Name: Eva Swan
Occupation: DJ, Producer
Current Release: ‘Equality’ EP on Eva Swan Records
Recommendations: The book “Emergence” by photographer Cynthia MacAdams collects a range of white and black portraitures of strong women. Each one has a strong radiation of light from her forcefield. I haven’t bought the book yet, but it’s on my want list. Positivity and strength are the main themes. These women have written history.
A second piece of art I would recommend is the biography of Waris Dirie. She’s a model and activist, the UN Special Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. I’m overwhelmed by her courage and perseverance. The life story “Desert Flower” is one I have read a million times. What a struggle. What an inspiration.
If you enjoyed this interview with Eva Swan, find out more about her work, new releases and current tour dates on her minimalist website.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started DJing 5 years ago. For me, there was always music. DJing was another music instrument I wanted to learn and so I followed a DJ-course in the same school I was teaching guitar, piano, singing and ukulele. Captivated by the tropical and happy vibes of the Martinez Brothers “Stuff in the Trunk” (ft. Miss Kittin) and “Calypso” by Round Table Knights & Bauchamp, I puzzled together my first mixtapes. Soon my playlists were filled with all the Toolroom Records, Suara Music, Green Velvet, Patrick Topping, René Amesz … 124 BPM and Sundown Pool Sessions: even on a rainy day it makes you cheerful. And yes, it rains a lot here in Belgium.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
No, it was different for me. I’m very creative and I wanted to shape my own style. My first mixes, I tried to blend classical music with house music. The learning process was hard, long and frustrating: trying and failing, trying differently, trying to fix the problem, trying and asking for help, improving, working harder. I copied one Hip Hop Boiler Room set to boost my skills. A lot of self-education, discipline and some great teachers helped me transition to my own voice. Success isn’t made overnight. The key is lifelong learning.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
In the beginning I was focused on winning contests, playing big shows and being surrounded by well known artists. Nowadays, I’m competing with myself. I aim my attention at expressing my values, becoming better and being encircled by an incredible audience. The feedback of the crowd makes DJing fascinating. Building tracks is a dream coming true. The very intimate and private process makes me grow as a person. I feel fortunate to do both.
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?
Defining the job is difficult. It’s very personal. You’re a performer. What’s your identity? When you search the meaning of the word “DJ” you’ll find various explanations: “A person who introduces and plays recorded popular music on radio” or “Play recorded music on radio or at a club or party”. Yes, we select the tracks, we decide who we support. But I prefer to play new stuff, underground tracks, undiscovered art. So, now I’m not a DJ?
I’m convinced the influence is huge. Every artist creates an image, shares a lifestyle. They are travelers, leaders, inventors, idols. It makes me very conscious of my track selection, posts on social media and the messages that I’m using in my productions. I’m not here to follow, I’m here to lead.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first set-up was two CDJs and Pioneer DJM 900 Nexus mixer. Soon I bought my own gear and switched to TRAKTOR Kontrol X1, TRAKTOR Audio 2 and Pioneer DJM 350. I wanted to record my sets and focus on digital DJing. A few years later I bought two decks, TRAKTOR Audio 6 and upgraded the software to TRAKTOR Scratch Pro. These are currently the most important pieces of gear for me. Jay Young and Oorlectuur teached me vinyl beat matching. That old-school feeling is quite magical. I’ve tried the Allen & Heath Xone 96, but I’m very used to Pioneer. Same for CDJs, it’s just not for me. You want to check my technical rider? No turntables, no CDJs. Only mixer, software and TRAKTOR Kontrol X1. I like it simple.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
In times of fast technological development, I’ll have to admit that it provides freedom. I can put my effort into the creative flow. Has it ever been so easy to find and buy music? Also, digital DJing is all about technology. TRAKTOR analyzes BPM and key, sets beatgrid, developed an advanced track library management and gives my brain visual content. And, what is better than to focus on creativity and sound design?
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
The five minute journal is the secret weapon to start my morning routine. I brush my teeth, drink water and take my vitamins, work out, eat breakfast, take a hot shower, take a cold shower and get dressed. If exercising in the morning is not achievable, I reschedule it in the evening. During my run and power walk I listen to audio books. I stay away from my phone in the morning and check my e-mails/social media in the evening. My other daily habits meditation and warming up vocals, are planned mid-morning or late afternoon. I use the Goal Digger Planner to stay focused, block out key parts of the day and complete my to-do. Life and creativity are separated, but at the same time they nurture each other so much.
Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?
Having a busy schedule, my preparations are made days/week(s) before. I start my search for the perfect tracks on YouTube (HATE, HATE LAB, ARTS, 7296272962), Belgian record labels, check my wish list on iTunes, podcasts, decks.de, junodownload.com, discogs.com
Next step? Selecting my favourite tunes. In fact, I’m making the mix for myself. What will make me dance? What do I want to hear? When do I need a break? Which order will give me the best experience? I’m critical, I want it all. When I’m finished, I prefer to record the mixtape and - because I absolutely love dancing - it is required to check out the mix session.
Time for a powernap and arriving on time are my main goals before a gig. If I’m on location, I prefer to take a bath. A relaxed body is a relaxed mind. I want to keep my head in the mix.
Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Very focused: no phone, no drama, no talking and only a few selected people are allowed behind the DJ booth. Enough sleep, ginger and water keep me going all night.
What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
Yes, I like to be performance-ready. Everything is planned. The crowd deserves an excellent event. My motto <Be better than yesterday> also applies for my DJ sets: <The next set has to be better than the previous one>. My playlists are always mixed in key. With TRAKTOR it’s easy to prepare my mix and keep everything organised. The software meets my needs: analysing tracks, visual feedback, up to 8 cue points to mark transitions and space to write down comments.
Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Or as something entirely different from these terms?
The art form of DJing is composition. Capturing the best of each track and creating a new dimension by exploring different combinations.
How do playing music at home and presenting it in the club compare and relate? What can be achieved through them, respectively, and what do you personally draw from both?
Playing at home gives me the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, try new things, practice and learn. Having time to get lost in the music is a magical feeling and discovering fresh releases is like receiving the best gift ever. On the other hand, playing in the club is such a wonderful experience. I’m always a little nervous. It’s love at first sight when the first beat kicks in. Concentration is important and the goal is achieving perfection. But in the end what matters most is enjoying myself and the connection with the audience. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. Thank you, ravers.
How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? How does this relationship manifest itself during a performance and how do you concretely tap into it?
I stay true to myself. A painter or photographer will not change his piece of art during his exposition. Neither do I.
Thanks to the storage facilities of digital media, DJ sets could potentially go on forever. Other than closing time, what marks the end of a DJ performance for you? What are the most satisfying conclusions to a set?
Quality over quantity. A sophisticated and personal selection of tracks in combination with outstanding mixing skills put a big smile on my face. The end of a DJ performance? A climax. I need that last energetic track to truly conquer the club.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I want to use my profile to support social activism. It’s a privilege to use this platform for change. My debut EP “Equality” is all about gender equality and women’s rights. Words are a powerful tool. As a producer, I’m hoping to highlight the need of more movement and secure a better world. I definitely agree with Lady Gaga’s quote on the cover of Allure’s Best of Beauty issue: “If I’m not changing people’s lives, what am I doing?”