During the pandemic, Carly Wilford came across a study claiming that only 2% of all music producers were women. Reading that stat, she says, “gave me the fire under my feet to learn.”

Three years on and that stat has nudged slightly higher after Wilford released her debut single “Generation X” with Mr. V on Toolroom and “The Awakening,” a “late-night-meets-early-morning house anthem” released in early 2023 on Armada Subjekt.

Wilford has a different type of story from the typical “artist on the rise” in profile. She taught herself how to DJ on after first discovering house music and targeting local record shops to “hunt out anything with a banging vocal. Mixing on vinyl is so different to mixing on CDJs but it gives you a brilliant ear and understanding of the structure of the tunes.”

Arriving at Rinse FM, Wilford started out as a co-host on SK Vibemakers before becoming a presenter on The Breakfast Club every morning from 7 to 10am. “It was such an incredible time on the station as so many of the artists smashing it right now had shows,” Wilford says. “Maya Jama, Julie Adenuga and Yinka Bokinni were all presenting in the daytime and producers like Four Tet, Artwork and Gorgon City had specialist shows. The Breakfast Club was so much fun, waking up on air with your listeners and introducing them to the music and artists that you rate is the best way to start a day.”

That was when she started DJing out. “Living in London was so expensive and I needed an income so I decided to hide in the corner of dark bars in East London and learn how to work a room. Sometimes the sets were really long but you learn so much so quickly when there is a crowd in front of you.” Emerging from the cobwebbed corners, Wilford has since played sets at festivals and clubs including Parklife, Bestival, Wireless, Reading, Isle of Wight, Citadel, Fabric, XOYO and Ministry of Sound.

After working hard to develop her career behind the decks, Wilford says she felt like she “hit a glass ceiling.” She turned to production but felt somewhat aimless. “Spending time on YouTube I started to make some basic beats,” she says, “but it wasn’t the type of music that would go off in my sets. So I started to look for a production course. That’s when I came across the Toolroom Academy Course and it changed everything.”

This was January 2020, three months before the start of the pandemic. Studying music virtually with people all around the world was “massively powerful. We were all experiencing different versions of lockdown and sharing our experiences as well as making music our focus.

“It’s an experience I’ll never forget and one that changed the course of my career.”

Though initially overwhelming, Wilford was soon spending hours in Ableton “making beat loops and working with different synths. At the end of three months, I’d almost finished ‘Generation X’ with Mr. V. and it went on to become the first track that I released.” It was released by Toolroom itself just ten months after she started the course.

Jumping ahead now to 2023 and Carly has connected with Armada Subjekt, “a label that I have always loved, being a huge fan of Andrea Oliva, Marco Lys and Mark Knight.” It seemed the right place for “The Awakening,” a track with a “more underground” vibe compared to her previous releases — road-tested at Ministry of Sound and Glastonbury and evoking the hazy morning twilight that marks the end of the clubber and raver’s days.

“Whenever I finish a gig, I often drive home as the sun is coming up,” she says. “It’s such a crazy time of day as a lot of people are getting up for work and you can lay in bed trying to sleep as the world starts to wake up. ‘The Awakening’ is very much based around those transcendental moments where you’re half awake and half asleep.

“As a DJ, your relationship with sleep can be quite crazy. Whether you have to get up early for a flight or go straight to the airport after a set. It’s something you crave but also something that you can struggle with, especially if you’ve just stepped off stage. There’s been so many moments where one minute you’re playing to thousands of people and the next you’re in a hotel room on your own. ‘The Awakening’ came to life from those experiences.”