Although many descriptors could summarize Jessie Belters in a sentence, what drew us to her is her passion and effort to sustain the local scene in Cardiff. A global traveler, nightlife advocate and community builder, she is a true proponent for the electronic music scene in the UK. Her sounds move from distinctly heavy and rambunctious beats to drifty, trance-inducing euphoria at a minutes notice. Recorded live at Concrete in Hakuba, we were able to chat with her between terrible WiFi connections across Japan.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Swansea, South Wales where I spent much of my childhood. Growing up I went from being a glow-stick waving trance head to an emo to an indie chick to a drum and bass lover. Basically I’ve always loved music in whatever form. Legendary beloved underground club “Monkey Bar” opened my eyes to the rave scene and became my regular go to. That place was wild. Three floors of sweaty, stinking chaos where dreams were made on half-split pills and one pound cans of Orangeboom. I’ll never forget bumping in to my college chemistry teacher who hated me. I was dressed as a prostitute for a pimps and hoes night and I was absolutely spangled. Luckily he never brought it up!
Then I moved to Cardiff for University. Went on to start a PhD but found it wasn’t for me but remained in the capital ever since as I’d fallen in love with the city. It’s where I found my feet musically and it has a great community of people, it really feels like home. I’ve always had aspirations to travel and see the world before I turned 30, so that’s what I’m doing now.
IOM 013 is a relatively eclectic selection. How would you describe your sound?
I play all kinds of stuff depending on the occasion and during sets I like to mix up all kinds of genres. I find it fun and challenging that way. I also love dropping the odd euphoric, nostalgia inducing obscure track. A lot of people have told me that my sets tell a story or take them on a journey. Overall, I would say my sound is underpinned with a groovy and emotional rolling undercurrent, with a darker in-your-face electro, techno and breaks influence at the front end.
Tell us about the night when you recorded this mix.
This winter I’ve been spending time finally learning to ski in a small village called Hakuba in the Japanese Alps. I soon realized that this place has a surprising amount of good parties and venues for a town population of 9000. Punters are mainly electronic music lovers from Australia, Canada, Britain and Japan. Within the first few weeks I’d already played various events as well as started my own dance classics night called “Wayback Wednesdays”. This ran weekly in a quirky jazz bar with walls stacked with vinyl and decks previously graced by Move D. Eventually, I was asked to headline for popular house/techno event “The Deep Edition” run by residents Walts and Khadu. I was super excited as their events were well known in the scene and every party I’d been to was awesome. The mix was recorded live at a super cool club called Concrete - a bunker in the middle of nowhere submerged in snow with swinging chairs and a fat sound system (see pic). Rrose, Antenes and Peter Van Hoesen are just some names that have played here recently. Definitely more my kind of “Après Ski”. It was a crazy night that ended with 100 people packing on to a 20 person shuttle bus like Tetris. My friend had the misfortune of acquiring the nickname “pooleg” thanks to a drunken guy passing out on her lap and you can guess the rest… haha!
You founded the Cardiff techno and electro night in party, Doppler. Tell us about some of the moments closest to your heart from those events.
I started Doppler with my mate Jimmy when there became a serious lack of techno nights in the city. Overall it’s been hell of a journey and it’s been really difficult to choose just a few memories but here goes…
One night I’ll never forget was when we unintentionally booked DJ Stingray the same weekend as the Champions League Final game in the Principality Stadium. This threw us a plethora of unexpected obstacles. One issue was no vehicles were allowed in to the centre of town, but we had to get the sound system out of the venue. At the end of the night, DJ Stingray stuck around for a couple of hours while we packed up, then joined us in the rain to mission the sound systems across town to an accessible area. He was such a gent and played a killer set too, obv!
Another fond memory was when we booked Bruce. That night was one of the worst for us in terms of dealing with heavy-handed security. At the end of his set a bouncer was being overly aggressive telling us to turn the music off when the crowd was singing joyously along hand in hand to Minnie Riperton “Inside my love”. The bouncers face was priceless when Bruce cheekily turned the volume back to max so everyone could carry on enjoying that special moment.
Another funny moment was The Kelly Twins nearly getting kicked out just before their own set! Once they got let back in they played one of the best sets we’d ever seen that included many spin backs! They told us it was their favourite ever gig and the feeling was mutual. I’m so glad I managed to get a decent recording so that Crack Mag was able to pick up on it and name it Mix of the Month. Those guys are so underrated.
And finally Omar fucking S! Cardiff was super stoked. Promoters had been trying to get Omar S to Wales for nearly a decade with no luck. Finally it was happening and it was happening in a sick new venue - a derelict casino with the decks in the cashier’s booth. It was the best I’d seen him play. Thanks to the enthusiastic Cardiff crowd he played for an extra hour until licensing obligations meant we had to stop. At the end people were hammering on the Perspex glass of the DJ booth. The energy was electric. I’ll never forget one guy handing him a Tom Jones CD and Omar S looking at me confused like “Who the hell is Tom Jones?!”. Earlier that day Omar S didn’t even know Wales was a country never mind who Tom Jones was! Safe to say he left Wales a little more cultured haha!
