Music has been an outlet for DJ, radio host and producer dameeeela that spans for as long as she can remember. You only have to watch one of her sets for a sheer moment to witness the palpable energy she emanates with her craft, proving to you she is exactly where she is meant to be as she manipulates tracks to dance in a dialogue with one another.
dameeeela has steadily amassed a following and reputation as one of the most sought out DJs across the country with an ability to cater to any audience and having opened for artists such as Tyler, the Creator, Charlie XCX, Anderson .Paak and Genesis Owusu.
Now, dameeeela is stepping into her power, achieving her wildest dreams, and is challenging the narrative and disrupting the industry—fuelled by her passion for creating space and opportunities for First Nations people, while paying homage to the origins and founders of electronic music. Yes, techno is black.
Her debut single ‘The Shake Up’, captures the essence of club music, enticing you to enter an electro induced euphoria while reminding you whose land you are on. And with the electronic scene seemingly appearing as white and male-dominated, dameeeela infiltrates the landscape and creates a space that invites people in who haven’t yet resonated with the genre—emulating a sense of belonging and removing the feeling of being displaced or othered.
We sat down with dameeeela to yarn about some of the challenges as a performer at the height of COVID, the story behind her track ID’s and her exciting collaboration with Tjaka for her first single release.
Take us back to the start. When did music become an outlet for you?
Music has always been an outlet for me from the moment I can first remember. My mum was super young when she had me at 16, and loud music would fill the house every weekend. She would make me tapes of songs that I liked, and in the car it was always my job to change the tapes over. When I changed high schools a lot, I would use my music knowledge to make friends. Each time I changed schools I would be like “hey, I have this little music thing that I do, add me on MSN” and I would send them files from a hot hip hop 100 pack that I listened through every day. After high school, I travelled to Europe and my whole music taste changed. I was over there by myself for two years and travelled to twenty-six countries and met a whole bunch of interesting creative people. When I came back from Europe I was more interested in electronic and dance music, which is synonymous with the time that dance music really took off. Now that I think about it, I was following music around without even realising.
What is your creative process like? Where do you go when you are planning a set?
I don’t really know—I think I tap into previous sets I’ve done live. If I plan a set that is going to be a rooftop garage vibe, for example, I’ll always place myself back in a time where I played a similar set, or I picture myself in someone else’s set. Is that healthy? [Laughs]. I can’t listen to music without imagining the crowd response and always I try to tap into what the set is going to feel like live. I’m a last-minute planner as well, sometimes I am literally exporting files in the car ride there. I also know that everything I plan is subject to how I’m going to feel on the day so I’m most likely just going to change my mind anyway.
Picturing yourself playing a set is strong visualisation and manifestation. Are you someone that believes in the power of manifestation?
Yeah, completely. Everything that is happening right now, I made happen. The opportunity to have my own track ID’s on Spotify is mind-blowing for me. All I have ever wanted was a track ID and I know I manifested it. I still can barely believe I have one out of the handful of people that do. I spend so much time on Spotify and I have a joke that no song I listen to goes un-playlisted. Literally any song that I listen to on Spotify I think “that can go in a playlist somewhere”.
I listen to your track ID’s pretty regularly and it is special knowing that the playlist is curated by an Aboriginal woman. It’s fucking huge.
Yeah, it’s wild. I try to make the playlist quite diverse in languages and cultures as well. A lot of the artists that I put in it tag me speaking a completely different language—and I’m like, “this little Aboriginal woman is bringing in people from a totally different space, showcasing them while they showcase me.” It’s crazy.
What sort of journey are you wanting to take people on through your track ID’s?
I think I have maybe five genres that I mostly focus on, and I am so careful about the order of them so that it keeps people interested even if they don’t like a certain genre. I’m so specific about spreading genres out over five tracks. When it’s been a hard DnB song, that won’t happen again for another five songs and then I will playlist a hip-hop song followed by an ambient song. I try to appeal to everybody in a spread-out way. I don’t know if many other people’s track ID’s do that—I think they are usually one loose genre, but this is exactly who I am musically but also as a Gemini. I fit into every square. I can morph myself into anything you need [Laughs].
You have called out the industry for not centring First Nations artists and not having diverse line ups. How has this been met? Are you seeing more event planners’ book First Nations mob for gigs?
There are two sides to this. I did a lot of long unpaid work behind the scenes last year talking to event bookers and modelling casting companies for example about how they need to include more First Nations people. I was thinking how much cooler would this project be if someone like BARKAA was involved? And hip-hop clothes for example—why are labels not showcasing mob who literally live for brands?
The agencies and companies that I spoke to then have completely changed and are now involving more First Nations people, but what I am envisioning for the electronic scene is not happening yet. It is not even close to being what it should be. I thought getting more First Nations DJs on line-ups would be great, but now there is another hurdle of us getting like open slots or our names are the smallest at the bottom of the line-up. We are often scheduled too early when no one is at the festival, or too late when everyone has gone home. The industry has been like “we’ve got more First Nations people scheduled so we can tick that box” and they get to wear that badge but it’s not enough, and don’t get me started on the exclusivity. No First Nations artist should sign exclusivities, especially when there is only a handful of us. I do think that things are moving forward but there is still so much work to do. It’s a big conversation. There are about five of us First Nations DJs that are thinking of starting a committee and we are hoping to get funding, so it’s not done in our free time. This way, we can congregate and talk to event planners as one and hopefully only have to do it once.
