The first contribution of 2022 to the AVA Mix series comes courtesy of Holly Lester. Fresh from her DJ Mag Award nomination for “Underground Hero”, the DJ, label-head and capybara enthusiast provides a warm and wobbly one hour mix of club ready goovers ahead of her AVA Belfast and London shows (tickets available here) – her first ever consisting entirely of vinyl.
It’s been a busy year for Holly, with a triumphant return to gigging as well as a string of powerful releases on her Duality Trax label with more planned this year. Holly is also the co-founder of Free the Night, an advocacy group campaigning for reform to Northern Ireland’s night-time economy, launched in early 2021.
We spoke to her about all this and more.
Hey Holly! Happy New Year, did you set yourself any resolutions?
Happy New Year AVA fam! Play more records, visit more countries, try to go to the gym (standard answer), stop overthinking literally everything (probably the hardest one here for me haha).
It seems like you had a pretty busy 2021, all things considered. Tell us about some highlights?
I put out some amazing music on my record label Duality Trax – in April a vinyl release from LA based artist Cromie featuring a brilliant remix from rRoxymore, and in August, the first in my Visions VA compilation series, with all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders. I was very happy with how much we raised and super grateful to be working with such a super talented bunch of artists from around the world, including our local boy Optmst.
I also had a load of incredible gigs within a very short space of time when restrictions finally lifted, including playing before Carl Cox at Parklife, supporting disco legend Cerrone in London, warming up the Telegraph Building right before Bicep and of course playing the incredible Nomadic stage at AVA Festival in September. Shout out to the Shine / CHSQ crew too for a very memorable and emotional first gig back at the end of August.
Another huge highlight for me was officially launching my non profit organisation Free The Night in June and then being nominated only six months later in the DJ Mag Best of British Awards ‘Underground Hero Category’ for my work in this area. Definitely not something that happens every day!
Any exciting plans for your label coming into 2022?
I have four releases now planned for this year with artists that I am very excited to be working with, but unfortunately with vinyl wait times it is looking like the next won’t be coming out til April some time. I don’t want to give too much away at this stage, since it’s still some time away, but I will say that I have been absolutely rinsing the title track and it’s a complete killer. You might have heard it out if you have seen me play over the past few months. I have also locked in a pretty big name on the remix for this one, doing something quite different from her usual style.
Tell us more about Free the Night, what made you realise it was time for a change?
Like most people I know, I have felt that it was time for change now for many years, but it was only really during the pandemic that I had the headspace and physical time to think about what I could personally do to change this. I think the fact that we also had much much bigger human rights issues to deal with in Northern Ireland prior to this meant that of course these issues needed to take priority. For anyone reading this outside of Ireland, it might surprise you to know we only had abortion rights and gay marriage rights legalised fairly recently. It definitely would have felt quite strange to start FTN without these issues being addressed first. Another influencing factor is that more and more people are becoming involved in activism and politics due to the pandemic. So yeah, I guess it’s a case of right place, right time. And of course, right people – I would be so lost without my current team who are all so brilliant. My co-founder Boyd and I are basically like yin and yang, it wouldn’t be happening without his expertise in lobbying and advocacy, whilst he would be similarly stuck without my knowledge of the industry and scene. I had made one failed attempt at doing something similar about half a year before we were introduced, so it is very clear to me that we could not achieve this without that political guidance from Boyd. I guess that it is just not within our nature for creatives to be wired in this way, but I am seeing this changing slowly and hope that others can see just how important it is to use your voice and not get complacent on issues that affect your career and life.
Care to let us in on what FTN is up to at the minute?
