- Words Brittany Newman
- Shot by Vicky Grout and Maya Wanelik on iPhone
- MUA Simmi
Apple Music radio presenter and KISS FM DJ, Ellie Prohan, chats about her career journey, the need for more LGBTQI+ DJ representation, and creates an exclusive mix for Notion.
Without a doubt, Ellie Prohan should be a role model to many if she isn’t already. Claiming her rightful space on the airwaves, Ellie’s made it her mission to be an active representation for both the LGBTQI+ and middle easter communities within her roles as a radio host and international DJ.
From growing up watching countless iconic music channels such as The Box and MTV Base to sharing a sofa with the likes of DaBaby, Ari Lennox, Stefflon Don and more, Ellie Prohan has carved out an enviable career in the entertainment industry that she never saw coming.
While Ellie is usually out and about captivating crowds from London to New York, she’s made the most out of the current impossibility of live events. Rather than letting lockdown grind her jet-setting career to a halt, Ellie has been doing what she does best – constantly moving forwards – and becoming a host on The Apple Music 1 List show. If that wasn’t impressive enough, that’s also on top of her weekly KISS FM specialist show and Instagram series, ‘Eat, Dance, Discover’.
We caught up with the dynamic Ellie Prohan to hear about turning her hobby into a career, playing for London mayor, Sadiq Khan, the changes she wants to see in the DJ industry, the beauty of connecting with people around the world, and much more. Dive in!
- Tracksuit Napapijri
- Trainers Puma
How did you first get your foot in the door with DJing? What was the turning point in your career?
I spent the early part of my 20s head down, hustling. I’m from a single parent Persian household and growing up my dad wasn’t present. I felt a lot of pressure on myself to take care of my family.
I got to a stage in my life where I thought I’ve done everything for my family, but who am I? I knew I loved music so I went to a DJ night and approached the DJ afterwards, basically rugby tackled her, and asked her to show me how to DJ. We bartered our skillset and the rest as they say is history. After 6 months of teaching myself, I was booked for my first residency and started getting paid for what I had intended to be a hobby. I would say the moment everything changed was when I played for Boiler Room at their Sounds Like London campaign with the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to celebrate incredible female DJs and artists. On YouTube, it amassed over 300,000 views and it was just such an amazing experience.
Are you seeing more LGBTQI+ and middle eastern representation in the DJ community now compared to when you started out?
I know first-hand the DJs who rep our scene, but how many queer representing DJs can YOU name outside my scene. I think that’s the answer. I still feel like our community sits on the edge of full acceptance and inclusion in the mainstream. Like whatever we’re involved in has to be loud and catered just for us. I don’t feel like the middle eastern community is represented enough in music we just get overlooked as an ambiguous identity. Like we can be from loads of places. And that’s something that really does need to change. We have a right to be acknowledged for who we are and where we are from. I hope that in time things will grow and progress.
What changes do you want to see in the DJ community in the coming years?
I just want all DJs – no matter what their sexual orientation is or gender or ethnicity – to be on the same level. The talent in the only thing that matters. Just because I’m gay and middle eastern and vocal about it doesn’t mean I have to DJ at every Pride event or be niche. I am who I am and I want to be able to represent that on some of the biggest stages in the world. And prove that no matter who you are you should be respected for what you do and what you contribute to this planet. The change I would love to see, is our community being part of the scene not apart from the scene. DJs and promoters who run events have a responsibility to be conscious of who they book and what their line up represents; And to step outside of their go-to DJs and bring upcoming talent in and pay that energy forward. Just takes for us all to work together really.
What drew you to Hip-Hop and R&B music in particular? Are there any other genres you’d like to experiment with in the future?
Hip Hop and R&B is what I grew up on. We used to play out loads on my estate until puberty hit and things just changed, we all changed, and navigating life as a young person came with some hard choices. So I turned to music. I used to watch so many videos with my sisters, we spent days trying to recreate them. My earliest memory of Hip Hop was when I was probably 6 or even 5, holding onto my little Persian mum’s bottom as she twerked to lose weight to Rump Shaker by Wreckx-n-effect. That video made me desperate to learn to play the sax but we just couldn’t afford it. I’ve been evolving musically for the past few years. It’s such a powerful form of expression, genres like Rap & Drill share lived experiences that we’re not always ready to want to understand or delve into.
- Jacket Napapijri
- Jewellery Image Gang
What do you enjoy about being a part of the Apple Music family? What made you want to join?
