Manami on spreading joy and inclusion in Bristol’s electronic scene
We’re celebrating First Light Studio in Bristol, a community studio available for free to emerging producers and artists founded by Batu and created with the support and funding of Dr. Martens. Find out more about the project here.
Manami never harboured a dream of commanding some of the UK’s most beloved dancefloors. In fact, the British-Japanese artist didn’t want to be a DJ at all. “It actually came about by accident…” she laughs. “In my first year of uni, I joined the DJ society because I’d confused it for production. That’s how little I knew about it. Anyway, I decided to give DJing a go – and I was hooked.”
Despite the inauspicious beginnings, the Bristol-based DJ, producer and classically trained pianist lights up when speaking about her unexpected career trajectory. Since that fateful day at university, she’s shared stages with the likes of Ben UFO, Bicep and Soichi Terada. When she’s not busy securing her reputation as one of Bristol’s most in-demand DJs, she’s curating shows on Worldwide FM and Noods Radio, running workshops for emerging women, trans and gender nonconforming creatives – and teaching piano lessons. “I can’t imagine doing what I did anywhere other than in Bristol,” she says, acknowledging the unique creative buzz of the city. “As long as you have the confidence and the drive to tap into the network here, there are incredible opportunities to make a name for yourself.”
Her opportunity came after spending years practicing her DJ sets in her uni bedroom. Armed with just a tiny Numark controller, she devoted her weekends to haunting local clubs after lights-up in order to convince promoters to give her carefully-crafted mixes a chance. Eventually, it worked. By her final year of uni, casual sets at house parties and student nights had become bookings at the 2018 edition of Secret Garden Party and Brixton’s Phonox, where she played alongside Aussie selector and former resident, HAAi.
It didn’t take long for word to get out about the eclecticism of these sets. The pandemic would bring nightlife to a halt, but in the two years before the shutdown Manami had notched up career-making appearances at Abergavenny’s Come Bye Festival, Amsterdam’s The Hague and Glastonbury.
It was in late 2018 – three years after her fortuitous entry into the world of DJing – that Manami began to experiment with producing music of her own. After graduating, she enrolled in an access course at dBs Music College, learning the fundamentals that she would put to use on her first release: a compilation feature on Bristol-based multi-genre imprint, Corrupt Data.
The 2000’s is richly-layered, driven by a syncopated rhythm and textured with varying-frequency melodies which evoke the sensation of cruising the smooth plains of a neon speedway.
“When I started out, I found it really difficult to decouple electronic production from what I’d learnt from my classical training,” Manami says, reflecting on her early productions. “That’s why a lot of my earlier stuff is very disco-inspired. Leading with melody and harmony is what comes most naturally to me, but I feel my sound is constantly evolving and I’m getting a lot better at marrying the two crafts in a more subtle way.”
The five singles she’s released since capture a producer coming into her powers. She distills the euphoric, high-energy sounds that characterise her DJ sets into tightly-wound productions which emphasise fun and strut. For evidence, look no further than the synth-driven cosmic acidity of A Dreamer’s Dream – her contribution to CC:DISCO’s compilation on Melbourne label, Soothsayer – or the aptly-named Plastic Italo, released on Bristol’s own beloved Alfresco Disco imprint.
Her most recent releases offer a taste of what’s to come for her debut EP, set for release early next year. Her tactile, electro-inspired rebuild of Delay Grounds’ Ball_Run came after the local experimental producer approached Manami with the task of reinterpreting the concept behind his five-track EP, Upcycling, which reimagines waste materials as hyper-realistic objects. Along with her remix of Juno Mamba’s 1996, released in August this year, both tracks set the pace for the trance overtures of her forthcoming EP, the sound of which signals the producer’s move towards a darker style, tailored towards the afterhours of her rapturous DJ sets.
Manami herself cites Planet Euphorique label heads Roza Terenzi and D. Tiffany as key players in the shaping of its sound, as well as the propulsive rhythms of Leeds-based producer Adam Pits. “I wanted to capture the early, more ambient style of trance from the mid-to-late 90s,” she reveals. “The stuff that came before it got really aggressive.”
This ruminative mood was informed by the first peak of the pandemic, during which Manami spent her days tinkering on Ableton Live in her bedroom. On a Zoom call, she shows me her set-up: some Pioneer CDJs, production hardware and a piano. “I was really lucky to feel so inspired for the first half of the pandemic,” she reflects. “Having the time to perfect my production ability was definitely my silver lining of lockdown.”
However, after a few successful months, grim reality set in. It had been over a year since she’d stepped foot in a club and her inspiration had begun to wane. “When it comes to production, the place I feel most inspired is on the dancefloor itself. On nights out, I always take recordings on my phone. Instead of trying to recreate those sounds, I will try to emulate the feeling they invoked within me,” she reveals. “Important as it is to hear other people’s tunes played out, I think people underestimate the importance of the space itself for instilling creativity.”
Manami isn’t the only person who shares these views. Timedance label boss and local hero Batu decided to combat this pandemic-induced stupor by launching the city’s first community-led, free-to-use studio, First Light, in June of this year. The space was founded by Batu with the support and funding of Dr. Martens, offering local artists like Manami an accessible playground for new work. “The studio is dreamy,” she smiles, remembering her first session at the space, during which she managed to complete two tracks and lay the foundations for several new ones. “I was actually more productive during that one day than I had been throughout the whole month. My bedroom isn’t properly treated which makes mix downs impossible. After a few months, I’d begun to feel really boxed-in.”
An instrumentalist by nature, Manami also relished the opportunity to experiment with the studio’s hardware. “What always excited me about electronic music production was its generative nature,” she muses. “As opposed to playing classical music which is very structured and purposeful, you initially have to relinquish control over the sounds you create and regain that control retrospectively. I love trying out new gear but, of course, there are always financial barriers.”
But, as Manami knows all too well, the prohibitive costs aren’t the only barrier to entry into electronic music. Days ahead of the nationwide anti-spiking club boycotts, she passionately discusses the work of Saffron, a Bristol-born initiative which aims to redress the gender disparities in music technology. “I meet a lot of artists who feel deflated when their early production doesn’t sound as good as their male counterparts. What’s important to remember is that, by the time a lot of guys enter music production, they’ve already been exposed to the technology from a young age,” she asserts. “Women, however, won’t necessarily grow up thinking that technology is something they should be interested in, so they won’t necessarily have had the same exposure to it.”
Highly cognizant of the often-exacting and gruelling process of establishing a name for yourself as a woman in the electronic music circuit, Manami is using her ever-expanding platform to cultivate a more level playing field, offering her expert guidance to aspiring DJs, producers and creatives though radio broadcasting and DJ workshops. It’s a natural extension of her work as a DJ and producer, presiding over dancefloors and spreading a sense of joy and inclusion through radiant, transportive sets.
“It sounds so cheesy, but it’s true,” she laughs, “I just want my music to bring people joy.”