As multi-talented as the many multi-tracks in her studio, DJ, producer, Batty Bass label boss and award-winning soundtrack composer Hannah Holland is often cited as one of dance music’s most inspiring women. Her debut album Tectonic, recorded in her hometown of Margate, is certain to charm you; travelling the broad horizons of electronic music, cinematic in ambition but always ready to lead you to the most underground of dancefloor experiences.
Tectonic’s genius is no surprise for those who know Hannah for she is one of the LGBTQ+ and alternative club scene’s pioneers, DJing at Berlin’s Berghain, for The Carry Nation in NYC, at Glastonbury’s infamous NYC Downlow or the deliciously deviant Trailer Trash and Adonis parties. Add a career of stunning remixes for artists including Goldfrapp, The Knife, Planningtorock and Metronomy and the admiration so many have for Hannah is as deep as the acid-tinged techno and house bass lines she plays.
As we celebrate Pride this June, Kate Wildblood caught up with Hannah Holland to talk all things Tectonic, the musical roadmap her life has followed and the contribution LGBTQ+ culture will always make to her work.
‘Punk spirit, rage and musicality was there in my life from a very early start.’
Kate Wildblood: From DJ to producer to soundtrack creator to album creator is an impressive journey – but how did your journey to the dancefloor begin?
Hannah Holland: I spent my very early teens growing up in south London around a load of junglists, listening to pirate radio and being taken to raves and then, a little later, some really great alternative gay nights. Naturally I was meeting music heads, some of whom were DJs, and I loved the clubs and the music so much, I just wanted to touch it. Hence, I got decks and started collecting vinyl, with the help of a couple of DJ mates showing me a few skills.
Kate: How did you make that transition from decks to studio? Where did you find the inner confidence to create?
Hannah: I had been in studios before with a band I had played bass for, so it felt quite a natural move once I’d really established my sound as a DJ to turn to learning production. I really found my sound at my East End DJ residency Trailer Trash and own night Batty Bass, with the help of an amazingly dedicated crowd.
Kate: Seeing as we’re all about roadmaps right now, what was your genre roadmap? What music first lit up your passion for music, DJing and producing?
Hannah: Dancefloor wise, it was hearing jungle and hardcore at around the ages of twelve and thirteen. Then everything else with a distinctive bass driven sound, whether its breaks, acid, electro, techno, house etc, certain artists fit nicely into my taste. A very London sound, steeped heavily in Jamaican culture. Later, when I lived in Berlin I was heavily influenced by the groove I was hearing in the more minimal and techno DJ sets, and then hearing how house was played in New York and the energy of that sound, again that was a major influence. Right from age ten and eleven I was massively into Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Hole, PJ Harvey etc, so that punk spirit, rage and musicality was there in my life from a very early start.
Kate: Your debut album Tectonic is a titan of a release, diverse and distinct and destined for many to be a classic I’m certain. What was your process, did it live on your head for many years or was it something that came to you more recently – a means to a lockdown end, as it were?
Hannah: Thanks! I’d had lots of ideas brewing already, and a couple of the more dancefloor tracks were already written as sketches to jump from. Most of it was made during the lockdown and was a chance dig deep and use all the knowledge I’d gained during the last few years working on film scores and with the band Black Gold Buffalo. I really wanted to explore emotion, time and space in the record and make something for people to get lost in. I wanted to really push myself as an artist on this album and I feel like I’ve managed to achieve that. I wrote it at my studio and then did all the recording of the strings at Big Jelly Studios with engineer Al Harle, where we processed all the sounds throughout the album using vintage effects units, to really take it to unusual places. That’s when the music took a life of its own. I’m very proud of it.
Kate: How did you find making an album? Did you struggle with the process or was it a joyful experience?
Hannah: It was a journey of exploration and I absolutely loved doing it. I’m always at my happiest making music but it’s taken decades to get to this place!
Kate: Having seen your fabulous Fender bass love affair on your socials, how important was it for you to use live instrumentation on Tectonic?
