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Chal Ravens

Chal Ravens writes about new electronic music. Her route into journalism was relatively conventional, writing a blog and rising through the ranks of her student newspaper, before an opening at FACT magazine gave her an introduction to the lightning-paced world of digital media. In 2017, Chal decided to go freelance and frequently contributes to Pitchfork, The Guardian, The Wire and, until recently, presented Top Flight - a weekly show on Red Bull radio. Through her work, Chal explores beyond the foreground of house and techno, finding sounds from across the world, emerging from places where young people are building upon local, traditional music styles through newly available technologies.

In the time you’ve been writing about music, what are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed? The ways that people absorb and interact with writing has changed a lot. As a kid, I read NME every week. It didn't matter who was on the cover. I’d read it cover to cover, I’d read letters, news, features, album reviews, live reviews, the funny chat at the back. I’d read an album review by someone you’ve never heard of just because it's on the page next to all the other reviews. That experience of having a totally eclectic, but culturated selection of recommendations and condemnations just isn't replicable online.

Websites try to get you onto specific pages, hoping you’ll go onto some other pages through that, but it does mean that something like an album review or a live review especially, or articles about people who just aren’t famous yet, really struggle to cut through.

Which makes platforming new things much harder… It’s harder to get people to click on something when they don't know what it is. No one's going to be like: “Oh, I'm going to read this live review of a festival I didn't go to”, but maybe if it was on a page with a load of other stuff, it might be fun to read.

Top Flight, the show you presented on Red Bull Radio, felt like an attempt to remedy that, and actively platform new music. It was interesting that you approached it from a journalistic perspective, rather than in the style of a typical DJ mix show. Can you tell us a bit about it? The idea of Top Flight was to be journalist-led radio show, playing music that was dancefloor, but outside of the house and techno universe, which is obviously a lot of stuff, largely I covered stuff that was coming out of the UK or rooted in the UK hardcore continuum. A lot of breaks and bass and mutations of that stuff.

But then also, a lot of the stuff I got really excited about was from Uganda, like the Nyege label and stuff from Shanghai on SVBKVLT, or sounds from Mexico and Latin or South America. I am interested in global sounds, the way that things were mutating, and the way DJs were making links between them as well.

“A lot of the stuff I got really excited about was from Uganda, like the Nyenge label and stuff from Shanghai on SVBKVLT. Or sounds from Mexico and Latin or South America. I am interested in global sounds and the way that some of those things were mutating…“

How did you prepare for each show? It seems really obvious to me that we’re in a really great moment for dance music, if you look away from some of the mainstream options. It was a selection based on really new stuff. I never played anything that was more than a month old and I always had a guest, some of the them were vintage figures, people like Kode9 and DJ Die, older dudes with skin in the game and loads of stories, and then people who are brand new, who are coming out of scenes where things are changing all the time.

Almost all radio shows are DJ mix shows and the point of this was to make a radio show in a more traditional sense. I didn’t even mix the tunes, I just introduced them, and talked about them, which is an eccentric and weird way to do it, but it would have taken a much more talented DJ than me to mix all of those styles together.

How do you make sure you’re improving? If you’re paying attention and you’re plugged in, then your knowledge expands and you have more to say - you have a broader context and more to add to the conversation at any point. A review I wrote 10 years ago couldn’t be as nuanced as one I write now because I literally know more stuff. I hope that would be true of anyone in any job.

I think the way that you do that is by having conversations with people and by reading and reading and reading and reading. As an editor, what I found really obvious when I was reading people’s work, they were writing something and they were submitting it to me, but you could just tell that they weren’t really reading because, by reading, you notice cliché, and you avoid them. You learn about stylistic ways to open a sentence, that kind of thing. I think that’s a really base level thing to improve on work.

“A lot of the stuff I got really excited about was from Uganda, like the Nyenge label and stuff from Shanghai on SVBKVLT. Or sounds from Mexico and Latin or South America. I am interested in global sounds and the way that some of those things were mutating…“

What’s exciting you right now? The shift away from non-Anglo, non-Euro, non-North American forms, and the shift towards electronic music emerging from the global south, which is obviously a product on technology developing and reaching into new areas, the way that we saw Shangaan Electro forming: a traditional style gone digital. That effect has happened in so many countries now and you have another generation of younger kids who are globally connected. Someone like Slickback, from Kenya, who’s really knowledgeable about Hyperdub and stuff from Europe, but is completely bringing his own styles and rhythms and cultural specificity, that blending and the DJs who are good picking it out are really exciting to me. I’d say anyone who is not positive about new music is really not paying any attention.

On a political and social level, the change is phenomenal. At FACT, we’d be struggling to find women DJs and producers to feature on the site, and that is just not that case now, there are issues, but in terms of the demographic change, and issues and politics have really come back into play. That’s a lot of positives to be drawn.

Vote for Chal Ravens if you want to hear more from them. Each of the Curators selections with the most votes will receive further exposure, a mentoring session with one of the curators and the opportunity to create a podcast that shares their own story.

The Curator
There’s a lot of nostalgia when it comes to rave culture and I feel like Chal doesn’t fall into that. She’s like trying to look into a future of dance music that could be progressive in some way

Holly Herndon, Berlin-based electronic composer and musician on Chal Ravens