At the Women In Music Awards 2023, we celebrated the achievements of 13 game changing executives and artists as the industry came together to honour their work. Music Week has spoken to all of the winners to tell their stories.
Interview: Miranda Bardsley
The winner of this year’s Music Champion honour is radio host, DJ, label head and podcaster Jamz Supernova.
Jamz, of course, has been a trailblazing tastemaker throughout her career. Known for her current slot on BBC Radio 6 Music, as well as her shows on BBC Radio 1Xtra and Selector Radio for the British Council, she brings fresh and diverse music to new audiences every week, reaching over four million global listeners in the process.
And that's just for starters. Her label, Future Bounce, was set up in 2018 and sees Jamz working in both A&R and consulting, releasing records from the likes of Bianca Oblivion, Suchi and Giulia Tess. Through her DJ sets, she is also a mainstay at festivals and clubs worldwide, spinning an eclectic mix of broken beat, UK funky, bass, techno and beyond at the likes of We Out Here Festival, Worldwide Sete, All Points East and more.
Having also hosted television shows for BBC Three, Four and Newsbeat, as well as music awards ceremonies such as the prestigious Mercury Prize, for Jamz, she has made a huge impact.
Here, we meet Jamz to reflect on her amazing career so far and talk the importance of pushing for positive change in the music industry…
How does it feel to be honoured as a music champion?
“Awards are always a funny thing, and I’m quite an introverted person so I would never put myself forward for something, so it’s so nice to get a nod for doing the work I do! Being Music Champion feels like a great award to win because that's what I try to do, put the music first and trust my instincts with what I want to play, what I want to shout about on the radio or in my label, and my DJ sets as well, it feels like a very personal expression. So to have this award for it is really amazing.”
You have championed so many upcoming artists throughout your various radio shows. What made you want to dedicate your career to spotlighting artists?
“I was always that kid at school getting the hottest music and making mixtapes with people, I’ve always loved that element of sharing music with people and I really get a kick out of the discovery of it. I remember being in my late teens and my idea of a fun evening would be sitting on the blogs and coming across all these different things happening around the world and going on soundcloud – it’s always been how I spend my free time! To have an actual platform to share what you’ve discovered is just another element, so I kind of always knew I’d work in music, and because I was so enthusiastic about talking about new music, it just made sense that radio would be my first vehicle to do that.”
Who inspired you growing up in terms of the tastemakers and supporters of new music? Did you have a mentor?
“I had so many, I’m so thankful for all the mentors I had. I started off on Reprezent Radio, and I had a guy called Gavin [Douglas], who was a DJ I used to listen to called G Child. A lot of my generation and the generation after me credit him as being the mentor, and I was sort of one of his first radio children! From the age of 19, he was my mentor, in terms of getting out what I wanted to express within a radio show and teaching me the principles of radio. We had a really intense couple of years of really developing me as a broadcaster. It was like, ‘You know the music, but how do you share the music?’ and ‘You’re going to have to learn to DJ now because you’re a specialist and specialist DJs DJ!’ So that was really helpful.
“When I got to the BBC, I was surrounded by all these people who I admired. Meeting people like DJ Target, the dedication and passion that he had in finding all this music for his Homegrown show, I really loved watching him put it all together with his CDs, being really specific about the music he chose. There was also Toddla T, who did a really good job and showed [me] that being a music champion is not always a personal expression, it's also about leaning on different people and scenes around you, and learning how to spotlight them. I was very lucky to have different mentors throughout my career, even now, Mary Anne Hobbs, Giles [Peterson], they’re my music champions.”
You mentioned learning the importance of learning to DJ as a broadcaster. What is the relationship between the music you spotlight on radio and the music you choose to mix on the decks? Are the processes intertwined for you, or are they very different disciplines?
“To begin with they were quite separate, I had a DJ persona and I had a radio persona, and what I was playing had quite different expressions. Radio was a lot more down tempo and DJing was a lot more electronic leaning. As my career has grown, and I've had different spaces to explore, like in Radio 6 Music, it feels like all those worlds are coming together now and I’m coming across tracks like, ‘Oh I want to talk about that, but I also want to hear it in the club!’ They are quite interconnected now, but for me it’s all just about the education with both of them. I'm coming across so much music all the time, and that feeds my label as well, the people I sign and people I meet. It’s one big circle.”
Talking of your label, Future Bounce, what was the inspiration behind setting it up in 2018?
“It started off as a launchpad for artists that I was discovering through the radio, so much music comes out and it can be so hard for music to always get the attention it deserves, even if it’s really great. So for me, it was like, ‘Okay, I want to pick out a few artists, and what’s the next layer of support I can give them?’ That was setting up a label. Since then, the label has grown and also become more of an expression of my own taste, and it's an incubator for new talent, and for me to tell the stories of these artists and shine a spotlight on what they’re doing.”
