In the seemingly male-dominated world of the club DJ, Lisa Littlewood stands out, though the 5 inch heels help!
A self-confessed tomboy, vinyl junkie and failed footballer, she’s happy to take on all comers in the discipline of clubbing.
Lisa Littlewood settles down in her seat, after bringing us both a nice cup of tea. But it’s perhaps a rare moment of quiet relaxation in her life – working as a full-time club DJ, and of course warming up the Xfm Scotland listenership with a Friday night show of weekend anthems.
And this has been her way of life for 10 years, unusually in what’s often seen as a male-dominated business. However, this has never really been a problem for the self-confessed tomboy. “If I’d been girly and asked people for help carrying my records for me or show me how to work the mixer I’d have lost any credibility, but right from the start I knew what I was doing and even in 5-inch heels I can carry my own record box.”
After getting a job in the Volcano club (“where in Trainspotting Ewan McGregor meets Kelly MacDonald”) she was able to save up for decks.
However, another Scottish film features heavily in her background. “I was obsessed with Gregory’s Girl,” she confesses. “My dad was going to teach me how to play football and I was going to play for the premier leaugue. But I was completely hopeless!” Instead she developed a love of music, political and thought-provoking acts like Public Enemy particularly capturing her interest. So naturally, she tried her hand at rapping – “but I was a useless MC too ! So I thought I could be the guy who stands in the background mixing and scratching the tunes, and decided that was my true vocation!”
Apart from the rappers and hip-hop acts, it was DJs – performers in their own right in the dance world – who provided Lisa with some of the inspiration in her early career. “Maybe it’s the fact that this kind of job attracts a certain kind of person, but I’m more laddish than half the guys I work with – and have bigger balls too!” she laughs. “Records are a hell of a lot more interesting than chatting boys and lipsticks!”
”I never really saw the female DJs that were about then as role models. My heroes were mainly Scottish DJs… but apart from SLAM no Scots had ever broken the scene down south or made it to America.” But not, it seems, through lack of talent. “It was quite stifling, Scottish clubs always had loads of southern DJs up to do guest slots but Scots DJs, no matter how big or popular they became, never actually managed to break through, so people like Slam and Harri and Oscar from the Sub Club were real champions because they managed to blossom from the Scottish scene.”
These rare Scots exports aside, international DJs like Frankie Knuckles were the ones who proved Lisa’s early inspiration. As did an early encounter with another of her heroes, at her first ever paid gig. “Roger Sanchez was having his dinner there in Maxaluna on my very first night,” she recounts. “My hand was shaking as I put the needle to the record, but at the end of the night he said I’d played some of his favourite tunes, we chatted records and he put me on his record label mailing list.” As Lisa’s career progressed she ran into Sanchez in more impressive circumstances. “I’d interviewed him for the radio station several times in Ibiza over the years, and finally at Hogmanay 2000 – 2001, I was his warm up DJ. That was a defining moment for me, to play next to my absolute hero – and as everyone says, he really is a true gentlemen of the business. Uber cool but a down-to-earth genuine guy.”
The move from club to radio DJ was an easy one for Lisa. Apart from anything else she has formal training, of a sort, having completed a degree in communication “just to shut my parents up!” The show she co-hosted with Scott Mackay was renowned for their banter and rabid enthusiasm for the music they played. Well, that and some seriously wild broadcasts including strippers live on air and a studio invasion of partiers who’d arrived by taxi from Stirling.
“I miss doing the show with Scott,” she confesses, “it’d be nice to so something like a one-off over Xmas… we can come in at 3am and get drunk! – ha, I’m kidding, we never did that of course!” she jokes, moving to turn off the tape recorder.
Despite her easy style on-air, on-mic chat isn’t the done thing inside the club.
“No, I avoid that like the plague,” she insists. “Girls never really sound quite right I reckon, projecting your voice can turn into a scream and you sound frightened.” Perhaps it is fear? “For broadcasts live from nightclubs, I’d have to down 10 shots of tequila!
“Obviously on radio you have to speak, but to be honest good clubs don’t need any kind of MC. Space or DC10 in Ibiza don’t suddenly stop the music and say, ‘up next here’s Carl Cox’, or ‘how you feeling out there?’.” It’s so tacky. Of course I could never play it too cool either, I’m never the deadly serious DJ with his head down over the decks.” So what does she make of the fact that many sets are now done from laptops? “It IS quite possible some guys are just checking their emails!” she grins. “People like to see an element of performance in club DJing – you’re interacting with the crowd, they see you loving the tunes and dancing and they feed off that too, it’s a two-way thing.”