There is no way that I would have even dreamed that Apple Music would be a potential home for me. When I was approached, I almost lived in denial until it was all locked and loaded. I actually couldn’t believe it. Being embraced for who I am on such a global level, by such an incredible team who I respect massively means a lot. I am able to be heard by countries in the world that still struggle with the concept of identity and freedom. I am educated through music every single time I present my show. Apple Music has opened my mind to so many incredible artists and my way of listening to new music has changed loads through that.
While you haven’t been able to perform live, has the Apple Music show been a good proxy for staying in touch with your audience?
YES! And you know what’s so beautiful? My audience is worldwide. At 7 am when I’m on in the morning here in the UK , it’s the night before in LA, it’s almost 9am in Kuwait, and nearly lunchtime in Mumbai. Where else can I speak to so many human beings in different time zones simultaneously? It’s a great feeling.
Are you currently where you imagined yourself to be career-wise? What do you still hope to achieve?
No way. I never thought being a DJ and radio personality was a career. I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and Marketing, if it was up to my culture and background I’d probably be a dentist or a scientist. I was in a completely different industry before I took up DJing as a hobby initially, and the way the course of my life has shifted is unmeasurable. I love every single bit of what I do. I grow and evolve every day and if I can achieve anything it’s to prove that you’re not really bound to anything in life. You’re just bound to ideas, and what’s expected from you. The minute you let go and try something new, who knows what’s waiting on the other side for you.
Your ‘Eat Dance Discover’ Instagram series is great! How did you come up with the idea? What has the response from your followers and the DJ community been like?
My series ‘Eat, Dance, Discover’ is literally what it says on the tin. It’s all about bringing in my favourite elements of life and career together. Lockdown had me feeling like everything was out of my control so I just decided to do what I love. On the ‘Eat’ side, I got to delve into the artist and influencer’s culture through food, by having them teach me how to make their favourite cultural dishes over Instagram Live. Culture is super important to me and I absolutely love food – it’s a really great way to bring people together. And you just end up realising how many crossovers our cultures really have. Dance is exactly that; mixes, playlists and live DJ sets, an opportunity to get the party started and Discover is my weekly risque Glo Guide question, of ‘what would you do if’, Ellie Prohan & friends curated panels discussing gender, culture, music, and entrepreneurship with my influencer, artist and DJ friends. Jam-packed, the response was incredible and everyone really enjoyed seeing another side to me apart from me climbing the decks in pure gassage levels of 1000 and wheeling it up.
- Coat and hoodie Napapijri
- Jewellery Image Gang
DJs are often responsible for breaking new artists. How do you go about finding new talent to play on your shows and mixes?
Last week I had over 400 emails of new music to my personal inbox from independent artists. I listen to every single track and reply to every single one. The level of talent out there is MENTAL, I know this sounds soppy but it gets me emotional. So many hungry artists who just want to be heard, and such a small pond at the top. The majority of these rappers aren’t signed and they don’t have the essential support that big artists do. So being able to share them and give them first plays on national radio, is more than just music for me. It’s a bit of hope that the grind and hours in the studio when life is full of so many temptations is worth it.
How did the idea come about for your Kiss Nights show?
I started my Kiss Nights show with the usual, playing the bangers and throwing in unsigned, underrepresented talent here and there. Until my inbox started to get flooded with new music and I was seeing the impact it was having on the artists once they got played. It hasn’t been easy getting to where I am and I just want to do what I can to pay forward what I haven’t always been given. KISS is so nostalgic for a massive majority of us. Growing up it was KISS 100 to me, where you heard all the hottest music. And I just wanted to take my show back to that mindset… I have a battle every single week called 15 Seconds Deep where 2 artists go head to head, the listener can only hear 15 seconds of each track and they vote for which bangs the hardest. The winner goes on to be played in full at midnight for the whole country to hear. That idea; with a sprinkle of adjustment from me, was inspired by the Don who is Ange Martinez and how she used to break artists like Jay Z when she first started on radio back in the day. If you know, you know and if you don’t, read her book!
Which of your projects has been your favourite so far?
I can’t decide. Every single project reflects a different side of me. And based on everything my manager Amanda and I have achieved single-handedly with no team behind us, agent, or investment has purely come from blood, sweat and enjoyment. Even a few tears. I can’t choose. But I’m very excited to keep evolving and keep pushing the barriers not just for me, but for every 8 years old child out there who doesn’t experience inclusion in their day to day life like I didn’t. And for every artist out there hustling who just needs hope to keep going and stay focused.