What has your experience been like joining BBC Radio 6, has there been any resistance to you bringing in new music and voices?
“I mean, it’s such a privilege in terms of being a specialist woman to curate everything myself, everything I play on radio I have 100% picked, and to have that slot on a Saturday afternoon is massive. I was always very certain that the only way I wanted to do radio was in this way and I couldn't have been on 6 Music at the start of my career, but I can now because of everything that’s been leading up to it. I’ve been on daytime radio, I know how to make things feel accessible and comfortable, but I'm also a DJ so it’s important for me to stay true to what I play and not overthink whether people are going to like it. If someone doesn’t like it, I’d hope that they go somewhere else rather than trying to put me in a hole. There is always pushback when there is change, but I know that we’ve made some incredible radio and what I love about 6 Music is that I am constantly reaching new audiences.
“When I first started, there weren’t that many DJs of colour on the station, so you do get the pushback on that side of things, but I think that Saturday spot for me is a very safe space to be and I feel comfortable in being me. And I love 6 Music, I think it needed it, it is alternative music – whether that’s through the African diasporic lens or the SWANA lens, or anything, it’s new and exciting music we should be shouting about and hearing about.”
Especially with the dance music world, it’s quite male-dominated, so it’s my responsibility to make sure that we are spotlighting women or non-binary people to shift that balance
As a DJ breaking new music, you are known as the person that's always bringing the next great thing first. What are the kind of pressures you face as a tastemaker?
“With the 1Xtra show I felt like I came in with a mission which was to broaden the conversation around what Black music could be. We started off with the alternative R&B scene and we went into jazz and more electronic stuff, and when I was coming to the end of that I almost felt like I was coming back around again, a lot of the music we had been playing had become mainstream, especially with the alternative R&B. With 6 Music, there is new music constantly of course, but it's more about deciding what’s right for that specific show. I'm in this nice position where, on one hand I’m introducing an older listener to new music, and I'm also talking to a younger listener and they can learn about the stuff our older stuff would have been raving to! I’m also in a position now where I don’t have to always play stuff that’s new, I’ve built my name as a tastemaker, so it’s also about thinking, ‘What came before that might have informed what the DJs are playing right now?’ and, ‘What happened to these genres when they went underground?’ – things like that.”
Do you think the industry is championing racial and gender equality enough? What can be done better? And what role does radio play in this?
“I think we’re definitely doing better, you can see the progress. But I think it’s important to keep the pressure on so we don’t go back! We’re already starting to get the eyerolls around diversity, and some of pledges that were made around Black Lives Matter, how many of them are still being upheld? When it comes to gender equality, you’re still seeing big lineups that aren’t very reflective of diversity. It almost feels like it’s still quite a grassroots thing, when it shouldn’t be, and I think a lot of that comes down to infrastructures behind the scenes, which we need to be really transparent about. If the infrastructures aren’t changing, there won’t be long-lasting changes that are tangible. There’s no reason at all why we shouldn't be seeing equal lineups! The talent is out there.
"Radio is the easiest way to be inclusive, it’s really tangible. You can see when you’ve done five males in a row, at that point you have to think, ‘I need to do my due diligence here.’ Especially with the dance music world, it’s quite male-dominated, so it’s my responsibility to make sure that we are spotlighting women or non-binary people to shift that balance. Not to say we always get it right, but it’s installed me and I’m always trying to address the balance, and being aware that we all have a role to play in making things [more equal]. But I would like to see more change in the wider industry and the infrastructures in place to make them more diverse.”
You launched your DIY Handbook podcast this year – what was the inspiration behind that? What have you learned from the young creatives and entrepreneurs you interview?
“I started it as a radio episode on the 1Xtra show, I wanted it to be like a bitesize kind of thing where young people could go to find stories from people across the entire industry, like, ‘Oh, you want to do this? Here are some ways [to get there]’. When it came to making the podcast, I really wanted to own what I was making and also for it to reflect more where I was at in my career, for it be more philosophical, so I really enjoyed looking at things that were more philosophical in the podcast, things like dealing with rejection through an actor’s lens, looking at the power of ‘no’ from a DJ’s perspective, or thinking about how we can be more diverse. I learnt so much from listening to people’s stories. It’s so easy to get bogged down by things outside of your control, so maybe the podcast was also about ways we could maybe take a bit of control back.”
Do you think there is enough recognition for work-life balance in the industry at large now? What more needs to be done?
