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In a scene traditionally dominated by men – think Logan Sama, DJ Target, Posty – Julie Adenuga is standing out as an influential voice in UK music. The anchor, who hosts a show on Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio station, will captain and curate one of the six boats setting sail down the Thames for the Red Bull Music Odyssey. Her boat will represent sounds old and new from the UK’s underground radio scene. She’s the perfect fit, considering her start at Rinse FM – arguably the world’s leading grime station – before it was given an FM license in 2010, and of course, the fact that her two older brothers are grime MCs.
Chatting with her over the phone, Adenuga admits that although she is happy that people trust her, she also feels a big sense of responsibility. “It’s quite intense. I’m just honest with myself. I always remind myself that I’m not a superhero and I can’t save everyone. So I just do what I can where I can and try to be as realistic as possible. I know a lot of people look to me as the person who can break them into the music industry, but you know I can’t do that for everyone. I can’t even do it for one person by myself! It takes a lot of support from a lot of people”.
“People look to me as the person who can break them into the music industry, but you know I can’t do that for everyone”
At the helm of a Beats 1 show that’s known for championing new artists, she undoubtedly loves what she does, but shares that making things run as smoothly as they do is a balancing act. “At one point I felt like I had to reply to every email; read every tweet; listen to every track emailed. Unrealistic!” she shouts. “There’s not enough time in the day! I cope with it by making sure I’m listening to new music organically and also, where I can, supporting the things that I’m really and truly passionate about”.
Her line up for the Red Bull Music Odyssey is a reflection of this new found approach. Her boat will feature pioneers such as Heartless Crew, who became a leading force for UK garage in the early 2000s and are now a staple of the scene with anthems like ‘Heartless Theme’. AJ Tracey will be there, as will Capo Lee (who Julie went to school with) and Melvillious, an artist that was recommended to her by SBTV’s Jamal Edwards. “Ever since I met him every tune he has put out has been sick. It’s so weird because we booked the boat before he dropped his EP …and then his EP came out and it was sick as well. Stuff like that is just like confirmation that I’ve done a good job”.
I’m not sure that anyone could name as many female artists on the underground scene in the early 2000s as they can now. Back then, there was Ms. Dynamite, Estelle and Alesha Dixon would do some one-two bits for Mis-Teeq. But now, the list goes on and on: Lady Leshurr, IAMDDB, Stefflon Don, Nadia Rose and Flohio, who has also been chosen for the line-up. Julie attributes the initial lack of women to laziness. “For example, when I was booking the boat it would be crazy if I didn’t include women. The underground scene doesn’t have a heavy female presence, but the women are there. It’s just easy and lazy to book the obvious”.
She explains what she thinks has caused the rise in female artists. “People have noticed they weren’t making an effort to find women to perform. That in turn breeds more women feeling confident about making music”. Ms. Dynamite is Adenuga’s favourite from the old school and she’s just deeped that they have never met. “She was like the big sister I never had. Ms. Dynamite was a black woman who did her hair like me and wore clothes like me. It just gave me someone to lean on.” She pauses to recollect when she may have encountered her… ”Oh my God I can’t believe I’ve never met Ms Dynamite”.
But how has underground scene has changed since she started at Rinse? The rise of social media has meant a lot of things just aren’t underground anymore. “Yeah, but they still have an underground feel to them. They’re just on a bigger scale. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I just think there is not enough space for people to practice, to be a little bit shit and get better.”
Nowadays, she continues, “people can make big hits and win really quickly which means they have a lot less space to grow. Or people will get on board with a song more because an artist has a big following and looks really popular when actually they’re not very good. Then people start to become accustomed to a lower quality of music and a lower quality of artistry. That’s the downside about the underground living on the mainstream. There are no batting cages”.
“There is not enough space for people to practice, to be a little bit shit and get better. People can make big hits and win really quickly”
Now undisputedly a tastemaker, Adenuga credits her progression to her stubbornness and just being present in the right spaces. “Everything I was doing was centred around music. If you wanted to think of someone to be a presenter you couldn’t not think of me because I was always around! It’s not doing anything apart from what you’re passionate about. And I’ve said no to all the things I don’t think I’m right for. That’s very important.” Success for Adenuga (as well as being comfortable enough to wake up at 11 in the morning) is getting to do stuff like her partnership with Red Bull. “Them asking me to curate this boat is really really a big deal. This is the same brand that made Culture Clash!” In a decade or so, Adenuga admits she’d love to see people she’s brought on her show being in the same space as Stormzy, Skepta, Dizzee Rascal, Kano. “I hope I’m a part of making that happen at least”.
Julie Adenuga will captain The Transmission boat as part of Red Bull Music Odyssey on 30th June 2018. Tune in to Red Bull Radio on the night to listen live