B.Traits is a woman of many feats. She started off DJing at raves for friends in her home of British Columbia in Canada, before bursting onto the UK club scene in 2010, when she joined the Digital Soundboy family with Shy FX. Fast-forward six years and B. Traits, aka Brianna Price is a world-class DJ, presents a late night show on BBC Radio 1, owns a record label, and is a certified boss when it comes to doing things her own way.
“THERE’S SOMETHING REALLY SPECIAL ABOUT PLAYING ALL NIGHT LONG. YOU GET TO START WHEN LITERALLY NO ONE IS ON THE DANCE FLOOR, AND THEN CLOSE OUT THE NIGHT. YOU GET TO TAKE YOUR LISTENERS ON A JOURNEY.”
We spoke to Bri on the phone from her London home. She started off by telling us she’s a little under the weather, having lost her voice. We asked if it was from too much late night raving? “Nope, I think last night I was just in a loud restaurant!” She laughed in her Canadian accent, inflected with hints of English dialect, picked up from her time living in London. But B. Traits is no stranger to the Northern cities, either. We’ve welcomed her to the decks in Leeds countless times.
“I love playing in the North!” She recalled emphatically. “Everyone seems to have a really good idea of the music that they like and they’re really passionate about it! Leeds particularly. The last few times I played here the gigs have been outstanding, so I’m really excited to be playing at Wire where I get the chance to play a full all night set. There’s something really special about doing that – being able to take over a club, to take over a night for a solid five hours or so. You get to start when literally no one is on the dance floor, and then close out the night. It’s really nice. You get to take your listeners on a journey.
“I’ve done quite a few extended sets this year. It takes quite a bit of preparation, because you want to set a mood. I usually start with the bpm quite a bit slower, and a little bit more musical. Maybe if it was completely empty, I’d start with more ambient atmospheric stuff. When you’re walking into a club you don’t want to hear banging techno at the beginning of the night. You want to have a few drinks, maybe catch up with your friends and then be eased into it. So it’s nice to do that.”
We laugh when we added that when DJing, the last thing you want to do scare people away. She agreed: “Yeah for sure. There’s lots of time to take it up a notch!”
Back in October we kicked off our all night long series with DJ Heidi. Bri told us how they’re good friends and that the fellow Canadian just lives down the street. We had to ask if they had ever DJed any back-to-back sets.
“No actually, funnily enough, we’ve just never had the opportunity. Heidi plays quite a more jackin’ house style than I do, but I think it would be a super fun party set! I’m sure it’ll happen in the future.”
As 2016 comes to a close, it’s hard to forget what an incredibly successful year it’s been for B. Traits. A highlight for her was returning to the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), where she caught up with a few DJs for her radio show. We reminded her of the bizarre interview settings with Drumcode boss Adam Beyer: a chat over a cup of tea. Are your interviews always this civilised?
“Haha! At ADE that literally happens all the time. Like, you’re walking down the street and you run into artists. I remember running into Kölsch, and we were talking about where we’re going to dinner that night or what random things he’d been up to. It’s so nice to have an opportunity to have a conference like that, where everyone goes to meet people that you usually just see in passing and have a proper chat.”
And the tea? “It happens exactly like that! Like, we just went to Adam’s hotel and he came down and was like, ‘I’m just about to leave for the airport, I’d love to get some tea and we’ll have a chat’. So the interview just kind of happened over tea haha! It’s just really nice having a brief moment, where it’s not so professional.” She laughed. “Being a radio broadcaster can sometimes feel a bit formal, so it’s nice to be a bit more laid back sometimes”.
“There’s also so many incredible panels, and everyone is literally at your fingertips. You can just go and chat to anyone. It’s almost like a one-on-one with someone whose brain you’ve wanted to pick for a while. I did the same a few years ago, and it’s great to have opportunities like that.”
“I knew I wanted to start a label for ages and ages, but I could just never find the right name for it.”
In October, B. Traits announced the launch of her new label In Toto – a platform for her work as well as other artists’. She revealed to us the concept around it.
