Staples on the London scene, this year Girlz B Like are celebrating their seventh anniversary of female empowerment and mega parties. Radiating musical talent and positive vibes, the vinyl-only DJ collective are a welcome force for good.
DJ Marcia Carr aka Marcia DaVinylMC is the founder of the impactful collective. Music has been incorporated in every element of Marcia’s life, from time spent as a jazz dancer to her more than 30 years playing on the radio, broadcasting across the globe from Sri Lanka to Sweden and beyond, including hosting the Everything Good residency on Rinse FM and 2 Decks And A Mixer. Marcia also has had a past working as a music journalist interviewing DJ legends including Larry Heard, Kerri Chandler, and DJ Spoony. She even wrote reviews for Mixmag’s spin-off weekly publication, Mixmag Update, which was published in the '90s and early '00s.
After putting in the work for years and amassing a vinyl collection of more than 20,000 records, Marcia's frustration grew in relation to the lack of female recognition within the music industry, and more precisely, behind the decks. She has since addressed this by channelling her decades of experience into Girlz B Like, championing women in underground dance music and spotlighting DJs such as Shy One, DJ Paulette, Blush, and many more.
The sets were recorded live at their highly successful Girlz B Like: Back Together party at Grow in Hackney Wick. The night took place last month - days before International Women's Day - and had a boundless amount of uplifting and awe-inspiring tunes that left the audience desperate to hear more even once the lights were turned on.
Girlz B Like return to Grow this summer for an all dayer on June 18, and Marcia has a string of exciting gigs lined up, including supporting Louie Vega at his London album launch on May 1 and making her Panorama Bar debut on May 5.
Check out our Q&A with DJ Marcia Carr and listen to the three-part Girlz B Like In Session mixes below.
How did you get into DJing?
Before turntables you had grams [gramophones]. That's what our grandparents would call it. In the ‘70s they were the centre point of a lot of households for British families, particularly Afro-Caribbean/African families. I'd be messing about with that when I was supposed to be reading my books. I'd be tuning into pirate radio stations and I had cousins who went to parties. I had a fascination for music and my interest just continued to spark from there. I’d go into record stores and be the only woman in there. You just didn’t see women in record shops, but for me records became a growing interest. I started reading the sleeve notes on the back, so I used to be really nerdy and could tell you who recorded what, who made the tea in the studio, this, that and the other.
In my teens at college it definitely kicked off more. I’d be going to parties seeing what the guys were doing saying to myself: “I don’t know how they’re doing that but I can do that.” Somehow with my inquisitive nature, I’d ask questions, and push my head into record stores. I was just fascinated by it all, but it did occur to me, where are all the girls? People started to hear about me as I was part of the soundsystem called The Off-Beat Crew. I was doing my own thing and putting my own compilation together on cassette tapes. I didn’t know how to mix at that point in the mid-80s, but I ended up getting a few tips from friends.
Why do you love to play vinyl, and should we all be playing vinyl over digital?
I want people to get back to the grassroots level of the nuts and bolts of DJing, doing it properly the analogue way because too many girls haven’t been taught. If I gave them two turntables they’d flop instantly, and to me, I use that as a barometer to measure people. I don't claim to be the perfect beat matcher but I can mix 90% of the time. I play live wherever I'm playing records, even if I'm using a USB stick. I like to operate the CDJs as if they're turntables. I think the customer that goes to festivals, club nights and things shouldn't be cheated. A lot of A-list DJs do a pre-recorded show and get paid thousands. Doesn't matter if it's techno, trance, EDM, house, garage, dubstep. You're cheating customers and you make it look bad for the rest of us that are actually applying the tools of the trade.
Doesn't matter if you're my best friend and you want me to play at your wedding, or I'm playing at some big festival or I'm playing at the Ministry of Sound — wherever the venue is I give the customer a proper service as people are becoming complacent and a bit lazy. Even with my records, you don’t know exactly what to play until you are in front of the audience. It's important to not be looking at your laptop which takes up so much time or the screen on the CDJ looking for a file — look at your audience. I'm also about experimenting and trying things like this. I might play Detroit one minute then acid, I might drop in some electronic or broken beat. I played a gig last year and they wanted me to do house and techno. I loved it as out came the house and techno and even some deep minimal, deep house, some Detroit stuff, a little bit of French and some acid house. The people were loving my set because to me, I didn't just play. I didn't want to be one dimensional. I like to be eclectic. I like to surprise people. I love playing sets where I can go in and just be a bit more experimental.
Read this next: The vinyl straw: Why the vinyl industry is at breaking point
What are your tips and tricks to great crate digging?
There's so much in the underground in every genre that we can tap into by going into record shop, even if you buy it digitally and you don't want the hardcore formats of vinyl, there's so much to explore out there. Just explore, I always do. I like to push boundaries within the realms of Black music. If you like playing funk, I'll find your funk techno record. You've got to go out there and look for the records, don't just go on to certain digital record platforms and buy the latest top 10 chart just because they provided it for you. I'm always looking for one or two classics or future classics, because it might be something new I think, you know what, I think this is a future classic.
Some of my friends think I'm extra as a lot of DJs work multiple times in a week and often play the same set. Again, it goes back to me. I'm also a punter. I'm a clubber. I'm an ex-jazz dancer. You better be playing something to me. Putting in a bit of work puts in more time and effort and groundwork, and this can be time consuming. I don't see it when I love what I do. You should push boundaries. Don't limit yourself and don't be scared to try something else on the dancefloor. I like to do those every now and again, dropping those I call curveballs in my sets.
How did Girlz B Like start?
