Hailing from the ACT, Andy Garvey is one of Sydney’s best DJs, the brains behind FBi Radio’s Pure Space, and, just recently, producer of what is arguably Australia’s biggest dance music show, Triple J’s Mix Up. With a potential EP in the works, Andy brings it with her eclectic mix of underground house and techno, while passing down her knowledge to the next generation of female DJs through her involvement with FBi Radio’s Dance Class. I caught up with Andy to have a chat about production, spacey beats, and seizing the moment.
Massive congrats on the Triple J job! What does the role involve? Was it a goal for you?
Yeah, I guess so! I pick and then have to organise all the DJ mixes for the station. I had my first show air on Saturday and all my friends came around. But it’s just two days a week, so I’m kinda just DJing on the weekends. That’s my life now!
Have you always wanted to be in radio?
No. Definitely not. It was something I stumbled upon. One of my friends got me into volunteering there, front desk and stuff, maybe… three years ago? And then I tried out for presenter training, didn’t get in, started producing, tried again, got in! I think that’s the best way to do it. If you get straight in then you kinda just take exactly what you get. But taking that break I could work out what I wanted to do so I could go into the audition being like ‘I want to do this! This is my idea!’ I think if you get things too fast then sometimes it’s not great.
So after all that you now have your own underground house and techno show, Pure Space, on Monday nights. How did Pure Space come about?
That was a plan I had been working on for a while. I was doing the Future Classic show and I was feeling like it was not going to last forever. I love Chad and I love James but they were SO BUSY. Chad was in America for three months, and (James) McInnes would just not rock up sometimes, and I was like ‘…this is a lot’. And I loved that music brief but I was looking for music for the show and not for me. Then they wrapped up the show and I got maybe 6 weeks off to regroup on everything, then pitched that idea as quite a niche program. It’s kinda delving down this rabbit hole that I’m very interested in, so it’s really fun and really rewarding. And my best friend Sophie does all of the art stuff, so that’s been a kind of nice thing for us to work on together. She’s so good.
So you mentioned you went to FBi, tried to get for presenter training, and didn’t get it. Were you DJing before that? When did you first start to DJ?
I started DJing when I was straight out of high school. But I was in Canberra, and there were not many bars where you could play house music, so I was playing in this bar called Hippo Bar. That was sweet, but there was maybe a dance floor at the end of the Saturday night? It was very small cocktail bar. And then I decided to move to Sydney, and didn’t really get many gigs for quite a while, because I was just feeling out what I wanted to do like ‘?!?’. I think I did a couple of DJ competitions which were pretty naff, and then started at FBi, and that’s where I started to get gigs I really enjoyed. Because you meet lots of people who are like minded and you become a familiar face. That’s a really important part of becoming part of a community.
You seem to have more a preference for lo fi, spacey sort of beats. What draws you to that?
I don’t know… I guess I just find a lot of vocal stuff really cheesy, and I like, can’t embrace the cheese. I have a few new records that are quite vocal, and I always hesitate to play them because I’m like ‘ugh it’s so cheesy’ but then like ‘actually yeah it’s quite fun’. But it’s only very rare that they’ll come out. And that’s more like a party style set, like you need to have those ebbs and flows just to change it up. That’s another thing as well, I can’t listen to or play an hour of one genre. Like I really need that release to be able to go through those lows and highs. What I think about a lot when I’m playing is contrasting sounds. I like playing a track that’s uplifting into something that’s quite dark.
So you’ve been producing!
Yep! I have been writing stuff for maybe the last year or so. I got this track signed to a compilation, but they’ve come back and they want to do a whole EP, but like everything I’ve written so far is a bit disjointed, so I want to keep working in the same style as that finished track and make an EP. It’s actually a pretty hectic acid track that I’ve played a couple times at warehouse parties. It’s pretty fun.
So what made you decide to go into production?
That was something I think I always wanted to do but I never had any technical training. I did singing a lot when… Well I was the musical theatre captain in high school. We did West Side Story for year 12. That was the one I choreographed. I can’t remember any of it. And I don’t think there’s a video either so there’s going to be NO evidence of this. But yeah so when I first started uni in Canberra I was travelling up to Sydney once a week to go to Ableton Liveschool, which is the best place to start, in my opinion. So I did a course there, working on stuff but never feeling like anything I was making was any good. But then I started working with hardware, like I have a drum machine and a synthesiser I can connect to my computer now, and it’s a much easier process. If you just use ableton you’re just staring at the screen and now I know when I’m writing something good because I’m not sitting in my chair, I’m moving. But I definitely don’t think you need like a crazy technical skill to be able to make music, and I think that’s what originally scares a lot of people and like makes people think ‘oh I could never be a producer, I could never do this’. But you just have to think about it really hard and then it kinda starts to come together.
Talking to another Sydney DJ, Adi Toohey, she mentioned Kali was the female DJ she looked up to, but at that point there also weren’t too many female DJs around. That’s a huge contrast to now, where there are so many great ladies who are killing it in the scene. What’s your perspective on that shift, and who do you find yourself looking up to?
When I was starting out there were definitely not many female DJs, but whenever I get really frustrated one thing I always try and do is go and find interviews with female producers and stuff on YouTube. I guess there’s not one person I ever aspired to, but I’ve watched almost every interview with Grimes. Recently I’ve been watching a lot of Avalon Emerson’s interviews, Peggy Go as well, just really strong women making cool stuff. I really like their creative output and being able to listen to them and hear how they feel, what they’re doing and what interests them. When you’re like ‘what am I doing, this is bull shit’ you can aspire to be these women, then aspire hopefully get to their level, and there’ll just be more women up there. You become part of the solution I guess. But around me I’ve always had really supportive male friends, I can’t really pick a point where anyone’s bad mouthed me or put me down. It sounds so corny but I think if you just stick to your guns, don’t try and be something that you’re not, and always work really, really hard and you’ll be okay.
What would you pass on to someone who wants to get into this space?
Every now and then I’ll see new DJs that are expecting to get more than an opening slot when they definitely need a little more practice. Like you can learn to beat match, but having a library of music and having knowledge of how a dancefloor works takes quite a lot of time, and people seem to miss that a bit. One of my mottos when I was first starting out thought was ‘always say yes to things’. I remember when I was booked for my first ever all vinyl gig… I had never played vinyl!!! I had had a few records out and someone must have seen that, and this guy was like ‘oh you play records! Do you want to play an all vinyl set?’, and I was like ‘…ok! Why not! Sure!’. But push yourself, be able to fluke it if you need to, and practice, practice, practice, practice. Go for those things that only come your way every now and then, and people start to think of you who’s always up for something new.
So what’s next for you?
I think just like… doin’ this year. It feels like the Triple J stuff is going to end up being a lot bigger than I first expected it to be, which is something that I’m only being told now. Working on music. If that will end up being an EP on that label then doing that. It’s not written yet, so who knows. I’m going to go over to Europe in August, which is exciting, and I’m going to try and hook up some gigs and also try and do some radio over there. And yeah. Just keep seeing what comes along.