CHECKIN’ IN WITH JYOTY
Starting off this year, we decided to begin a new series called ‘Checkin’ In With…’ where we sit down and highlight women we consider to be friends & family of Patta and speak to them about their careers, personal experiences in and out of lockdowns, and what has got them through this period.
For the fifth part of the series, we interviewed Jyoty Singh - a Dutch DJ, broadcaster, radio presenter, programmer and curator currently living in London. Jyoty moved to London over 8 years ago and began working as a door girl at Dalston’s venue ‘The Nest’ where she ended up meeting a variety of people from the music industry including artists, DJs, managers and agents. She landed herself a presenter show at Rinse FM, which later turned into a specialist show, introducing and interviewing some of your favourite artists. During the second lockdown, Jyoty’s Boiler Room set from 2019 went viral on TikTok, creating a feeling of nostalgia for a lot of people at home after not being able to see inside of a club or venue for almost a year.
Read our conversation below.
Can you tell us about where you are from and what you do?
I’m from Amsterdam, born and raised and I’ve moved to London 8 years ago. Right now, I can say that I’m a full time freelance creative but mainly in music. I do radio, broadcasting, DJing, workshops and a lot of programming and curating, whether that’s for brands or other kinds of events. I’m one of those annoying slash, slash and slash people now. We live in an era now where we are free to try out a little bit of everything and I’ve been very lucky that everything I’ve tried out has stuck along.
Who were your main influences growing up?
I think growing up, it would be Angie Martinez. Radio is my number one love, it’s the thing I love to do the most and I’m the proudest of. It’s the one thing I wish everyone would know me for, which a lot of people who are new to me don’t, they always discover that I have 300 existing shows from the last 5 years a bit later on. Yes, I’ve been interviewing all of your favourite artists but that’s okay! My love for radio definitely came from Angie Martinez. From a young age, I looked up to her and the way she was talking to artists and the way she would disarm people. I’ve never tried to be like her but now that I’ve done radio for 5 years, I look back on myself and I’m like ‘Oh my god, I’m trying to mould myself into baby Angie Martinez.’ Now, I realise how much influence she has had on me and I didn’t realise it when I was starting up. She’s still in the game, still doing her fucking thing, still so beautiful and she’s down with the kids but she hasn’t forgotten about any OG’s. Her questions are everything we wanted to know, but no one ever gets upset with her for asking. She’s just perfect. For people who don’t know about her, go watch her old and new interviews. She was always the woman interviewer who was down with the Hip-Hop scene in America, and she interviewed all the biggest MC’s.
How did your career start and where?
I’ve always been pretty open about this, I kinda just fell into everything and that’s why I’m very grateful and aware. I humble myself all the time because I haven’t consciously crafted myself towards getting somewhere. I fell into things and then I worked hard not to fall off. I’ve moved to London 8 years ago and to make more money than a regular shop job that I also did for a month where I worked at Urban Outfitters whilst I was at University. I was a door girl at the club called The Nest in Dalston which was the hardest club back then. The strip in Dalston years ago, there wasn’t anything like it. From the start until the end, from Shoreditch up to Stoke Newington you could spend like 6-7 hours there and see everyone you know or wanted to know. I was on the door there, and that’s where it all started, because I was working there on Fridays and Saturdays for 3 years. I’ve met so many people in music but I didn’t need them if you know what I mean, I was genuinely just friends with them because I didn’t need anything from them, I was just a door girl. I knew all these artists, managers, agents, and DJs.
