- Words Notion Staff
Ahead of Puma’s VELOPHASIS SOUND Summer Party on Friday, we caught up with London DJ JJess to get us in the spirit for the pre-Carni fest.
Taking place in west London ahead of this weekend’s electrifying carnival festivities, Puma’s VELOPHASIS SOUND Summer Party is the place to be this Friday. With a dynamic atmosphere where creativity, food and vibes collide, the event will feature groundbreaking live performances by a stellar lineup of both rising stars and renowned legends. Among the talents setting the stage ablaze are Willow Kayne, Highlyy and JJess.
JJess, formerly known as Jess Ajose, is a major London-based DJ inspired by her British and Nigerian roots. Approaching DJing as storytelling, she’s known to take listeners on a sonic journey – which has earned her platforming by Boiler Room, Spotify, and Apple Music. She’s also Pinkpantheress’ tour DJ, and has toured across Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand with the star.
Ahead of Friday’s fusion of style, sound, and flavour, we caught up with JJess, talking the tracks she’s hoping to hear and her stand-out Carnival memories.
Starting from the beginning, when did you get into DJing and why did you fall in love with it?
I truly fell in love with DJing when I was in secondary school. It was sort of the beginning of Boiler Room and I would watch those on YouTube religiously, daydreaming about what it would feel like to do it myself. However, I still didn’t think that it was something I would ever be able to do because it was still very male-dominated back then.
Fast forward to my time in university, I interned at a community radio station in London and would commute from Brighton to London to do a couple of hours a week – this was when DJing first became really accessible to me. I would stay back after my shifts and practise in secret because I was too nervous to let anyone know. In these sessions, I would try to replicate what I saw DJs on the station do and, gradually, I started to build enough confidence to take on some lowkey bookings. I was pretty shy and anxious in my teens/ early 20s but when I DJ’d I felt like the most confident version of myself, it felt like an escape from the real world and to this day, every time I play, I feel like I’m right where I belong.
You’ve played so many exciting shows, from touring with PinkPantheress to Boiler Room to your own parties with Bloc. What’s a highlight show for you?
I recently played B2B with Steve Lacy in Lisbon in this cool small venue called Vago (recommend if you’re ever in Lisbon) – and that was really special because it was totally unplanned but such a fun set covering a crazy spectrum of music from house to Jersey club to west coast rap to gqom. And then also the last Boiler room I played was so special because the energy was very different to what I have felt in London for quite some time – I played such an authentically JJess set and people enjoyed it. I got great reception post set and it reminded me that I didn’t need to be anyone else other than myself when it came to DJing.
This week you’re taking over the decks for Puma’s next iteration of VELOPHASIS SOUND, as part of their Carnival warm-up party. What drew you to being part of this event and collaboration?
VELOPHASIS SOUND is about innovation and taking your creativity outside the box and this is something I related to deeply when it came to my own work! It felt like a no-brainer to be a part of this collab.
What about Carnival inspires you?
Carnival is hands down the best cultural moment that London has to offer and I think it’s the freeness of it that truly inspires me. Being so unapologetically proud of Caribbean and UK Black culture in general, it’s a celebration of the incredible culture that Black people have brought to this country and also the music is a massive part of it. The sounds that I hear and the way it makes people move is a very spiritual thing and encourages me to think of a way to bring that out in my own sets.
Do you have any stand-out Carnival memories?
Probably the first time I went to Carnival with friends. I went a few times as a kid with my parents, but going with your friends in your teens or adult years is so different. It was just a good time!
Which tracks are you hoping to hear at Carnival?
The top five for me would be:
“Sweet Love” by M Beat, Nazlin
“Turn Your Phone Off” by PinkPantheress, Destroy Lonely
“Drift” by Teejay, DJ Mac
“Funky Drift” by DJ Lamz
“Peacock Revisit” by Uncle Waffles
What kind of vibe/genres are you planning on bringing to your set?
High energy. I know it sounds generic but you know when the DJ is playing such good music, you find it hard to leave? Yeah, that’s what I’m going for. Expect an array of genres from SA house to rap to garage to edits and all the in-between.
Your sets are eclectic and lean into storytelling, what kind of journey do you want to take the audience on?
I like to make connections through genres because I feel like music borrows production elements from each other, so if you like RnB or soul but don’t usually listen to any form of electronic music, you might find you actually like jungle too because of the samples the genre uses. I like making connections like this without it sounding like a music history lesson. I just want people to learn and, most importantly, enjoy and take something new away from my sets.
But there’s also the balance of providing some crowd pleasers because, at the end of the day, people also want to sing and dance to the music they’ve been listening to in their earphones. So my sets try to be a bit of both without me compromising on my musical identity – never alienating but something new.
Over your career so far, are there any tracks or a genre you’ve consistently been drawn back to?
Recently, I’ve actually been drawn back to playing Gqom which is a genre from Durban, SA. but also any Kaytranada song as well, I’m pretty sure I drop at least one Kaytra song in every set. His production just strikes the perfect balance between electronic and R’n’B: great crowd pleasers and you can progress your set in so many different directions – perfect for any eclectic DJ.
Who else are you excited to see play at the event?
Everyone, to be honest. People on the line up are either friends or selectors I’ve always admired so I know the event is in very safe hands and everyone going to have a great time because there’s something for everyone on there.
For everyone coming through on Friday, what energy should they be bringing in 3 words?
Bring an open-mind, good vibes & comfortable shoes!
PUMA’s VELOPHASIS SOUND Carnival Warm-Up Party will take place between 18:00 – 23:00, 25th August at West Gallery Notting Hill. Secure your spot here.