FEATURE: Queens of the Underground: Part One: Carly Wilford



Queens of the Underground

PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Goodman 

Part One: Carly Wilford


IN conjunction with my Female Icons feature…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Carly Wilford

I am looking at the women in the underground who are doing great work. For my Female Icons spot, I have selected some of the most-iconic female artists ever but, whilst it is great to spotlight them, there are a lot of great women in music at the moment doing terrific work. In future parts, I am going to be talking about other D.J.s and producers; other great women across all areas of music. To start things off, I am celebrating Carly Wilford. I have been a fan of hers for a long while now and, by the year, she seems to grow in stature and ability! Her magnetism and sense of ambition is admirable; her endless drive and desire is infectious. If you do not know about Wilford then, quoting from her official website, this gives you some good background and information:

Pioneering brand new tastemaker radio platform & collective SISTER, Carly Wilford has become a trusted voice for the underground. A groundbreaking Presenter & DJ, she takes the artists she believes in and broadcasts their music to the world. With her daily radio show on Los Angeles based station Dash X, she strongly connects both the US and UK music scenes, her solid roots in the UK helping to bring through so many of the artists on today’s airwaves.

Not only is she a global tastemaker but a forward thinking A&R. Her confidence to take risks on artists from a very early stage has seen her build bonds with the likes of Sam Smith, Rudimental and Skrillex who have all spoken publicly about her unrivalled support. Having interviewed the likes of Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Annie Mac, A$AP Rocky, Zane Lowe, Alison Wonderland & J Cole and with recent guest mixes on BBC 1Xtra & BBC Asian Network her honesty and foresight helps to shape the music industry of tomorrow.

Her natural energy and lust for life shines through in her interviews. With millions of views across her YouTube videos you can see why the music industry is talking about her and why she is on speed dial for artists, manager’s, PR’s and key media figures within the industry.

Seen backstage at some of the Worlds biggest festivals she has she has interviewed the likes of Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Eve and Usher to name but a few. As well as covering Glastonbury, SXSW, Ultra, Snowbombing, Sonar, EXIT Festival, V Festival, Wireless, BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend and Secret Garden Party. Hunting out the hottest artists, chatting to the crowds and dominating the press pit, on the Red Carpet she has presented at the MOBOS for sponsors HTC, The Brit Awards for VEVO and The EMA’s, The BAFTA’s and The Fashion Awards for Snapchat.

Carly is at the forefront of everything music related – from new artists to secret collaborations, if you need to know about it she has already got it covered. She films, edits, produces and presents her own work as well as having written for Hunger Magazine, Wonderland & Huffington Post. With big aspirations and infinite drive she is one to watch very closely. No ear piece, no ‘note cards’ and none of the fake attributes the industry is often full of – just raw ambition and real talent”.

With Shan McGinley, you can catch her on Subtle FM every other Friday as part of SISTER Radio. If you have not heard it then I suggest you check out the SISTER Collective and the incredible podcasts.

As a curator and interviewer, there are few like Wilford. She is an eager and always-busy talent-spotter who is a trusted voice in the underground; finding the best new artists around and broadcasting them. Although Wilford is based in the U.K., she has traveled the world as a D.J. and presenter and is one of the finest voices around. Having appeared on Kiss FM and Dash Radio, you are hooked by the sheer knowledge and passion coming from her; the perfect voice for radio – soft with dulcet tones but able to get pumped and energised when the mood calls -, I do hope she gets more gigs very soon. I know Wilford is very busy and always on the move but I reckon she could easily host her own show on a station like BBC Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra. There are great female D.J.s across the stations such as Maya Jama and Arielle Free and I feel like a genre-specific show from Wilford would be a useful addition – maybe a collection of her favourite Electronic and House/Disco tracks from today and the past. Likewise, I think a station like Beats 1 would be a great fit and very lucky to have her. Maybe that is in her future (I hope so) but it seems like Wilford has her hands full right now. I have seen her give talks where she discusses her past life.

Having come from a very different lifestyle – a comfortable home, married; a successful business -, she made this change in life and decided something was not right; that she needed to pursue her dreams. Maybe, in terms of life chronology and dream-chasing, it is the other way around: do the D.J. work underground and radio; then progress to life away from the city and get married. It is inspiring that as one suspects she was comfortable in her previous life but not always happy. There are going to be many men and women out there in the same situation and, hearing Wilford’s story, they will be motivated. She is a bit of a role model, not just for artists and D.J.s but for ordinary people who want to break free. I will use a few quotes from an interview she gave to Huck last year where she discussed her situation now and how life has radically changed over the last decade:

Or the time she was DJing in a big club in Cologne: “There were people hanging off the ceiling. I had sweat in my eyes. It was one of those moments where I had to really step up and hold the crowd, and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever played.”