There was this girl called Ellie, who was doing data entry for The Nest which is when you take people’s email addresses so the club can send promo. She worked for Rinse FM as well, and ended up getting a presenter show just to try things out and they told her it would be a bit more exciting if she gets a friend on the show as a co-host. She told me I talk so much shit on the door and always crack jokes and that I should come and try it on the radio. We ended up doing 3 shows together, and for the 4th one she overslept so I had to do it by myself and after that show I got my own show, and that was a presenter show as well. I quickly discovered that I love music too much and I can’t just play a playlist, so I started sneaking in my own songs which was very different to the Rinse playlist. It was very Hip-Hop, Neo-Soul and R&B and more sounds of different diasporas. Geeneus who owns Rinse, who I haven’t met before, called me in once and he goes: “Do you not think that I listen to my own station?” When you are a presenter, you just play music from a playlist but when you are a specialist you get to play whatever you want and you have nothing to do with the station’s playlist curation: you are part of their curation. I’m on a playlist hour and he is hearing music that is not on a playlist. He asked me what I wanted and I told him I wanted a specialist show. He proceeded to ask me if I was a DJ, if I worked for a label or if I was a part of a collective and the answer to all was no. I told him that I know all these people that I met in the last few years and that I can call in favours and that’s how it started. I called in favours, and in the first few shows I had Princess Nokia when she was just starting under that moniker and the likes of The Pharcyde too. From there, it all slowly fell into other things and radio became a real thing.
I was also a door girl at Boiler Room and they haven’t had any women hosts yet so they were like ‘Jyoty is doing this radio thing now, so she’s clearly talking on a mic all the time now so let’s put her on camera.’ All of a sudden, I went from being a door girl to working inside, and from that I’ve learned how to DJ because people started wanting to book me because they’ve heard my show. Jamz Supernova was the one who forced me to learn how to DJ but I didn’t want to DJ or didn’t want to learn and I didn’t think there was any added value. She told me she’s booking me for her party in Bussey Building in 2 weeks and I only had 2 weeks to learn so I own her my DJ career. I had one DJ session with Geeneus and 5 minutes in, he lost all his patience (hahaha) and I was borderline crying (as per usual) so I left. We have like a father/daughter relationship and it just didn’t work. My boyfriend at the time knew how to DJ and he showed me what all the buttons did. At the gig, I sucked ass and I cried afterwards in the toilets. From this, everything else came - so from door girl, radio, hosting on camera, DJing and then I started a print magazine with my friend Tom (called The Move) and from that came more curating. I left my job in the corporate world and I became a creative producer at Mixcloud. Everything went puzzle piece by puzzle piece and everything was intertwined, at no point was anything I did separate. Everything fell into each other and that’s led to where I am now, I do all these things and they all spill into each other.
What’s the biggest highlight of your career so far?
Doing workshops with girls. I’ve been quite lucky to do a few in London, 6 week running ones. I’ve also been lucky to go to India, and do it there with British Council and this Indian music company called Wild City.
What’s the biggest problem you’ve had to overcome?
If I’m being completely honest, the biggest problem is not a problem.. I am extremely privileged in so many ways. I think the biggest thing that I have to continue to tell myself and not get worked up about is this whole cosign ecosystem. It’s this idea of your personality on social media and what you actually achieved in real life. I’ve noticed that a lot of people get very surprised when they hear that I’ve toured the world already and that I make a certain amount for a booking or I had a certain artist on my show. What people tend to do is go on my IG and be like ‘but you’re not even that popular.’ Everybody has this notion where if you do the things that I do, then you must have at least 100k followers. My biggest inspirations don’t have social media at all, Josey Rebelle has no Instagram, just Twitter and she’s somebody I idolise so much so I think that’s something I’ve always had to come up against so what you get a lot of times is, you want to have somebody on your show or you want to suggest something to someone and their team will say ‘no’. A year later, they come to you and I’m like ‘Bro, I told you!’ You either put your ego to the side or you don’t and just say ‘Fuck you, you didn’t want to do it last year so why would you now?’ Sometimes, I do a little bit of both because I’m a human being and I get petty sometimes and let you know not to do that ever again. Other times, I put my ego to the side, and they’ve come around so that’s a little pat on the back from me. Either way, do what feels best.
