Escorting our way to the last Park Acoustics of 2016, we chat to Lauren about the pronunciations of her DJ name, throwback to her very first booking & how her sets differ according to venue, crowd and time of day.
The name ‘Lil Bow’ – tell us about that story?
There was a time in my life where you wouldn’t see me without a bow in my hair. It was kinda my signature “fashion” statement (if you can call it that, haha). My best friend Dee Dee (Japan and I) started calling me ‘Bow’. Shortly after that, I started interning at an ad agency and the nickname Bow really stuck. Even my official work email address was set up as ‘Lauren Bow’. The fact that I’m short as hell and was the youngest staff member at the agency naturally led to ‘Little Bow’. I changed it to Lil’ Bow when I started Djing as a tip of the hat to hip hop of course.
Fun fact: many people mispronounce my name and I sound like Lil Bow Wow (yippee yo yippee yay), which is hilarious and confusing at the same time. Hey, I just roll with it. (But guys, it’s pronounced ‘Bo’. Kthanxbye!)
Remember your first slot / first set / first round of feelings when you got booked?
I remember it like it was yesterday. I’ll never forget that feeling. It was a Thursday night party at Kitchener’s called ‘No Concessions’, circa 2011. I’d never DJ’ed before. Not like hey, I’d graduated from DJing in my bedroom and this was my first live show; as in holy shit, I’ve never even touched CDJs before. My friend Rob gave me a quick crash course 10 minutes before I played (Nerves! Butterflies! Excitement! Panic! Smiles!) and the rest is history as they say.
Your sets generally receive a lot of hype because you play to your integrity: what you like and when you like it. Was this an easy decision once you start playing bigger stages or is there an expectation to play for a specific audience?
Thanks, I’m really stoked to be recognised for that because it’s something I stick to my guns about. I can’t play a song I don’t like. I just can’t. I would cringe. If you’re not feeling the music you’re bumping through very loud, very expensive speakers, how do you expect anyone else to? This is mostly why I don’t play weddings. But my taste has definitely broadened over the years, so I’m playing stuff that 2012-Lauren would be like “whaaaaa?!” – I think it’s been an interesting evolution.
I think with bigger stages you need to keep in mind that there are a lot of different types of people in the crowd, and while you can’t please everybody you can’t be too niche either. For events like these, I try pepper my sets with a bit of familiarity and nostalgia so that everyone will at least know or recognise a few songs, giving them something that they can get behind – songs I still love, but maybe have a different feel to them or have been remixed into a new genre. These big events are their own animal. When there are like 8000 people in the crowd, the DJing experience is not very personal. To the crowd, you’re just a blip on the stage and to you, they’re one big ass sea of bodies. With smaller events you can see or feel if people are vibing with what you’re playing – you feed off it. But with big events it’s harder to gauge. But let me tell you, you know you’ve nailed it when you see that ocean of bodies sway and dance together, or you hear the deafening, heart-rattling roar of that song being sung back to you. Hello, goosebumps.
Also, I try keep the line up in mind. If the big act is reggae let’s say, I’ll tend to play more reggae because I know the crowd will appreciate that. I also like to add a personal touch sometimes. If I know there’s someone in the crowd who loves a certain song, I’ll play it and hopefully make their day.
There’s a multitude of producers in South Africa who hardly get noticed or receive traction for the work they’re creating. Why do you think DJ’s are being booked over them for large-scale events?
That’s a really good question. I personally think it’s amazing to see a DJ/producer live in action like Felix Laband. It’s like watching a one-man band. I can’t answer for all of them, but the producers/friends I have spoken to about this are often really shy. They’d like to hear their track in a club but to press play themselves is scary. As a DJ, people expect you to be playing other people’s music – not necessarily your own – there’s less pressure in a way. If you clear a dance floor (Lord have mercy), at least it’s not your own personal track you birthed that’s responsible if that makes sense? But I’m open to switching it up. I’d love to play some fresh beats. I’ve made a connection with a hip hop producer in Brooklyn – this guy has been one of my firm favourites for years. Through the power of social media (when it’s good, it’s good), we’ve ended up becoming friends and now we’re in a space where he sends me his new tracks before they drop and I totally play them. I think it’s a pretty cool collaborative space to be in.
In terms of ratio, how much locally versus international tracks do you play? Tell us about your approach.
I think the quality of local music, particularly hip hop, has exploded in the last three years, so naturally I’ve started playing more local. It depends on the gig. Local hip hop is off the chain at the moment. It gets played alongside huge international names and holds its own like it ain’t no thang. Especially local female hip hop – damn. The only give away that it’s local is the vernac, which is so damn cool. I think South African hip hop has found a way to be accessible abroad but still uniquely South African by mixing English with vernac, and producing beats that are not just hip hop inspired, but stem from kwaito and house. We are in a truly interesting space now. No one can say we’re just trying to sound American or whatever (for a long time, across genres, I think we have).
I’ve been wanting to learn Zulu for ages, and local hip hop is now my main motivation and teacher. Not to say that Zulu is the only language worth learning – but I think it’s a good starting point. I ask my friends all the time what certain lyrics mean. Then when I hear that song again and I’m suddenly taking it in with more understanding, it changes the game. They say music teaches you things and unites people. I couldn’t agree more.
How do your playlists change according to time slots and venue? Could you describe what you could expect at an intimate sunset, an interlude between bands and a late night ender.
For me it’s all about the bass. I increase it as the night gets older.
An intimate sunset would be more chilled, but definitely songs that build – prepping you for the night ahead. Feel good, foot tapping music. Some light hip hop, some funk and soul perhaps, maybe even some reggae.
For band changeovers, I play quite an eclectic mix. Some classics, some jams, one or two tracks maybe peeps haven’t heard yet. Nothing too loud and in your face, but high energy to keep the crowd pumped for the next act, that’s for sure.
A late night-ender will definitely be heavier and chunkier – face-melting bass, booty-clapping beats. The kind of stuff you can lose yourself to on the dancefloor. I love when people really get down and work up a sweat.
You were part of the ever growing imprint that is Pussy Party. Tell us about that experience?
Ah man, what a dope concept. When your beliefs and actions align, that’s when you are truly happy. This is Pussy Party. Their belief system is loud and clear, but they’re not just saying the right words. There is action and intent behind these words in the form of DJ workshops, which makes Pussy Party meaningful and important. If this is any indication of the way the world is moving, then I feel comforted. The Pussy Party I had the honour of playing was such a warm, welcoming space but still fresh and hella edgy. I shared the decks with womxn who are all killing it in their own way – I have so much respect for them. It was intimidating in the best way and pushed me to be better. (I’m totally fangirling.)
So, the last Park Acoustics for the year has a pretty stellar line-up Who are you looking forward to seeing?
One of the best I’ve ever seen! And I’m playing?! Someone pinch me! Henk has done it again (preach hands emoji).
Mango Groove – Oh man, that magical pennywhistle. Cue the nostalgia tears. (RIP Bra Kelly Petlane.)
Black Math – Always and forever.
Yugen Blakrok – I’ve been dying to see them since Oppi last year! Can’t wait to astral travel with them again.
Images: Christelle Duvenage / Leigh Taylor