Having cut her teeth on Dublin’s community airwaves, selector Jill Staxx is curating a show for RTÉ Pulse. Ahead of appearing at Red Bull Free Gaff, she talks with Mike McGrath-Bryan.
Having been at the cutting edge of Irish hip-hop with the Staxx Lyrical show on Dublin Digital Radio, selector Jill Staxx has been in a unique position to observe the rise and development of the genre from a fringe pursuit to centre-stage in the country’s independent music scene. As moved things forward as a live DJ, however, including an appearance at this weekend’s Red Bull Free Gaff in Dublin city centre, her scope as a producer/presenter has expanded to electronica and into the post-genre mindset. Enter The Jill Staxx Show, her new venture on RTÉ’s digital-exclusive Pulse station, breathing some rarified air as a progressive radio at the forefront of the state broadcaster’s support for Irish artists and producers. “Dublin Digital Radio is an amazing, independent platform which gave me the opportunity to produce and host the Staxx Lyrical show which was dedicated to old-school, independent and underground hip-hop. I was not limited to what I could play at DDR, but when I crossed over to Pulse, I took it as an opportunity to play music which would extend far beyond hip-hop. I am interested in many styles of music and I don’t want to confine myself to genres. My show on Pulse incorporates a wider range of musical styles such as jungle, house, techno and pop among many others. When I started at DDR, I had no previous experience in radio and learned as I went along with the help of some of the incredible people at the studio, in particular Cormac Walsh. Pulse offered me formal training in the weeks leading up to the show which exposed me to many new technical aspects of radio. It has been a great opportunity for me to explore new terrain and develop my sound.”
Whether it’s for a live set, or putting together a show for radio, every DJ has a means of choosing tunes that balance their own listening and creative impulses with empathy for a room, or listenership. Staxx lets us in on her thought process for whittling down her collection for a set like this weekend at Red Bull Free Gaff, and how it changes between live sets and broadcast. “My radio shows can be very different from my live sets. For shows, I’m more interested in showcasing the artists, and playing new releases. It’s a bit more informative, and can easily switch from softer styles into up tempo ones. However, that changes in live shows. I learnt early on that playing laid-back hip-hop at 1am in a sweaty club will leave you with some really confused looking faces so you need to strike a balance between music you love, and keeping the audience moving. Naturally, the music I play out will be dependent on the time, the venue and the event. I’m constantly searching for music to try and keep my sound growing so that I’m not playing the same thing all the time. I think it’s important to constantly challenge yourself, if it feels stale to you it will feel off to your audience. It’s important to take risks, to keep searching for special songs but also not to be afraid to play big anthems when the time is right. Most importantly you need to stay true to your sound and what you genuinely love.
Recent mixes for the show have made clear the aforementioned emphasis on Irish producers and artists, existing within the worlds of hip-hop, bass and electronica that Staxx has been spinning. Much has been made of a new golden age for the genre in Ireland, a continual and ever-shifting narrative trope that changes with times and media, and it’s something that Staxx is passionate about, especially in light of problems with perception that independent music has had in the eyes of casual Irish listeners. “I personally feel the music scene in Ireland is thriving right now, and people are definitely paying more attention to local artists. However, there are times I’m shocked by how often Irish artists get overlooked within their own country. What is particularly interesting about the music scene in Ireland at the moment is its diversity. This is not only apparent in the variety of music styles being produced but also within the range of artists in terms of gender, age, diversity of backgrounds etc. Irish artists I’m enjoying at the moment include Irish rapper and singer Biig Piig. Also, my last show guest LOLZ introduced me to Lee Kelly’s EP ‘Layers of Identity’ which is a really beautiful record I’ve been listening to lately. I would also recommend Dublin’s ‘Wriggle’ collective who all create really interesting bass, hip-hop, trap and some other good stuff I struggle to define!”
Red Bull Free Gaff is happening next weekend in Dublin city centre, with a massive lineup of Irish artists, producers and DJs, right at the forefront of the scene that Staxx has been documenting and platforming. She’s DJing across the weekend, including the weekend’s Sunday Brunch, and for her, the lineup’s homegrown feel is validation for her support. “Yeah, it’s really nice that Free Gaff is a lineup of all Irish artists, it just shows that there is sufficient talent here to have an all-Irish lineup, and that we can use the spaces available to us to create a unique experience for music lovers. I sometimes feel there’s this “grass is greener” mentality to the arts in Ireland, and that as a creative you need to move abroad to get the most out of your creative efforts. Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge that we’re a small country, and that has its limitations, but I think it’s important to trust in what we can do here to drive things forward. I was also pleased to see the event will incorporate many styles, as I sometimes feel events can be a bit safe and stick too closely to one genre. It gives an opportunity for many different artists to come together and celebrate what is so special about Irish music right now. To be honest, ten years ago I’m not sure if the same event would work. People didn’t respond as well to local scenes like Irish hip-hop the same way they do now. Audiences are becoming a lot more open and interested in local talent. I’m not in anyway against having international acts over here, but casting the spotlight solely on Irish talent sends a really positive message to artists and audiences alike.”
The Jill Staxx Show goes out Sundays 6pm to 8pm on RTÉ Pulse, available at rte.ie, on the Irish RadioPlayer app, on all Saorview devices and on DAB radio.