Check which is the shallow end and note the point where you will be out of your depth.
Who: Lady Annabella Marczewska
Where: Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK
What: DJ, Model, Dancer
Notoriously private, impossible to interview and surrounded, as ever, by Soviet diplomats, French intellectuals, artists, American adolescents and socialites, and dodging paparazzi all the way, we catch up with Lady Annabella Marczewska from her villa in St Tropez.
Your trademark mix of esoteric mid-20th century music, mixed with soundtracks and film trailer excerpts is not your average, boring, immaculately beat-matched, DJ affair and I'm afraid we've stolen elements of it for our own 'Astronaut Wives Club' mixes. How did you come to this DJing style?
Well, it all came about due to me being in a band called Women in Revolt. I hadn’t ever set out with the intention of making mixes or being a DJ, it was more a chain of events thing that came from being in the band. It happened really organically. The year I joined WiR was 2011 and I had just graduated from university with a degree in History of Modern Art, Design and Film, I hadn’t a clue what I was going to do next, and I ended up joining through my next door neighbour and good friend Sadie Retox. They desperately needed a drummer so I was going to do that, but thank god they found a proper drummer in time because I’m really not the best drummer…!
I found a friend straight away in the lead singer Sheena Revolta and we somehow came up with the idea of having me in the band as their go-go dancer. I was really into 60s culture - films like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Pop Art, Warhol and all that kind of thing, as was Sheena, so we just clicked straight away. And what the band was about – I think someone described us as ‘The Velvet Underground reimagined by John Waters’ or something; and the whole aesthetic – it was very camp, very trashy, big hair, wigs, fur-trimmed outfits, glitter, etc. I just loved it and really found my calling!
Women in Revolt’s music was kind of rough; punky-garage rock. And because most of the other members of the band were a little older than me, from a different generation, I got a full-on education in types of music, sounds and artists that I hadn’t previously known or listened to – New York Dolls, Ramones, The Velvet Underground… whereas the kind of music I’d always liked was more jazz, soul, funk. So I think that with that, and with having recently been studying visual culture, I was just suddenly in this new world where I felt really inspired and open and like I’d finally found ‘my people’.
Then, from being in the band, I got asked by a local online radio station, Basic.fm, if I wanted to create/curate an hour long, fortnightly radio show. Kind of like, ‘what would Lady Annabella the go-go dancer listen to in her kitchen on an evening’ kind of thing…and that’s how Hot Lava was born.
I tried to blend the world of Women in Revolt, (the garage rock, the Link Wray kind of stuff, plus I always tried to play a track from an upcoming or local band) with my kind of music sensibilities: the jazz, lounge, the French girl-pop and all that. Maybe a sprinkling of funk sometimes. And then the audio- I always wanted to give a feel of the world in which ‘Lady Annabella’ inhabits; a fantasy world, in a way. Some 60s B movie, or spy film set on the Riviera. And of course lines and snippets from some of my favourite films, I’m a cult film queen - Grey Gardens, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (any of Russ Meyer’s films), Hairspray, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? etc. And sometimes I’d chuck a couple of clips from favourite 90s films in too – Nowhere (by Gregg Araki) or Clueless because as much as I love the 1960s, I am a 90s girl after all.
The end result I hope, is a kitschy, aural collage that evokes a certain feel or vibe in the listener. That creates imagery for them through the sound.
So how did the actual DJing start?
About 4 months into making the radio shows there was some kind of arts/community based event where Basic.fm broadcast live for 24 hours (usually the shows were pre-made by the curators and didn’t go out live) from a purpose-built space in the city centre of Newcastle. So I had to get all my tracks and audio made to discs and ‘DJ’ my show live, as it were. That was my first real DJing experience and it was terrifying…a couple of the audio clips were so short, like seconds long. And obviously I hadn’t thought ahead about this, so it was this mad scramble to go from a track, to an audio snippet, to the next track! I remember barely having time to breathe. But I also remember playing For Your Love by The Yardbirds and the few people who were there starting to dance wildly, and having that feeling of you know, I made that happen. And then I remember it being over and wanting to do it again. Being bitten by the proverbial bug. That feeling didn’t go away for days and that’s when I realised that being a DJ was a job that I could maybe do seriously, do well and most importantly, enjoy! At last!
You seem pretty conscious of how you curate your mixes and they have a very striking visual style? Is design and style something that you feel can't be separated from the music?
Well I love music. And I love style. And design. And I’ve always been fascinated by the relationships between these things, the crossovers. Fashion and music. Fashion and art. To me, fashion is everything. Which sounds absurd and really superficial. But I mean in terms of how we live, culture, history. Social, political, economic, technological history. I mean ‘fashion’ is not the right word in a way…just the changing of the times, what is modern or was modern. But how it affects our lives whether we acknowledge or even notice it or not…I find that endlessly interesting. Trends. Taste. The knock-on effect of something small. A movement. Subcultures. Fashion, music, art, design, film, dance, cuisine – whatever it is…I’m a very visual person. And I like what I like. I’m pretty superficial in that sense. And style is very important to me. I like to think I have it! And that I appreciate it and can ‘read’ it in other things or people. So I suppose the music I like, that reflects my taste or style…yeah. I mean, if I put on a lovely 60s shift dress, pour a glass of wine into a beautifully designed glass and bop around my kitchen to Miles Davis or some equally groovy music then great, I’m in my happy place. But I don’t know if it works in other ways. Like, I’m not going to dress ‘urban’ (whatever that may be) when I’m listening to hip-hop or modern R&B. I hope this is making sense! So no, to hopefully answer your question, I don’t think it can’t be separated – good music is good music. But my love for pop culture I think comes through in the Hot Lava mixes so in that particular context maybe it can’t or shouldn’t be separated. But either way it doesn’t bother me how the listener engages, if they enjoy it. It’s subjective isn’t it?
