Bristol based DJ, producer and label owner Yushh – real name Jennifer Hartley – makes entrancingly rhythmic techno that draws inspiration from the Bristol drum and bass and dubstep scenes. Yushh’s musical journey started early – at five, she started learning piano, and at 16, she began a pursuit of production that ultimately lead her on to taking up DJing. Having spent a little longer than expected living in the Channel Islands, she moved to Bristol 3 years ago after deciding on a career change, and has hit the ground running ever since.
She’s been a member of party crew-come-booking agency Eminent Audio since its inception, and is a regular radio host with her own show on 1020 Radio, in addition to featuring on various Noods shows, and Livity Sound’s well respected NTS London show. More recently, she set up her own label, Pressure Dome, which innately hones in on rhythmic electronic music. Yushh has released tracks on her own label as well as a recent EP on London-based All Centre, and has an upcoming track set to be released on a Sci-Fact VA.
Priding herself on off-the-wall selections, Jen embraces an unreserved attitude and dare to expose crowds to music they often weren’t expecting. I sat down with Yushh to talk processes behind DJing, producing, running a label, and the journey to her success.
Was dance music in particular always your biggest musical inspiration?
I suppose ever since I’ve had access to music it’s been pretty focused on electronic stuff. When I first started listening to electronic music it was more like electronica and IDM type stuff, then from there I got into old school dubstep and drum and bass, and they were my first dance music influences. Now it’s an amalgamation of those two genres coming back full-circle, and I’m also getting really into techno. I think broken UK techno really appeals to me because of the way the rhythmic content has a lot of similarities with dubstep and drum and bass.
I find a lot of DJs become producers after learning to DJ, whereas you did it the other way around. Was there any particular point or moment that set you on the path of DJing?
At the time I started DJing, around 12 years ago, there wasn’t that same pressure on producers to DJ as I see there to be today. DJing and producing were always separate things for me at that point. I didn’t and still don’t really see the music I write as dance music. It’s definitely getting more dancefloor influenced, but a lot of my stuff isn’t made with the dancefloor in mind. Obviously DJing and producing both compliment each other, but I love them both separately as well. I like to treat them as completely separate things – I don’t just want to be known as a ‘DJ/producer’.
I think that’s a good way of looking at it. Lots of artists don’t look at DJing and producing as separate entities, so you end up with artists who are noticeably more skilled as either DJs or producers, making it a rarity to find an artist whose equally good at both.
Yeah exactly, and when I want to book people, whether it’s for Eminent or a Pressure Dome party, I want a good DJ first and foremost. Even if they may be a sick producer, I’m looking for a DJ. I’ve definitely been to enough nights where I’ve been really excited because I love the artist’s productions, and then arrive and am super disappointed with their DJing. Producing and DJing are different art forms in themselves.
So when you started out with DJing, how did you manage to get your first gigs?
It was just about meeting the right people and getting a lucky break. When I moved to Bristol a couple of years ago, I really didn’t think I’d be playing for a long time, but since then things have just sort of trickled along. I definitely never ask anyone for gigs though – I want to be booked because people want to see me play, and that’s why I’ve really enjoyed it all so far. I think I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to play a lot of gigs at which I’ve really had the freedom to do what I want to do. It’s pretty important for me not to water myself down.
What were you doing before you moved to Bristol?
Before Bristol I was living and working in Guernsey in the Channel Islands for about six or seven years, which was a lot longer than I’d anticipated. I met some really great friends over there, but I eventually quit my job and moved to Bristol. I think that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made; I can be myself so much more here.
I think that one of the best parts of Bristol is that it’s pretty accepting in terms of creative arts and ideas, and the culture here encourages people to express themselves a lot more.
Yeah, people here embrace progressive experimentalism and are happy for people to push themselves. It’s one of the reasons our music scene is so good here, because people are so accepting and encouraging of what others are doing. It’s a good place to be.
And did you move here for work or for music?
To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was going to do when I quit my job, y’know? Some of my friends in Guernsey told me I should consider moving to Bristol and thought I’d really like it, so I came over and ended up falling in love with the place, meeting really cool people, going out partying and just having a whale of a time. That was when I decided to move here, but I still didn’t really know what I was doing. Music had started to become a lot more prominent in my life again. It was one of the few things that were making me happy at that point.
What do you do to prepare for each DJ performance?