Girlz B Like is a project that was born out of frustration nearly seven years ago. I don't play the brown-nosing industry game and sometimes I peed off a few promoters. One time I played at a gig and the guy came into the booth. The promoter said the brief was funk, disco and boogie. So I was playing like a downtempo funk record and everybody was dancing to it. The guy came in and said: “Oh, really nice Marcia, but this is a little bit slow." But he could see people dancing. Anyway, that was the last booking at that venue and I was a resident there. My frustration was born out of that. I thought well girls be like this and girls be like that, but girls are more than just looking pretty on the dancefloor. Girls be like, “we can stand in the DJ booth and we know how to push the buttons.” Guyz dance, girlz DJ. I wanted to flip it on its head as I got tired of it.
After years of having conversation with other women DJs and even a few guys that bothered to actually care made me think: “You know what, man? We're doing too much talking here. I'm going to set up this night.” So I paid for everything out of my own pocket and made sure we controlled the DJ booth. We had the first party on October 25 in 2015. I had lovely Josey Rebelle and Katie Barber at The Book Club which is in Shoreditch. Every party is a different rotation of women that I know or who I'm interested in spotlighting under the umbrella of Girlz B Like. I also wanted to celebrate female DJs who I'd known for years, but to me weren't getting much as much support or limelight in my opinion. I'm also not into this ageism thing. I hate it. You could be 55 and now a grandmother and you've got five grandchildren, or you could even be 19 and you've always been into music and liked a bit of clubbing, and I'll put you in a workshop for six weeks or however long it takes and we'll get you the basics.
There are famous legendary DJs at the BBC that are men in their 50s, 60s, 70s and they're still DJing with no one saying anything to them. But women, oh no, no, no, that's not a woman's place. I also wanted to make sure I included new talent who I admired like Shy One. I'm just trying to challenge the status quo because the 40 odd years - 50 years, maybe 60 years - in clubland has more or less been the bloody same. Hardly anything has changed internationally and globally.
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What is your recipe for getting the crowd moving?
I like to play songs. I’m not just about dubs. It’s nice to play instrumentals, but where is the message? There's something in the lyrics of the song. We don't want to be like the guys standing in some random drum ’n' bass or jungle rave where it's dark and moody. We need something to uplift the mood. I'm here to play other people's records and provide a service. So hopefully, bless your soul, you leave and you might not have had any narcotics or anything, or even a drink, but you're high on the music because it touched your soul. I think especially in the climate that we're living in globally, we're all just coming out of lockdown. It's been insane. Sadly, people commit suicide because they couldn't cope because of this lockdown. We need to be uplifted. We need some joy. My perspective of the dynamics of how I play has changed because for me my faith took over, and it said now you need to come up with something different. I don't know what that person is going through that comes through that door, but when they leave they will be glowing like: "I don't know what that tune was that she played but oh my god, it just got me up and going." So my recipe is I like to disperse a set with different types of songs that motivate you. You find what's going to motivate them and pump them up. It’s important to leave pumped, motivated and inspired because we need that, especially now. You cannot stop people from dancing and having joy and wanting to celebrate life. Let the music be all you consume and just dance like nobody's watching. Open your mind to the tune and groove. It’s not rocket science.
How did you find the party at Grow went and can you tell me about your set?
It was three days before International Women's Day. It just so happened that was the date that the venue offered us so it wasn't intentional to do something on women's day. I mean, it's only once a year that we have this celebration in the public eye, but we're winning 365 days a year, aren't we? We're like 52% of the world's population. We are the mothers of the world. Don't you ever forget. Which is partly why Girlz B Like was born, because I was frustrated with being patted on the head and being treated in a condescending fashion. The only time they think about women in music are the singers or the MCs, but we are also DJing and playing the music but we don't often get the spotlight.
For my DJ set however, I purposely took the time to go through some of my records. All the records that were featured are by women, whether they are lead vocals, did backing vocals, wrote the song, produced the song, it was placed on a label run by women, or they were the musicians. I made the effort with every record that featured the mindset to have an emphasis on women. So some of the tunes you hear male vocals but it's a woman on bass or the person that was laying down the drums was a woman. Nikki Lucas played their set as well with more of a message about war and politics and governments, and Miss Soxee did a bit of disco and boogie. I didn't even have to mention anything to the DJs but they took the time and thought process to play music that will just resonate and speak to the audience and the mindset. All of us came with a message in the music, so we weren’t just three birds standing there playing some frivolous throwaway records. I was very happy with everybody's contributions and I was right to pick them to play that party. I'm very particular and try to program the rundown of the DJs as best I can and put in the right DJ at the right time to make or break your party.
It was 2 o’clock when the night ended and they put the lights on, but it took about 25 minutes to get people out of the building. They didn't want to leave. At 20 past two people were still inside the venue, taking forever as they just didn't want to leave. The atmosphere was hedonistic for want of a better word. At half past, there's still loads of people outside. They were just hovering and I could see people smiling. So I said to my friend, “I helped create that.” They could have easily stayed longer if we'd continued playing for another hour or two easily.
Read this next: Politics and dance music are intertwined
What's next for Girlz B Like?
Our next event is Saturday, June 18, and then Saturday, October 22, will be our seventh anniversary. So focusing on those two coming events at Grow. I really like the venue Grow, which is in Hackney Wick. I like the community vibe of the venue, and because of the hiatus and having to stop everything because of the global lockdown, it's like a rejuvenation or rebirth almost for us. It's community minded. It's a creative hub with all sorts of talents coming through.
Girlz B Like's Summer All Dayer party is at Grow Hackney Wick on June 18, get tickets here
Becky Buckle is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter