On the cusp of a new chapter in her life and career, END. sits down with DJ La La to talk needing a new vision board, thriving in a male-dominated industry, and how her debut set for Boiler Room changed everything.
"Do you believe in Angel Numbers? Mine is 24," La La tells me one Autumn afternoon in Glasgow. At first, I'm not sure what she means and admit I've never heard of them, but after a quick explanation, it's easy to see why La La is feeling particularly tuned in to the power of manifesting your own dreams and trusting in the idea that you're on the right path. After all, La La is living proof that hard work, passion, and unwavering belief will take you where you want to go - and your angel number will help guide the way. In fact the very afternoon we meet to shoot this story (September 24th, believe it or not), an old tweet from the same day in 2011 pops up on her phone: 'When I grow up I want to be a DJ.'
Fast forward 8 years and La La is on the precipice of a whole new chapter. Having just made the move to London and announced her signing to Paradigm Talent Agency - a world-class outfit with a fearsome roster of DJs and musicians including Four Tet, Playboi Carti, and slowthai - it's fair to say that La La has made that 2011 dream come true. "I need a new vision board now!" La La laughs, while we talk about her whirlwind year so far. Successfully ticking off each of the items on her vision board - including signing with an agency and playing a debut set for Boiler Room - La La is ready to enter a new decade and take on a fresh swathe of challenges and opportunities; transcending her self-made success on the Scottish club scene to become a sought-after artist on the global stage.
Shooting at Glasgow's internationally acclaimed nightspot, Sub Club, no setting better reflects La La's current state of mind. Caught at the intersection between the successes (and mistakes) of her past and a wildly promising future, La La returned to her 'home from home' where she was resident for one of the club's most popular nights for 6 explosive years.
A cornerstone of Glasgow club culture, which has played host to sets by everyone from Virgil Abloh to Dekmantel Soundsystem, Sub Club is a clubbing institution which has firmly placed Scotland on the world stage. Having also played an indelible role in the formative years of La La's career the venue serves as the perfect backdrop for our conversation, talking self-criticism, making a name for herself outside of Scotland, and why keeping herself happy is the top of her agenda.
Tell us a bit about the early days of your career starting out in Glasgow. What are some of your memories from those early sets?
Oh the early days, Jesus – I just remember feeling totally out of my depth. In a sense, I always want to feel that. Maybe not the insecurity, but I’m always going to be a pupil to this discipline: learning never stops and music is ever-evolving, that’s the beauty of it. I knew if I wanted to do this that I just had make my peace with sometimes being embarrassed: I was going to make mistakes but it was about soaking up the lessons that came with them. Becoming a resident at FLY 6 years ago taught me a lot, holding a residency for that long is something I’m really proud of and it meant I played alongside some amazing artists like Dekmantel Soundsystem, Roy Davis Jnr, Detroit Swindle etc. and of course my fellow residents at FLY like Denis Sulta, Éclair Fifi, Jasper James. I took huge inspiration from a number of people which helped me really figure out the DJ I wanted to become – Lil Louis played at Sub Club’s birthday party and that really affected me and still does to this day. He played not one song anyone knew but we celebrated it like it was our favourite – to me that is the real ticket!
You’ve just made the move to London from Glasgow, what are your first impressions of the differences between the two cities, particularly the club scenes?
I only moved down around four weeks ago so it’s probably too early to be making any judgements, but the obvious thing would be the scale and variety in the nights. In Scotland, there are key staples and the go-to clubs, but to be honest I didn’t go out massively especially in the last few years if I wasn’t playing myself. Honestly, I’m looking forward to experiencing that side of venues again. My Scotland crew - Sub Club, FLY - have all really shaped me up until now so I’m buzzing to immerse myself in everything that London has to offer.
You recently played your debut set for Boiler Room which felt like a really pivotal moment in your career so far; tell us a little bit about that experience and how it came about?
Yeah, it was a pivotal moment for sure! I had been a resident for FLY for 5 years at that point and had started and ran the Glasgow arm at Sub Club so when Boiler Room was confirmed for the festival I got the call up. I owe a lot to FLY, but giving me that opportunity and platform has basically changed everything. As for the build up towards my set – I really didn’t enjoy it. Looking back I wish I had been more relaxed about the whole thing, but knowing this could be my one opportunity to break out of Scotland, having 6 months to torture myself about it and then having to define your sound in such a small time window, then add to that a camera in your face – it just felt very unnatural and I was really hard on myself. I walked off and really convinced myself I had properly fucked it! Those two weeks before it aired (due to weather conditions) were - ah - interesting.
It’s been a big few months with Boiler Room, moving city, and you’ve announced that you’ve signed to a talent agency – the same booking agency as Mark Ronson, Four Tet and Annie Mac to name just a few – what does that mean for the future?
I’m so grateful for how it’s worked out. I have a really amazing team around me now actively working on my career and how it’s going to evolve. I try not to think about the roster at either my management company or agency as I think that would add way too much pressure – I’ve learned a really important lesson through Boiler Room: I just want to enjoy whatever happens next and hopefully just make myself and others proud.
You’ve been open on social media lately about struggling with the unrealistic pressures we put on ourselves when we watch everyone’s lives played out as a highlight reel online. How are you balancing the pressure to have an online presence as your career ramps up with staying true to yourself?
It’s an everyday learning curve to be honest. Sometimes I struggle more if there is a lot of white noise going on in the background. I’m lucky to have a strong support system around me which truly keeps me sane and above all happy. My manager Sam has helped me with not being too vulnerable online, but I’m still trying to find a balance of speaking out about struggles versus staying silent.
The DJ scene is still by and largely a boy’s club. What’s your experience been like as a female DJ in a male dominated sphere? Do you think the culture is shifting?
I’ve been playing out in clubs every weekend for coming up 7 years – so I’ve seen a change in the culture even in that time. A lot of doors were opened for me prematurely because I was a girl and there weren't many of us, but to get from the doors being opened all that time ago until now hasn’t been easy. I’m looking forward to it hopefully becoming all about the music and not the gender.
What would your advice be to other young, especially female, DJs trying to get started on the club scene?
Just start. If you have a dream, go for it. If you are doing something with the right intentions not because it’s a trend or a ‘cool’ job, your passion will shine through in the end. Work hard, find your own sound, reach out, and be seen.
We’re living in an age where people have stopped being content with just being one thing. It seems like everyone is focussed on becoming a multi-hyphenate with multiple plates spinning at once. How do you feel about that aspect of hustle-culture? Do you think it’s better to hone your craft in just one area or do you think spreading yourself across multiple disciplines and projects is just part of the modern world?
I’m all for it, why be one dimensional? But for now I’m concentrating solely on music and growing as a ‘selector’. I’ll never be satisfied with my ability ever, but in terms of the other stuff - should I be so lucky to have those options I would definitely utilise them.
What can we expect to see from La La over the next 12 months?
I have a new night launching within my residency at FLY in November which I’m buzzing to get off the ground and loads of other stuff in the pipeline for 2020 - all to be revealed soon.