“In Toto is a short abbreviation of ‘in total’”, she explained. “I knew I wanted to start a label for ages and ages, but I could just never find the right name for it. It happened when I was in Malta for Annie Mac’s Lost & Found Festival. Someone had said it to me on the way from the airport and I was like, ‘What is that?’ so I went back to the hotel and started researching it. Then I went from Lost & Found to Snowbombing and I kept thinking about it and thinking about it. I couldn’t get it out my head.”
But In Toto is more than just a label. B. Traits used it release her latest two-track EP, ‘Still Point’ which has had an incredible reception for its reflective wintery tones and purple artwork which features the DJ’s signature ‘rave wave’ logo.
“Ah yes, the logo!” The pastel-haired DJ sighed affectionately in reference to her acid smiley face tattoo on her palm. “It couldn’t have been a more perfect logo either.” She continued, “I don’t really know how that’s all come about. I’m very lucky! I wasn’t even thinking about it at all when I got it, and now it’s become its own entity!” We suggested that maybe it’s time she invested in an Instagram account for the ‘rave wave’… She laughed: “Yeah totally!”
‘Still Point’ is B. Traits’ first release since 2012, when she broke into the UK charts with ‘Fever’ featuring Elizabeth Troy. We had to ask, why the long wait?
“I’d still been writing music over the past four years, but I was also really focusing on the radio show, and getting that to where it is now. A weekly specialist show for Radio 1 is a lot of work, but this year I feel I’ve finally got it to a point where everyone knows exactly what it is. It’s got a very distinct sound. I was finally able to finish this music that I had been writing, so that was really nice. It split up my week a bit more.”
“I REALISED THAT IF I PUT OUT MY RECORDS WITH ANOTHER LABEL, I MIGHT BECOME AFFILIATED WITH THAT LABEL AND WITH A CERTAIN SOUND. I WAS FREAKED OUT BY THAT IDEA.”
“I wrote ‘Still Point’ like two years ago now and I finished it back in January. I actually played it for the first time in the Mixmag Lab for International Women’s Day, which got a good response, but I was very unsure about whether I wanted to sign my music to another label and where I wanted to play it.
“The penny dropped when I realised that if I did put out my records with another label, that I might become affiliated with that label and with a certain sound, and would be expected to create that sound again. This is exactly what happened to me with ‘Fever’ and I was freaked out by that idea again, because I hated that situation. I consider myself quite an eclectic artist. I want you to not know what to expect from me – just that it’s going to be good music!
“So I decided to put my music out on my own label, exclusively, and then it doesn’t have to be any particular sound. It can be whatever I want it to be, and after I had that realisation, it all came together really easily and made complete sense.”
With so much under her belt, it’s no wonder that B. Traits is at the forefront of the international electronic music scene. But this DJ is always looking forward when it comes to building her art.
“The label’s second EP is also from me,” she revealed excitedly. “It’s a very strong contrast to the first one, which showcased my ‘sunrise’ side. If you’ve seen me play in a club recently, especially like the Drumcode night at Warehouse Project, it’s quite a bit more techno based. So the next release is just club-banging techno. It’s called ‘Basic Scenario’. It’s already finished and I think we’re going to release it in February, because we had such a good response with the first one, so we’re going to let that breathe.” She paused before adding: “I’m also very conscious of quality over quantity.”
“I like to tell my listeners: ‘this is a track I just finished, I literally just took it out of the studio.’ They get to hear it before anyone else, that’s the point of my show, to play brand new music.”
Well-informed B. Traits fans will notice that these productions actually have been circulating in Bri’s sets for a few months now, and she has even previewed them on her show. We asked her how it feels to introduce her own tracks to her audience.
“I do find it a bit weird,” she laughs. “We’re discouraged from playing our own music, as it’s a massive conflict of interests. But what I think is important is that I’m first a DJ and producer, before I’m a radio presenter, and that’s how I got Radio 1’s attention in the first place. When I do play my own tracks, it’s usually when I’ve first finished them. Radio 1 is an incredible place to test out your music because when you play an unmastered track through the studio’s amazing compression, it sounds like it’s mastered, and you can gage the reception. I like to tell my listeners: ‘This is a track I just finished, I literally just took it out of the studio.’ They get to hear it before anyone else, that’s the point of my show anyway, to play brand new music.”
