Leading up to Smoking Dragon Festival, we catch up with DJ Olwee about being openly gay, the Pink Tent as an initiative at the festival and the dancing that comes with a live set.
You refer to yourself as South Africa’s first openly gay DJ. Is your sexual orientation an important part of your brand and do you feel like you have to live up to certain expectations due to that title?
Firstly, I recently found out that I’m actually not the first- Stuart Hillary is. I really should update that on my profile. But even before I found that out, I had stopped referring to myself as such. My talent can stand its ground against other people. I have played gigs where no one knew me but enjoyed my music and that has shown me that the only expectation of me is that of talent. I therefore do not have to live up to any other expectation except to make people dance.
Has branding yourself as the first openly gay DJ in South Africa drawn any negative reactions to yourself and your career? Also please share some of the advantages that you have enjoyed as a result of that.
The branding has not brought that about, but the struggles I face are not homophobic. Well not outwardly. I have not experienced homophobia. I know that DJing is a boys’ club. I have been susceptible to what female DJs went through and still go through. You have to work ten times harder than a heterosexual male. Part of getting gigs is being in the circle of DJs because they recommend you and their approval also gets you fans. Slowly, I am getting into those circles. The advantage of being known as a gay dj- it is seldom that I am over-looked for LGBTIQ parties.
This year, Smoking Dragon Festival is introducing a new feature to the event, The Pink Tent where you will be performing. Please tell us more about that.
The pink tent is a tent for the LGBTI+, by the LGBTI+. It offers LGBTI+ DJs and creates a safe space at the event for people to be even more free. We are a people who love to party and I do not know how this has not happened anywhere else sooner.
Events such as The Pink Tent at Smoking Dragon Festival are created in support of the LGBTIQ community, which means the entertainment industry is becoming more and more open to the community. However, one may argue that a separate section, mainly for LGBTIQ people, within a national festival is further encouraging the exclusion of LGBTIQ people from mainstream society. As a public figure who often speaks up on gay rights and equality, what are your views on that?
I strongly disagree with that notion. It may be offered as a free and safe space for LGBTI+ people but it is not exclusionary. It is an invitation for people to experience us as well. As someone who goes to festivals often, I also realise people do not care which stage they are at- they walk around and stay where they like the music. This is what I think will happen. People will go back to their real lives and say, “Okes- how great was that pink tent.” Some, not even realising until later that it was targeted at a certain people. Tents like these are also important to thrust our people into those spaces and encourage the integration. Women’s rights have become non-negotiable in 2016 compared to 100 years ago and even before that. This is because there were movements, events, etc which were mainly for and by women, but were noticed by and gained respect from society until such time that rights became a staple. These movements exist less and less because women’s rights have gone from strength to strength. This is the same with the LGBTI+. We need to do these things and create these spaces until these rights are a norm, otherwise we lose momentum.
There is hype around you at the moment and we often see your name on lineups at some of the hottest gigs around the country. When and how did it all begin?
It all began in varsity. I was DJing for fun because I always knew how to do it. My uncle is a DJ, so I learned the basics from him. My friend, Roger suggested we DJ and make money on the side. He eventually went into advertising after varsity. I realised I actually like playing further than just it being a side hobby and pursued it. Where I am today (and where I am still going) is a mixture of talent, practise, begging, free gigs and good friendships and relationships with people who want better for me.
Tell us about your early music influences and your favourite musicians currently.
I’m such an old school person. My playlists are mostly House Music from the 90s. It’s melodic and lyrical- which affects how I choose new music to play. Second to that it’s beats. I love a song with layers of instruments. I don’t really have a favourite musician because I listen to songs individually. At times I even have to rename songs with a keyword/phrase from the song because I forget the artist and song name.
What do you usually start with when preparing a set?
I do not prepare sets. I think that it’s limiting to yourself and the audience. I know my songs and know which goes where. I usually get to a gig an hour before my set to observe the crowd and take my lead from that. I never know my first song until the previous DJ is on their last song and I have to start.
We all know that music and dance go hand in hand but before you, we have never seen a DJ dancing to his own set on stage! Are you a professionally trained dancer, because you’ve got some moves!
I used to dance professionally. It carried over from dancing as an extra mural in school but the moves I pull on stage I never learned in class- those are from the street growing up. I feel the beast and I am there!
Watching you perform, it becomes evident that you enjoy both dancing and DJing. Which one are you most passionate about?
I can’t dance without music. I can’t play music that people can not dance to. To me, the one can’t exist without the other. I love both equally.
If you had to select just one South African female singer to collaborate with on a record, who would it be and why?
Nonku Phiri. Her voice is entrancing. Her songs linger in your head even after the first listen. I have not yet released music because the song has to be perfect. I don’t want people to dance and forget the song in three years. The song must live in people’s spirits and souls. That’s what Nonku’s voice does when she is on a song and that’s what I want.
You can catch DJ Olwee performing at Smoking Dragon Festival on Saturday 30 December in Drakensberg.