What is special about the scene and people in Cardiff in comparison to other cities you've played?
The Cardiff scene is very welcoming, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s no “cliquiness” or exclusivity to it, and the crowd isn’t shy about showing their appreciation, letting loose and properly going for it on the dance floor. I think this is what makes it so much fun to be a part of, and why many DJs who have played in Cardiff have made a point of saying how much they’ve enjoyed playing.
As a proponent of the music and cultural scene within Cardiff, tell us about the recent changes to Cardiff’s nightlife.
The hypocrisy of Cardiff’s recent proclamation as a 'Music City' is deafening. We lost Buffalo bar, a place where Adele once sang to 60 people just one year before the release of her platinum debut album “19”. And after a long fight from the community we also lost Gwdihŵ. The Save Gwdihŵ and Guildford Crescent petition amassed 20,000+ signatures, various events hosted one-off nights, and more than 2,000 people took part in a protest march. The engagement from the community to protect what makes Cardiff special was empowering and emotionally charged and has opened up conversations with locals, students and visitors about the meaning of Gwdihŵ to them.
Any city the size of Cardiff would be in a sustained period of grief after losing a cultural institution like Gwdihŵ. It was one of Cardiff’s most iconic and best loved venues, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary only 4 months before its closure. Its contribution to the fabric of the city is immeasurable. It housed a springboard for local, national and international musicians of all genres, as well as a training ground for DJ’s, promoters, sound engineers, designers and creative individuals across the board. It was an inclusive, safe, and vibrant, not to mention very successful space. It is exactly the type of live music venue with which Cardiff Councils Music Strategy is designed to sustain and support, and yet the people of Cardiff have been left feeling betrayed.
Although the creative output has slowed, and there is a great sense of loss felt by everyone, the scene is still there, and those involved really are invested in the preservation and growth of Cardiff’s musical culture. There is a quiet confidence from those in the know that out of the ashes of Gwdihŵ will rise a phoenix.
What did Gwdihŵ as part of Guilford Crescent mean to you and those within the tight music community in Cardiff?
Gwdihŵ was like a living room away from home where punters of all ages came to dance, listen and share life-stories within those colourful walls. It was a place where countless people had some of their first gigs, and it’s been the initiation of many people’s musical journeys.
My first time playing outside my bedroom was at Gwdihŵ. I’d warmed up for Mor Elian for longstanding house night Blue Honey and had to resort to using extra thick Hovis bread as a shock absorber for the decks! It was also the last place I held a Doppler event just before I left for my current travels. We had local legend DJ Guy on the decks so the crowd was an interesting mix of the old ravers of the 80’s/90s amongst the younger generation all dancing like nutters together. It was a great send off and little did we know it would be closed just 2 months later.
It’s not the first time Cardiff has been threatened. Clubs; Clwb Ifor Bach, The Moon, and Fuel Rock Club had been propositioned into a re-development in early 2018 which would have led to their closure. An area of vibrant city nightlife where, like Gwdihŵ, the community has become enlightened, enthralled and enthused by the wealth of music on display. Thankfully, The Womanby street campaign to stop the demolition and redevelopment was a success and showed the power of what community has but also the importance the community holds for such venues. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for Gwdihŵ and Guildford Crescent.
How, as artists and music lovers, can people support their local scenes in ways beyond ticket sales?
Starting their own nights! One of the biggest issues holding back underground dance music in the UK are strict licensing laws and premises being shut down. The latter is caused by one-sided land ownership laws in the UK which aren’t going to change any time soon, not without a fight anyway. In the short term, if the dance music scene in general could increase its visibility / exposure nationally, like it has in Germany, as an integral part of UK culture and something which should be celebrated, it would force local counselors, national government and the media to take it more seriously.
You started up a collective called Women, Wax and Digital Tracks. Tell us a bit about the idea behind this.
The idea of Women, Wax and Digital Tracks (WWDT) came from a conversation between myself and Andy, of cultural hub Blue Honey Night Café. We realized there was a serious underrepresentation of womxn in the Cardiff music scene. Sometimes there’d be day parties with 10-15 DJ’s on the line up and not one womxn. I had already started Doppler, which had allowed me to get my name out there. Girls would approach me excitedly to say that they’d love to do what I was doing. So I knew something had to be done. WWDT provided a safe space in a casual setting for womxn to come and show off their skills, to coax the bedroom DJ’s out of the woodworks. I also started DJ workshops for womxn which gathered a lot of interest. I’m really happy with how WWDT turned out and I’ve met a lot of amazing women along the way. It’s lovely to see some of the girls that came to play for WWDT now on the line ups for other events in and around Cardiff.
What's in store for the rest of 2019?
More traveling but will be back to play Virgo Festival end of May. Hopefully getting some other gigs and festivals in the calendar too. Then off to the States to trim weed and explore in a campervan after the festival season!