That’s the main thing, this cosign culture and ‘oh but she doesn’t roll with so and so… so is she really in this scene?’ Don’t worry about who I roll with, just look at the stats and the work that I have done and it should speak for itself. Don’t worry about who I’m with at a party or that you don’t see me at all the brand parties in East and South London, I’m probably sleeping. My friends are lit people, I don’t even have the energy to hang out with clouty people, because my friends are so mental I don’t have more space for more friends. They’re all cool people, and they have jobs in everything from advertising to law or human rights. They still go to the same parties as you, but you don’t know how lit they are because you don’t follow them on Instagram because they don’t have thousands of followers. That’s something I have always come across and now that I’m 30, I’m way past caring but when I was in my mid 20s in this club scene in London, I would always be like ‘Why don’t they think I’m cool or acknowledge me when they come to the club?’ Once you find your groove, you realise that those types of people don’t mean shit to your personal life, happiness or career anyway. All the people that I wanted to approve me years ago, I just look at them now and I’m like ‘you’re just a clout chaser’ and now I see it and all their friends are also clout chasers so they stick together. When you are young, that’s how your brain works so I don’t blame people for looking for those approvals from people. All I want to say is, prepare yourself for 5 years down the line and think ‘What an idiot!’
What’s your lockdown routine been like?
At first absolutely no routine. I would set no alarms unless I had to be physically in a meeting or would have an extremely early zoom call. I’d sleep as much as I want, and if I don’t want to leave the house for 2 days and look like a tramp then I can. I stopped working out for like 4 months and really fell off, but I’d allowed myself to. I started feeling uncomfortable after a while so I shared my feelings on my IG and told people I had a mental block towards wanting to work out and asked everyone for tips on how to get back to it. Everything I have done, I haven’t allowed myself to think about it too much. If I want to eat crap then I do it, and then all of a sudden I want to go super healthy so I do that. Sometimes, I don’t feel like talking to people or reply for like 3 days, we have all been there. I think my routine is what works for me and what makes me happy. I went from the strictest routine for 5 years to absolutely nothing at all. Now though, I’m super busy again and totally back in a routine. Sleeping on time and regular hours, exercising almost daily, calls, streams, recordings, pitch decks, reading, writing etc. etc. Every day is jam packed with work but I’m loving all of it.
What would be the biggest thing you’ve learned or taken from the first lockdown that has helped you through this one?
I’ve told myself from the first week of April that this is probably not going to change and it helped me a lot. I’ve told myself, this is going to last for a long time so make it work. Things are not going to get back to normal straight away. You are either going to let this bring you down or you just make it work for yourself.
The only thing I’ve ever missed and what makes me happy is restaurants and eating out. There’s nothing that makes me more happy than sitting with someone I like, enjoying good food and not having to attempt to make cocktails at home.
Has your creative process dramatically altered this time around?
I was already used to making my radio shows not live in the studio because I was always travelling on weekends and my show was on the weekend. I was really used to doing stuff at home and always had a portable microphone. Radio was completely fine, the interviews went over to Zoom instead which was also fine. One thing that I really had to change because I was relying on DJing as the biggest and quickest income that I had and it was a very repetitive income and it made me realise I couldn’t just wait for clubs to reopen again as that would be the dumbest thing I could ever do. I thought about all these concepts and all these things that I could do if Covid-19 sticks around for the next 10 years and I could make good money. For months, I didn’t do anything and then I sat on my laptop and I made so many pitch decks involving no DJing but me being a curator or a presenter, a lot of creative concepts that are valuable to brands and I’ve sent them off and the feedback has been positive. Even if for the whole of 18 months I can’t DJ, I think I’m going to be fine. That was my creative process, I had to think of myself as a creative in a different setting, something that didn’t require other people but it still has entertainment or cultural value.
How do you see this changing/affecting your industry going forward?
I feel bad for different types of creatives like musicians. We are underestimating how difficult it is to be a recording artist because they make music in studios and they are fine. Well, if you really know how the streaming industry works, you know they literally make fuck all money off millions streams. Artists live off touring and bookings. Where I see this going is, what’s happening now was going to happen anyway but we have sped it up like 10 years. I think a lot of things are going to be done from the safety of your home and then slowly there will be options to go to concerts or go to a party but I also think every concert or party will be available to attend in a digital format as well so you can buy tickets for it online. So you either attend it in person or you watch it from home at a cheaper price. That’s what I think the music industry will be moving towards.
