Tiffany Calver is getting her braids done. London’s breakout DJ, radio host and tastemaker deserves a break for sure – just a couple of weeks ago she was jet-setting across Europe entertaining the style set for brands this season.
Last year, Tiffany joined KISS FM as the UK’s youngest FM radio host and the first female hip-hop DJ to have a national show, and in September was asked to put together a mix for Drake’s OVO Sound Radio show. We caught up with Tiffany to talk wearing different hats in the industry, using her platform to help others, and why she’s taking a gas mask with her next time she goes on tour.
How did you get into radio and what keeps you excited about it?
I always knew I wanted to go into radio, but I was far too much of a perfectionist to even attempt it. How it actually happened was somewhat by chance, but mostly, by being really fucking bored. I had just finished college and I was freelancing for a few publications, reviewing music and updating their feed with generic blog posts. I felt like I’d hit a wall. I chose not to go to university and was starting to freak out because although I knew what I wanted to do, I just didn’t know how. I believed in myself, but to an extent, had started to lose faith in finding my purpose in my career path. I started to question if I should even pursue a career in this industry, because I was beginning to somewhat hate it. Looking back I’m almost thankful for that time of my life, because it was while I tried to escape this dark cloud that I found my true passion.
Trying to find ways to stop the panic attacks I was having on a daily basis, I found Virtual DJ. Something you probably should never admit to starting your DJ career on, ever, but fuck it. It worked out for me, and it gave me a break from reality when I needed it most. I sent a mix to the founder of an online station in London called Radar Radio, where I was pushed to learn how to use CDJs during every single show I did. The rest is history! Not necessarily how the perfectionist in me would have envisioned it back then, but I guess it happened in the most perfect way for me.
The thing that excites me now about being involved in radio is the accessibility that younger people have to it. Back when I was 17 and felt like it was impossible to break into broadcasting, I would have benefitted greatly from places like Radar Radio and the million other stations that are popping up every single day and giving more people a platform to express themselves and their personal tastes. I have learnt so much more about myself from listening to random shows and resonating with things I would have never been exposed to if it wasn’t for the way things are today.
Young creatives often come across this dilemma between doing work for free in exchange for “exposure” versus making sure they get paid for the work they do. Where do you stand on this?
It’s a gift and a curse. In hindsight, there were many things, and there was a lot of time, that I gave away for absolutely nothing, naively based off of the idea that it would be great for my ‘portfolio’ and help me ‘get my foot in the door’. In some cases, my work ethic was most definitely taken advantage of, but in other cases, I got to work with some incredible people that I can proudly call mentors, I learned a lot from the various hats I wore as I was finding my feet in this industry, and it helps me a great deal to this day. Interning and working for free is self-investment in a sense, and I think that is a great way to look at it when you’re applying for, or working for free with anybody.
One of the things I admire the most about you is that you’re more than just a DJ; you’ve been vocal about topics like mental health and you’ve been an advocate for several social issues. Why do find that important?
I think the reason I’m so open and try to speak up about things that aren’t really the status quo, especially within the work I do, is because I could have benefited from it myself once upon a time. I know that when I was going through certain things I used to wish there were more people like me to relate to, or feel less like an anomaly because of. I think that’s why so many people my age or close to it have a special appreciation for artists like Kid Cudi, Kanye, N.E.R.D. and a few others. From the music they released, I felt like being black and different and vulnerable wasn’t as shameful as I once felt it was to be; especially when you’re taught to keep your shoulders back and your head up at all times. This generation has so many musicians that were inspired by that era to listen to and relate to… I love it.
I’ve hosted panel discussions and thrown a few fundraisers in the past, and every year I’m trying to shine more of a light on various topics that I believe need more attention, especially Mental Health Awareness, particularly within the genre I work in. This year you’ll definitely see a few of my plans unfold and I can’t wait to do my part, and do more. Even if it helps one person, it validates it all for me. It’s important to do things you’re passionate about, and I am really blessed to wake up every single day and work on things I would class as passion projects.
You’re also Fredo’s official tour DJ. How was your first experience touring last year?
Well I spent most of the trip ridiculously secondhand high. I remember getting home after three or four days on the road and being like, “Woah, this is what air smells like?”. I loved tour, though. Fredo has a really great range of fans and they all have great energy. I remember this group of kids in Birmingham kept shouting “Radar Radio” at me and I was taken aback for a second because who would have thought people tuned into my shows all the way back then? It was his first time on tour as well as mine, so it was a learning experience for all of us. It’s very much like travelling around with a bunch of cousins, everyone treated each other like family and we all had a really fun time. This time around, we’re on tour for almost triple the amount of dates we did last year and I can’t wait! I’ll definitely be bringing a gas mask with me.
What is your favourite and least favourite thing about London?
Least favourite thing is the District Line. Most favourite thing about London is that for the most part, it’s way more acceptable to be whoever the fuck you want to be here than anywhere else. Mostly because nobody has time to focus on other people’s life decisions. Life moves so fast here. When I moved here and 90% of the girls in my college weren’t all wearing sky blue Primark jeggings and a Hollister hoodie, I knew I was home.
Who are some new artists you’re rooting for?
I could answer this question for days. Off top: Young Nudy, Octavian Essie, Col3trane, Valee’, Sheck Wes, Slow Thai, Lancey Foux, Mowgli, and Joseph Chilliams. There’s a few others but I know these fake A&Rs be lurking, and you’re gunna have to throw me a cheque for those names my G.
What were some of your highlights from 2017?
Too many to even remember, which is the best feeling in the world. When I organised my first Music & Mental Health panel discussion and people actually showed up and got involved, that was an incredible moment. Reading Festival was amazing, Boiler Room in Austin Texas over SXSW, when I got my radio show on Kiss FM and became the first female FM broadcaster to have a Hip-Hop show in the UK, and then I won Best DJ at the Urban Music Awards and almost fainted on stage. Never wearing heels again. Doing a mix on OVO Sound Radio was pretty up there too, because I didn’t think that was going to happen for a good few years more. Bringing Divine Council to London and selling it the fuck out. Touring with Fredo. Earning the respect of some of the older generation DJs was a massive highlight, too. I remember being pulled aside on stage at this Sound Clash I was partaking in, and this one DJ was like, “I can’t even lie, I was hating, I thought you were just like every other new DJ coming up on the scene and I was wrong. You’re a fucking beast.” Scrolling through my Instagram feed, 2017 was long as hell but so many great things happened to me.
You really did so much last year… What are you plans for 2018 then?
To outdo last year. It’s a simple target but it’s also the hardest one to accomplish, I set myself the same resolution every year, and every year I’ve somehow accomplished it. I’ve always been quite all over the place with how my life is structured. There’s always a method to the madness, but this year I’m focused on the method. Getting my infrastructure right, finding my team, and just killing it. I’m so over being a perfectionist, I’m open to failing some more this year, and doing more things that terrify me. Festivals, documentaries, throwing bigger parties, producing a mixtape… Let me stop there, I hate talking about things when they’ve not been done yet. I’ll leave the rest of 2018 for me and my vision board.
What’s one thing you’ve learned being in the music industry that you didn’t expect when you first started?
Nobody knows what the fuck they are doing. So just do.
For more of our interviews, read why London MC TE dness is poised for rap domination right here.
- Text: Mariana Carvalho
- Photography: Filmawi