If there’s one person you should trust to bring the vibes all the way up with her radio show or to curate a playlist to get you going, it’s DJ, owner of record label No Requests, and BCC Radio 1Xtra’s host Tiffany Calver.
A triple threat in her own right, Calver has established herself as a key tastemaker in what started the UK music industry, now reaching global heights thanks to her gigs opening for Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “On The Run II” tour and supporting Drake’s “Assassination Vacation” tour. Boasting a long list of commendable achievements, Calver’s path has always been guided by sheer passion for music.
Calver first made her own foray into the industry as a music journalist. What words failed her to achieve though was her own try at production. She quickly realised that’s what she was destined to do, and the rest is history, still in the making.
We caught up with Tiffany Calver to discuss New Year’s celebrations, her musical journeys, freestyling on the mic, and of course, her song recommendations.
Hey Tiffany, happy new year! How did you celebrate? Did you throw a NYE bash this year?
Hey! Happy New Year! I threw a party at The Standard. A really intimate room of 160 people with the glass windows surrounding the entire space so we could see all of the beautiful fireworks and celebrations going on around us. I played nonstop for five hours and had the best time! I could’ve kept going! Our midnight anthem was “Rich Baby Daddy” which went down a treat.
I want to take it back to the beginning with you. Was music something you grew up surrounded with?
I always say this but my baby tapes genuinely have the best soundtrack. Biggie, En Vogue, Busta Rhymes, Lil Kim, SWV… My mum and dad were really into their music. They were young and grew up in the rave/UKG era. Dad had a whole DJ set up that I used to drool over. Literally. Everything from R&B, Garage, Jungle and Hip Hop. You name it, they played it to me so I’ve always been into most genres thanks to them.
By the age of 17, you moved to London to experience the city life and its music scene. Do you remember any venues and/or artists you were instantly drawn to?
When I first came to London I remember just having a ridiculous amount of access for the first time to go to an unlimited amount of live gigs. I’d never had that before, so I was pretty obsessed with going out and getting in the crowd at things. I’d manage to get in for free because I’d review them for some of the music blogs I wrote for at the time which at that age, was everything! When I started going out and experiencing the nightlife world it was all about Dalston. Visions, Birthdays, Alibi, then maybe you’d catch a bus to Oval Space for the Livin Proof parties…man. You just had to be there.
It wasn’t long until you made your way into the industry, blogging for MTV and SB:TV. Was there a moment where you realised that music was, professionally, for you?
Oh I knew from around 16 that this was the world I wanted to be in. One thing about me is I always have to know what I’m doing. Serious Virgo. I didn’t know just how far I would go by any means but I just wanted a piece of it. I wanted to be immersed in it, and to contribute to pushing it forward however I had the access to do it. I never in a million years saw just how far back the curtain would get pulled for me, back then.
How did you make that step from being a music writer to music maker, by way of DJing?
I started using Virtual DJ because I didn’t have the money to buy a controller let alone CDJs! I would post mixes I made on my computer to SoundCloud and one of them took off and hit around 50,000 plays which was massive for me at the time.
I really wanted to be on radio since I was a kid. When I came to London I’d tried my hand at getting an internship or apprenticeship at BBC, Rinse FM and all the local stations to no avail. I studied and tried to follow all of the blueprints that you’re taught to follow and it didn’t work.
In the end the mixes from my computer landed me a slot on an online radio station that had just launched. A friend of mine called Danny Seth had put me onto it. I had access to all of the equipment for the first time in my life and I became obsessed with it. For the first time something really did click for me and I felt like I’d found my “thing.” I’d be in the practice room every day until it was dark outside just figuring out what all the different buttons and bits did. Then I’d go live on air and clang and make a mess of it all. People literally witnessed me learning on the spot.
You then landed different radio hosts gigs until eventually, landing at the BBC. That obviously requires musical knowledge as well as being super sociable. Do you go into your day knowing what you want to discuss or do you improv most of the time?
Oh everything with me for the most part is freestyling. I’m way too indecisive to prep and memorise a set. I’ll make bullet points on things that might pop into my head that I want to talk about but that’s it. I think when something is planned and mapped out it can sound a little unnatural.
The beauty of radio is being able to speak to listeners and be passionate about something, share something and hopefully make some sort of positive dent in their day or night. I’m not here to be an expert, I’m here to be a fan and to share my findings with like-minded ears. Don’t get me wrong though, I will definitely spin a lot of heads at music trivia!
What do you do on those days where you’re feeling less talkative? Do you have any pick-me-ups to get you through the day?
I’m actually really socially awkward so it’s a tough one sometimes to walk into rooms of strangers and network. Radio is different though. Obviously I am aware there are lots of people tuned in, but the studio feels like home now. It’s like mixing on the decks in my front room and when I lift the mic up I’m chatting to my mates. If I’m not 100% some days I’ll just say it. I’ll talk a bit less and let the selections speak instead. But if ever we need an extra boost — we turn the music up to the max and jump around the studio for a few minutes before we’re live. We dance. We shake the shit off and do our thing.
And on top of being a radio host, you’re also a girlboss, having started your own record label, No Requests (big fan of the name btw). Tell me a little bit about how that came about?
Thank you! Lockdown happened and I had more space to jump at ideas I’d been holding off on due to lack of time. I’d always wanted to get more involved behind the scenes.
I’ve enjoyed launching a label, learning as I go and not swimming straight into the deep end. I think it’s important. I’ve learnt a lot about the backend of the music business and I enjoy going at a pace where we, as a label, can keep expanding on that knowledge to create a business model that is true to our own values and beliefs for the music business.
I’m keen to sit on the right side of history with what we offer as a label. I want to continue to work on creating something progressive. It’s a brick-by-brick mentality and it’s forming something really special.
Having worked alongside massive artists such as Drake and Beyoncé, you still make it a point to highlight and support emerging artists. Who are some artists you would recommend our readers to tune into?
Everyone starts off as an emerging artist and I think people have to remember that. Instead of looking at the shiny things, sometimes look at the diamonds in the dirt. That’s far more rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling and if we want to keep this thing going – we have to pour into the future superstars from the beginning.
The underground scene has always been such an exciting space to listen to and support because it depicts what is really going on in the world as opposed to what “trends.” I think that listeners love to feel like they are discovering someone on their own nowadays – and with more music being released day by day and apps at everyone’s fingertips that becomes more of a reality for the world.
I’m really into Humble The Great, BXKS, Cristale, and P-rallel and watching their individual rises at the moment. I think this year will be the year of the producer/DJs too. It’s going to be a great year for Publishing. Africa is still in such a strong position to hold more and more space.
I’m into artists who add something unique in flavour to their music and don’t follow the algorithm. That’s what the world needs more of.
Ready for some quick fire questions? What’s your go-to song to close a set?
“Nite Nite” by Kano ft. Mike Skinner
Go-to karaoke song?
“I Will” by Danny Brown
Favourite song of 2023?
“Mnike” by DJ Maphorisa, Tyler ICU, Tumelo_za, Nandipha808, Ceeka RSA, Tyron Dee
Favourite album of 2023?
SOS by SZA
Top Spotify wrapped artist of 2023?
I didn’t check but probably Drake like everyone else.
One artist you’re watching in 2024?
And lastly, what are your manifestations, goals or hopes for this year?
If I told you that I’d have to kill ya!
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