I first met DJ Paulette in 2019 at the Brighton Music Conference. It followed an uncomfortable exchange at one of the panels, in which a young industry hotshot attempted to explain metrics-based A&R to her, a woman who signed and worked with several of the most iconic artists and labels in UK dance music history. The encounter struck me enough to follow up with Paulette outside, exchange details, and ask her for a quote about the state of the industry which I included in full in my article about the conference.

At that point I had no idea that DJ Paulette was in the process of writing a book about her life and work, and that so much of her rise had been punctuated by similar underestimations and dismissals. And, I mean, of course it was. Anyone with a social media account and/or a female friend should know the issues all-too well. I like to think I’m a pretty good listener, but reading this funny, touching and well-written memoir showed me at least one blind spot that I had.

In this young industry, which is now starting to become much less of a “boys club” and (I hope) gradually transforming into a place where women don’t feel intimidated and talked down to when walking into a record shop, buying tech or trying to learn about production, is there even a space for older women? Do we see a woman’s experience and wisdom as having the same authority, the same gravitas as a man’s? Words like “veteran” and “legend” are still largely reserved for men. And Welcome To The Club has shown me that because of this, sometimes women can find it difficult to place their achievements on the same level as men’s, even when they match or out-do them. As I read the book I realised that in my own journey through the music industry, I’ve had at least three massively influential female mentors, all powerful, inimitable, confident (Nou, Blush, Taf — thank you). And Paulette’s confessional made me wonder if maybe they don’t know that about themselves. Maybe they’ve had to put on a veneer of self-assurance to gain entry to “the club,” but there’s a possibility they don’t see themselves as mentors, as leaders, because most people still don’t treat them that way. If there’s a takeaway here for me, it’s this: if there are women who’ve taught you, influenced you, mentored you, even simply introduced you new music, tell them and thank them. Because there’s a chance they might not know. As Paulette told me when I ran my response past her: “This is the reason why I have tried to name check so many people, so that there is no question and that everybody knows.”

Paulette’s book challenges us to look around us every once in a while and make sure everyone is getting the props they deserve. While the first half of the book outlines many of the struggles and hidden figures that are all-too-familiar to those of us in the music biz with even half an eye open, what’s different about Paulette’s voice is that the second half offers a lot of truly sage advice, wisdom and even some hope in these weird and divided times. Having devoured the book on holiday, I jotted down some questions in the margins, and Paulette was kind enough to answer them for me.

DJ Paulette Welcome to the Club book cover
DJ Paulette’s Welcome to the Club is out now, published by Manchester University Press.

How was the process of writing the book for you? Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to get across when you started out, and if so, how different is the final version to that initial vision? Were there any surprises along the way?

I’ve never written a book before, but I loved the creative process of writing this book. I knew I already had plenty of ideas floating about in my head, on hard drives, in notebooks and on old laptops. Once I pulled them together it was easy to sketch out how it should look and what shape it would take, in the regular meetings with my commissioning editor Tom Dark. I decided on the chapter titles, read a lot of books and articles, watched a lot of documentaries harvesting ideas, notes, quotes and interviews that I thought would provide useful commentary. From my first blank page to the finished hardback, writing Welcome To The Club was an epic, intense adventure in putting the puzzle together. I mapped the structure for all the interviews, putting the strongest arguments into each relevant section. I knew I wanted to dedicate an entire chapter to women’s experiences, but after a couple of drafts something wasn’t working. This chapter snapped into sharper focus once I changed the title.

The first drafts saw me writing in a different world: some of those ideas drifted in and out of the paragraphs until they settled in a forever chapter home. A lot of them were dropped. Too many stories and too many voices were drowning out my own, so the work was to strike a healthy balance between what I wanted to say, what I left them to say and what I was okay with leaving out. The developmental edit was brutal and stressful. I struggled with the question, “How could I be writing about hidden histories then cut out those parts that contributed massively but wouldn’t resonate enough with the reader, that would divert from the core message or that didn’t play enough of a part in my story?”

‘My most important grounding tool is to be in the moment and know that in each moment I am alright.’