“It’s much better. You know, when I first started, it was all like, ‘When everyone is sleeping, I’m hustling’ kind of thing, which is not helpful! If I'm doing things in the middle of the night, they’re not good quality. It’s good seeing at the bottom of people’s emails the hours they work and organisations stating that they don’t want to put unrealistic timelines on their staff, I’m seeing more of that, which makes me feel able to have more boundaries with my time as well, which is something I need because I need time to create, I can’t be answering my emails all the time.
“Also, conversations with managers and artists seem better too. I was speaking to an artist the other day and they said that the next deal they sign they're going to ask for a therapist with it, which I thought was such a good idea! We’re asking artists to give us their life stories, tell us about their emotions so we can all feel cathartic through their music, but we need to support them too! There are definitely more conversations that are happening and there is more honesty happening online, like artists talking about the [difficulties] with touring, and I think we’re in a better space than we were, but we need to be adapting and evolving all the time. Maybe that’s something that should be rolled out with every deal, maybe labels who have the money and resources should include a therapist for everybody! Mental health, like diversity, is just a conversation that needs to keep happening.”
You’re an alumni of the Power Up programme, and since then have been part of a network which champions Black music and creatives. How has that network influenced you throughout your career?
“It’s the best thing I could've done for myself in the last year. It ended this summer, and being in a room with people who are going through similar things to you is so helpful, because sometimes you can feel like you’re the only person that’s dealing with something. Some of the conversations we had were around wellness, burnout, you know, we’re putting ourselves out there all the time, what are some of the things we’re dealing with personally? Having room of black and mixed race people as well, everyone has had an experience of discrimination in some way. Sometimes in other spaces you experience being gaslit, and start questions, like, ‘Is this actually happening? Am I feeling this?’ so being together and talking about it, it’s empowering. There are also amazing people in the room, some behind the scenes who are doing such exciting things. The network is so valuable, if you need something you can just go to it, I need a lawyer, an Ad person, it’s such a network
“I’ve also been mentored by Chris Swanson [through Power Up] for a year now, and that has been eye opening. I think before I sometimes made myself small, and would be like, ‘Oh I can’t do this, I can’t do that,’ so speaking to someone who has done so much has been so inspiring. He’s like, ‘Jamz, you gotta believe in yourself!’ It’s just nice to be the student and listen, and understand that it’s such a long career.”
Globally, everyone seems to be asking where the next superstars are. Does the industry have a problem with breaking talent?
“You can’t compare times and environments, like the one that Beyoncé and Taylor Swift came through to the one now. There’s definitely a shortage of finances, it costs a lot more to break an act on that scale now than it used to, and there is also so much more noise now – there are so many different ways to blow up. I love seeing artists coming back who are making the best music they’ve ever made, people like VV Brown, Loyle Carner, Young Fathers, that for me is a sign that you can have a long career. I think we need to stop wanting quick results, great artistry takes time. We need to invest in long-term, strategic development, not sacking it in if that first single or EP doesn’t do well. As a DJ and with my artists right now, I’ve been asking how we build fans, how we create sustainable fan relationships away from social media. We have to give it time, we just got out of a pandemic where we didn’t have live music at all, and with Brexit and the cost of living, it’s a struggle! But there are stars out there, it depends on the kind of star you’re looking for, the mainstream isn’t where I’m looking for my stars! They're out there in all different forms and genres, and I want to cultivate sustainability in the underground.”
Who would you vote for as you music champion and why?
“That’s a good question! I’d say Talya Alitza, she runs Godmode, which is a label, management company and music company. She’s always putting me onto new artists that they sign. They really sign what they’re feeling, what they like, they had people like JPeg Mafia on the label years ago, who’s now massive. I really like what they do and how it’s about slow, long development of artists. I went to their office the other day and it’s also just so inspiring to see a woman in that position who has been doing this work.”
And finally, what artists are you excited about right now?
“I’m loving Bikoko. She’s an artist I’m working with right now, she’s done a few events I’ve done, and I came across her on bandcamp like two winters ago. Some artists just have it, and she just has it! Her music is kind of glitchy, and she produces her own thing. She really just has the star factor and I’m excited to see where she takes the experimental lens. Also Lizzie Berchie, a soul singer, she is wicked! The UK scene for R&B and soul hasn't always been that easy, so that’s great to see. There’s also this band called 15 15, who are based in the outskirts of Paris, they have members from Haiti and they make this sort of warped [music] – it feels like it’s going backwards! It was so nice to be one of the first to support them, I’ve literally been their groupie! They’ve just signed to XL Records. There’s just so much amazing music coming out, it's really exciting.”