DEBONAIR on how she crafts her rousing DJ sets

Ahead of her Scottish debut, London-based selector DEBONAIR opens up about her invigorating, eclectic DJ sets

Feature by Claire Francis | 12 Dec 2017

From working in a record store as a teenager, to playing an instrumental role in the establishment of East London's acclaimed underground NTS Radio station, it's no surprise that selector Debi Ghose – aka DEBONAIR – boasts an expansive knowledge of music. As she explains, "I play broadly because I listen broadly. I come from a radio background – I'm one of the few club DJs that started as a radio DJ beforehand; usually it's the other way round."

Formerly the Programme Director at NTS, Ghose has scaled down her involement in the management side of the station in order to focus on her burgeoning DJ career. She still curates a fortnightly show that has gained a near cult following thanks to her eclectic selections, which traverse all manner of genres, from post-punk and vintage electronica to coldwave and Italo-disco. As DEBONAIR, Ghose has also been making her impact on the dancefloor, thanks to her ability to combine on-point track choices into highly energetic, eclectic sets. She will make her Scottish debut on 15 December as part of the Numbers + Warp showcase at Glasgow's Art School, alongside the likes of SOPHIE, Errorsmith, Yves Tumor, and Minor Science; a group of selectors who have received plenty of critical acclaim this year. "Errorsmith and Yves Tumor particularly, I'm a huge fan of," enthuses Ghose. 

"They're the artists I'd be going to see if I wasn't on it – they're always the best gigs. I play lots of different gigs, some of them are quite straightforward [venues]; some of them are in art galleries. I very much enjoy the breadth of those opportunities. When I'm on a line-up like that, it means I can be pushing myself to do something interesting and engaging. And have fun as well as taking lots of risks – I feel like the crowd will be up for it."

Ghose has built her reputation on the back of her broad-ranging tastes and varied, stimulating sets. She explains that her wide-ranging musical palette has been cultivated organically, from listening to various radio programmes as a child, to working in a record store, and holding positions at BBC 6 Music and Resonance FM before becoming involved with NTS Radio at its inception. She cites Veronica Vasicka as a key influence, and singles out Kamixlo, Nkisi and MGUN as artists she admires. One would imagine that such a far-reaching interest in musical genres would be an asset to anyone seeking to carve out a career as a club DJ, but Ghose reveals that her multifarious approach initially drew some criticisms.

"If anything, when I was first starting out as a club DJ it certainly wasn't encouraged," she says of her diverse DJ sets. "I think it's only really now that my taste is being trusted more, as my profile gets bigger, and the gigs are going well, and that I'm getting more bookings, basically, and I'm getting the opportunity to play more broadly.

"People want to know what you're going to play, and with me they didn't. And you know, they never will," she laughs. "I couldn't really compromise that, because that's just very much how I relate to music."

Putting together a dancefloor-friendly set that combines techno and EBM with classic house and Italo-disco, with plenty of unexpected curveballs thrown in for good measure, also requires an intuitive ability to read a crowd. Ghose muses, "I think that's really a skill, and when I'm playing in a way I'm seeing how far I can take it. Of course, I'm there to DJ and entertain. I'm not there to weird people out and for them to go home and be really uncomfortable. Once the crowd has loosened up a bit, that's when I'll try and throw some more stuff out there... but the room having a good time is bigger than my ego."

While Ghose continues to gain traction on the club floor, she insists that her radio programme is still an essential part of her life. "As time goes on, I realise how distinct the two are to me," she reflects. "What I probably love most on my show is playing really weird, obscure things I've picked up along the way that are very much for radio, and would kill any dancefloor. But obviously when I'm playing gigs every weekend, I'm thinking about tracks for the clubs. But they're both very much 'DEBONAIR' – they're both very much what I'm about, but two converse sides of the coin."

DEBONAIR plays Numbers + Warp at The Art School, Glasgow, 15 Dec