I thought I had a clear idea of what I wanted to say as soon as I started writing but reading the finished hardback is an eye opener. The book has changed so much from the submission in November 2021 to its baby steps in January 2022 to delivery of the final manuscript in December 2022. The title changed three times before we settled on Welcome To The Club. I remember being so happy when I nailed the title. The subtitle was supposed to change but eventually we kept it and I put a lot of work into the footnotes. They read like a whole other book plus they are funny and have a lot of geeky information in them so please read to the end. I’m proud of the work I did there too.

There were a few surprises — chapter one was too long so was split into two parts, thus increasing the word count. Copyright and legal meant that certain names, people, places, direct or long quotes from songs, poems and books were cut. Whilst the edits felt never ending, I can still find the odd mistake. I missed two important tracks off the discography — if you compare with the Spotify playlist you will see which they are. The biggest surprise was that I met every deadline and delivered the book on time despite working, DJ’ing throughout, getting COVID twice and losing my laptop to repair twice and for five weeks in total. I didn’t ask for one extension, but the publication date still changed from November to January.

I found the title interesting. Is “the club” you refer to the scene? The industry? Both? In the book you shout out those who made you feel welcomed into “the club” during your long career (and lifetime achievement award), but do you still feel like you’re on the outside at times?

Yes, firstly the club is the obvious nightclub — Manchester nightlife, The Number 1 Club, the Haçienda, The Zap Club and The Ministry of Sound; all of those places where I found my tribe and a job that turned into a career that has turned into a life’s work. The club is the industry and the scene itself that this job has opened doors on. The next club is the club that the pioneering women have created and continue to create. Yet within each chapter and discussion, the welcome becomes wry and satirical as the club becomes more exclusive, not less. Eventually it becomes that place at the “every person” and pandemic intersection, where no matter what nationality we have, or no matter what we do for a living we find that we all have the same or similar experiences that join and bind us together and that this mirrors and ripples into the outside world. The club is also the book community which welcomes and advises the reader it has engaged.

I feel a lot less of an outsider and am a lot more supported at this stage in my career than I ever have which is a great place to be. But there are still little pockets of darkness where I meet the kind of attitudes that I hoped we could soon be done with, such as the misogyny of a promoter who doesn’t think women deserve respectable fees (especially the one where someone threatened that I would never work again for my agent having asked). Then there’s the sexism of the DJ who felt it was necessary to mansplain the mixer to me during the takeover at a festival.


5 Mag Issue 212
Out April 2024

BELOVED: This was originally published in 5 Mag Issue #212 featuring an oral history of Freerange, DJ Paulette, Black Sjuan, Elbert Phillips, Dark Heaven and more. Become a member for $2/month and get every issue in your inbox right away!


I’m wondering if the process of writing the book prompted any revelations, as you reflected on your life in music and put it all down on paper? Were there any mysteries you solved, or realisations you had about your personal and professional history, relationships, etc.?

Interestingly, I thought I would go hard on Peter Hook, Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster for their omissions but their interviews gave me a refreshing shift in perspective that helped me to reframe the arguments around why certain histories remain hidden or incomplete. It made me realise that it could also be the process of writing a book that was at fault. They inspired me to write that part about being “guilty of hiding some bodies myself.”

Has journaling always been a part of your life? I see you mentioned it during the COVID chapter, but have you kept a diary throughout the years? Other than helping write a great book, what are the benefits you’ve found from journaling?

Yes, I’ve journaled since I was very young, and I still keep a diary. Benefits? It helps me to identify patterns in moods and behaviours: I can filter what’s important and what’s not a lot better when I write it down. It also helps me to set goals and write mood boards for the month and year. It helps to download information when my mind feels “at capacity.” It’s my mental health yoga.

Marcia Carr’s quote — “It was hard to become something you can’t see” — was very impactful. What do you think will be the difference for the next generation of young Black/female DJs, having the likes of you around as a reference point and a roadmap? How do you think things would have been different for you if you’d had that?

I hope my experience provides a bridge and a support for others. I hope that my influence is to show others that they can speak up without fear of reprisal and be listened to. I hope that my being there and doing this means that they know they will mature beautifully and keep improving and that they can follow their path to a lucrative and rightful end. If my presence shows anything at all it’s that no one should feel that pressure to give up simply because they are older and feel manipulated by society’s expectations or because of the systemic -isms (racism, sexism and ageism) that would prefer that their creative life stopped at least thirty years before men’s does.