The quicker people will stop fighting it for their own wellbeing and if you don’t want to then you don’t, but what I’m saying is don’t give up on live events and don’t write it off. I see big touring DJs taking a week off touring a month so they can do Twitch streams instead or online streams in general because it’s better for their health, schedule and sleeping pattern. Let’s get used to it and you are going to be grateful in the long run. Your work from home environment or in your own city in the studio with just other 2 or 3 people is going to give you so much peace of mind that then you’ll enjoy being back on the road as well.
What has been your biggest motivation over the past couple of weeks?
I’ve been seeing a lot of people who I have known since quite young or for so many years do so well. So many people I love and adore have grafted for so long even though 2020 was going to be everyone’s big year, some of them have actually managed to still come out on the other end winning. I don’t mean that necessarily as a big win like they’ve launched that collection that they wanted to launch or they did get that record deal that they wanted. Some people have happily fallen in love, some friends have finally got the flat that they have always wanted, or some people have happily broken up. Do you know what I mean? I’ve seen so many people just do something that I think they didn’t expect to happen and that’s been my motivation. I think to myself ‘Hell yeah, some shit is going to happen to me too’ and now I’m in the middle of all these jobs and I’m like ‘YES!’ I’m going to go into the new year having something to look forward to and that’s my motivation. I got that one yes and then I was eager for that second and third and then my phone wouldn’t stop ringing so it looks like I’m in demand now. Let’s go!
Do you have any advice or tips on how to remain positive during these times?
I had this conversation with somebody yesterday, let me tell you this. Social media is not real life. I’m not telling you to stay off social media, absolutely not because I am addicted to it but I really enjoy it and have fun with it. I do not let it dictate my happiness or make me feel negative. What I’m saying is, why do you follow people you don’t like? I don’t get it. Here’s a good example, I’m followed here by some people in London who I know dislike me and they are not happy for anything that I’m doing, but because we are in the same world they feel like they have to follow me. Babe, do yourself a favour and unfollow me and I don’t mean this in a patronising way. If I don’t like your energy or me seeing your face doesn’t give me joy then why would I confront myself with that feeling. It is not real life and just because you don’t follow someone on Instagram doesn’t mean running into them in real life is awkward, you can still say hello and stay civil. Why would you need a mute option? If you want to mute someone, get rid of them! I’ve heard so many people talk about do you see so and so got this? Sometimes, someone's success can make you feel upset and that's okay, you're human, get rid of it if you don’t want to see it. I’ve seen a lot of people answer this type of question by ‘Get off social media’ and I think that’s a little unrealistic for a lot of people. Once you start unfollowing people, you will feel so powerful because you realise this isn’t real life, they don’t notice that I’ve just closed the door in their face. It’s not even the same thing, you’re not actually closing the door in someone's face.
Another thing would be, learn to be by yourself! At the start of lockdown, I thought ‘why do so many people find it so difficult to spend all this time alone? Why are we finding it difficult to be confronted with our own thoughts? Why is it so hard?’ That’s something we should be working on, so instead of us saying ‘let us out, we want to see our friends or I want to FaceTime for 8 hours a day.’ Why don’t you try to figure out what it is that makes you uncomfortable with having to spend time by yourself, with your own thoughts and your own presence. Start slowly working on that, it might take 5 years or the whole lifetime but don’t run away from it. If there’s anything I wish everyone could do whilst we are still in lockdown is try to work on that relationship with yourself because you are going to end up thanking yourself down the line.
What artists have got you through this period?
I was so used to listening to music with a purpose of work and then I moved to listening to music for pure joy. I remember everyday during the first lockdown, I would be spread out across on my bed like a teenager and I was listening to artists like Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, Jill Scott, The Foreign Exchange and all Miseducation by Lauryn Hill type of albums. From start to finish and I felt stoned again, I used to be a big stoner when I was a teenager and I used to listen to my music that way and I stopped smoking a couple years ago. I was literally on my bed and I felt like I have smoked and that was such an incredible feeling and it’s not like I have ever forgotten about those artists, I always go back to them on my shows but to listen to those iconic albums from my childhood from start to finish reminded me of all the songs and albums that made me fall in love with all them.