Where is Basic FM and how do we get it? It sounds like it might be a pretty good radio station to be hosting all of your Hot Lava remixes?
Well all of my mixes were originally made for and broadcast by Basic.fm and sadly Basic is no longer with us…it has been defunct now since September of 2014. Basic.fm was born in Newcastle and operated there but it was online, so broadcast all over. It was started by a wonderful chap called Dominic Smith (http://www.dominicsmith.info/basic-fm/) and it was a really cool station. BASIC was an acronym for something or other, I forget now but something to do with arts and community. Dominic tried to keep it going for as long as he could but unfortunately due to our current government situation and THE CUTS…there was no funding available. Which is so sad when you consider what the station stood for, its ethos.
Why Hot Lava?
‘Lava’ is a song by The B-52’s that contains the lyric, ‘hot lava’ which I guess is kind of a play on ‘hot lover’ and I play the track at the end of every show. The song and the name of the show was a gift to me from WiR lead singer Sheena Revolta. I’d never heard the song before and I loved it straight away. Sheena’s been a big force in my life, a cheerleader for me for sure.
Are you one of those aficionados and collectors of rare vinyl or is it all about more just about hearing as wide a spectrum of music for you?
The latter, definitely. In a perfect world of course I’d much prefer to be hearing or playing music from vinyl but other formats particularly MP3s are just so convenient. Too convenient! I’m painfully aware that there are people with a negative view of DJs who use digital audio but it works for me and besides, I already have way too many collections of things – clothes, shoes, accessories and the like. I really don’t need a record collection and lumbago too.
Recently a local record store asked me to DJ in their shop for World Record Day but when I fessed up that I don’t actually spin records they didn’t think it’d be that appropriate…which is fair enough! Then my mother suggested I start a mini collection so that if needs be, I can always do a small set in the future…which I think is a great idea. And my mother, auntie and uncle all have terrific record collections between them so I’ll be good to go. I do already have a small collection myself, mainly bought when I was much younger. One of the first records I owned (which my mother bought me) was a 45 of Who’s In The House by The Beatmasters with Merlin. I have diverse tastes.
Your Mixcloud profile says you're also a dancer. How does this affect your DJing?
So the dancing bit - that’s really only with the band at the moment. Sometimes when I’m playing out I may have a little dance but otherwise it’s mainly in my kitchen these days… my dream would be to have a little troupe of go-go dancers to back me up when I’m DJing. I’ve taken the essence of the Hot Lava mixes out in venues in Newcastle with my lava lamps and visuals…the next step for me would be to amp it up with dancers, great décor, lighting, atmosphere…a ‘happening’.
In Newcastle I’ve collaborated on many wonderful nights with little collectives like The Candy Vortex (who create brilliant atmosphere) and Sheena Revolta’s own Divine Trash…together we’ve hosted some memorable nights in some really cool venues. Usually a film (Showgirls, Grey Gardens, Endless Summer, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls…) then music and dancing - always with a prize for best-dressed!
Do you just play out in clubs in Newcastle?
At the moment yes. Since that first DJing experience just over 2 years ago I’ve been playing all sorts of venues, events and private parties in Newcastle. That’s why I haven’t been making the Hot Lava shows in a really long time. That and of course with Basic.fm going under…but I’m starting work on some new mixes for Mixcloud that will have the HOT LAVA goodness but that will be a departure from the original format. With Hot Lava as it was, I gave myself quite a rigid format of particular genres in a certain order and with the audio snippets at near on the same place in every show - for no other reason than to make it easier for me to produce really. But there is so much music out there that I love that couldn’t or wouldn’t have fitted with that so I’m working on new Hot Lavas with different themes. The music and film of the 90s is next. Coming soon.
And by the way, there is no problem at all with you ‘stealing’ as you said, elements of the Hot Lava style for your own, Astronauts Wives Club…I love those mixes and I’m always inspired by others, always! That to me is how art should roll!
Photos, photo credits (Top to bottom):
Images 1, 6, 7:
Lady Annabella in St Tropez
Women in Revolt
Women in Revolt (from L-R: Sadie Retox, Rosie Palmer, Sheena Revolta, Lady Annabella, Mitch Mitchell). Photo credited to Wolfy Rose Swainston.
Images 4 and 5:
Lady Annabella in action. Photos credited to Kit Haigh
You can find all Lady Annabella's Hot Lava playlists and mixes here but here are a couple of her basic.fm sets ....
Interview by: Richard Brammer