Words by Tess Wait / Bill Robinson
If you were to spend any given night in Sydney searching for the city’s hottest, most heaving dancefloor, chances are you’d stumble across Deepa. The DJ and radio presenter always has something on the go, and no matter what project she’s working on, you can guarantee it’s going to be great.
Shortly before International Women’s Day, we caught up with Deepa to chat about this year’s theme ‘Break The Bias’, her journey through music, and what the future holds.
How did you get started in music?
I’ve always really been fascinated by music, since I was young. I was burning mixtapes onto CDs when I was 8 years old and receiving and giving them as birthday presents. Professionally speaking, I got involved with the university radio group, curated a bunch of events and then quickly became the music director, while also juggling being a host on FBi Radio. From there, I spent one summer in 2017 getting a friend to teach me how to mix and it felt like everything was leading up to it; I could finally put everything into practice.
What does your life in the Music industry look like now?
With the pandemic I had to take up full-time work outside of the music industry for stability, so right now it’s mostly balancing my job, DJ commitments, and event planning in the wake of a newly opened city. It’s been a lot of admin recently, lots of rescheduling, lots of organising and planning, and lots of chatting to promoters about the ways the scene needs to grow for everyone to be recognised. It’s been a real process trying to reintegrate into a club environment and reconnect with people; so much of DJ’ing is this fluid interaction with the crowd you’re playing to and relearning what they like, as well as what I do too, has been an interesting process.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw a lot of inspiration from inwards. Music has such a power to it and it can’t be forced, so most of my music is a snapshot of what my heart is feeling at that time or the journey I want the people dancing to me to take with me. I also draw a lot of inspiration from a mish mash of my upbringing; my siblings and I listening to lots of RnB and pop punk, and my parents listened to ghazals (South Asian folk music) as well as Madonna and Johnny Cash (my dad was a huge country music fan). The kids and parents would all be queuing up CDs to play on the drive to the grocery store. I think that really opened my mind to exploring more avenues of listening.
If you could imagine your ideal show, what would it be?
I don’t think I could even imagine what it would be. I feel my perspective is just one small one and I’m so happy to be at a show someone has put care into. That being said, I love a show where there is a moment of tears on the dancefloor. I absolutely bawled my eyes out when I saw Four Tet play Morning Side during a live set. It was my first time seeing a South Asian artist play our music on a stage (in the centre of the Enmore Theatre) and seeing everyone joyously dancing around me felt so special, I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Break the Bias”. To quote Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. What is Bias to you?
Bias to me is favouring others, whether intentional or not. Overlooking someone because they don’t fit your needs.
How would you describe the Music industry’s relationship with Bias?
I think the music industry is wildy in a toxic relationship with bias. It’s hard to open your mind when all you’ve been taught is one thing! We’re starting to open our perspectives but there is a long way to go and sadly because of this, there are incredible artists that aren’t being given the proper opportunities they deserve. It’s exciting to think about what could be.
In your experience, how has this impacted artists and artistic communities?
As I mentioned before, I think the relationship the music industry has with bias has left a lot of very talented people without the opportunities they deserve. The truth is I know I’ve had to work much harder than a lot of my white or male counterparts to even have a seat at the table, and I see it happen so often too. Not giving spotlight to communities of colour, womxn and queers stunts the growth of the industry. There is so much innovation, stories untold, and wildly beautiful perspectives that need to be shared and spotlighted.
How can the Music industry Break the Bias?
Listening, reading, engaging, unlearning and teaching. It’s easy to assume we know everything, and then to talk and curate with authority – just because you think you have taste. The music industry needs to start questioning it’s narrative and recognise it exists within a framework that doesn’t benefit everyone, or more specifically, it is designed to benefit certain types of people.
International Women’s Day sees a number of MISSIONS to help forge a gender equal world, what’s your Mission?
My mission is to create safe spaces for communities of colour to connect, build resilience and celebrate their experiences of diaspora and support/uplift DJs of colour wherever I can.
What do you want to learn more about?
On Bangladesh Independence Day, a friend of mine shared a snippet about Alexander the Great fighting the Gangaridai, which caused him to withdraw from the Indian subcontinent because of their massive warrior elephant force. It sounded pretty epic to hear about how fierce my ancestors were and I want to read more about ancient Bengal and Pakistan.
Where to from here?
My goal this year is to focus on work-life balance. I have been working tirelessly throughout lockdown on so many projects and radio, and I’ve learnt very late into the game, in order to help others, I need to take care of myself. Can’t do much with an empty cup.