“I believe in speaking things into existence, but I don’t believe in talking up things that haven’t happened. I do keep things to myself. I believe in working in silence and then surprising people when it’s ready. Giving people that, ‘What the fuck!?!’ moment.”
It’s a hot July afternoon but the heatwave can’t slow Lauren Louisha down. Between their day job, DJ schedule and running just Be, Lauren is forever working in silence yet there’s barely a moment of a peace.
1 More Thing has caught the Wolverhampton-raised/Bristol-based artist at a poignant moment in time; just Be, their organisation that exists to empower, create a safe space and opportunities for women and non-binary creatives in the music industry, has just turned two years old. Over that time it’s been responsible for many ‘What the fuck!?’ moments.
A prominent voice at the forefront of many initiatives and movements, just Be has hosted and collaborated with multiple events both online and in real life, amassed thousands of followers on social media, curated a slew of diverse and innovative mixes from an exciting new-generation rollcall of new generation talent and launched a label that’s been responsible for releases by the likes of Mizeyesis, Miss Lisa, Jamura, Kendot and many more.
“The label is a big focus for me right now,” Lauren hints. “More original material and lots more singles. I can’t share my plans yet but it’s really exciting.”
Rather than hype things that aren’t quite ready to be hyped, Lauren is happy reflecting over the last two years, how they got here and what they’ve already spoken/grafted hard into existence. Lauren seems even happier when they’re able to sing the praises of others. “Did I think I’d be here in two years having this type of conversation? No!” Lauren laughs. “The imposter syndrome is so real! But honestly I never thought any of this would happen, I never thought I could do all this and it’s down to my team that I have been able to.”
Prosek, Pinks, Sucrose, S.W.I.D, Grandma Wubs, Miss Lisa, DSB and photographer Libby Smith are among the tight collective of artists, DJs and creative kindred spirits alongside Lauren at the heart of just Be. Less of a team, more of a community; togetherness and unity are key points of inspiration for Lauren.
“I think at times we’ve felt lonely in our lives. I definitely have,” admits Lauren. “I’ve always just kept myself to myself, or not felt I could be myself, in certain situations. When I’ve felt like that music has always helped me through it. So I thought, “I’m going to build this community around music and the people who I’m meant to be with will come and it’ll be a beautiful thing. And it has been! And it’ll keep on growing.”
Lauren is animated and full of energy, their flow increasing in tempo the more inspired they are by the conversation. Their focus and ambition is infectious. It’s inspiring and motivating to hear their stories, but there’s a sobering reality behind them. The very fact that such organisations need to exist is a reminder of how much work for diversity and inclusion still needs to be done. But on a more personal level, Lauren established just Be because of their own experiences.
“I was treated so poorly by a lot of guys when I was working promotions,” explains Lauren who, prior to the pandemic and lockdowns, worked in street teams for Bristol’s late, great Blue Mountain venue. “I would speak up about booking more women, for example, and I would just get shut down. There was so much misogyny. So I thought, one day I’m going to do my own thing. I’m going to create a community that I want to be part of.”
When covid turned everything inside out for the world and denied us all any type of nightlife Lauren made their ideas a reality as they conceptualised and developed just Be. By the time lockdowns reached their most intense, but vital, moments, they were ready. But even then, it came from a very negative and toxic set of circumstances.
“Remember Black Lives Matter protests? I was still working with the promotions team at that point but I left the brand because I felt I had no support,” Lauren explains. “I ended up speaking at the protests. I read a poem there and I had so much mixed and intense emotions but I didn’t feel any support at all from them. It was sad. But it’s alright because I’m stronger for it.”
just Be hosted its first online event as the Black Lives Matter protests continued across the world in June and July 2020. Music & Meditation was held in honour of Elijah McClain, an innocent young soul from Colorado who lost his life to police brutality in 2019 and took place online on July 31. With performances from the likes of Chimpo, Gardna, Selecta J Man, singer Oliva Rose, broadcaster and writer Dawn Limbu and many of the just Be residents, it sealed the deal on Lauren’s future.
