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Jodie Harsh: "My first time in a club felt like waking up from a dream"

Dazzling, dynamic and taking the dancefloor by storm — Ms. Harsh talks us through her personal nightlife revival

  • Words: Megan Townsend | Photography: Tre Koch
  • 6 April 2022

Having spent the best part of two decades on the country’s dancefloors and festival stages —Jodie Harsh is no stranger to a ‘Good Time’. An icon of the UK drag scene, Jodie and her signature blonde beehive have been delighting crowds throughout Britain with her euphoric selection of disco, pop, and big room house since first cutting her teeth on the decks at just 18-years-old. Having taken the nightlife industry by storm, her dance music domination has only continued post-lockdown: She recently became the first drag artist to be featured on BBC Radio 1 for her SG Lewis collaborations ‘No Sleep’ and ‘My House', headlined the main stage at Creamfields Festival and released remixes for Charli XCX and Kylie Minogue.

Hailing from a small town in Kent, she describes her first trip to a London club as “eye-opening”, having felt like an outsider throughout her formative years. “I felt like a black sheep,” she tells us. “I was this little queer kid and I wasn’t really out, there was no one else like me around in my school.” Her music influences come mostly from her early club experiences, reverence for the golden era of NYC nightlife and of course, music videos — in particular, Madonna’s ‘Music’. Having spent the past few years focusing on creating music, Jodie found new inspiration during lockdown… unable to connect with her beloved nightlife scene she created the track ‘Good Time’ a stalwart tribute to everyone’s favourite pastime and our collective desire to be able to dance once more.

Read this next: In Session: Jodie Harsh

Her production success has seen her take to some of the best-loved stages in dance music in the last two years — such as Creamfields, Joshua Brooks, Night Tales and an upcoming 2022 tour that will see her head to Sydney, Budapest, Dublin and New York. Though she’s not abandoned her local club nights just yet. Due to a desire to really create “a great party” she launched her own club night alongside the team behind Little Gay Brother last summer — Feel It at Omeara — with fellow rabble-rousers taking to the decks including OK Williams, Melé and Eats Everything. Alongside creating certified floor-fillers she is set to launch the second season of her Life Of The Party podcast – which sees her go through iconic nights out with in-the-know guests, such as The Blessed Madonna and Joel Corry.

We caught up with Jodie to talk about routines, the transformative nature of clubbing and how summer 2022 will be the very best yet.

Your most recent single 'Good Time' is inspired by a yearning for the dancefloor right? Had you been really excited to get back out before lockdown ended?

Yeah! I think as a DJ I was obviously missing that audience and a connection to the dancefloor. Everyone was. We all had this weird year of working out exactly what to do when our culture and lives are based in nocturnal spaces and then they are taken away. DJing in your living room and streaming from your phone and all that stuff — that was a good placeholder sure, but when things did start opening up again it was a huge relief. I first did a show at Night Tales last Easter and that was a "rule of six" thing, you had to stay at your table, order drinks with your barcode, people would stand up and security would run over, you know? It was the best we could do at that moment because of restrictions. I really yearned for a nice busy dancefloor or a festival weekend — it's just about getting people back together. I think we all really realised how important nightlife is for mental health reasons, for connecting with others, for escapism. That's my favourite thing about nightlife, it's an escape from reality, you can become that person you want to be, who you can't be when you're doing your 9-5 — it's a chance to go out and play, and we didn't have that. So 2021 was definitely a year for counting down for me.

Can you tell us about your first night back in the club when restrictions were lifted?

I'm not 100% sure about my first club, but I think my first festival was Creamfields. I don't really get nervous before shows but as we were walking up to the stage I suddenly thought — oh, fuck! [laughs]. I was like: "What if I forget how to DJ? There are like 10,000 people in front of me here." But it definitely felt good to be back, as a DJ when you're raised up on a platform or whatever you get to look out and see human interaction taking place... you see people meeting people, getting off with each other, bumping into people they've not seen for years — those awkward hugs you know [motions] "are you hugging?" It was such a sight.

Read this next: Creamfields South announces line-up for 2022

Do you think since lockdown your club habits have changed?