Your voice in this space is so important, but it’s so frustrating First Nations people are always having to do extra unpaid work to create change on top of everything else.
Yeah. A lot of people see an infographic I post on Instagram and think that is all I’m doing. But this is just me trying to relay a quarter of the information I’m telling these companies repeatedly. Fighting for inclusion surpasses just posting about it. It’s so much work. I’ve been saying the same shit over again and it’s tiring. And it’s hard for me to not bring it all down to basics. We need more representation because that equals more motivation to do more things, which allows us to overcome some of the horrific statistics we face. It all matters. If you’re not putting us in modelling campaigns, then our kids aren’t ever going to think they can model. It’s limiting for future generations when we aren’t represented, and it comes down to our livelihoods and I don’t think people realise it is that extreme. If my brother had been given an extra hobby, maybe we would still have him with us. We need more options, and we need more opportunities. In saying that as well I have hope because there are places like QUIVR in Brisbane which is a running school that is free to teach First Nations kids how to DJ and stuff like that so yeah, I do see glimmers of hope.
It’s been a really challenging two years especially for artists and performers with managing COVID-19 and the constant changing of restrictions. It has highlighted the immense creativity, resilience, and versatility of artists though. How did you respond to some of these changes, and do you think it changed your trajectory?
Yeah. I try a lot not to dwell on what has happened over the last two years, and also what could have happened. It has been so difficult to just do the things I love. It was so challenging to even do a live recording at home—I had to go out and buy like 1000 cords. When I reflect on it now, I think the last two years have been an opportunity for everyone to slow down and think about why they are really doing what they are doing. It definitely changed my mentality. At one point I was travelling to three states a week. It was a wake-up call because I needed to slow down, and I got to work on music instead of DJing. I try to think of the positives. It has also made the dancefloor a really special place and it makes us miss what we took for granted. Every time I go out now, I just soak it in, it feels completely different. I know so many people who feel that way too, there’s no way you couldn’t. Every time you’re on a dancefloor now everyone around you is like “I can’t believe this is happening”.
Moving onto something more positive—congratulations on your single release! How are you feeling about it and is this moment what you imagined it to be?
Not really, to be honest. I was saying to my boyfriend that now I know how it feels to be like some of the artists that I look up to. I made the song like a year ago and I’ve heard it a trillion times already. Then you have to do a video, promo it and chill with it—and play it at every gig for another year. I didn’t realise that was the reality [Laughs]. I am excited for the world to see it and at the same time I’m excited that it’s finally happening so I can move onto the next thing. Your first release is like a take-off and the second one is always going to be easier. No one recently has released an electronic song that features the didgeridoo though, so I am keen to shake some shit up.
What are your hopes for when people listen to it? What do you want the audience to feel?
With the start of the song, I really wanted everyone to be able to shut their eyes, and zone out and let the didgeridoo intrigue you and take you somewhere you haven’t been before. I think the didgeridoo does that quite naturally with its sound. I love to be on the dancefloor and be able to just shut my eyes and float for a bit and I wanted to emulate that. I wanted the song to be super clubby and be able to play it at a festival and have everyone’s arms go up and wait for a cheesy drop. I was thinking why not? It’s so fun to have a cheesy drop [Laughs]. It felt really natural to have that on the song. ‘The Shake Up’ takes you on a little bit of a journey. Many feelings.
What made you link up with Tjaka and how was it working with them?
One of my friends took photos of Tjaka and told me about them. They are from Brisbane as well. I was running a show on 4ZZZ Radio called ‘Right Here, Right Now’ that broadcasts live sets. I was booking people to play, and they hadn’t played before anywhere, so I invited them to the studio for a recording. I interviewed them and thought they were so interesting. They are brothers, and the younger brother beatboxes and raps as well. They are lovely boys. They both play the electronic didgeridoo, drums and an electronic pad. They were making kind of dancey didgeridoo music with a lot of mouth percussion stuff. I thought their music was so good, and that a club deserved to hear it. They are just releasing music now too, so the collaboration was a win-win for all of us to bounce off the release.
What’s next for you?
I have two boilers coming up that are supposed to have been done already. One boiler I want to play what I have always envisioned at a boiler, being in a club full of coloured queer dressed up gorgeous sweaty people where I get to play the weirdest shit and do whatever I want and feel comfortable. I also have an upcoming festival boiler where there will be thousands of white people watching me [Laughs] and it’s a completely different set from me and I’ll be pushing the genres I’m playing to show people a different side of dance music.
My second single I have coming out is a hard DnB song that I co-produced with Joshua Amour and I’m softly singing in the background which is cute. Every song on my upcoming EP is a completely different genre as well which is funny. I even recorded a full hip hop song for the EP but then I was like wait, maybe I don’t want to do the rap thing just yet [Laughs]. The outro to my EP is a track I wrote with Skin on Skin and is a really soft loving outro which I’m hoping to centre around mental health awareness.
And lastly, can we expect to see you twerking on any decks this year?
Yes! Absolutely. I was actually going to do it at this really inappropriate park gig I did the other day but there wasn’t enough space on the table. But absolutely. I stand by the fact that I can twerk to any genre, like even ambient music, I can do it—guaranteed. But yes, I’ll be up on some decks. I’ll make sure the specs are good for my boiler.