Loose Lips

Malissa & Lauren Harper (Scratch Collective)

Interview & Mix Series

Malissa & Lauren Harper (Scratch Collective)

In what seems to be a positive direction for modern clubland, there appears to be more desire for transparency and inclusivity in a community plagued with hypocrisy and intolerance. The communal rejection of homophobes and misogynists is retaining momentum, and it has, in the process, created an exciting opportunity to create a more ideal balance which falls in line with the ethos of club music’s founders. It couldn’t be a better time for the female identifying DJ hub, Scratch Collective, to be inspiring a scene they’d always aspired to join. We spoke to London-based founders Malissa and Lauren Harper about the early beginnings, their personals musical heroes and the collective’s future aspirations.

We're also delighted to present a mix from Malissa for the 151st edition of our mix series...

And you can listen to the audio of the interview here:

First off, to anyone who’s not familiar, what is Scratch Collective? How did it start?

M: Well, it all started at the Southbank Centre when I was working for the Festival & Participation Team. They provided a space and basically said to me “do something creative”, and through my love and passion of DJing, I just thought this would be a perfect opportunity to create a space for females to come and learn how to DJ. That’s when we decided to launch the workshops.

L: Yeah, I sort of came in on the other end, in that I got an email about the workshops, and this was at a time where I was thinking about exploring DJing. I saw that it was only £30 for six sessions, so I thought this was definitely not to miss.

How was the workshop structured across the sessions?

M: So, like Lauren said, it’s 6 different sessions over a period of 12 weeks. Each session is 3 hours long, and we start the whole thing off with an introduction, because none of the girls know each other at first and we want them to get familiar with each other’s backgrounds, as well as find out what they wanted from the course and who their inspirations were.

L: After that, we started exploring equipment, learned how to do some beat matching as well as phrasing.

M: We think the equipment bit is crucial because of how important it is in the real world. A lot of times, girls turn up to gigs and have to deal with (usually) male sound engineers who think they need to lend a hand while setting up their equipment, when in fact it would give girls a lot more confidence to be able to start from the beginning and avoid any patronisation. From then, we teach about sound, frequency, waveforms, and everything from that aspect.

From what I understand, the workshops have been quite well received to the point that your next set of sessions have sold out. 

L: Yeah, we’re really excited about that, especially since Tasha, who runs the Neighbourhood record label, is teaching one of the sessions on the 31st of October. She also wrote a core structure of a course which Pointblank teaches at a degree level, so it’s going to be great to have her share her knowledge!

You told me the whole thing was originally intended to just be a teaching thing, but over time you seem to have formed something more than that. It’s now a collective/platform. How did that evolution come about?

L: It definitely was not the intention. At first, I just went to learn how to DJ and through that, I met some amazing women, and through this we bonded so well as a group. It was great to be in a space that was so supportive and safe and inviting, and to be with other females who were also passionate. It was the first time I’d experienced that. Usually, I’d show my friends a mix I’d been really enjoying but they just wouldn’t get as enthusiastic. We came to the end of the course and we thought we really don’t want this to be over. That was when we got the idea to start doing gigs and to keep the workshop going.

M: We definitely have a vision of turning this into a talent agency, as well, where we’d have different positions for people, such as ‘touring manager’, ‘editorial staff’, and even ‘social media managers’. We want new people to get the chance to volunteer and learn from their environment.

L: We welcome everyone regardless of musical styles. We wouldn’t want to demoralise anyone for their taste, and we can definitely all learn from each other. Aim is to offer something to people who don’t have access, so it defeats the purpose to stifle someone’s creativity. 

What has the collective been up to lately?

Well we’ve really been enjoying our residency on the 199Radio station down at New River Studios. It’s sort of become our hub to help us grow and develop because there’s no ego, there’s a strong community vibe, and it’s just full of being people being themselves and feeling comfortable around others.

We’ve put on a launch party in The Haunt in Dalston. It was a challenge at first, because we had to curate the night and consider how each of the different genres were going to be showcased. We wanted to make the experience interdisciplinary by integrating other art forms, so we had a heavy emphasis on visuals and artwork. We also had interactive visual board, where you can go up to the board and you’d be projected on the screen dancing. 

Do you feel there have been improvements in women’s representation since you started in the industry?

I definitely think there’s more attention to it now, and it’s more on the agenda than ever before. However, I still think there’s still a long way to go.

A lot of the issue is that people seem to think that there simply aren’t as many female DJs out there, and clubs will book the well known male ones in order to keep ticket sales up and then we’re back to square one. 

Exactly, and the best point that was made lately was when, in one of her documentaries, The Black Madonna pulled out a sheet of paper with a long list of female DJs. That idea of representation is exactly what we’re trying to do, and what we hope to achieve for other people in the future. We want diversity to be a priority. It’s crazy to think that a legend like DJ Shiva only had her first EU club gig recently.

I’ve been loving dance music for years and I’ve always just watched men doing it, and I’d never thought i could do it because I just wasn’t seeing the representation.

Do you want to give any shoutouts to your own projects?

M: I’ve got a two track EP that’s nearly ready to be mastered, so I’m researching labels to find a home for the EP, as well as a place where I could ideally play at their showcases alongside other inspirational figures. That being said, I don’t want to rush to put something out, and then it end up not feeling right.

L: I’m getting ready for some more shows on 199radio, and I would love to learn how to produce, so hopefully I can fit that into my agenda soon.

And finally, if there was one producer for you each to collaborate with, who would it be?

M: Well that’s hard because I’ve got so many female techno influences. I especially love Paula Temple. I listen to her albums and just love the industrial driving sound she produces, so I guess I’d have to pick her.

L: I’d love to collaborate with Nina Kraviz, or DJ Shiva (aka Noncompliant). I’d just love to pick their brains, really, and see what makes them tick!

Scratch Collective host a show every 4 weeks on 199radio, Sunday afternoons 4-6pm.