I think because I'm in the club quite a lot I've always been really disciplined with nightlife and I'm always the first one to leave [laughs]. I've always got things to do the next day: meetings, catching flights, going to another club — it's a lot. But, I don't think other people should be like that.

You're the Queen Supreme of UK nightlife, you've seen it all — how do you think things have changed in the club scene recently?

There's a big part of clubbing that is exactly the same as it was [before lockdown]. But, I think one observation from behind the decks is I see queer nightlife and straight nightlife — or whatever you want to call it — kind of merging into one. It used to be really separated, but now you can go to a Defected night at Printworks for example, and there are tonnes of LGBTQI+ people there. I definitely think the boundaries have been taken down a little bit more — which is really nice. We've lost a lot of venues and we've lost promoters and DJs due to financial hardships... but the clubbers are still there. The people who work in nightlife are hustlers you know? And there are so many new things emerging — nightlife, it always finds a way. I'm already so excited about all the festivals happening this summer and the four-day weekend for the Queen's Jubilee. Do you remember the 2012 summer? When William and Kate got married, and it was the Queen's birthday, the Olympics... I remember how incredible that summer was, everything felt so alive. I think this summer will be the same.

Do you think a good night out is transformative? Can it change everything?

Yes, I've fallen in love on the dancefloor, I've met lifelong friends, I've discovered music I never thought I'd even like. There really is nothing like a night out to open your mind to ways of being or cultures — a good nightclub is a melting pot of loads of different types of people, and we don't get that in our day-to-day lives at all really.

Can you tell us about a night out that has changed your life?

I always remember my first time walking into a club, I was very underage — I had a great fake ID [laughs]. It was G-A-Y at the London Astoria, which isn't there anymore, R.I.P, I'm sure I was 15 maybe, so young. I was with my best girlfriend and I walked into the room and they were playing the music that I loved, and there were thousands of people just like me. When I went to a nightclub for the first time and found a room full of thousands of like-minded people having a good time, not crying into their pillow like I was at that age... I felt like I'd woken up from a dream, I'd arrived. Also on my first trip to Ibiza, I went to Space and saw Carl Cox, obviously. It was one of those moments where I was like "I love nightlife", having an eight-hour window where nothing else matters outside of this room and these people. It was incredible.

Read this next: Drag, glitter and prison: How Raven Mandella became disco's best-loved dancer

You've actually got your own club night — Feel It at Omeara in London. Can you tell us a little bit about how it all started?

I decided to do it while we were in lockdown and I was talking to my friend Clayton, who runs Little Gay Brother, we said: "We should just do a fun party." I have always said I don't want to promote another club brand — I've done that previously but right now I really want to focus on making and releasing music. But, I thought, coming out of lockdown people are going to want a really good party — and no one else could create this dream party that I have in my head that I want to be at. I felt it was my duty, I had to do it. So it all started as a short-term project, as soon as nightclubs could open again — we just wanted great music, a really great mixed crowd In a nice venue with all good vibes. We're pretty cutting-edge in terms of what's big in dance music too — we've got artists like OK Williams, Melé — we've got some really big secret guests coming up as well. Eats Everything loves it and he's now our quarterly resident, he's going to play four times a year. The club is so full every week that we have a line around the corner before it opens — it's Studio 54 vibes. It's a short term project for sure, I think we said we'd do a year... we'll cross that bridge when we come to it though. It was important for me though, because I love the culture of nightlife and how it's all about the hustle — there's so much creativity behind the artwork, collaborating with designers, programming DJs, etc. That is all really my background. I feel like it's my last hurrah as being a promoter really, I'm loving it.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into DJing?

I started working in nightclubs when I was about 18, I lived with someone who was a DJ and he encouraged me to start playing — I was throwing raves and club nights and stuff so why not. Someone helped me during my first gig, but after that, I really developed my skills as a DJ and I loved it from the get-go. I love controlling a room, weaving narrative in, building tension, and seeing people smiling — it makes me happy.

Have there been any records in your bag you've been dying to play since clubs reopened?

