Doing things her way, DnB’s hottest prospect talks leading the new wave of women taking the industry by storm and finally working independently.
Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of Lewisham, a distinctive sound rises above south east London’s zestful hum. Tucked away in a backstreet, echoes of reggae’s off-beat melodies interplay with techy dub rhythmic nuances, as it seeps through an open window. The track that plays, is none other than dub pioneer King Tubby in ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’, as it makes each room beam with colour to the one-drop drum rhythm and sunken vocals. This is the childhood home of DnB guru, Harriet Jaxxon, a haven where her dad’s music charges each room with unbridled joy, and every beat is a pulse of artistic expression.
“At home, dad always played something on the sound system. He loved dub music, especially King Tubby. Now, I always listen to King Tubby’s tracks because it gives me a sense of home,” says artist Harriet Jaxxon sweetly reminiscing on her earliest music memories during our midday phone call. Finding a snippet of time in her bustling schedule—from still partaking in her UK tour, to taking care of her two-year-old son—she is again adding another to her agenda. “I’m moving house next week, so nothing is chill at the moment, but I think I secretly like chaos. I’m drawn to it,” Harriet says with a touch of mischief in her tone.
Not only is she packing her bags and moving across the country from the tranquillity of Cheltenham, Harriet Jaxxon recently started working independently, without a manager for the first time. “I’m going on my own path, which feels really empowering. I’m building my own all-female team and employing my friends. It’s not that I’m closed off to having management again in the future, but it’s important to look outside of the box sometimes and just because something is conventional or traditional, it doesn’t mean it’s always right for you. I’m at the stage where I feel older and wiser, perhaps because I’ve become a mum. But I’ve got to the point where I want to do things my way,” she assures me.
Her poise and conviction has to be admired. Going independent is a brash move, however, this is Harriet Jaxxon we’re talking about; she’s far from a newcomer to the scene, she’s a seasoned professional whose career spans over 10 years. A long-running resident on Rinse FM, with a Capital FM show under her belt, all whilst paving and pioneering the path for many of the female DJs we have today. Now, she’s ticked off milestones that are on every DJ’s bucket list, from basking in the limelight at Glastonbury to multiple world tours. However, in her eyes, these feats aren’t a signal to ease up; deeming that “there’s always something else to juggle.”
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A few weeks before our interview, she took over DJ MAG HQ with her galvanising DnB sound for a live stream in collaboration with Type One Community—a project dedicated to supporting and uniting individuals living with Type 1 diabetes. Beyond being an event, pulsating with high-energy vigour and feverish jump-up beats, it was a night held close to Harriet Jaxxon’s heart, as she too grapples with the illness.
“I was shocked when I got diagnosed. When you’re younger, you think stuff like that happens to other people. You never think it’ll happen to you. It’s life-altering. I have to monitor myself 24/7,” she explains. Despite the hurdles, Harriet maintains an unwavering optimist, seeking out the silver lining in every cloud. While diabetes has introduced heightened levels of intensity and concern, it has made her meticulous in everything she sets her sights to. “Monitoring your blood levels so they’re constantly within this tiny target range, has instilled a level of perfectionism in me. I have applied it to my music. I can hold onto tracks for a long time, before I feel like they’re at a point to be released. I have high standards for myself.”
These high standards are assuredly mirrored in her artistry: her filthy blends, delirious double drops and timely rewinds have hooked Warehouse projects and DnB Allstars attention—rightly so—all having Harriet Jaxxon as a sought-after performer. However, being behind the decks and pursuing a career as a DJ wasn’t always the plan for her. Born in the culture-brimming area of Lewisham, she was immersed in the noise of all that London has to offer: “in the early 2000s, you could constantly hear the radios in cars, and open windows. Something was always happening there.” Immersed in music at every twist and turn and with her “music head” father spinning an array of underground tunes—particularly during the evolution of acid into jungle—it was dance that truly made her heart sing.
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Relocating to Whitstable, Kent, at the tender age of 11, Harriet Jaxxon made frequent trips back to her hometown to partake in dance sessions at the renowned Pineapple Dance Studios. Being a dancer was never in doubt for her; it was a certainty. However, she had to bid farewell to her dancing dream, after being diagnosed with diabetes at 17, because of the complications if she continued. During this time, her love for music and passion for DnB were teeming. “I listened to Chase and Status’s debut album, More than Alot, during secondary school, and I connected to it. It was the first Drum & Bass I’d personally heard that wasn’t really heavy and dark”
As she worked giving out flyers for her town’s only nightclub, her DJ beginnings were taking shape. At that time, seeing a woman behind the decks was a rare sight, but Harriet didn’t let that stop her, as she asked the club organisers to teach her how to work the decks. Quickly it became second nature to her, as she found herself playing the opening slots at the club night, initially mostly playing 140, as Dubstep was at its peak, and she found the slower tempo “easier to mix”.
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It wasn’t just that seeing female DJs was uncommon, witnessing a stereotypically feminine woman playing Drum & Bass was once in a blue moon: “I feel like I was at the forefront of this new wave, where in the past when I turned up to play people were shocked. I think I got the brunt of it.” As a consequence of being plunged into the male-dominated scene, Harriet—who always had “a feminine style”—had to battle thoughts of turning her style more “masculine” to fit in.
“I’d always had these thoughts before my sets where I might avoid certain clothes because they felt too feminine. Or that I couldn’t wear much makeup because I needed people to take me seriously. Then, one day I realised, if being my authentic self is what’s going to set me apart then I’m going to own it”, Harriet Jaxxon says.
As she forges her own path, being her authentic self and playing what she wants to play, she looks back and remembers that this wasn’t without conforming to industry preferences beforehand. Harriet spent two years as a Tour DJ with Ministry of Sound (MOS). “You were part of the MOS brand, so you couldn’t necessarily always make it work with your own artistic stamp on what you played. It was an amazing and invaluable experience; however, my lightbulb moment was getting the call-up for a DnB set from a local promoter one night. The energy while I was playing was amazing, so I realised what I’d been missing and had to take it back to my roots after that.”
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Now, Harriet is all about playing tracks that “make me feel something”, as she curates musical journeys for crowds that transcend mere sounds and evoke memories that will be etched in people’s minds forever. For that reason, it comes as no surprise that she classes herself as an “artist, rather than a DnB Producer/DJ.” Her sets are meticulously crafted and are all down to the vibes. “I go by the vibes above everything. When looking for music, if I vibe with it, I’ll make it work if it’s something I believe in, “she says with certainty.
As for what’s next for Harriet Jaxxon: to solidify her sonic identity and fathom more entrancing musical journeys, but, above all, to ensure that the authentic heartbeat remains at the forefront of everything she does. “I’m being my authentic self, showing who I really am. If I have a voice in my head that is doubting my work, I override it with the confidence I’ve gained from my experience. I’m doing my thing, and ultimately that’s what’s always worked for me.”
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