Bring Down The Walls
I’ve met with Josey Rebelle at a packed bar in Dalston, and, today, she’s freaking out about pencils. “I just read this news item that said pencils are in low abundance, everyone’s buying those adult colouring books, so they’re going towards that. It’s been a rollercoaster of a day!” she laughs. “I went to Tokyo a couple of years ago just to buy stationery. I had to leave clothes behind there so that I could fit more stationery in my suitcase.”
Sunday mornings for Josey are a bit more laid-back. When you lock into her Rinse FM show, you’ll find her chatting around a gorgeous array of soul, house, jungle, jazz, techno, and everything in between. For her it’s all about the selection, connecting the dots between different strands of the music she loves. It’s this eclecticism that has kept the Tottenham born-and-bred DJ a staple on London’s scene for some time now.
“I know it’s an absolute cliché when you read DJ bios and they’re like, she grew up in a musical family, listening to Stevie Wonder and The Clash…” she jokes, referring to her reggae and soul-loving parents, an elder sister who was into rare groove and a brother who drew for electro and early house. It was her brother who taught her to mix on those records, aged twelve. “At school there was loads of boys who had decks but I just did not have the confidence to step up to them,” she admits. “I’d be really jealous and knew I could do it. My brother was the one who kept encouraging me – this was over many, many years. Then one day I was like, d’you know what, I’m either gonna sell all my records, or I’m gonna go for it.”
University was where Josey took the plunge from bedroom to the club. She was Music Editor of the LSE’s student newspaper, and part of the Underground Dance Music Society, a group of jungle lovers. “At that point jungle was my absolute obsession, my number one love,” she stresses. “I remember them talking about watching such and such DJ, and I started mouthing off, saying I could play better. And they were like, “OK, we’ll book you for the next one”. And I was like, “Oh shit!”” The pressure for her first gig at the student union bar, then, was very much on. “Lots of people came to see me crash and burn! I knew that, so I practiced and practiced so hard, and I smashed it.
“I basically set a precedent, because since then I’ve never wanted to come off the decks. The security guard had to switch all the lights off so that we’d go, because I didn’t wanna leave.” From that moment on, Josey’s bookings started coming in thick and fast. She played at Boiler Room’s first ever broadcast, scored residencies at Plastic People, and became a regular at nights like Nonsense, Deviation, as well as clubs from XOYO to Panorama Bar. “I’m quite an introvert, even though I’m outgoing,” she says, explaining that she gets called out for looking stony-faced on the decks, whereas in person she’s all smiles and jokes. “What I like about DJing is that it’s very head-down, very solo.”
After getting a call from “a mysterious character called Rat” she joined Rinse in 2011 – but on the anti-social slot of 3-5am on a Thursday. Deciding not to tell anyone at her day job, Josey spent a year hoping her colleagues wouldn’t notice her glazed-over eyes the next morning; that persistent work ethic earned her stripes with station boss Geeneus and co.
It’s Josey’s super-smooth mix selections that have led, much to her amusement, to multiple babies being made – as her listeners email in to say. “A couple of times a year I do a little pregnancy selection – Valentine’s Day’s the classic – I say, you’re gonna be pregnant after this! With Rinse babies,” she laughs. She cites her favourite on-air moments from the last half-decade as when she invited soul legend Leroy Burgess and her most-loved vocalist, Robert Owens, onto her show. “Both of them were so humble,” she gushes. “They didn’t wanna be put on a pedestal.”
This May, Josey celebrates five years within the Rinse FM’s pink walls, but the ex-pirate means a lot more to her than just a place with decks and a mic. “The affinity I have for it is that it’s raw, and it’s from the streets – people that grew up with nothing making something for themselves. That resonates so strongly with me, ‘cos I’ve grown up in a working class family, I’ve lived on a council estate for most of my life. Like when [Rinse] went from FM to community license, just knowing how hard they persevered and grafted to get that. Knowing that the odds were all stacked against them, ‘cos they’d been an illegal station for so long.
“You hear stories about the music industry where people are stabbing each other in the back,” she finishes, moments before we bump into DJ Barely Legal on the street, “but I feel lucky to have been surrounded by a community of people, like [NTS’s] Femi, Funkineven, the Apron Records crew, it’s amazing to watch all these people coming up at the same time. People I used to dance next to at Plastic People, I’m now playing their tunes on radio. This generation, they’re the kind of people who’ve got each others’ backs.”