“Oh my god, when I think back to those early events I cringe! They were so much harder to run that normal events!” Lauren laughs. “But there was definitely a moment during that first stream when I was sitting there in my living room with two laptops, one for watching and one for fixing anything going wrong and I was like, ‘Wow, I want to do this forever.’ We didn’t raise very much but we did something and we’d come together for something with meaning. There was definitely a sense of community and I was so proud of that.”
This marked the start of just Be and led to a series of online events, regular guest mixes, the label and eventually real life events in Bristol. Initially as sit-down shows – the first being a collaboration with another essential collective fighting for diversity, Full Spectrum – which built up to full events when things opened up again in July 2021. The majority of just Be’s parties have been held at Bristol’s community-minded venue Dare To Club, a space run with very similar, progressive ethics as just Be. “I do really like working with them, they get it,” says Lauren. “Our first event there was crazy. It was completely sold out and had people like Katalyst, Kara and Anais. It was a really lovely event especially now looking back now at that line-up and seeing how far all those queens have come since then. I’m so proud.”
More recent events have shown how far Lauren has come personally, too. The last just Be party at Dare To Club was in February this year and Lauren made their debut as a DJ, playing under the alias of Solstice. Like the success of just Be, publicly performing as a DJ was not what they imagined they’d ever be doing.
“Everyone thought I was a DJ anyway so I thought I’d better actually learnt to mix,” laughs Lauren who grew up with their grandad’s soundsystem in the living room.
“I mix dubstep but with reggae, too, because that’s the style my grandad played. I want to do something different as a DJ, you know? I get seriously fucked off when I pay for a ticket and the DJ is just playing bait crowd pleasers. I want to dig deep, find artists I’ve never heard of dig through their whole collection and find things that will throw people completely. I want to surprise people with music.”
With a digging style that matches the curation of just Be’s mixes and releases, Lauren’s approach to DJing shuns the usually ego-centric behaviour of the culture. They’ve found DJing has been a great way to make Just Be more visible. “You have more opportunities to push out your brand as a DJ, so I kinda learnt to mix as a marketing thing,” Lauren admits. “It’s another way of pushing just Be.”
This selfless style in all aspects of just Be’s output from charity / fund-raising events to the just Be social media channels. The brand’s pages match their fizziness as they share opportunities, start discussions, inform on topics and highlight the skills and actions of as many women and non-binary artists as possible.
“We’re not just focused on the music, we’re focused on changing things in many different aspects,” explains Lauren who has run several successful infographic campaigns. One earlier this year focused on how to support people who are suffering mental health issues and another campaign in summer 2021 created awareness about drinks being spiked in clubs last year. The posts went viral and have since led to a forthcoming collaboration which will be revealed in the coming weeks. “All these things are linked for me. People have said to me things like, ‘You’re just a promoter, don’t talk politics, just keep it to the music.’ They don’t get it. Life is so much more than just doing one thing. If I’m part of a positive change and I can see those changes happening, then I can enjoy the music more. Surely that’s how it works?”
It’s a logic that has resonated with many as more artists, brands and music lovers have gravitated towards just Be’s operations. Others, unfortunately, still don’t understand why collectives and organisations such as just Be exist in the first place. “I literally got called sexist on Tik-Tok yesterday!” Lauren sighs with a laugh of despair. “Some people don’t get it. There have been organisations and brands out there that have excluded women and non-binary people forever, we need to exist. And if we don’t change the dialogue then who else will? I read in a book called The Hate You Give something that’s stuck with me forever. The girl said, ‘I’ve been gifted with a voice, I have to use it.’ I’ve lived by that ever since. Say what you need to say!”
Unless, of course, it’s a little too early to say and you’d rather knuckle down, work in silence and come back with that ‘What the fuck!?!’ moment and then say it. A technique that Lauren thrives off, we can expect plenty more WTFs in the future as many plans and projects are bubbling behind the scenes.
“Some stuff is very close to being announced and I really want to tell you,” Lauren exclaims as we wrap up the interview and enjoy the UK’s rare but welcome sunny spell. “But it’s all just a bit too soon. Guess it’s just going to be one of those ‘watch this space’ ones isn’t it?”