I actually got really into Ewan McVicar during lockdown — I favourited 'Tell Me Something Good' when it only had 3000 streams or something. I actually got in touch with him and followed him on Instagram and we're besties now [laughs]. I remember playing that everywhere at the beginning of last summer when it was first released and everyone being like "what is this tune!" I was really behind that right from the get-go — but now of course it's been in the top 10 and I can't play it as much [laughs]. There's this new artist coming out of Scotland right now called Fletcher Kerr and he's making some really interesting music, there's this one called 'I Don't Need No Man' and it's this Diva vocal over a big room house beat — it sounds so 'French Kiss'. I love disco-housey stuff, LS System — I've been dropping a lot of my tunes too, teasing instrumentals just to gauge crowd reactions to see what's working before I finish everything off. I used to keep things under lock and key but now I have been road testing stuff and that helps so much.

So when you're producing, do you create stuff that you want to play in the club?

Oh yeah, 100% when I'm in the studio or I'm on my laptop at home making something — I'm always envisioning the place I'm playing it, what the crowd is like, what the vibe is. That, or I'm imagining a music video. Some people say when they make music they see colours, for me, I see dancefloors. 'Good Time' is like Armand Van Helden vibes, New York, Basement Jaxx era — being in Twilo or something.

You've also just dropped a great remix of Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama's 'Beg For You', can you tell us how that all came about?

Her label got in touch with my management and they just said they were super keen for me to jump on a remix. I heard the track for the first time on Radio 1 and It was so sick, kinda garage-y — I really love the original. I took the vocal and a couple of the sounds and I basically remade the track to more of my own dancefloor taste — started with a bouncy bassline, and stripped-back drums. It took me around a week, so I sort of built the track from the ground up, I have a palette of sounds I'm working with right now and there's this record scratch I've been using a lot so I wanted to continue that narrative with my stuff. I've learnt with remixes the deadline isn't real [laughs], they always ask for the file to create masters but they take two weeks, so we know that I actually have longer... I'm more chill about it now. Before when I've done remixes and they are like "we need this by Friday" and I'm like "okay!" Now I'm a bit more like "you'll get it when it's done." [laughs]

You're on the main stage at Creamfields again this year, right? Are you excited about that? and how was it to play on that stage last year?

Yeah I mean, it's overwhelming, it's one of the biggest dance music festivals in the world. The reason I was booked last year obviously, was as a result of 'My House' blowing up — but to be asked to do the main stage felt amazing, really because I'm from a queer background. I'm different from other DJs because I'm in drag, no one else is in drag DJing at Creamfields. You know how before I mentioned that I always felt like a black sheep? I think now I intentionally make myself the odd one out. It doesn't get any weirder or queerer than being in drag — it's the ultimate presentation of gender. I already feel like the odd one out, yet to be part of dance music culture and to be alongside those line-ups I absolutely love — there's such a juxtaposition. So it's amazing to have that platform and to be asked back — at both Creamfields North and Creamfields South alongside the likes of David Guetta and Calvin Harris, some of the biggest names in dance music in the world. Also, I'm working with this amazing creative director called Aimee Phillips, she worked with the Scissor Sisters for a while, this really cool New York chick and we've developed this visual show that I think it's going to look incredible on those massive screens. Visuals are so key to my process, this is why I spend so long on my make-up [laughs], I've always been like that — I was obsessed with music videos when I was younger, and I love to be able to play with that kind of stuff.

Read this next: Google releases mini-documentary about drag queen DJ Jodie Harsh

Have you got any classic music videos that have stuck with you?

Yes. Frankie Knuckles 'The Whistle Song' because it's funny, simple and it's on a white background. I used to love everything that Madonna does, I got into her around the 'Music' era in the back of a limousine and going to a strip club, in a cowboy hat and a fur — drinking champagne. I was like: "noted." I basically became that.

You're on the road a lot, have you got any advice on how you keep yourself being so radiant all the time in the club?

A lot of make-up [laughs]. I think sleep is important to me, I need eight hours sleep a night — I think if I do any less than that I'm not a nice person to be around and I become super self-critical. If I'm travelling I get onto the time zone of where I'm going straight away, forget about whatever time it is where you just left. I do work out, but I also love sugar. I try to stay healthy? but it's really hard and really boring. I also have real friends that really tell me the truth, they don't take my bullshit. When you come off a big stage and you call your mates in the car home, your ego can be so inflated, but my friends they'll be like "aha shut up," and I really need that.

Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, follow her on Twitter

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