B. Traits first caught the attention of Radio 1 through its ‘In New DJs We Trust’ project. This eventually landed her a permanent slot showcasing ‘forward-thinking, underground dance music’, and in 2013, she covered for Annie Mac’s Friday Night show when she went on maternity leave, which Bri said was crucial to building her presenting career.
“I loved covering for Annie! It’s a legendary dance show and has a completely different vibe to mine. You’re getting people ready for the weekend, it’s very high energy and the music’s a little more familiar, more popular. Whereas my show is more of a musical journey, it’s more about new music and really digging through underground sounds. I liked that I got to present Annie’s show completely differently, I had to really put on my presenter hat, and talk about music I might not necessarily know that much about. I learnt so much from doing that show, it really helped me.”
“IF YOU ARE A POPULAR DJ, YOUR OPINION MATTERS TO PEOPLE. YOU CAN ACTUALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE! I THINK IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO STAND UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN.”
In an age of live-streams and Snapchat stories, self-promotion and having a voice is almost expected of DJs and artists in the public sphere. B. Traits’ is not only recognised for her work in music, but also as an ambassador for UK club welfare. We asked her if she feels pressure to use her voice for good. She laid down the facts.
“If you think about it, we are just DJs. We just play or make music. We are not saving anyone, or the world in any way. We get to soundtrack people’s evenings and make them feel better in an environment where they can be free. I always try and remember that. If you are a popular DJ who’s got bookings every weekend, your opinion matters to people. If you are a strong role model in certain way, you can actually make a difference! I think it’s really important to stand up for what you believe in and actually do something about it, rather than just ranting about it on Twitter. If you’re going to voice your opinion, do it in an intellectual way, write something about it, go and do a panel.”
Over the past few years, the Canadian producer has been working with non-profit drug safety organisation, The Loop, founded by Dr Fiona Measham. She also explored practicalities of on-site drug-testing to keep ravers safe in her BBC Three documentary, ‘How Safe Are My Drugs’.
“We should be making our clubbing environment safer for our patrons and our fans. Fucking hell, if they weren’t there, we wouldn’t be here! So it’s important to look out for them and have their backs as much as they would have mine. I am just a DJ, I am just a radio presenter, but I happen to be in a very fortunate place where I am an influential figure, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be voicing my opinion and standing up for what I think should change in our industry and ways we can make it better and safer.”
“We cannot ignore that drugs are going to take place in all kinds of venues and festivals, whether it’s dance music or rock music… We should be prepared for the absolute worst. We need to stand up.”
Bri pointed out just how this is possible with Islington Council’s decision to reopen London’s fabric, after much campaigning, “It’s a step in the right direction,” she said. We then asked the producer how she thinks attitudes towards drugs are changing.
“It’s tricky. The major issue that these days, pills are five to ten times stronger than they were. I think having more of these conversations is how we’re going to get there. We cannot ignore that drugs are going to take place in all kinds of venues and festivals, whether it’s dance music or rock music. We need to acknowledge that no matter what they do on the door, in terms of security, people are going to always either smuggle in drugs or take them before they come in.
“We should be prepared for the absolute worst. The Warehouse Project has a frickin’ ambulance parked just outside. It’s brilliant. They get it. Fiona Measham and I came up with so many ideas that we’re going to be bringing to The Loop next year, and there’s going to be proper NHS training which is exciting. All they needed was for a few festivals to stand up this year, which is what happened with Secret Garden Party, and now everyone wants to be on board. It’s what we’ve always wanted really, for someone to stand up and say, ‘This is going to make a difference’.
But B. Traits is more than just a DJ. Her passion for music and the wider clubbing community isn’t going unnoticed. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, and it’s even more essential when your vision comes to fruition. We ended our chat by asking Bri what’s in the pipeline for 2017.
“I’m working towards a compilation! I’m still gathering the music now and it features a lot of artists that I champion on my radio show. There will also be releases from other artists on the label, and another EP from me coming next year. Then I’ll be doing a string of In Toto nights as well. The next one is in February in London. It’s going to be a proper dance night. I’ll probably take it on the road too. I’d love to do another night at Wire! It’s all growing very organically, that always sits really well with me. I love when things like that happen naturally, I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
You can catch B. Traits all night long at Wire on December 2nd. Tickets are on sale here.
Words by Jaguar Bingham. Follow her here