After rinsing her Boiler Room set for what seemed like months, we were stoked to hear that Holly Lester was part of our community. Lucky enough for us, she returns to AVA festival this weekend to do it all again. Her style juxtaposes dreamy soundscapes against bouncy floor-movers, mixed in such a refined manner that extends the energy of her sets without being overpowering. We’ve loved watching her progress, and had the pleasure of learning more about her journey thus far.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I grew up in the Irish countryside in County Armagh and made my escape to England at age nineteen to seek civilisation and get a degree. I spent four years in lovely Liverpool before moving on to Manchester, which I just left in February. My life has now come full circle and I am back in Ireland, spending my time between the rolling hills of Armagh and Belfast city. I have been DJing for about twelve years (not counting bedroom DJing it’s something like seven years) and I run a monthly radio show on Manchester’s Limbo Radio. I’m definitely more drawn towards warm analogue sounds. My sets are a cross between straight up dancefloor jams influenced by the sounds of yesteryear and dreamy yet percussive house tracks with a splash of breakbeat, Detroit techno or trance here and there.
Who first introduced you to electronic music?
It was actually entirely my father’s fault as there were no other kids that were into electronic music where we lived. He listened to a lot of different stuff when I was growing up but I guess I really latched on to the acid house/trance/big beat/ambient sounds he played when I was about thirteen. Some of the kids in school were listening to happy hardcore, which was of course a big thing for most kids at that period, but that was about as good as it got. At the time I really didn’t like the happier side to hardcore either; I ended up being more drawn to the darker hardstyle/gabber sound a few years later which would soundtrack some of my first club experiences in the North (with a dash of tech trance).
When did you start playing out, and what was the biggest lesson you learnt in your early years of playing?
I started learning to mix on the most impractical pair of CDJs known to man when I was fourteen. When I was eighteen, I got a few gigs in rather questionable local venues before making the move to Liverpool. I guess Liverpool is where I really cut my teeth - that and good ol’ Ibiza, where I would run away to in between uni for three seasons (I’m not sure how I’m still alive after this stage in my life to be quite honest but here I am). The biggest lesson I learnt in my early years was that networking was literally everything. As a DJ that is so critical. Oh, and another lesson I learnt was that the only way you can get better is by forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. I still have to remind myself of that one, even now.
The AVA Boiler Room must have been a defining moment for you. Tell us a bit about that experience on the day.
Wow, yeah. It really was! That day is still a complete blur to me. I was completely terrified for an entire two months before the set. I don’t really remember playing to be honest, so it’s a good thing that I can watch it back. The part that does stick with me from that set was, towards the end, I kind of relaxed just a tiny bit and looked out to the crowd and seen how ecstatic they all were. It was just such an incredible feeling. The crowds at home are known for being pretty rowdy and fond of a chant, so I couldn’t have asked for a better location really.
Was there much response to the set, and how did that lead to future opportunities?
I guess there was a pretty big response to the Boiler Room set in the weeks and months that followed. I started getting way more booking requests, in Europe and even outside Europe. It was a pretty surreal feeling to be honest. At the end of last year, I was asked to be a resident at The Warehouse Project in Manchester, which is somewhere I have been playing on and off for years. I also got to play in some amazing cities for the first time, including places like Prague, Tbilisi, Amsterdam and Berlin. In Autumn, I supported Bicep on their album tour in Printworks, which was probably the biggest venue I have played to date. So some really nice things have been happening for sure. It’s been almost a year exactly and I’m feeling very grateful for all the experiences that have come my way so far. Being able to explore new places and meet so many interesting people is an added bonus for me.
What are your favourite avenues for finding new and old music, be that online or offline?
The main way I find music is by listening to mixes, radio shows, Soundcloud suggestions and Youtube suggestions. I often just leave my phone to play through Soundcloud as I go about my day and then screenshot things to download at a later point. It’s also always good to actually get out to clubs, hear what other artists are playing and hear what actually works on the dancefloor.
What are some of your favourite organizations within the industry that challenge issues outside of music alone?
I love the ethos behind The Cause in London. It’s also an awesome little space and the lineups are always on point. I played there a few months ago with Fettburger and really liked the DIY feeling they have cultivated there. They have raised £15k in one year alone for mental health charities, which is super impressive! I’m so glad that the industry is making steps towards promoting and practising better mental health and mental health awareness.
I also really admire what the Room 4 Rebellion girls have been doing in the UK and Ireland in the past few years. The fight for abortion rights in Northern Ireland is a matter close to my heart and I really respect their efforts to highlight the ongoing issues here via the medium of club culture. We continue the fight!
Who has been your most influential role model/mentor on your path to get where you are today?
I don’t really feel like I have had a predominant role figure, career wise. My influences when I first started out are definitely not the same now, though I guess someone who I have looked up to on a general life level from the beginning is Annie Mac. Without her Radio 1 shows in the early 2000s, I definitely wouldn’t have got a taste for genres like dubstep, dnb and grime (they never really took off in Ireland). She is also an absolute powerhouse of a woman and I have great admiration for everything she has achieved and all her various projects, whilst also managing to be a mother and wife (and a fellow Irish-woman!). I guess I find it very inspiring when people from this little island find success. The Bicep lads are a prime example of this and for that reason, I feel like myself and many of my peers at home really look up to them. They are hugely supportive of homegrown talent and have given me so many great opportunities which have helped me get to where I am today. In terms of mentors, I guess I have had many people come and go in my life that may have been considered a mentor in some way. I wouldn’t say I have one right now but am more supported by a solid network of friends. Bobby Analog, Jordan and Or:la I speak to pretty much every day - they keep me sane and they are all very inspiring, hardworking individuals.
For the remainder of 2019, what are you most excited about?
I’m super excited for AVA Festival this weekend - considerably less nervous than the last time haha! Also excited to return to Berlin in July, this time to play IPSE. I have some other plans which I’m very excited for in the latter half of 2019, but gonna keep that a lil secret for the moment.
1. H.O.M - Unathi (Haute Couture Euphoria Remix)
2. Jumpsource - Homeward
3. Black Dog Productions - Flux D Mix
4. Project Pablo - Toes Unstepped
5. ANF - The Surface
6. Fallout - Altered States
7. Pancake - Don't Turn Your Back On Me
8. Laidback Luke - Such a Dreamer
9. Ravi McArthur - Another Crap Night Out in Eltham
10. Violet - Silver Lining
11. DJ Tonka - Radical Noise
12. Skee Mask - Flyby VFR