It really depends what kind of gig it is and who else is on the lineup. If it’s DJs I haven’t really heard much of I’ll check them out beforehand to make sure I’m not going too far away from the vibe, but most of the time the promoter knows full well what kind of style I play, so I normally have free reign to do what I want. But then I played at the Idle Hands Christmas party, and on New Years Day too, so for those I packed a lot more fun stuff, but most of the time I just take my USB, stick some records in the bag and go from there. It always seems the case that the gigs you really prepare for turn out to be a completely different vibe to what you expected. You can never really tell what the vibe is gonna be like until you get there, so I always like to make sure I have a few different routes I can go down.
What’s your process of finding new tracks to play?
I find most of my music on Bandcamp, but also I’m really lucky in that I get sent a lot of great stuff, so thank you to everyone who sends me music – you sort out my radio shows a lot! I also listen to quite a lot of mixes when I’m taking the dog out, which gives me an hour or so to listen to a mix, screenshot the stuff I like then try and find it all when I get home. But yeah, Bandcamp is the one. I really believe in that platform. Say if I find a track that I’m fully rating, I’ll go see who else has supported it and check out their collections and just go down a rabbit hole. Also Bandcamp actually pays people properly, and now that I run the label, I realise how important that support is.
What urged you to start Pressure Dome? Was it always one of your goals to eventually have your own label?
If you want to end up doing music full time, you can’t put all your eggs in one basket I think, and I like keeping myself busy. One of my uni projects was to release some music, and I was like, “AAAAH! I don’t want to release any music, I’m not ready yet!”. So for that I was planning to put together an EP featuring music by my mates as a little one off, and then leave it. So I asked them all to send me their best tunes, and that’s how the first Pressure Dome release PD001 came about, and the second release PDCOMP001, actually. I was just super impressed with everything my mates sent me. I felt like I’d actually got something there and just thought I might as well just do it right now. I started working in label management about a year ago as well, so I had all the tools in front of me to do it.
With the second EP release PD002 coming out early February, is there any other stuff in the pipeline for Pressure Dome?
I’m not gonna give too much away, but I’m working with some of the artists who’ve already had some stuff out on the label, which will be cool. There’ll be a few more digital releases, and the next vinyl I’m pretty excited about. I want to do another compilation in summer, too. Obviously with a label you have to plan ahead a bit, but I want to see how this one coming up does. The first release is always a bit different, cause everyone is keen to check out your first one and show support. But yeah nothing’s ever fully set in stone, but when it feels right, I’ll do it.
You say most of the stuff so far is from mates. What’s your approach to accepting demos from strangers? I find a lot of labels don’t really accept demos unless it’s from friends of the label.
To be honest, when the first release came out and people started sending me demos, I didn’t really know what to do with them because I had the first few releases planned already. Then Human Resources, who has two tracks on the upcoming PD002, sent me some stuff. The first track I heard of his was ‘Shaq Stem Edit’ and I messaged him straight away just like, “Yeah, this is one of the sickest tracks I’ve heard in a while”. That track is such a good definition of the label, as it touches on so many different areas. There’s breaks and then its got this Prodigy type vibe; it’s just the fact that you can’t say what it is, and that’s what I want from all the music on Pressure Dome.
Releasing indescribable stuff like that really gets people talking about it as well; it gets a buzz going.
That’s exactly it. I think just interesting, detailed and indefinable music is what exhilarates me the most, so I’m hoping I can keep that going with the label. I’m really excited, especially about some of the people I’ve been talking to and by who’s been showing support. I’m not gonna namedrop, cause that’s lame, but it’s been mad. You fully put yourself out there when releasing vinyl, and the response has been really, really lovely. I’m very chuffed.
Do you reckon most of your own music will come out on Pressure Dome?
Well, that’s not really the aim. Initially, I wasn’t going to put any of my own stuff out, but then I had the track ‘Always, Always Never On Time’ on PD001. It was like the first ever track I’d made that I really liked, and any creative knows how difficult it is to appreciate your own stuff, especially after listening to it a thousand times. It’s very difficult to step outside and look at your work from a different perspective. That was the first track where I just kinda stopped and was like, “Actually, I don’t think its complete shit”. But at that point, I had never sent any tunes to any labels, and didn’t have the confidence to, but I thought I should just get it out, as I didn’t really know where it would fit anyway. It was the same with ‘Gurtlushh’ on PDCOMP001. People liked it, but again, I just didn’t know where I would even send anything like that to be honest, and I couldn’t really tell where it would fit on an EP. After that, I hadn’t planned on doing any more on my label, but one of the artists who I’m working with for an upcoming EP wanted to work on some stuff together, and in turn one of the tracks I’ve made over the last few months sounds like it’s gonna fit pretty well on that release. The last release I did was my first EP, which was on London label All Centre and that came out at the end of last month, and I’ve got another track at the end of this month on my mate’s label Sci-Fact, as part of a VA, and then a track on another VA. The goal is definitely to release more on other people’s labels, so I can save my own label for pushing my mates and whatever other good music gets flung my way.
