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With a new show on Radio 1 and breakthrough single, ‘Fever’, Digital Soundgirl B.Traits is a woman on a mission.
Words: Will Gilgrass
Photos: Carsten Windhorst
October 1994 was a breakthrough month for drum ’n’ bass, as UK Apachi and Shy FX entered the UK charts with ‘Original Nuttah’. Six years later and 4500 miles away in a small town in in a small mountain town in the Canadian countryside, the aftershocks were still resonating. “I was in senior high school, aged about thirteen or fourteen,” says Briana Price, aka B.Traits, a grin spreading across her face as she remembers catching the jungle bug. “A friend gave me a CD and ‘Original Nuttah’ came on while I was in class. I just thought ‘holy shit!’. The next track was ‘Grimey’ by Dillinja and I just freaked out – it was awesome. That feeling was so good I probably listened to it millions of times afterwards.”
Eighteen years on and still boasting her schoolgirl features – her nickname in those days was ‘Baby Traits’ – B.Traits is controlling the Digital Soundboy (Shy FX’s all-conquering label / DJ collective) stage at Lovebox. Wearing a traditional British festival outfit of Wayfarer sunglasses, oversized rain mac and wellies, her trademark platinum blonde fringe is only just visible as she bops up and down behind the decks, her laptop unleashing a cacophony of bass-fuelled tracks on the damp East London crowd.
It’s been quite a rise for the girl from Nelson, British Columbia, who this year alone bagged a Top 40 hit with her debut single, ‘Fever’, and became the latest personality to secure a weekly show broadcast on both BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra.
“I thought I was going to be teaching salsa on cruise ships,” she jokes as we chat in Shy FX’s studio the day after her 26th birthday, “but I’m definitely glad it turned out this way.”
B.Traits learnt how to DJ from a friend who traded lessons in beat-matching for Price’s expertise in breakdancing, moving to the state capital of Vancouver at 18 to pursue her dream. She found work as a receptionist at a film school which just happened to be across the road from the city’s leading record store, On Deck, and the jungle section fast became her second home.
“The guys working there were like ‘who the fuck is this person?’” she says. But soon they were inviting Briana, who was still too young to legally go clubbing in the city, to Automatic, Canada’s longest-running d’n’b night, where they were DJing.
“Goldie, Dillinja, Friction and pretty much everyone played there; Shy actually played in my first week in the city,” she says. “I had fake ID so it was OK – and after talking to the guys in the shop and getting to know them they offered me my first legitimate gig... I was shitting myself, but they were all so supportive, and they still are to this day.”
The frequency of her bookings increased and her reputation spread, taking her to the ski resort town of Whistler in early 2005 where she met the first of three legendary DJs who were set to help break the B.Traits phenomenon.
Price was warming up for Kenny Ken, who just happened to record her set as well as his. “As soon as I knew he was doing it I totally lost my marbles – it was my first real mix CD and it was totally live,” she recalls, a gleam of pride in her eye. “There were a couple of massive clangers but I started getting loads of gigs off the back of it – but please don’t track it down!” she laughs.
The next DJ to push her career forward was DJ SS, who was so impressed by her turntable dexterity when she warmed up for him during the Canadian leg of The World of Drum ‘n’ Bass Tour that he invited her to join them around the rest of North America. “I became part of Formation Records as a DJ. I never got signed, but it was always me, SS, Influx UK, often Grooverider as well, doing huge crazy raves in Russia, LA and around America,” She says. Cue her first encounter with Shy FX, who has shaped and developed Price more than anyone else.
“We met at a New Year’s Eve gig called Kings of the Jungle in Germany. I was totally freaking out about meeting him, let alone having to play before him. A few months later in 2006 we were both on the World of Drum ’n’ Bass tour and we just clicked,” she says. It’s clear she looks up to him as a DJ and a producer, as well as a Yoda-like guiding sage and Vito Corleone figure wherever Digital Soundboy is involved. “As soon as Shy started the label I was really into what he was putting out,” she continues. “‘The Diary of Digital Soundboy’ and ‘Feelings’ were huge tracks for me – the music spoke to me. I thought it was the coolest and best label, and there was Shy, asking me to be a part of it! It was so surreal, a really cool feeling which I still have.”
Her move to London was not only inevitable but necessary. “I’ve never been influenced by dance music from the USA; it seems quite noisy to me, and I prefer the vibe in the UK. It’s music you can really get down and dance to. That’s a huge thing for me. I needed to be in the thick of it, to be able to go out any day of the week and be inspired – that’s crucial for a new artist,” she says.
And now she’s grabbed the opportunity with both hands – despite it taking almost half a decade for her to release her first single after signing with Digital Soundboy. “We almost put out tracks on so many occasions, but Shy is all about the right time, it has to feel right and be perfect,” she says, with just a hint of frustration. “I’d say ‘I want this out’ – and I freaked out last summer thinking nothing was happening – but you don’t really argue with Shy.” It’s not so much about fearing a horse’s head appearing at the end of her bed, but out of respect for the man who she’s admired since her breaks habit began.
We’re in a studio owned by Pete Waterman in the basement of County Hall and in the shadow of the London Eye. It’s also home to some of the UK’s leading bass exponents such as Chase & Status, Nero, Caspa and the rest of the Digital Soundboy crew. Price sits confidently on a black leather sofa discussing the close bond between the artists on the label.
“We are all so close – they’re my UK family. We listen to each other’s stuff and give our thoughts, and when one of us is DJing the rest of us are there,” she says – Lovebox being the prime example.
By this point on Friday afternoon a number of people are drinking cheap lager and watching one of England’s Euro 2012 group games – but not Price and Breakage, who are behind the decks, skanking like lunatics – just like the crowd. Shy FX soon launches into a typically raucous set; he’s wearing a T-shirt with the iconic image of Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’ and the words ‘Original Nuttah’ printed underneath – designed by one Brianna Price.
“I’ve been working on the Digital Soundboy clothing line, which hopefully we’ll be launching soon,” she says. “Designing clothes in my spare time means I can express myself in my style as well as my music.”
And it doesn’t stop there. After becoming one of four new residents on BBC Radio 1’s ‘In New DJs We Trust’ programme she’s set to start her own weekly two-hour, Sunday night show in September, which will also be simulcast on sister station 1Xtra.
“When something like that happens everything changes,” she says, with a strong sense of pride.
“To be an influential person to so many people by sharing the music you love and your vibe with the world is such an honour, and it’s also a big, and sometimes overlooked, thing for me to be a female DJ and radio presenter. There are thousands of male producers – and of course I stand out because I’m a girl, but for all of those boys to accept me and think I deserve it I have had to work really hard, to always be on top of my game and really know my shit. I’d like to think I’m helping to inspire a new generation of female producers – especially as 2012 is proving to be such a great year for us.”
As she bounces behind the decks at Lovebox, working her way through house, garage, dubstep, funky, 2-step and of course d’n’b, and her MC, Wrec, bellows ‘SWITCH!’, this digital soundgirl typifies the direction Shy FX’s label – and bass music as a whole – is taking. Sometimes, blondes really do have more fun.
B.Traits’ next single ‘Arms House’ will be released in September on Digital Soundboy