself falling into a work experience job at a local vinyl records shop, Flashback. She was supposed to be working for a modelling agency but when that fell through at the last minute, she had the choice of a record shop or working in a nursery. “I wasn't looking to change no nappies! And so, I went with the record shop and thought, well it’s music so that could be fun.”
With both her parents being actors, the DJ and producer didn’t grow up around a lot of music at home, which she cites as another reason she wanted to get into it. “I didn’t want to act or follow the same path as my mum and dad. I wanted to be different. Acting had been around me so much that I wanted to use music as a way to form my own sense of identity.” And work experience in the record shop turned to a Saturday job that became a decade-long job that Rose kept throughout her university days, too. “It was an invaluable experience to be surrounded by so much music – and such good music. It's what introduced me to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Winehouse and all these artists that I love and are massive inspirations to me. I had all this music right under my fingertips,” she says. But music is not the only love in Rose’s life, and it wasn’t the first.
“Books and literature were always my first passion. Before even music, I was an avid reader and always scribbling down stories. Books were always my first love,” she explains. The singer went on to study English Literature at university in South London but she never forgot music. She continued to save up her wages and buy records – “who doesn’t want to own beautiful songs” – but collecting records proved to be an expensive habit, so she needed to find another way to pay for her collection. “That’s when I thought of starting to DJ, especially playing the records that I already owned because that way, I got to share that joy with people, too,” she says. Starting out in East London pubs playing funk and soul records, Rose started to branch out into other genres around a year into DJing, and then bought herself a set of her very own decks. A colleague at the record shop gave her a couple of lessons, but most of the skills she learned she picked up through practice and sheer determination. “I completely fell in love with it. I love the idea of creating something new or different, making your own version of the music.”
Rose has played DJ sets for the likes of Boiler Room and fabric, and hosted her own radio show for The Vinyl Factory and Balamii. And then came ‘B.O.T.A’. The dance track to top all dance tracks in 2022, becoming the unofficial sound of the summer and only getting bigger from there. The 90s-inspired song was teased into prominence at Eliza’s Mixmag Lab set and then Glastonbury in June last year, starring in key sets across Worthy Farm, then grew into a phenomenon, soundtracking more than 886K videos on TikTok alone at time of writing. Eventually it became so big that it hit the Number One spot in September 2022, three months on from its release, making Rose the first female DJ to achieve this since Sonique's ‘It Feels So Good’ in 2002. Yet, the song may never have come to be if not for a series of mishaps.
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Produced alongside Manchester-based DJ and producer Interplanetary Criminal, ‘B.O.T.A’ as we know it today is partially the result of malfunctioning equipment, a Pam Grier poster, and an unsent email. After working on half of the song, Rose had to go over to her boyfriend’s house due to a broken microphone and while sat in his room, found herself looking at a poster for 1973 Blaxploitation crime film Coffy with the line, “the baddest one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town.” And that’s when inspiration struck. “I knew I wanted something to combat the bubblegum-pop feel of the ‘do you wanna dance baby’ lyric and as soon as I saw that poster and that female empowerment energy, it clicked and made perfect sense,” she says. As soon as the song was written, the singer sent it back to Interplanetary Criminal but was nervous to hear his thoughts. “I worried that he wasn't going to think it was that good. I didn’t hear anything back for a while but then weirdly, I went into my emails to check my sent messages and found that I’d never sent the email in the first place! I was literally airing him.”
We’re now five months beyond ‘B.O.T.A’ reaching the Number One spot and the song remains a regular feature on dancefloors across the nation. “I definitely feel like ‘B.O.T.A’ has surpassed me and taken on a life of its own, its own entity. It’ll always be the people’s rhythm.” Rose adds that she loves this about the song as she’s “not trying to do popstar” and it’s a nice way for her to introduce herself to the world as an artist. “I want it to be about the music — more about the music and less about me.” Not only did she break records with her UK Number 1 spot, but she is now a BRIT and MOBO-nominated artist, celebrating Black female DJs and dance culture during her MOBO performance alongside Sonique and Sweet Female Attitude. “It’s always important for me to reflect on the past. I want my music to be a reimagining and celebration of the past but in a current context, that’s what I'm trying to do and what I wanted to do with my MOBO set,” Rose explains.
However, there's more to Eliza Rose than the music. Fashion and styling is also incredibly important to her. For the BRITs, Rose wore a bold vintage Vivienne Westwood look that she explains was her stylist’s idea but she simply adored – “the more outrageous, the better.” She loves to experiment with different styles for another reason, too. Rose tells me that she can get quite nervous and shy when out in the public eye or during her sets, as well as getting imposter syndrome regularly. “You're really putting yourself out there, they’re your songs, your lyrics, your shows. So, having that element of character or costume through my style allows me to be Eliza Rose, rather than me.”
And now, nearly a year later, Rose has released the highly-anticipated follow up single to ‘B.O.T.A’, a collaboration with Mura Masa in the form of the light and joyful bop, ‘Better Love’. Mura Masa has worked with the likes of slowthai, Stormzy, and Pink Pantheress. Having been connected through her label Warner, Rose describes him as an “amazing producer” and a “vibe.” “I wouldn't have even dreamed of reaching out to him, because I would’ve thought he's way too big, he's not gonna want to work with me, but he did,” she adds.
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Rose accurately describes the vibe of the song as “driving in the car on a summer's afternoon singing along with your girls”. ‘Better Love’ is a lot more lyrical, telling a tale of love, heartbreak and standing up for yourself, which Rose explains was a purposeful move on her end. “I wanted to show that I can write a song that’s got a bit more of a story to it. I’m an English Literature nerd, in the end, so I love writing creatively.” She also adds that she didn’t want to be pigeonholed into making dance bangers – even though she promises there’s more to come – and wanted to make a different kind of track in ‘Better Love’ but one that was still very much Eliza Rose.
So, what’s next for multi-talented artist? Well, there’s more music on the way, with another single due to be released in the coming months, which Rose can’t tell us too much about just yet. And as well as that, Rose kicks off her UK, EU, & Australia tour this month, starting off with a headline London show at The Colour Factory, and is also due to play the summer festival circuit, at places such as Love Saves the Day and Reading & Leeds. Rose will be incorporating more live vocals into her DJ sets, approaching her shows as hybrid sets. She did her first hybrid show recently at a Warner afterparty, which she explains was on a smaller scale but is aiming to incorporate the same elements into her tour. “There’s gonna be staging, lights, dancers, you name it. I want it to be a whole performance.”
“I sort of swinging between sheer panic and extremely high levels of excitement”, Rose tells me as she thinks about her future and what lies ahead. “I’ve walked into this space very quickly with very little prep, I mean I’ve gone from being someone that nobody really knew about to now people knowing who I am. It’s frightening.” But with a career in music spanning over a decade, Rose is proud of herself for not giving up along the way and has worked hard to be where she is today. And it’s something she’s trying to sit with more, to recognise her own achievements. “I'm just gonna do the best I can do, be present, and try and enjoy every single moment.”
Eliza Rose 'Better Love' is out now
Shahed Ezaydi is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter