"You know when you're at a house party with your friends and you have the aux cord and everyone's like, 'that's so good, what track is that' and then you feel gassed?" begins Fauzia Habib, live and direct (via Zoom) from her East London bedroom. She laughs, slouching back into her seat to continue the analogy. She shrugs her shoulders. "That's why I started off DJing. It was really just a way to personify that aux cord interaction."
A lot can be learned about Habib, aka FAUZIA, in a relatively short amount of time. As her origin story suggests, her breakthrough into the electronic music industry was rather unplanned, more accidental than the result of a preconceived plan. Innate musical talent aside, characteristics like perfectionism (something she’s long been aware of) and a business-minded nature (something she’s only noticed recently, which is surprising as I gauged it immediately) have played behind-the-scenes roles in her rise from self-taught bedroom DJ to NTS resident and booked-and-busy party starter. It’s this blend of loose, low-key intentions, confidence and a desire to find more ways to engage with music and connect others that’s captivated so many so quickly. It’s impressive considering FAUZIA is only just getting started.
Growing up, FAUZIA's whole thing was "punk and rock and indie stuff". She thought she'd wind up in a band, or as a kind of one-woman show of some description, as opposed to something more dance music orientated. As a teenager, she ended up studying music production on the advice of a teacher. First at college, and then later at university level.
It was during this time that she discovered the genres and artists that would go on to inform her sonic direction. She first encountered jungle, for example, at a squat rave. Meanwhile, she first heard footwork via Flying Lotus. The Brainfeeder boss had his own radio station, FlyLo FM, on Grand Theft Auto V. "A DJ Rashad track came on and I was like, 'Whoa. What the fuck is this?'" she recalls, her voice becoming more and more animated. FAUZIA's a relatively fast talker, and she gets even faster when discussing topics she's particularly passionate about. "I'd never heard anything like it before, it was so good."
Back at uni, FAUZIA was feeling unfulfilled. Her course wasn't really doing it for her and so she decided to teach herself how to DJ at home. Like I’ve already mentioned, she's a perfectionist, which means she was practising "relentlessly" for months before she even considered playing out to an audience. After some time, she decided to start her own club night, SHOOK, with some friends in Brighton so she could DJ comfortably, support the music she was into and hone her skills further. Kode9, Shy One, Sicaria Sound, Anz and more are among those who have played at a SHOOK night in either Brighton or London since its launch in 2017.
That year FAUZIA reached out to a couple of London radio stations about potential shows. One of which was NTS Radio. She was invited down to its Gillett Square HQ to record a "guest show, one-off type of thing". She says that she clanged "every single mix" and claps her hands between each word for dramatic effect. It can't have been that bad though, as the station offered her a residency afterwards.
Her show recently celebrated its third birthday. The monthly Friday evening broadcast demonstrates her aptitude and appetite for the high, well, everything – be it energy, octane, speed – you name it. The likes of Om Unit, Ikonika and DJ Taye have been on her show over the years. Her very first guest was Mall Grab.
With gigs, radio and promoting keeping her busy, music production (outside of a classroom setting) wasn't something she ever had the energy to fully commit to. In fact, it's only something she's had the time to really prioritise during lockdown. So far, she's had a string of tracks featured on a couple of excellent compilations. Haus Of Altr's 'HOA10', for example, features FAUZIA's meditative offering ‘Untitled 001’. She's also been self-releasing projects via Bandcamp. An exercise in creative independence and control, sure. But also, a profitable pursuit in the wake of lost gig income, with the launch of Bandcamp's 'Bandcamp Friday' initiative and the subsequent financial support it has since provided for the artists who utilise it.
By diving deeper into production, FAUZIA has ventured out of her stylistic orbit and drawn from an even bigger pool of influences. "I think I've managed to produce enough tracks in different genres so that no one has really any idea about what my music is," she says. Her most recent EP, 'are you hoping for a miracle?' (which features West London vocalist George Riley and Kelela), is considerably chiller than some of her prior output.
When FAUZIA started releasing music she found herself feeling anxious. Which was odd, considering she's not a particularly anxious person in her day-to-day-life. "I've always been someone who's just been like, 'do what I want, do I feel', and I don't tend to worry too much about others or how others will perceive me," she admits. "So, it was a completely new feeling to me, and I had to really try and push through it.”
When I catch up with FAUZIA she's in a state of flux. She's in the process of moving house, which is tedious at the best of times and certainly not made easier by a global pandemic. Mentally, she's undergoing a period of change, reflection and readjustment, too. Particularly when it comes to her role in dance music. Bluntly, she's not sure how she feels about it at the moment. In fact, DJing is something she's been feeling disconnected from for a while now.
"It was kind of a painful realisation to come to. I just became super disengaged. I was turning down pretty much every single offer to do any sort of show because I can't participate in this circus anymore... I can't put on a face and go behind the decks and play music knowing full well that dance music is inherently racist," she says via a voice note, a few weeks on from our initial conversation. "Not to say that the music industry as a producer isn't racist also, but, for some reason, I feel like when I'm making music and stuff to do with making music, I have a lot more control. That can be through deciding who your collaborators are, deciding who you're going to release with – there's a lot more control, and you have a lot more leverage."
She's thankful for Discwoman, the New York-based platform, booking agency and collective she joined this year. Its co-founder, Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, is someone she deeply admires. "She's just an amazing woman and says all the things that we want to say," she says. "She always has to face the repercussions of it, she's always getting shit, but she's just so loudly and proudly standing for what she believes in."
Frankie feels a similar way about FAUZIA. "She’s not scared to take risks. She pushes herself outside of her comfort zone and it has paid off for her," she says. "I love seeing artists not give a fuck what other people are doing and not scared to do something they’ve never done before. She consistently pushes herself. I live for this ethic."
Like Frankie, FAUZIA also stands for what she believes in. Take her much-discussed Twitter thread on the separation between "bass" music and "techno" from this summer, for example. For a long time, she couldn't articulate why it didn't feel right to her. It was just a feeling she'd always had, ever since starting out. It wasn't until she was further ahead in her career and had people like Frankie "who's just incredible and someone who's just so aware of how much race is at play when it comes to electronic music" in her circle that she was able to understand things more and acquire the knowledge and skills to better communicate her feelings. That, and the hours of reading she did in quarantine.
The thread came together rather quickly. FAUZIA firing off tweet after tweet in a row in a rather off-the-cuff manner. When she was done, she put her phone away and walked away from it for a while. On her return, her notifications were buzzing with retweets, replies and an abundance of new followers. "Everyone was just like, 'thanks for writing this'. People like Roska, he followed me and said: 'Thank you for writing this, this is so true'. Other Black artists in electronic music were saying the same thing: ‘Yes! This is literally what I've been feeling, this is what I've been wanting to say'.
During our conversation we touch on a slew of topics including her current workload and some of her plans for the future. Much of it will have to remain off-the-record for now but one thing I can divulge is that FAUZIA is working on her debut album. It's going to be a "rebirth" for her. A shedding of her dance music layers in order to become a "whole new entity". That doesn't mean her material won't utilise electronic elements. It just means that, hopefully, it will transcend the limitations of club-focused music and perhaps incorporate more than one medium.
You see, despite her increasingly lauded status on the club circuit, FAUZIA has no interest in simply being your favourite DJs favourite DJ. Nor does she want to be boxed in by the confines of a "club" or "dance music" artist label. All she wants to do is play, share, create and indulge in various musical or creative projects – electronic-led or otherwise – that align with her interests, "clear-vision" and focus at any given moment in time.
Right now, DJing is not her main focus at all. "Besides on my radio show on NTS, because I love NTS and they've been such a pivotal and pinnacle part of my career," she says. "Outside of that, I guess I can use this article to do my official resignation from DJing." The future is bright, and FAUZIA is ready.
Jasmine Kent-Smith is Staff Writer at CRACK magazine and a regular contributor to Mixmag. Follow her on Twitter