‘No one should feel that pressure to give up simply because they feel manipulated by society’s expectations or because of the systemic -isms (racism, sexism and ageism) that would prefer that their creative life stopped at least thirty years before men’s does.’

Is there a part of you that likes the fact that there was no blueprint, no map when you started this? There must be a real personal sense of achievement (despite the lack of recognition) in having been among the first to blaze this trail? In spite of the hardships, does it somehow feel more meaningful to have been a pioneer?

All of me loves that there was no blueprint — for me, discovery is one of the cornerstones of creativity. Be the first or be the best, that’s my motto. Which would you rather do? Tread a clear path with no risk or discover and contribute to creating a new culture that blossoms into the thing we enjoy now?

You mentioned Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential as an inspiration and a touchstone for your book. What other autobiographical works have inspired you, musical or otherwise?

  • Michaela Coel – Misfits
  • Gina Yashere – Cack-Handed
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. – Letter from Birmingham Jail
  • Malala – I Am Malala

These books have inspired me because they aren’t celebrity or rock-and-roll excess driven. They are inspired by a painful event that could have destroyed them but it became transformative, educational/instructional, beautiful and life changing. Triumph over adversity always interests me more. I need to know how.

The second half of the poignant Chapter 5 “How To Kill A DJ” contains a great deal of wisdom both for the music biz and for life. You wrote “It’s hard to keep your fists up when you’re gasping for air but it ain’t over till you call it. Anchor yourself. Then keep going.” What are some the things you’ve found that help you “anchor yourself” over the years?

Remembering as Anthony H. Pike said “that you can’t always be everybody’s cup of tea” is always liberating. It reminds me to focus on what I want and am happy with and to surround myself with or take it to people who appreciate me for who I am and what I do. Conversely, it reminds me to give zero fucks about what anybody else thinks and power on.

My most important grounding tool is to be in the moment and know that in each moment I am alright.

And if my mind is too busy, I take the most intrusive thought and CTRL-ALT-DEL it until it stops bothering me.

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You mentioned therapy in the book. What have been some of the benefits for you? It can feel like quiet self exploration is at odds with the traditional excesses associated with the music biz, but do you think perhaps the gap is closing now?

Therapy has helped me to do many things. It has helped me to clear a lot of bandwidth — it’s like deleting the cookies off your browser. We hold on to a lot of memories and situations that we really don’t need to recall so in this respect therapy is magic.

Self-exploration and awareness are healthy and massively important. We must be accountable and responsible for our own actions, and it helps in negotiations in the every day if we can see how our actions affect others. This is at odds with a lot of the excesses which is one of the reasons why I don’t drink or drug. I like, need and enjoy being/living in my real head thank you! Therapy is good for guiding us through this deep forest. Therapy helps to reinforce the good stuff like self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem and calms anxiety, all of which can all take a hammering in this competitive, social media driven world.

Right at the end of the book you wrote “… none of us really knew what we were doing but we did it anyway because we loved it, we believed in it and we believed in our capacity to created whatever structure we cared to build.” I sense that perhaps that lack of knowledge allowed those who claimed to know better to structure the electronic music biz in the same old way it had always been done. I feel like you’re hinting at a paradigm shift in these pages. Is dance music still a young enough industry to change course without too much inertia? If so, what do you think that structure might look like?

Maybe in some fields this is true but I think the people who started not knowing became canny and the ones who knew a bit more about business stepped naturally into the management role. The problem came when the fun, unknowing businesses either floated on the stock exchange or got bought out by major corporations, that’s when I see the mirroring begin to happen.

But yes, I think that rave culture and dance music is young enough to change course. It’s only been going since the ’90s and there is a new generation of people coming through who will soon be running things based on their younger business models. There’s always hope that new blood will beat the systemic rot by bringing fresh ideas, more diverse and inclusive attitudes and new ways of doing things.

DJ Paulette‘s Welcome to the Club is out now, published by Manchester University Press.


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