It’s hard to believe that, 10 years ago, she was on a much more conventional path. “I had the house in the country, the dogs, the business, the husband,” says Carly, reminiscing in a Shoreditch cafe. “All the things everyone thinks that you should go after, I had – and I wasn’t happy. I had to find that happiness within myself”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Jamieson for Huck

I will circle back to Wilford as a D.J. and future superstar but, when it comes to her defining characteristic, I think it is her sense of campaigning, awareness and desire for change. On Saturday, I am reviewing The 1975’s new track, The 1975, that is narrated by Greta Thunberg – it calls for civil disobedience and action regarding rapid climate change. The 1975 are a band that can shock and enlighten with their passion; Carly Wilford is someone who has a similar power. In terms of gender inequality and the fact that women in Electronic music and in the underground are relatively under-represented, Wilford knows there have been steps over the years and things are moving in the right direction – more can be done and we are not in the position we want to be. Returning to the interview and Wilford dispenses some useful advice to women out there who feel alone:

Dance music hasn’t quite had its ground-shaking Time’s Up moment yet, Wilford says. The Forbes list of the world’s 10 highest paid DJs featured no women yet again last year; there was only one woman for every four male DJs on the worldwide festival circuit in mid-2017, according to a study by the group female:pressure.

“Know that however lonely you feel, you’re never alone,” she says. “Even if the people around you don’t understand you, your tribe is out there.”

The second lesson is to “know who you are: the bits you like and the bits you don’t. When you’re getting into any industry, you hear loads of advice from different people. But you might be here to do something completely groundbreaking and if you were to listen to [everyone] then it might throw you off track”.

I have written numerous articles – too numerous to link individually – regarding gender inequality and how there are fantastic women throughout music that are not having their voices heard. As part of this series, I am looking to highlight women in Electronic music and behind decks; those in studios and the fantastic writers who do not get the credit and acclaim they warrant; not the same level of respect as their male counterparts. I am someone who is keen to see change in all areas of music and I do know that, for the most part, things are moving along. Given that we have such pioneers and talents like Wilford gives everyone strength as she features women prominently and is calling for equality. From her curation and mixes to her interviews, Wilford is always looking to push things forward. Not only is her voice essential regarding equality but the number of rising artists Wilford has helped push through the ranks because of D.J. and radio work is key – so many can thank her for making their voices heard and getting their music out into the open. One suspects, as the weather continues to get hotter, she will bring us more sizzling bangers and epic anthems – let’s hope she keeps safe in the sun and does not have too many outdoor gigs (it makes me sweat thinking about how hot it would be D.J.ing outside!).

From playing at Citadel Festival to Latitude; talking to Danny Baldwin at Apple, Regent Street as part of Apple’s Pride series, there is no stopping Wilford. She is such a breath of fresh air in music. With greeny-blue hair (I am not sure what the exact colour/shade is called!) and an undying energy and focus, I predict really good things for her. There is so much going on with her right now that I do not feel I have done full justice in terms of her work and brilliance. I have included her social media links below and I suggest you check out as many of her videos, mixes and work as you possibly can. I do genuinely think Wilford could transition from where she is now to work on huge stations like BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 6 Music. Maybe she is happier where she is at the moment but I know she will continue to get bigger and more popular – would one bet against her rising to such giddy heights very soon? As a presenter and interviewer, maybe something on T.V. beckons too. I have always been arguing to get a proper music show on T.V. and I could well see Wilford fronting something like that. In terms of location, Wilford has traveled the world but I can imagine her rocking up to New York one day and living there for a bit; spinning some great tracks in a very different environment  - maybe the new Queen of Queens or the Don of Brooklyn?!

This is all speculation and prediction…but consider where Wilford came from (in terms of her more domesticated life) and how busy she is right now! As queens of the underground go, there is no better place to start than at the feet of Carly Wilford. A presenter-D.J.-businesswoman-innovator-boss, considering her tender years, it is scary seeing how far she can go. I do feel she also has a lot to offer on the business side and calling for changing; maybe setting up a label or body that asks for parity and represents artists around the globe; some documentaries and series – it seems like, when it comes to her, the sky is the limit! She is fantastic and I know for a fact there are so many female artists, D.J.s and creatives who are looking up to her. Who can ask for more than that?! In this extreme heat, there is not a lot of use going outside if you do not need to and, instead, check out this incredible woman who is adding her invaluable voice and colour to the music industry. A trailblazer, leader and innovator; I am excited to see what the rest of the year holds for Wilford. She is someone who is endlessly dedicated to music and bringing joy to people. At such a testing and strange time for our country – what with the horrible new Prime Minister and what is happening in Government – I think music can provide solace, escape and inspiration. Carly Wilford is someone some of you might not yet know but, trust me, it will only be a few short years before she is owning the waves on some of…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Carly Wilford

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