Hannah: I love playing my bass in my music, I think it adds a little piece of my soul! As for the strings, I adore strings and they really reach deep emotional parts of oneself, so it was an absolute honour to have Francesca Ter-Berg on cello and Raven Bush play violin on the record and add their own magic.
‘It all comes back to tapping into an instinct and conveying an emotion through music.’
Kate: Your latest soundtrack for the Channel 4 film Adult Material directed by Dawn Shadforth is stunning and, like your previous award-winning original score for Steve Conway’s film Electrician, destined for critical acclaim. How did you get into making soundtracks? Happy accident or lifelong ambition?
Hannah. Thank you! I started my working life in film, music videos and editing, for a good solid eight years before I became started doing music full time. So it’s pretty much a full circle and natural move into a medium I’m very familiar with and have a huge passion for.
Kate: How does the soundtrack process differ from making an album?
Hannah: With the soundtrack you are very much working closely with the filmmakers and have a designed world for the sound, working with dynamics and also there is a whole technical aspect to score work, which is different. But for me it all comes back to tapping into an instinct and conveying an emotion through music, which is the same process as DJing for me, you become a medium in a way!
Kate: Your self-owned record label and infamous party night Batty Bass has enabled you over the years to work alongside some truly iconic artists, including Justin Robertson’s Deadstock 33s, Josh Caffe, The Carry Nation, Mama, Lauren Flax as well as your own new wave band Black Gold Buffalo. How important is working with others for you as an artist?
Hannah: I love collaborating, it teaches you so much and it takes the ego out of the process too, which is very important! It made me a much better artist. I also love to work on the label with artists and be part of the process of releasing their music and creating a journey for the sound to go on.
Kate: Any LGBTQ+ musicians, DJs or producers that you must thank for lighting your way? And which artists and producers influence your work now? Who would you like to shine a light on this Pride month?
Hannah: Smokin’ Jo, Jo Jo De Freq, Miss Kittin, The Carry Nation, Steffi and Tamo Sumo are all queer DJs who sparked that early magic for me on the dancefloor, my favourite DJs for sure. Josh Caffe is an absolutely fierce DJ and has an exciting new album coming out later this year. A very new DJ I’ve got my eye on is Xilhu Ayebaitari who runs a drum and bass party called Queer Rave.
Kate: If you could talk to those young LGBTQ+ creatives we hope to see equalling the gender balance through initiatives like Future1000, what would you tell them? What do you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?
Hannah: I don’t really wish anyone had told me anything, because I’m grateful for the journey I’ve been on. I would tell anyone starting out to be fiercely yourself and work damn hard! Nothing comes quickly and it really is a game of patience in which you have to hone your craft as best you can, practice all the time, research, learn, go out, soak it all up, be inspired and most importantly, have fun.
Kate: How important is the LGBTQ+ community to your work as a DJ, label boss, composer and producer?
Hannah: I started off DJing in queer clubs and it’s that community that made a place for me, it’s where I grew as an artist, found my peoples and really connected with a crowd that has spread out into everything else I do. I’m eternally grateful for that.
‘I love collaborating, it teaches you so much and it takes the ego out of the process too, which is very important!’
Kate: As we tentatively move out of lockdown and back to the dancefloors, what have you missed most about the nightlife?
Hannah: The energy exchange of the dancefloor and all the spontaneous otherworldly experiences that brings.
Kate: And what has these many degrees of separation from our community taught you? Has it changed how you see the Pride movement?
Hannah: The last few years have really taught me how important Pride is and to value the community uniqueness even more.
Kate: Finally, what would be your killer vogue ball outfit and which tune would you be sashaying down that runway to?
Hannah: My new Mrs Jones silk PJ’s and of course the classic Walk For Me by Tronco Traxx!
Hannah Holland's latest track Shutters is out now and debut album Tectonic is released on PRAH Recordings on 17 September 2021.