Jan 24, 2022
5 min read
Arielle Free runs on pure joy. As a touring DJ, she’s played colossal venues from Glastonbury to Creamfields to London’s Printworks.
She's also a label owner and in the midst of adding producer credits to her work of pushing dance music to the masses.
As one of the leading radio presenters in the UK, Free currently lives out her dreams on BBC Radio 1. She’s up before dawn playing dance anthems for night owls, then smoothly transitions into getting the day started for other listeners. Free’s 4-7 am show is dedicated to “people who've worked through the night and need that last bit of energy,” she says.
Free’s key show segment is the Big Whopper, a term she coined for massive hits, tunes that have an inescapable impact. When a new track lands in Free’s inbox, she knows it’s a Big Whopper when “I know the words straightaway. The beat is all killer, no filler,” she explains. “Whether it's a massive big kick drum beat or a huge big vocal, it’s something that puts a smile on your face.”
“It's really nice for me to see when I go to do a show and people come up and be like, ‘I love listening to you in the morning!’ ” Free beams. “The beauty of being able to win an audience you don’t know yet is the best thing.”
Free’s story begins in Stirling, Scotland, northeast of Glasgow. There, she became streetwise, figured out how to take care of herself, and most importantly, learned the gift of gab. She practiced ballet throughout childhood and loved having the discipline. “My journey as a ballet dancer led into me being a broadcaster because it was always about the music.”
Free discovered electronic music during the nu-rave phase in the UK – reminiscent of neon tops, legwarmers, and the sounds of Boyz Noize and the Klaxons. This led her to Hyde Park in 2007, where she witnessed Daft Punk live, and electro house took over her life. Until then, “I was a band girl through and through,” Free says, remembering years of listening to rock and R&B.
“I always wanted to be involved and immersed in music. That energy I would have brought to being a rockstar, I just put behind the decks now.” Free is relentless in her efforts to make crowds move. “I’m here to put on a great show and make you have THE MOST fun,” she says.
Today, her love endures for superstar stage productions. Free once changed a festival slot to be as early as possible to make it in time to a Spice Girls show.
Free’s interest in presenting sparked when she listened to BBC Radio 1 and dreamt of being like her idol, Zane Lowe. Free’s hustle began in 2011, making content for music-based YouTube channels, eventually joining community radio stations, and building her own audience.
Broadcaster Annie Mac was also an inspiration as she introduced countless new acts to Free’s ears. To her, it was incredible to see Mac be one of the few females to be billed, let alone headline festivals a decade ago. Now Free’s lucky to call Mac someone she can pick up the phone and call. Grateful for those who paved the way, Free plans to remain outspoken and keep paying it forward. “Girls can do it just as good as boys.”
Free got her start as a DJ for Ministry of Sound. After years in this role, Free recounts endless stories ranging from epic wins, funny moments, to completely disastrous gigs. Despite self-doubt, she’s acquiring confidence and authority in her own voice.
“I’m in a certain position of privilege in that I have a platform. DJs rely on me to play their music and big promoters rely on me talking about their festivals on the radio. But also a lot of people won’t book me because I will call them out,” if they’re not putting effort into uplifting diverse talent, she says. “And then I thought, rather than pointing out the ones that aren’t getting the females on the bill, let’s shout out the ones that are.”
Free rejoices in each opportunity to flex her many skills. “I love a good dance behind the decks,” she laughs. “Every stage manager hates me because I’m the DJ who jumps on the decks to have a dance.”
Recently, Free poured her heart into her first ever original release. “Soul Full” with Mortimer and Joe Killington is dropping via Defected’s D4Dance label. “It’s me in a track,” she says, teasing gorgeous vocals with a house and disco edge.
Free’s goal is to use her platform to support other producers and DJs. Her ambitions continue to grow through her label and event series, Free Your Mind. Ultimately, Free wants to build “a home for uplifting house music.”
Interview by RYDEN