‘Off The Record’ is a monthly AIM initiative where we invite up-and-coming talent currently studying at AIM to perform live and then interview them, asking where they’ve come from, where they’re going and how they plan to do it.
You would usually find her playing to packed venues late into the night and all over Sydney but it’s a comparatively early 6.30pm on a cool Friday night when AIM student Jessie Wallace (AKA Wildfox) gets up behind the decks at Sydney nightclub The Cliff Dive for AIM’s inaugural Off The Record launch party.
Despite being so early and the crowd being relatively small, for the next hour and a half we witness something special. As her set ramps up, she proceeds to blow expectations and minds alike with her distinctive mix of progressive house and melodic techno. Entranced, what the small crowd lacks in number they make up for in enthusiasm as everyone agrees what they are hearing wouldn’t be amiss next to some of the best DJ’s in the country, if not the world.
It all started for her four years earlier though during a call to her mother. She’d just broken up with her boyfriend and was re-evaluating what she wanted to do in her life when she mentioned that she had been thinking about entering ‘Your Shot’ – a yearly competition in which contestants with little-to-no DJ-ing experience participate in an intensive six week program where they learn the tricks of the trade and then perform in front of a crowd numbered in the thousands – a far cry from practicing alone in your bedroom during the six weeks prior.
“What have you go to lose?” came the reply from her mother.
Fast forward four years and Jesse has now performed in front of thousands, runs her own events company and is soon to embark on her first inter-state tour in 2019.
We sat down with her earlier in the week to discuss running your own events company, female DJs in the industry and everything in between.
AIM: What drew you to DJing and how did you find your sound?
JW: I had always worked as a promoter for friends who were DJ’s so I was in and around the scene quite a bit before I ever started playing. After doing that for a bit and doing a few internships I knew that I wanted to find a role in the music industry.
So I started in 2014 playing deep house, EDM and bass house but then as I started getting mentored and got more experience I was told to pick one genre and stick to it so I started playing more deep house kind of gigs.
Then as my skills developed and I got more experience I discovered the Sydney underground scene and that’s actually where I felt most comfortable – so yeah, now I’ve found my sound as a Prog DJ.
AIM: What do you think of the Sydney scene?
JW: It’s a love/hate relationship – I was very angry and bitter for a long time when the lockouts came into force because so many venues closed and so many friends lost their jobs…it took me a long time to get behind the fact that there are actually parts of Sydney that are still thriving.
With the lockouts, as soon as the bar shuts in venues half the patrons just leave. How are pubs supposed to keep people if the bar is closed? As much as we’d like to think, punters aren’t always there just for the music, so what can you do?
AIM: So what can we do then to support the places that are still alive?
JW: It’s about promoters, venues, and artists all working together to show people that in fact, Sydney isn’t dead – there are things happening, just not in the Cross. An example being the recent Newtown pub crawl where at the Sly Fox there were lines of people three-deep going right out the door. It’s just amazing to see that people are still supporting and getting behind artists and the whole live music experience. That said, I do just avoid the Cross now because it makes my blood boil. People who are new to the country or are too young won’t know what it was like before and are really missing out.
AIM: Speaking of, in 2017 Mixmag named their top 20 breakthrough DJ’s of the year and 15 of them were female – what are your thoughts on this and why do you think this is happening?
JW: Oh really? Yeah, I think we finally are being noticed and pushed to the front and that there is more of an open acceptance of being a female DJ rather than just being a groupie.
AIM: What do you think is driving that?
JW: I definitely think social media is a huge factor - to see that women are working for it and taking it seriously – so you can see that it’s achievable and realistic to pursue it as a dream. With free tools like YouTube tutorials making it more accessible as well, you can learn at home, you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to be tutored and it’s very easy to develop your skills.
AIM: A trend we’ve seen in the industry is that people are starting up their own events company’s – tell us a bit about yours, Compass Events.
JW: I mainly started up Compass to stay relevant over the winter – typically during summer I’ve been pretty lucky and have been busy with a lot of gigs but in winter it tends to fall off a fair bit. There really isn’t as many events and I was looking for something to stay in touch with other DJs and keep the scene thriving and keep Sydney open.
With Compass, locals are our heroes so we’re not necessarily spending all this money on international DJ’s as often you’ll find that whoever the local DJ supporting is, they will put in a lot more effort and are working harder for it. It also comes down to a cost thing as well – you can charge a bit less for a local DJ, typically $10-15 a ticket which means you’ll have more people through the door as well as supporting the local scene.
At its core, Compass is all about helping the up and comers plus the people who have been in the scene for a while and who don’t get the recognition that they deserve.
AIM: As a DJ, what’s the best piece of advice you can give anyone looking to start DJing seriously?
JW: I guess, just to always be prepared and put the effort in – one of the biggest things I’d say would be to have your first track in mind before you start and from there that will build out the journey of your set.
I think a great DJ isn’t afraid to take risks – layer your songs and push boundaries – try to move the crowd in ways they didn’t expect. Be nostalgic without being cheesy because if it works it works, but if it doesn’t then at least people can see you put the effort in and tried. Take that risk and try something outside your comfort zone. When you sit back and be safe yes it can be lovely but it’s all about pushing the limit as an artist and being different.
AIM: As a Bachelor of Entertainment management student, how has the course helped you in your professional life?
JW: The BEM course has really helped with my confidence to stand up for myself and speak what I’m feeling with integrity and know I can back myself up so when I go into a conversation with tastemakers or promoters. I have that knowledge thanks to the resources AIM provides which can really validate my opinions – plus opportunities like this [Off The Record] are amazing as well!
You can catch Wildfox at her either of her Sydney residencies (WeLove & Road to Rio) or interstate in early 2019 – check out her page here for more updates.
At AIM we’re committed to developing the next generation of Australian performing arts talent - both professionally and personally. If you would like more information on the Bachelor of Arts and Entertainment Management course that Jessie is currently studying or to find out more about other courses AIM offers, check out our 2019 prospectus here.