Some artists that I have been listening to, to feel happy or good is Wizkid and his ‘Made In Lagos’ album, it has made my lockdown. Positive energy, it’s sexy, very instrumental heavy, the features are solid and it just makes you feel like you're on a holiday on an island. I have to say that the music I must listen to on a daily basis in order to not go crazy is anything by SAULT. I am obsessed with them and both the projects they dropped last year are in my top releases of 2020. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Lex Amor, she’s a South London MC and recently did a COLORS performance, she’s very sick. Just a lot of people with positive outlook but also a little bit of keeping you grounded type of music. First lockdown, I was very much going back to my childhood music and now I’m very much about who’s making me feel good at this moment now, especially music coming out during this period where I know artists are feeling what I’m feeling. Honourable mentions to Lynda Dawn, Kiina, Girl Ultra, Oliver Palfreyman and Synthia.
What’s the one thing you most look forward to after lockdown?
Short Term, restaurants. Longterm, would be live gigs. I need to watch someone on stage standing up, I don’t want to sit at a table. I just want to be at a live gig with a full venue, I don’t care if it has to be seated but at least make it full! I just can’t wait to be surrounded by crowds at live events again.
And lastly, how did you get linked with Patta?
I think I was 15, as it was in 2005 and my dad’s Indian restaurant was on Spuistraat, which is a street parallel behind Nieuwezijds Kolk. This sneaker shop opened on that street in front of my dad’s restaurant, it was very exciting because I was a big sneakerhead from the age of 14 and I had a part time job and I used to spend all my money to pay my phone bill and to buy pairs of trainers. I started going into that store and I thought it was so cool because they had all these drops that nobody else had, even if the majority of the time they didn’t even have my size I just wanted to go in anyway. I used to go in every week and not even talk to anyone because I found everyone there so intimidating, all the guys that worked there scared the shit out of me but I just thought they were so cool. Everytime I would save up enough money I would buy expensive sneakers there and my mum used to cuss me and get upset with me about it. At some point, I started working at a sneaker store not too far away from Patta store. The most direct connection that I’ve had over years was also when Edson's wife used to look after Bitterzoet, which was also on the same street as my dad’s restaurant and she used to eat at my dad’s a lot and I put two and two together. Ilija, who I call my big brother, used to work at Ben-G (the skateshop that you had to walk through in order to get to the Patta store.. Real ones remember) and at some point him and Danny even moved in together, so not only was I going into the store to buy stuff but I also slowly started to know the guys working in the shop. A lot of the guys who worked in the store were also some of the hottest up and coming DJ’s in town and I was a massive party animal so...I used to visit Elia downstairs whilst he was working there and would smoke weed with everyone after work and then I would go to his house and hang out with Danny and we became friends through that.
Over years, I’ve always been a big supporter of Patta and always spent my money there and bought everything and only since 2019/20 has it been more of a feeling like I’m a part of the bigger collective and what they stand for. I’m really happy because I’ve always admired what they have done. I remember when I moved here and Patta didn’t have a store in London yet and once I went out to Village Underground and a guy came up to me and said: “I will pay you £100 for this t-shirt that you are wearing right now.” That’s when I have realised how big this brand really is and for me it’s just a part of my upbringing in Amsterdam and it’s been a really nice 15 year old relationship. Relationship of admiring, supporting and feeling very proud being from Amsterdam and being a woman of colour and seeing these guys do their thing. Even the name itself which is from the Surinamese language and being in people’s mouths as a brand name is just super powerful and now being able to say that I’m affiliated with Patta, I just hope I can work with them and do some exciting stuff with them in the future. I definitely want to add value, I don’t want to be just a person who wears their clothes. I want them to look at me and say ‘That’s Jyoty, and we have known her since she was a 15 year old little girl and we are proud to say that we have done this and this with her…’ That’s my story, and it’s crazy to think it’s been part of my story for half of my life.
Written and photographed by: Olivia Jankowska