Sofay on Subcity and life as a DJ

From her popular Subcity radio show to an opening slot at last year's Optimo 20 festival, Sophie Reilly – aka Sofay – is a talented DJ on the rise

Feature by Claire Francis | 10 Jan 2018

“It’s kind of funny: I don’t often find myself influenced or inspired by DJs or music; I’m quite an avid reader, so sometimes like passages in books – if I read something with a kind of atmosphere or mood – I end up trying to apply that to the music that I pick. I particularly do that if I’m recording a mix; I’ll try to make it have some sort of linear narrative.”

Literature might seem an unlikely source of inspiration for a DJ who spends most of their nights in the middle of a dark and noisy dance floor, but for Sophie Reilly – who performs under the moniker Sofay – her love for books and music are inextricably linked. By day she works for Glasgow Libraries, a job that she describes as “a massive part of my life”; by night, she’s playing the likes of The Art School, La Cheetah, or Sneaky Pete’s as one of Glasgow’s most exciting emerging selectors.

“My day job is very different to my nighttime job”, Reilly laughs. “When people ask me ‘what’s that like?’ I say, ‘it’s exactly the way you think it is! I spend all day in a library, and then all night in a nightclub. They are very, very different things.”

It was a degree in English Literature at The University of Glasgow that lead Reilly to Subcity Radio, the non-profit radio station based out of the university. “It’s run by students, but it’s more of a community radio station,” Reilly explains. “There’s people from all over Glasgow, and from outside of Glasgow, that come to do a show. And people of all ages as well. I think it’s quite unique in that way in that it’s got a really wide group of people that use it.”

It was there that Reilly was able to find an outlet for the kind of music she was interested in – “I fell into a really nice group of friends who were all working at the station at the time, and some of the people that were on the team had kind of similar tastes in music as me,” she explains.

When we ask what kind of music that was, she laughs. “At that point, I was actually playing ridiculously fast music that I do not play anymore! I was really into footwork, a lot of Chicago house… so it was very, very fast compared to what I do now. So it’s kind of funny, going from 140 [bpm] or 160, and now I pretty much only play 100 bpm. I kind of went back the way, somehow!”

Her radio show enabled Reilly to showcase her wide-ranging tastes; a style that has since seen her handpicked to play alongside the likes of Palms Trax, JM Moser and Optimo, among others. Yet Reilly explains that she never set out with intentions of becoming a DJ.

“I was rotten at it, I was completely like a bag of nerves all the time,” she reflects when asked how she made the transition from radio to the club floor. “I dipped my toes in a little and then just thought it wasn’t for me. I was quite happy to still keep doing my show. But then because people got into my show and the music, I started getting offers to DJ around the city, and I would have been totally stupid to turn that down.

“I train-wrecked quite a few sets in Glasgow when I was younger,” she laughs, “but I had so much fun doing it – and made lots of really great friends through starting to go out to clubs.” 

Refreshingly candid when discussing her craft, Reilly describes how a self-taught DJ can be a blessing and curse when starting out, especially as a female in a heavily male-dominated industry. 

“A lot of people tried to teach me, and I just didn’t really have the patience – I was often getting taught by men who were just being very patronising… as much as they were my friends, I was like ‘OK, I’m just going to do this by myself',” she states frankly. “You just have to have the perseverance, and a bit of a thick skin. And you also just kind of have to have a bit of ‘no shame’, and just ask people ‘can I play your club’?

She’s also an artist who isn’t afraid to make mistakes, or to experiment in a process of trial-and-error in order to learn and improve her performances. “At first I used a really busted up controller for months and months that I borrowed from a friend, and then I got my own controller. And then after using that I just realized that it was quite limiting in some ways – they’re good for beginners but once I started to play a lot more, I switched to using CDJs.”

“I kind of just started using them on a whim in the club; just pressing a button and seeing what happened,” she shrugs with a laugh. 

Opening the Optimo 20 Festival at Glasgow’s SWG3 complex back in August 2017 was “the highlight of my year,” Reilly exclaims. The festival was widely praised for featuring a line-up packed with talented female acts, including Aurora Halal, Avalon Emerson, The Black Madonna, Apeiron Crew – in fact, it was one of the few electronic festival line-ups that featured more women than men. Reilly agrees that it’s disappointing that in this day and age this is still the exception rather than the norm.

“It’s very frustrating, particularly this time of year when you start to see summer festival line-ups getting announced… there’s a particular festival in Glasgow, which I won’t name, but when you see no female names on the line-up, and only one person of colour…” she trails off with a shake of her head.

Of what needs to change to make the industry more diverse, Reilly speaks passionately. “Particularly in Glasgow and Edinburgh now, I’ve seen a big shift, in terms of women putting on their own nights as well, not just necessarily women getting booked. It’s easy enough for a guy to book a woman, but it’s getting women into the positions of booking and promoting and running clubs, because that’s still fairly male dominated.”

She continues: “When that changes – when you start to see more women put on clubs – is when you see more women on line-ups. I also have a theory that when there’s more women on the bill, there’s more women in the club. You just seem to be surrounded by more women; it’s certainly a more comfortable environment when there’s a woman behind the decks.” 

When asked if she has personally experienced discrimination or disadvantage as a young female in the early stages of her career, Reilly says, “I think when you’re a woman, your mistakes get scrutinised a lot more than men’s mistakes. And that’s the same in all kinds of jobs. If I screw up a mix, that’s going to be talked about a lot more than the guy after me who screws up a mix. That seems like the cards you’re dealt when you’re starting out as a woman.

“It’s a lot of proving yourself,” she admits.

In spite of these obstacles, Reilly has more than proven herself as a talent to watch out for. There’s a show with Palms Trax at London’s esteemed Corsica Studios lined up for February, plus a handful of European dates, including Berlin and Copenhagen, on the cards for the coming summer. She still maintains her monthly Subcity show, as well as contributing various mixes to other radio stations such as Livity Sound’s NTS slot.

For anyone eager to pursue a career as a DJ, Reilly believes that radio provides an excellent starting point for beginners. “Everyone loves radio. I’m someone that started in radio before becoming a DJ, and usually it’s the other way around. That’s something that I heard recommended a lot by people when you’d say ‘how did you get started’; they’d say try and do a radio show.

“Even if you’ve not got a show, try just do one at home,” she encourages. “Just record a mix, talk on top of it, put it up on SoundCloud, and people will start to share it and hopefully people will take notice of it.”

As her DJ career continues to take off, Reilly admits that alongside her hopes to tour further throughout the UK and Europe, there is one thing she plans to work on in 2018. “Talking on the radio,” she laughs. “That’s something you’re born with. I don’t know how much people want to listen to a Coatbridge accent. I’ll be working a lot on my radio voice.” She needn’t worry; from the growing success of her atmospheric sets, it seems that the music speaks louder than words.

Sofay plays La Cheetah Club, Glasgow, 12 Jan; Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, 26 Jan