B.Traits is probably best known for her meteoric rise as a broadcaster at the BBC. Starting out with a slot on the ‘In New DJs We Trust’ feature, she now hosts one of the station’s flagship dance music shows, a pillar of Radio 1’s Friday night programming, sandwiched between Pete Tong and the legendary Essential Mix.
Our interview takes place in an unlikely setting, we’re both barefoot in a Moroccan Spa at Oasis Festival. B.Traits is sat cross legged on a sofa, surprisingly relaxed and at ease considering that she’s more or less just come directly from playing the festival’s main stage.
Right now is an exciting time for the Canadian born DJ, as she is poised to launch her own record label, named In Toto, meaning ‘All Together,’ along with her first record in over four years. In September, she took to Facebook to announce the news, describing how “I’ve wanted to start my own label ever since I began DJing, and it’s been a dream of mine for a very long time!” In the post B. also addressed the lengthy absence of any new music released by herself, noting how “I struggled to decide what to do; what label I thought best fit my sound, and also how to best express myself as an artist and producer.”
Over that space of time, it’s clear that B’s sound has evolved, and I’m keen to delve into more detail about the journey that she has undergone in the intervening years. “I think I just grew up as a person,” she tells me, “people’s styles change, my tastes changed. I think that being in dance music I have always evolved and grown with it, and will continue to do so.”
“I think I’ve always been quite an eclectic artist anyway,” she continues “but as I’ve grown up I’ve started to look deeper at my music. It was a natural progression, but I think that it was good that I took the time out because now I feel that, from what I play in my DJ sets and in my radio show, it is really clear that this is what I sound like.”
As I ask about the challenges that have led her to the point where she has made the decision to begin releasing her own music again, B. is quick to identify a pivotal moment early on in her career. “It definitely comes down to when I released ‘Fever’ in 2012” she explains. “It was one of the first tracks that I wrote when I moved to the UK and it was strictly a homage to the music that I discovered. It exploded into this massive pop record and I wasn’t expecting it all. Then Polydor wanted to sign it, and we went through the whole process of having a music video done for it, absolutely hating the music video, and then having to shoot a new video in six hours.”
In retrospect B. is open about her feelings during this period. “That is quite stressful, having so many people with their fingers in your career,” she explains. “It was really scary for me. It wasn’t a bad experience, it was just a learning experience, feeling that major label machine.”
It is clear that retaining artistic control is incredibly important for B. and she cites the experience as a factor in her transition into more underground sounds, “I don’t think of myself as a pop artist. It was difficult for me to work on that level and I think that I just wanted a platform myself where I could just do whatever I want, my way. I could just write music that doesn’t even have a kick drum in it, and release it, and no one can even say anything to me.”
Throughout this time, B. never stopped producing music, as she explained “I’d been working on music again for the past three years since I put out that record, but I couldn’t really finish anything.” Alongside the rigors of a busy touring schedule, her responsibilities to her radio show also played a part in this, and she details how “once I got the radio show to a really good place I was able to focus a bit more on finishing these tracks.”
However, her experience with ‘Fever’ clearly still influenced her feelings about signing over her music to other labels. “I’d been thinking about where I wanted to release them, what labels I was going to affiliate myself with. Then I thought what if I release this EP on this label, am I automatically pigeonholed into that sound? That could happen with so many different labels, and then I’d be expected to write music a certain kind of way. I just really didn’t like the thought of that. So I decided that the best way for me to express myself as an eclectic artist was to just to it on my own and have 100% creative control.”
The launch of In Toto on October 6th not only comes as the fulfilment of a long-term dream for B.Traits, but also the moment that she reclaims her own music for herself. Alongside her initial announcement, B. unveiled previews of her first two tracks taken from the first EP ‘Still Point’. “It’s really quite musical and more melodic,” she notes. Sitting at the other end of the spectrum, the already complete second EP, again of solely B.’s own music is “more club banging techno.” Demonstrating the label’s range is what she wants to establish from the beginning, and elaborates how “the first three [EPs] are probably going to be from me, just to set the precedent that it is my label, and that it is for me to do whatever I want, releasing my music the way I want to release it.” In terms of forthcoming releases from the label, B admits “It’s really going to be anything and everything.”
The label also provides another facet to her radio career, allowing her to further empower the upcoming artists that she supports on her show. “When I get new music it goes on my radio show and I get really excited about young artists that I’ve been pushing for the past few years. I’m just beginning to talk to people about releasing an EP here, an EP there, and that’s really nice.” In Toto will reflect the same sorts of sounds her listeners would expect from her radio show, but she clarifies that “there’s not going to be a set sound.”
“I get so many of these tracks that artists don’t know what to do with. Sometimes someone like Fort Romeau will send me a record and be like “I have no idea what label to put this on” and that’s where I’d want to come in and say “I love this record, I’d love to put this out.” It’s nice to have that option.”
Accompanying the launch is a party in East London at The Shoreditch Platform. Describing her expectations for the night, B. admits, “I’m just leaving that night to be fun. It’s going to be exactly what the label is. It’s relaxed, it doesn’t have a common theme.” She speaks fondly of fellow DJ and Drumcode mainstay Alan Fitzpatrick, who will join her on the night. “Alan’s become a really good friend of mine over the past few years so it’s just great to have him all aboard. Alan can play so eclectically when he wants to and that’s what I told him. I was like, “it’s early, we’re just there to play good music.””
When I ask if she has considered inviting Fitzpatrick to release some tracks with In Toto in the future, she laughs, having likely not given much thought to asking this of her friend yet, although she concedes “that’s definitely possible.” B. is eager to discuss her ideas about where she will take the label, and reveals that “In 2017 I hope to release a compilation that reflects people that I’ve heavily supported on the radio show. It kind of just makes sense to do something like that.”
As our interview draws to a close we return full-circle to B.’s radio show, which continues to be one of her major passions. “It’s so nice when I put an artist in the Future Twelve and they do those four mixes for me because they get to take over the show for thirty minutes. The artist just continues to absolutely kill it.”
Another of the program’s weekly features is the Label Mates segment. During this portion of the show, B. hands over the reins to the owner of a record label to showcase themselves. I inquire whether any of the guests have provided advice or mentorship for her when setting up In Toto, to which B. explains how she was inspired by American DJ, Zak Khutoretsky, aka DVS1. “He’s been one of my favorite DJs for years who I’ve kept trying to get on the show for ages, and I kept talking to his assistant for so long.”
When B. got hold of Zak at last, he agreed to do not just one label mates feature, but two, one for each of his imprints ‘Hush’ and ‘Mistress’. “He was talking to me about how he was putting out quite a lot of music on Ben Klock’s label Klockworks, and how there were a few tracks that didn’t get onto it and he was just like, “you know what, I want to release them myself. Fuck it! I don’t need a platform or anything, I’ll just do it on my own.” He’s been releasing his own tracks on Hush, for ages now. His other label Mistress is for other people. The way that he explained it to me, it just made so much sense that you’re able to control it and it doesn’t have an ego. It’s just a perfect representation of you. And I really loved that, it just makes complete sense.”
Still Point is released on 6th October 2016 via In Toto. You can listen to B.Traits on Radio 1 between 1-4am on Friday nights/Saturday mornings and on demand on BBC iPlayer.