Going Deep with Deepa

Our Friday night resident talks all things FBi radio, No Kerfew, and which artists would be on her dream Splendour line-up.
Henry Johnstone
Going Deep with Deepa

When she's not manning the radio FBi Radio waves, Deepa Alam can be found manning a DJ booth somewhere in Sydney, wielding her USBs to stunning effect and mixing up an eclectic storm of oddball and leftfield selections stretching from rose-tinted Indopop to cheeky breaks and deep, dark, hypnotic drums. Very often, that booth is our very own, where Deepa spends many a Friday night as one of our resident DJs.

Perpetually working on an exciting project, we thought it's about time we caught up with the Sunset host and No Kerfew affiliate to find out what's been going on in her world. As we discover, she's been busy with Vivid, her weekly FBi show and rubbing shoulders with Nabihah Iqbal.

Hey Deepa, what's been happening?

Not much. I've been resting after Vivid. This time last year I burnt out so hard, so I was trying to put measures in place so I didn't this time around. Ironically, I’m still a little burnt out! But I’m taking a holiday soon. And lots planned for the end of the year.

What were you getting up to at Vivid? Were you putting on gigs, playing gigs, or just enjoying the festival?

All of it. This year I threw an event with Louisa/Isa from Athletica - we did a day-to-night party called Thermal Mass which was inspired by summer park parties. I've also been DJ’ing a lot for Vivid events as well. I played one, I think it was last weekend, at Manning Bar with Habibi Funk, Nabihah Iqbal, Byron The Aquarius and a couple of other locals; they’re all my heroes so that was really exciting. I saw a lot of the Opera House shows in the first week, which was really nice. And just exploring the city. I love Vivid. I'm always trying to make the most out of it.

It's a great time of year. How was Nabihah's set? I’ve only just come to know her music through her new album, but I've never heard her DJ before.

She's one of my favourite radio hosts/selectors ever. She has a show on NTS and she's got such a good ear and she's just an absolute music nerd. She has so much range. I think she's also really both in tune with herself and the crowd, so she knows what people are wanting to hear, and that crosses over with major deep cuts. She's amazing.

I know you're heavily involved in radio too. Are you still doing three shows?

No, I've paused Skylab and Nomad and am just transitioning into Thursday Sunset on FBi.

What do you love about doing that show? You’ve been hosting it for a year or two now, yeah?

I think I started Sunset at the beginning of lockdown, so it's been two years now. I enjoy doing radio a lot. For me, I feel like I really, really connect with the music when I get to know it deeply in that way. Often for my Sunset show I'm digging for dance music and get to learn about a lot of the songs I play 'cause I'm wanting to talk about it on air. I think that fully drives my DJ’ing practice as well. I love doing radio so much. I love this little archive I get to build.

I was going to say, is there a synergy between your show and DJing in venues?

A little bit, yeah. There's definitely some crossover. I think my radio show is more listening, it's more of stuff that I want to listen to rather than play out. Sometimes it's the harder hitting tracks that get the most crossover. I can trial-run them on air and realise that on really loud speakers, they really could do something to a dance floor.

I'm on Thursdays now, to which I just switched over to a few weeks ago from Saturday. Having the show on the Saturday meant that I was usually doing radio and going straight to a gig, or having played a gig the night before and then doing radio prep on Saturday morning. It meant they very much rubbed each other really well. But with Thursday now, I get to think a bit more about what I’m going to play, rather than have it as an archive of my DJ sets.

Sunset has always been an important program for the Sydney club scene for many years and a lot of key figures in the scene have hosted it. Were you an avid listener of FBi and Sunset growing up?

Yeah, absolutely. I still am. I used to listen to Ben [Fester] and Kato so much, Adi [Toohey], Sunset with 2K [Kal and Kilimi], Body Promise, DOBBY and Krystel Diola had a show way back when too. And because all the shows are play-listed online, it was a great way to find and discover new music. I really love the programming at FBi.

This is one of those questions that's probably pretty annoying, but how would you describe yourself as a DJ?

DJing, for me, is sometimes storytelling, sometimes synergies for the crowd. It really depends on my mental state and emotional state at the time. I won't play a set that I just don't want to play. I'm always playing according to what I'm feeling at the time, as well as what people are responding to. For me, it's just an energy transfer, I think.

You're into a lot of different styles of music. Do you find that makes it harder or easier for you to be a DJ?

I think for me it makes it easier. I think it really depends on the person, but for me, it makes it easier because I still lean towards certain genres of music. I really love my 4/4, I love my deep house, I love anything perky and percussive, and I naturally lean towards that. But then I'll play some Jersey club edits or electro or breaks. I don't really play anything too scary, but I'll play that if it's appropriate. I think the stuff that I play leans more towards the warmer, grungier side of dance music as a whole, rather than, say, specifically from genres.

