Donna Leake

I was lucky enough to be invited to Donna Leake’s house, suitably situated above Brilliant Corners in Dalston, London for this her inaugural interview. Her love of music was undeniable and her genuineness for organic sound, unformulaic track selection and smiley dancy energy makes her somewhat of a music anomaly.

Hello, can you tell us about how you first got into music and how it led to where you are today?

From listening and continuing to listen. I had a big love of music from an early age, I was often in trouble at school for having my CD Walkman, but I never made a single plan in my life and I seem to have just let things happen, allowing the laws of the universe to do their thing. And I’ve noticed that the more I listen to music the better my life becomes.

This is pretty much how I stumbled across Brilliant Corners. A friend and I went one evening, Sadar Bahar was playing, and we didn’t end up leaving until early the next morning. The owners, as we knew them then, were playing records, we got chatting, we connected and later they asked us to join the team. Within a few months and without even realising (I didn’t actually want another hospitality job at this point) I was working there full time. All my time and passion was there, soaking up and sharing the love and belief in what they were doing.

LINK: https://soundcloud.com/resident-advisor/ra-live-bc-hunee

Vinyl Sales have hit 4.1 million in the UK last year, the most it’s ever been. What do you think is driving this cultural change?

It’s fascinating as I think its one of the only cultural changes in recent times that doesn’t have anything to do with the advancement of technology, in fact it’s the opposite. It’s a shift in people appreciating music back to the way we used to. How and why, I don’t know for sure but there’s a lot of talk about the way vinyl sounds and maybe we’re getting to a point where we are wanting that quality again. I really couldn’t say exactly why. I believe there is an extra physical vibration added when you listen to vinyl through the needle physically picking up the sound so this is certainly adding something. But for me the reason I started collecting records was because of the way that I felt when I first went into a record store and that feeling was enough for me to never stop going back.
What’s different about sourcing and playing vinyl as oppose to digital formats?

The access to music through a computer and the internet is great, there’s so much out there and it does help. I only got a computer recently and now I DJ more and have a monthly radio show it’s a useful portal for discovering/checking music however I still discover most of the music I like and play physically through vinyl and record shopping. It’s just easier and far more enjoyable for me.

Q) As a selector, how have you been received by the DJ community?

Up until now, I’ve never really had much of an idea of who or what the DJ community is. I’ve just simply wanted to go on a musical journey, whether I’m on the dance floor or behind the decks. The main focus was on “how do I have a good time?”. Before seeing myself as a selector or DJ, I’m a listener and a dancer.

As I have been getting closer to the DJ community recently I have a huge respect for their belief in music, because without this shared belief I wouldn’t be able to ride and go on all the musical journeys I have done recently. I have always played for myself because it was never a plan to DJ. So anytime I was asked to play I only knew myself and what I wanted to

hear. However more recently I have come to realise that this feeling can be heightened even more when it is shared so now I have a lot more awareness of what people might want to hear and try to consider everyone. I can still only play what I packed in the bag that day, but trying to have a conversation and tell a story that can resinate to as many people as possible is now part of the way I try to play the records. I’m still learning this and think I will always be, it’s all brand new to me, but when we do join I’m forever thankful.

LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEn_5TYjpbc
Being at B.C, how do you balance creativity and revenue for the space? i.e. what’s the balance that you need to meet in booking experimental artists vs how many people go through the door.

Amit takes care of most of the bookings but I know that how many people come through the door doesn’t really come into it, I would say it’s more about understanding what kind of music is best fitted for what time and getting an idea of what will be well received when. There is no formula, we try to have an open house feel, anyone can come and play. It’s just people who enjoy playing there and music we like being fitted into as best timings to suit the day of the week with the DJs availability usually. The majority of our bookings are local DJs and selectors alongside people who happen to be in London at any given time.
Gilles Peterson claims that London is now rediscovering it roots in Jazz and becoming a hotspot, What’s your take on his thoughts and your take on Jazz music generally?

My thoughts on London rediscovering it’s roots in Jazz are quite limited as honestly I’m not too familiar with what London’s roots in Jazz truly were. I know a little bit but not much, I haven’t been in London too long, but I do feel now there’s so much incredible talent rising in London, especially within Jazz and I feel it is being appreciated a lot. Which is really exciting. As for my thoughts on Jazz in general, I love it, a lot, but I love many other genres too. I’m sure I can find something in all genres that moves me. There’s genres that I’m more likely to enjoy but generally they all blur into one for me. My favourite types of music are often those I find difficult to describe in few words or in many but finding the music that resonates with me in all genres is the challenge of digging and listening that keeps me hungry, happy and hooked.
Has being a female in the music industry affected anything?

It may have done, I’m sure my gender has affected things for me at some point but how, why and what I don’t really like to try figure out. I think the focus should be more on being people instead of genders and differences. That’s one of the things that will get us to a state of equality in every aspect. I’m aware of the differences in opportunities for females generally and I definitely believe in fighting for equality for everything. It’s still very messed up and we have a long way to go but I think we are going somewhere. Voicing it and bringing it to the light is important, but me focusing on it on a personal level in terms of my musical journey doesn’t change anything for me. I can however hope that the more females follow their heart and do what they love, despite their gender, race, background, appearance etc, the more everyone will believe in themselves and will do the same. Boys and girls.

What are your secrets for finding records? Do you tend to look via labels, areas/countries, album sleeves. Do you have a rule of thumb?

Inside my head is like, where are we going to go today? What am I going to find? I’m searching for the unknown and that’s what makes me so excited. It’s also about not having any expectation. There’s no rule of thumb, there’s no secret. It’s context, it’s time, it’s how I feel that day. It’s pretty much finding as many different reasons as I can to listening to a record. When was it made? What musicians are in this? What instruments are being played? Where was it made? Do I recognise the label? Sometimes when you see a record and you see loads of people involved, this many produces, and that many engineers and you figure this was a massive project and you want to hear what came of this. Or sometimes it’s just the simplicity of it. And other times it’s the artwork. Some shops you know you just have to get dusty, and get stuck in and you go through so much shit to sometimes find only one song or sometimes none! But when you find something incredible it’s all worth it.
Do you think music and wellbeing are connected? If so, how is this connected for you.

It’s most definitely connected. If I had to break it down it’s vibration and energy which is the foundation of everything! What music has done and continues to do for me I would struggle to explain, I’ve felt things and been to places that so far only music has taken me. From the experiences I‘ve had with music, I strongly believe it has huge powers for all of us. I know not every human is into music and I do think it’s possible to experience wellbeing without a passion for it and that’s ok too. There’s a lot of other stimuli out there and not every body is that same, and that’s a great thing! But I think it has the power to heal and teach more people than may currently be aware.

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