One of Northern Ireland’s proudest exports is world-renowned DJ Holly Lester. A woman with an ear that rivals anyone else within the house and techno scene today, Ms. Lester keeps herself busy running multiple labels while traversing the world one booth at a time. In our latest edition of MixedBy, we catch up with the Belfast maestro to discuss her current endeavors, future releases of her own, and the benefits of seeking balance in one’s everyday life! We also have a tasty little mix for you guys delivered by Holly herself. Have some words and enjoy these spaced-out vibes!
Hi Holly! How have the past few weeks been? Looks like you’ve been keeping busier than ever with headline events like AVA’s Connections last month and the sophomore release from your jointly-run imprint Terrrazzo.
Hey BB! Yeah it’s been great to get the second installment of Terrazzo out with co-founder Steffan Todorović – coincidentally I have also just launched the fifth Duality Trax EP by Steffan and his production partner Joonas, under their Abdul Raeva alias! Been super nice to get this one out into the world finally, after over a year of planning. The guys are killing it right now and I’m glad to give them a platform. There’s a massive Andy Garvey remix on the flip too, very happy with how it all turned out.
Can you let our readers know what you’re working on at the moment and what you have planned during the upcoming months?
At the moment, the wheels are in motion for DUALITY5 and DUALITY6, which will both come out next year. Very excited about these two records, one of which I will touch on a bit later on. I have also been putting a lot of time into a big project that my non-profit org Free The Night is working on right now. This is our first big research project and we are hoping to make some serious changes to nightlife in Northern Ireland with this.
Since 2020, we have interviewed several label founders, many of which decided to launch their imprints during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although it appears that the worst is finally behind us, can you share some of the difficulties and surprise advantages you encountered while starting Duality Trax in 2020?
So technically, the first release came out roughly one week before national lockdown. It was completely unintentional and very tough for me at the time, though the record ended up doing really well in the end anyway. I would say the toughest part was the worry that it might not sell so well, given that a lot of people had lost work and there were no clubs to perform in. In hindsight, I think a lot of people had a bit more money to spend due to a lack of social life, so record sales in general seemed to be really good, which definitely took me by surprise. Something which became more of an issue as time progressed were the vinyl pressing delays, which have continued to worsen unfortunately. Now with this and the cost of living crisis, it actually might be more difficult to sell records than it was during the pandemic, but let’s see…
At the heart of Duality Trax, there seems to be a strong emphasis on inclusivity and striking a balance between opposing forces. This is not only the aim of your label, but who you are as a creative who curates many of the environments dance-enthusiasts look for inclusion.
What aspects of your childhood and upbringing shaped this mindset of yours?
I think in general, I have always been the sort of person that seeks balance and harmony in my environment and relationships. When I was younger, I was definitely the mediator/peace keeper in my family and I was raised to have a non discriminatory view of others with different religions, races or sexuality. To be honest, it wasn’t a very common outlook in the part of the world where I am from, so I am grateful that I was raised this way. The concept of duality was something I became fascinated with in my 20s when I was becoming a bit more spiritually minded and was learning about the shadow self. I don’t really buy into the idea that everyone who is spiritual must be complete love and light – I think it is important to accept that dark and light come hand-in-hand and one cannot exist without the other, so you must learn to work with both. The idea to name the label after this concept came to me after a Spring Equinox sound bath in 2019 – and I ended up thinking a lot about these different themes over the days following. I also wanted to find a way to address the gender imbalance in the industry, as that is of course something that is very important to me as a female artist, and so it all just clicked into place.
Northern Ireland has produced some of our favorite DJs in recent memory, from Bicep to Sally C, to Swoose and yourself. However, from what we’ve heard, NI seems to be quite the difficult place for electronic artists to make their name – forcing many to go elsewhere to jump start their careers.
Understanding this is an issue near and dear to your heart, I wanted to ask if you can talk about your nonprofit Free The Night and what it’s trying to accomplish?
To use our tagline, we basically want to create a Northern Ireland that everyone can thrive in. Right now, the night time economy is on its knees. And to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t much better pre-pandemic anyway. To name a few issues that are at the root of the problem; there is a general lack of understanding about what our industry does and why it should be encouraged/celebrated, there are way too many barriers to entry for potential venue owners, the licensing laws are archaic (despite a recent attempt by the government to update them) and night time transport is essentially non existent. This leads to further issues like a lack of functional club spaces, lack of opportunity, creative drain, safety issues at night and a complete lack of infrastructure for those who work at night.. So we are trying to change this, little by little. We actually only set up a year and a half ago, and have already achieved so much.
As I mentioned earlier, we are in the final stages of our first piece of research which contains thirteen recommendations for the government. There is another government review of licensing very soon, so we hope to make a big impact with this. For anyone reading who is NI based, our official launch event is taking place on November 16th at the Oh Yeah Music Centre, as part of Sound of Belfast festival.
For those who haven’t been lucky enough to visit Belfast, what are some of the most important places to visit? This may include clubs, record shops, or anything else you couldn’t live without there.
I think a perfect day to night experience of Belfast looks something like this – brunch and coffee in General Merchants, a trip to Marion Hawkes fantastic record store Sound Advice (Maz is something of a local legend and one of the best selectors I know), a dander around the Ulster museum and Botanic Gardens, pints of Guinness at Whites Tavern, dinner at either Jumon, Yugo or Freight, more pints of Guinness at Bittles Bar, ending things off with dancing and debauchery at Ulster Sports Club (not actually a sports club any more but a nightclub, although they have kept most of the decor intact which makes for something a bit different than the usual club experience). Also, there’s usually some nice art exhibitions on at the MAC, and it’s a good place to do some work (should you find the time amongst all the pints).
What was the impetus behind combining forces with Steffan Todorović to create a VA focused label from a personal and professional stand point?
I released an Abdul Raeva track by Steff and Joonas in summer 2021 as part of a charity VA, and we had already been talking some time since then due to a mix I did for Steffs label Gestalt. By the time we had started working on DUALITY4 last year, we had figured out that we worked really well together and thought it would be cool to start something new. We decided to keep it as fun and as stress free as possible, by simply pooling together the demos we get sent into four track VAs. We both bring different qualities to the table that help balance each other out, and I have learnt a hell of a lot from Steff, who has been running labels for a couple of years longer than me. In general, it’s been really useful for me in learning to take things less seriously and get out of my head more, and that in turn has impacted my other projects for the better too.
With such an exquisite taste in music, have you ever thought about more than dabbling in production? Can our readers expect any Holly Lester originals on the horizon?
To go back to something I mentioned earlier, I will actually be releasing something of my own in 2022 on Duality Trax. It feels really weird and maybe even a bit scary just to type those words! But yeah, I have been dabbling on and off in production for about seven years now and I’m finally feeling ready to do this. All being well, it should come out some time before the summer with the usual guest remix on the flip, though no clues of who this will be just yet!
We appreciate you taking the time to put together a mix for Bolting Bits! What are some of your favorites tunes included in your latest selection? Is there any music from particular up and comers our readers should have on their radar?
Thank you for having me! I have been going down early tech house wormholes recently, so I had to fit in a fav by Housey Doingz on this one. An up and comer featured that I’d like to shout out is Irish producer New Members – everything he puts out is just pure gold. Also some new stuff on there from Liquid Earth, Maruwa and Spray, who are all constants in my sets for the last couple of years. Hope you enjoy it! :))
Interview by Yassin.