I often find that I’ll hear a track in a mix, on the radio, or at a club, that I really love, but I wouldn’t necessarily play it myself. Do you know what I mean?

Yeah, 100%. But also, if you really love it, you'll want to play it out. You'll make it work somehow.

Can you tell me about the No Kerfew party? How did it all come about?

No Kerfew is our yearly party we do for our nationwide South Asian creative collective Kerfew. We've got crew all over the country and we're hoping to launch a party annually in each state. It started during lockdown just after the big Daytimers Boiler Room party - which was the catalyst for Kerfew’s beginnings.

I think over the years, I hadn't really seen many South Asian DJs. Then I met Jhassic - who's a part of Kerfew - when I first started getting into dance music. I think I booked him for a uni night or something like that. Anyway we really got along and he started sending me tracks he was making. I was like, “This is incredible, dude. What you're doing is really special.” There wasn't really a scene that supported what he was doing. We stayed in touch, and then over the years I met more and more South Asian creatives that were in similar positions.

When the daytime Boiler Room happened, I was sharing the stories on my Instagram and socials. I had all these people I know commenting and being like, "Oh my God, can't wait to see this happen in my city,” and things like that. We ended up creating a big group chat of 20 or 30 people, and we were discussing the gig and after a while we got onto the topic of how we could make something similar happen in our city or country. We started having meetings and chatting it out and that’s how it became the collective it is now.

Our aim is to make a directory of South Asian creatives in all forms, like photographers, DJs, producers and artists. We just keep meeting people that are just so insanely talented and creative, and we want to make sure that everyone gets to see their art shine. We're thinking of ways to make that happen all the time, whether it's events, workshops, or random collabs between restaurants. We recently hosted a panel in Naarm with Arushi Jain. And during WorldPride, we threw a 13.5-hour queer party across three stages.

We haven't had our No Kerfew event this year in Sydney. But that's the next thing that we're working towards, which is pretty exciting.

Are you still doing your Honey Point DJ project?

No. We recently just had our last party ever, because Dame, the other half of Honey Point, has moved overseas, unfortunately. And fortunately! We had our last party maybe a month and a half ago which was just so beautiful.

All good things must come to an end.

Bittersweet…it was a very bittersweet end.

How's your Friday night residency at 77 been going? I know that it was intended to be different musically from Saturday and Sunday’s programming.

It's been so, so fun. Every time I play on Fridays, it’s something totally different from the last set. I feel like it's really built me up as an artist and I've been able to really dive deep. It’s like, ‘What would I really want to listen to at 2:00 AM? If the crowd is pumping, how can I get them to let go more?’  Trying to find something for every occasion has been really fun, I've enjoyed this process so much. It’s really cool seeing how the energy is different every single time I go there, it provides such a good vibe to catch onto.

How do you think the residency has helped you develop as a DJ?

I feel like I am very confident in myself. I used to get really nervous before sets, but I feel really comfortable at 77, which means I can focus my energy on the music rather than trying to settle nerves or whatever. I feel really in sync with it, I think. Yeah, that's the feeling.

And what’s also been cool is Dane [Gorrell] has been taking on board a lot of DJs that I've suggested. That's also been really great because it means that I'm playing with some of my favourite artists and friends. It means that, yet again, there's another avenue of energy I can explore with that. The crowd at 77 is really good because everyone just feeds off each other. That's really nice. You don’t see that consistently very often.

Ok here’s a bit of a fun one - if you were handed programming duties for Splendour in the Grass, who would be three artists on your lineup, both local and international?

Frank Ocean for international, really would love to see him. Little Simz,I can’t stop listening to her music at the moment, but she's playing this year, so I don't know if that counts. And Charli XCX - she's such a presence to watch on stage. And then local…I would love to see 700 Feel; a live duo based in Western Sydney that make live electronic music with different flavours. I would love to see Isa, my DJ mum. She's just very phenomenal at what she does and any moment to give her her flowers. And also Setwun! Either him as a DJ, or his Soulstranauts band. So tight.

I was going to ask what was the last gig that really blew you away. But maybe, given Vivid has just been and gone, you could tell us about a memorable gig from the festival. Was there one at the Opera House that stood out for you?

Yeah, I saw Hiatus Kaiyote with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. That was so amazing. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. I had goosebumps from the moment it started; a beautiful neo-soul-meets-Disney experience. It felt like the whole crowd would start levitating at any moment.

Last question. You're hosting a dinner party and can invite any three people in the world, alive or dead. Who are you choosing and why?

I think it would be...this is going to be cheesy, but I think I would invite my mum and my two best friends.

That’s a regular dinner that you could have any time!

Yeah, I think that's what I’d want anyway!

That's a bit of a cop-out, Deepa, but I'll take it.

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