‘In the 90s people stared because I was a woman behind the decks’ – DJ Aoife Nic Canna
Dublin DJ and radio presenter Aoife Nic Canna is still one of the most in-demand DJs in Ireland, almost a quarter of a century after she spun her first record.
The electronic music landscape has changed dramatically in that time, having mushroomed in the alternative clubs of the early 90s before expanding overground throughout the noughties and retracting underground again somewhat in recent years.
The people populating that landscape have changed too. When Aoife started out in 1993 she was something of an anomaly and while there are many more women behind the decks in 2017, they're still in the minority.
"It’s really not unusual now to walk into a bar and see a woman DJ and that's great," Aoife tells Independentl.ie
"In my time, when I started off, it was just completely surreal. People don’t bat an eyelid now but I still get the odd, 'Fair play to you, you're a woman' and that upsets me, when they make a big deal out of it.
"It’s a bit patronising. Come on, like, give me credit where credit is due! I’d prefer if they said, ‘You’re a great DJ’ not ‘Fair play to you, you’re a woman.’ I know they’re just trying to encourage me but they don’t understand I’ve been DJing since they were in nappies!"
Smirnoff's #MovetheNeedle film and campaign have just launched across Ireland and Northern Ireland in an effort to encourage more women to take up roles in DJing and producing.
Aoife is among several high profile female names who will be heading up free DJ and production Move the Needle workshops running courtesy of the GASH collective, a group of women in the industry who run showcases and training events across Ireland, and Smirnoff.
"It has definitely changed being a female DJ - I'd literally have people staring at me because I was a woman behind the decks, because it was so unusual," says Aoife, who has run many training workshops over the years for community groups, children and women.
"In the early days if I was training a mixed group there might be one or two women in the background and they didn't want to really take party. They'd just observe and absorb. Now they want to get in there and have a go, 'Let me try!'. It's great. They're seeing other women doing it and they're being encouraged by their parents and it's great."
She adds, "At the start I didn't really want to train people. I just wanted to DJ! But I'm dyslexic so I think that actually makes me a better trainer because I
Aoife has played across the country in the course of her career with residencies at The Rock Garden, The Kitchen, and Ri-Ra under her belt. She has also worked extensively in radio, on Jazz FM, PowerFM, and Near FM.
She started at a time when there were very few DJs - male or female - so she managed to bag gigs in alternative clubs where she was "allowed" to play dance music later in the night.
"God love poor Dublin having to hear me DJ!" she laughs. "It was such a naive time. The dance community in Dublin was naive too.
"But I was a raver and I was a vinyl collector and I had the passion for music so I had a very good reason to become a DJ. I had done the ground work. An older DJ friend of mine, who is still a DJ, loaned me turntables to bring home so I could learn how to mix in my bedroom.
"I had a fair idea what I was doing. I'd been going to raves in England and Scotland and Ireland and I collected music."
Collecting vinyl is, she says, a good way to start as well as having a genuine love of music and "your own style and identity".
"Once I started gigging it was a bug," she says. "The minute I started doing it it felt quite natural for me and I just enjoyed it so much. It's not like a job, it's like a hobby. And if you can do your hobby as a job that's great."
That enduring passion for her craft has seen her through a time when the scene, which had gone overground and infiltrated the most impressive venues in Dublin during the Celtic Tiger, retracted somewhat as the recession hit.
She says it was ultimately a good thing. And it didn't impact on the number of people working to build a career in the area.
"By the 2000s kids had digital cameras and computers and that kind of made DJing more accessible. There was no need to buy expensive turntables," she says.
"And then there were courses in DIT in sound engineering and out in Bray [DJ techniques and music production at Bray Institute of Further Education] and they're encouraging people and exposing them to how music is made. And you see a lot more women making music on their own now, using all different, wonderful new formats to DJ, as well as the old school form of mixing vinyl."
Aoife plays at venues across the country and has residencies in Ukiyo (where you'll catch her on Sunday night) and The Liquor Rooms (tonight) in Dublin. She'll also be doing her thing at Body & Soul next weekend.
Next year is her 25th year as a DJ and she has no intention of hanging up her headphones anytime soon.
"I want to keep doing what I'm doing and milk it for as long as I can," she says. "I hope I never have to get a real job!"
Move the Needle workshop dates and locations:
Galway - 3pm-7pm, Sunday, 18th June, Galway Arts Centre, 47 Lower Dominick Street, Galway. Tutors: ELLLL, Lolz & Aoife Nic Canna
Belfast - 3pm-7pm, Saturday, 15th July, Catalyst Arts. 5 College Ct, Belfast BT1 6BS, UK. Tutors: ELLLL, Marian Hawkes & Aoife Nic Canna
Cork - 3pm-7pm, Saturday, 22nd July, Wandesforth Gallery, Wandesford Quay, Clarke's Bridge, Cork. Tutors: ELLLL, Lolz & Aoife Nic Canna
Dublin - 3pm-7pm, Saturday, 12th August, The Tara Building, Tara St, Dublin 2 Tutors: ELLLL, Eve & Aoife Nic Canna