It’s a pretty intense lifestyle – with all the necessary preparation for her club sets every week, and a similar amount of setup for the Friday radio show. Oh, and chasing records – “Kris at (Glasgow specialist shop) Level One gets most of my wages, the bugger!” she jokes. “The shop is fantastic though – I’ve DJed with Kris for years, he’s worked with and knows everyone’s tastes, so he can keep you aside certain records and source them for you as well. God I still spend a fortune on records – I’ll buy stuff I’ll never get to play out, just because I have to have it!”
Lisa is about to wax (ho ho) lyrical about internet record shopping but checks herself for 2 reasons. “The competition’ll find out!” she realises, speaking of that peculiar mindset of the dance DJ’s obsession with being first onto the newest sounds. “And, I’m trying very hard here to make out that I’m not a boring vinyl junkie!
“But everything I do does revolve around clubs and music.”
I ask the stock interview question: favourite films?
“They’re laddish in general too – stuff like Scarface, Jaws, Taxidriver, I’m a guy all over I suppose – apart from sexually!” she adds quickly. She warms to this theme. “I love cooking – and eating! Food is the new porn,” she smiles. “There’s your sexy M&S adverts with the seductive dripping chocolate, people are getting a bit more enthused about cooking. I like to be adventurous – everyone likes comfort stodgy food but I like trying spicy Thai recipes too.”
Indeed, she’s planning a course on sushi cooking. “I know if I did it now I’d probably kill someone with food poisoning by Xmas!” That will have to wait until her current spot of further education is done – pole dancing evening classes! “It’s a great night out for me and my girlfriends – I don’t want to ever do it as a living, god no,” she insists. “My teachers are top class, professional and incredibly athletic. That wouldn’t fit in too well with my late night working schedule…. and alcohol consumption”
“And it is all girls, yes!” she adds.
Holidays are usually of the busman’s variety – one of the perks of the job. She has had trips to places like Dubai, Singapore and she has a 2-week tour of Asia in February, but as she says, eyes lighting up at its mere mention, “it’s mostly to Ibiza – it’s the DJ Mecca, and the love of my life!”
And Ibiza isn’t just about clubbing – not any more – which suits the Xfm DJ nicely. “The Manumission guys started Ibiza Rocks,” she explains. “They get bands like Babyshambles and Killers to play, for people who go for clubbing still maybe want to have a night away from all that, and hear a live band.” Lisa reckons that music should have no boundaries. “There’s a definite crossover, obviously there’s always been dance mixes of the biggest records, dance mixes of everything from r’n’b to rock, but it’s coming more and more into the foreground, so now house clubs have a room where there’s someone playing indie rock – it’s a small room! – but it’s still a room, which is fantastic.”
So, dance is evolving to survive? “Its not about survival, its driven by demand, the scene has never been better, more variety and quality. I’ve personally never had more work in my life than I have now. Dance can never die – yes the whole scene was saturated by big companies cashing in and the ubiquitous dance compilations, but that’s exactly when things freshen up and musical anarchy kicks everything up the arse. There will always be people being creative on the underground scene.
And, Lisa reckons, for proof of the blurring of these lines we need look no further than our own doorstep. Well, if your doorstep is on a farm in Perthshire.
“T in the park people don’t spend their entire weekend at one stage, whether it’s the dance tent or one of the main stages.” I have to insist that SOME people spend their weekend in the Slam Tent. “Ok, if they’ve lost their mates” she laughingly agrees. “I love the dance tents of course, but I’ll be but moshing at the front of the rock bands too, it’s healthy to have a varied taste in music.”
Lisa was indeed free to tour the various tents and stages, having completed her working stint on the Friday night, for the live broadcast to open the campsite – a show pretty much the same format as her regular Friday evening Xfm Scotland show. “It’s basically the biggest anthems we can get our hands on, so we really are building you up for the weekend – we get loads of requests by text, and it’s amazing so many are spot on choices, tunes we love to play anyway.” Something which most of the Xfm Scotland DJs have mentioned about their listener interaction. Lisa agrees. “The audience now are totally in tune with what we are doing… it really feels like a massive musical community”.
And she’s already looking forward to her next trip to a festival, wherever the mood takes her.
“T in the Park is proof that people had a wide taste in music,” she enthuses, “so we shouldn’t pigeonhole them into just r’n’b or dance or pop or underground listeners – people like and need variety.” Which is what her listeners are getting. “It would be good to take them all over for Ibiza Rocks 2007and show them how good it is to have a crossover!”
Put me down for a ticket for that. Until Lisa organises that charter flight, hear her on Fridays, from 19.00 – 22.00pm.