Brick by brick is how DJ Anna Wall builds her house.
She had brush with fame the other day. Hungover, she woke in her Dalston flat to a friend’s message declaring her appearance in that day’s Sun, dubbed, “one of UK house music’s rising stars for 2013”. She insists she is “nobody,” but the Sun’s mention clearly has the 25-year-old DJ chuffed.
It was two years ago the last time she felt this much of a celebrity. Spinning records over Croatian Yacht Week – where an exodus of young tourists sail the Baltic by day and club on land by night – she had an entire boat crew starstruck, tripping over each other to feed her a steady stream of drinks.
She recounts the story in her husky voice with a tumble of laughter; back in London, “no one gave a shit about me here!”
She brushes it off, but the thing is, people do give a shit. Anna’s life can easily sound like that week in Croatia never got hit by the harsh English reality. Last year Mixmag set her atop their Miami penthouse where, nestled between giant bottles of Grey Goose, she played via live stream to thousands.
Anna’s gigs have taken her around the world, from grand stages at open-air Turkish arenas to the dank underground of Berlin nightclubs. Just last month she was back among the neon and palms for Miami Music Week, one of the world’s most popular annual destinations for electronic music artists, fans and performers.
This paints a picture of jet-setters’ dream, filled with bubbling champagne, VIP parties and first class plane tickets – a painting that Anna is quick to take down. “I think very few people actually live that superstar DJ lifestyle. Those people aren’t really DJs, anyway – they’re pop stars.”
It is not the jet-setting that interests her, anyway. For Anna it is, and always has been, about the the music. As a youngster she was banging on some drums one week, moving on to the trumpet or experimenting with her Yamaha keyboard the next. She played house parties for fun while studying communications at Northumbria University, but never thought it would lead to anything professional.
Now she spends days promoting the work of other DJs at the internationally-recognised, London-based house label Defected Records, and nighttime sessions at home cranking out her own deep, melodic sound. With several remixes released over the past twelve months and steady hours put in perfecting her homegrown Soundcloud mix series The Bricks That Made My House, Anna only stops when she’s sleeping. Her creations themselves often sound like something out of a cosmic dream – an “escapism”, she calls it – making it entirely believable that the beat goes on even in her own nocturnal visions. “Some girls look up to Britney Spears”, she says. “My influences are 30-plus old-school house DJs from Detroit!”
Anna is equally as addicted to work as she is to music. “My sister’s always like, ‘Why are you going out raving all the time?’ She doesn’t understand that it’s a career choice, she just thinks I’m some bonkers party animal. I always have to tell her, ‘I’m working!'”
She arrives this evening straight after a full day at Defected, where she has managed promotions for the last three years. It was her first day back after a seriously ugly bout with the flu. She must be tired, but she is smiling. As if hiding a dirty little secret, she lifts the strap of her heavy shoulder bag over head and pulls back the flap to reveal its contents: three brand-new records. She proudly presents each one before gently slotting them back in her bag and sitting down to her pint.
Her style is casual; today she’s wearing loose trousers, trainers and a plain, dark hood. She tugs on the strings and shrugs: “I don’t dress like anything when I play – I dress like this. I don’t want people to see me, I want the music to speak for itself.”
Female DJs are vastly outnumbered by the men that dominate the industry, and many get noticed for their looks first and talent second. This does not seem to particularly trouble Anna, although standing up for herself is not something that always came naturally.
She said: “It’s a known fact, and a lot of people will say that the music industry is male-dominated. When women are taking on predominantly male roles – these are newly-charted lands, you know – some will have that macho attitude towards women doing things they ‘shouldn’t be’.”
In her five years or so of DJing, she has to confront the guys who, refusing to share the stage with a girl, threatened to boot her out of her rightful place. “You’ve got to give back as much as you get,” she says. “Once I got my confidence I just said, ‘nah ah’ it’s my turn now, thank you very much!
“At first I was a little bit intimidated by male DJs, but then I came to feel I was good enough to play. It took me a long time to build up the confidence to say to the drunk guys who won’t let the girls up on the decks that ‘I deserve to be here right alongside you’.”
Anna has experience now in what DJing is all about; the psychology of human trust. You start out slowly, leaving a trail of crumbs to follow. Once you have a dancefloor eating out of your hand, you can take some real chances. You can play something you’ve never played before: “Then, you never know what might happen,” she says with a smile.
Behind all the walls, though, there is simply Anna: the one who finds it all a bit bizarre, because she never expected to play anywhere but friends’ house parties or her own bedroom. She considers herself to still be at the bottom rung, with many more empty dancefloors left to win over. Which is exactly what is so refreshing about her; regardless of what happens today, tomorrow or next year, Anna would still just be doing what she’s doing – happy as long as the music doesn’t stop.
“I don’t know how to stop,” she says.
Anna Wall is playing We Are FSTVL in Upminster on May 25.