At the moment, things are extremely busy for us. At the time of writing, we are unfortunately over three weeks into a lockdown in Northern Ireland, which is only really affecting night time businesses and individuals working within the night time economy. We have been writing to the government to demand that the individuals who have had their livelihoods taken away from them be financially supported and are in the midst of a public call to action. We feel let down by certain organisations and bodies who should be lobbying for us but don’t seem to be taking action. So whilst this isn’t part of the main objective and aims for the organisation, we felt like we had to take action. Outside of pandemic related issues, we have been continuing on in the background with our main aims and mission to put Northern Irish nightlife on an equal footing with other UK and European cities. We are now working with Vibelab, an international nightlife initiative, which has opened up many new doors for us and introduced us to others who are doing the same as us around the world.
So what did it feel like getting to play gigs again after all this time? Did you enjoy the September festival?
It was honestly pretty life affirming stuff. The pandemic brought up quite a lot of things for me emotionally and mentally that I was forced to work through in that time. I think like many artists, I was extremely worried that I would have a career in music at after the pandemic ended (if it ever ended!) and there definitely was a worry for me that things wouldn’t be the same again in terms of gigging. I didn’t anticipate just how busy I would be from my first gig back at the end of August. It literally swept me off my feet. Some of the best gigs of my life happened in that short time period between then and December. Perhaps the most life affirming of all was the festival. Just to be on home turf and to be playing to that size of a crowd, I honestly didn’t expect it to go the way it went. I was surprised by just how comfortable I felt commanding that stage after being away for so long. It was one of those gigs where I felt super connected to the crowd and it all just seemed to fall into place. The feedback at the time and afterwards just sort of cemented how I felt about it all.
Do you have any favourite moments from AVA over the years?
Too many moments to count! Being at various friends’ Boiler Room shows over the years and seeing them absolutely kill it, spending way too much time in the green room catching up with so many pals and old faces, watching Dave Tester own the stage in those insane platform boots, Julian Simmons opening Swoose’s Boiler Room last year, Call Super closing with Tony De Vit in 2019… Oh and the “secret” afterparty last year definitely deserves a mention although not technically part of the festival!
What was your approach for this mix?
This is actually the first mix I have ever recorded entirely on vinyl. I have been moving around a far bit over the last ten years and was also pretty skint for most of my young adult life, so I never had a huge vinyl collection. It’s something that I’m building up a bit more now in recent years and want to get more into the practice of using. So I decided to throw all caution to the wind for this and just record something with my modest collection. Of course there will be moments that you might hear me correcting the mix and one or two of the records are a little bit crackley, but it all adds to the charm right? It’s a bit deep I guess, which might be reflective of the mood I am in right now, but there are definitely some nice club bangers later on, including a great tribal track from 1992 on Fourth Floor Records, the fantastic Remotif on Coymix and some good old prog from 2001 on Bedrock.
Anything we have missed you’d like to plug?
Yes! Now might be a good time to mention that I am starting another record label with my friend Steffan Todorović, who runs Gestalt Records, co-runs Coymix and is one half of Abdul Raeva. It will be a VA series style label, so each record will consist of four different artists. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for more info on this, we will most likely be launching in the Spring some time and I’m very excited to share the releases we have been working on!
- Liquid Earth a.k.a. Urulu – Mellow Yellow [Voyage Recordings]
- Lauhaus & Nik Woldring – Context (Boris Werner Remix) [Danse Club Records]
- Afro- Mystik – Ritual De Rua (Dreamtime House Dub) [OM Records]
- 2 Bit Crew – Untitled B2 [2 Bit Crew Recordings]
- Tim Deluxe – Magic 97 [Cross Section Records]
- Andromeda – Without You (Fred Everything Dub) [20:20 Vision]
- Mazi & Lori – Your Touch [Magnified Recordings]
- Ed Hodge – Genesis [Gestalt Records]
- DJM Verbeni pres. PDQ – Again (Tribal Again) [Fourth Floor Records]
- DJ Life – Accelerator [Echocentric Records]
- G-Pal – Krevadence [Bedrock Records]
- Remotif – Ssssputnik! [Coymix]
- Luke Slater – I Can Complete You (John Carter Remix) [Mute]