In terms of producing and finding it hard to appreciate your own stuff – how do you approach creating a new project?
It depends what sort of thing I’m trying to make. If I’m feeling emotional or want to express something in a track, then I generally start writing atmospheres and getting a structure together that’s based on sounds rather than drums and such. If I’m just writing for the sake of writing then I’ll just write drums, then dot in the atmospheres and melodic elements after. I actually like a blank canvas, though, but I find it really hard to finish stuff off. I’ve got so many unfinished projects that I can’t see the light with. I can see potential in them but I haven’t quite worked out how to get it to that next stage.
Sometimes listening to a track so many times in an attempt to find that next stage leads you to getting bored of the whole thing entirely.
Oh, definitely. When you make something and you think there’s something there, it’s so tempting to over-listen. I’ve been trying to limit myself to just stop when it’s done, and not listen to it again until I’m going to do more work on it. I’ll just listen to a bounce outside of the DAW and write some notes, so I’ve got a starting point for the next stage, without just rinsing it and just opening the project like, “I don’t fucking know what to do”.
Listening outside of the DAW to self-critique also stops you visualising what the track looks like on the screen, so you can just focus on every part of the sound.
That’s another thing I like doing on dog walks, just chuck my headphones on and hear it from a different perspective. I’ve got some really bright and accurate in-ear headphones, and with them I can always tell straight away if something’s too bright. Mixing down at home can be such a difficult task; especially in the tiny room I do everything in, so I’m constantly trying to reference stuff. It’s really difficult to know when to step away from something.
Do you use any outboard gear when producing, or any hardware synths?
I’ve got a monosynth and an old rack mount 128-voice polyphonic synth that my dad gave me, which gives some high quality 90s sounds. I have a drum machine as well, that I was really lucky to win in an Instagram competition by the studio Devon Analogue. One of my mates works at Funktion One so he sorted me out with this Formula Sound DJ mixer and that makes things sound really nice. I don’t think a lot of people would use it in the studio, so it gives a nice individual sound to what I’m making. I have a field recorder as well which I can just use when I’m out and about, which I like doing. It’s good for down-sampling as well (recording samples at a high sample rate then reducing the sample rate at a later stage) as you get this sound that’s really weird and slow but really detailed.
Do you find using outboard gear helps with your creative process too?
Yeah. I do a lot of messing around really, processing things in various ways and recording for a long time; messing around with synths and seeing what the weirdest sounds are that I can come out with. It’s nice to be able to switch between using a DAW and using hardware as well, cause if you feel like one is getting a bit stale then you can just change to something else and freshen things up again.
How do you keep new ideas forming consistently and overcome creative standstills?
It is difficult, I think I’ve learnt over time that when you power through with a track, you can come out with something really good at the end of it. Sometimes I’ll spend hours thinking I’ve achieved nothing, and at the end of it come up with one sound or phrase that I feel completely transforms a track into what I wanted it to be. I’m a lot better than I used to be at just getting on and doing it, without worrying about whether I’m going to achieve something or not. It’s important to just take everything as a learning experience. The sounds you make in that time, even though you may not use them in that track, they’re sitting there for something else. It’s about putting more pressure on yourself, every time you make something good, you always want to make something better! It’s hard though, to even appreciate your own skill. Especially when listening to other people’s music all the time, it can be scary! Comparing your work to the stuff you love too much can really get you down, you just have to keep powering through.
You can catch Yushh at the following:
30th January – The Love Inn 6th Birthday Weekend (w/ Love Inn Allstars)
8th February – Rye Wax, London (Eminent Audio X Scuffed Recordings Takeover)
28th February – The Crofters Rights, Bristol (Restless Nights)
Listen to Pressure Dome’s releases on Bandcamp: https://pressuredome.bandcamp.com/
PD002 out February 7th 2020 https://soundcloud.com/pressuredome/pd002clips
Words by Jamie Walford (@butterflyeffectjamie) | Photos by Ollie Kirk (@o.kirk)