Dj Rae’s silky voice adds a scintillating layer of soul to every track she touches. One of the few multi-hyphenate women in dance music, the British singer, songwriter, producer, and DJ has worked closely with industry legends like Todd Terry, Kenny Dope, Roger Sanchez, Kevin Saunderson, and MK. Her smoky alto is a unique force in dance music. She effortlessly takes command of any genre, and her lyrics have heightened the emotional impact of releases on lauded labels like Toolroom, Defected, Knee Deep In Sound, and Farris Wheel.
She discovered her superpower early in life. She doesn't come from a particularly musical family, but they did have good taste in music. The music she heard in the home had a powerful impact on her.
She recalls one of the most joyous memories of her childhood, sifting through Motown records her parents had. “They kept [them] in a little red leather box which felt quite special…The Supremes album stuck out to me, it's got lips on the cover. I took it and played it relentlessly and did the whole hairbrush thing in the bedroom.”
She absorbed every sound in her orbit. And when she began to hear the pulse of the kick drum thumping through the walls, she was captivated.
“I used to hear these beats coming from his bedroom and I was just enthralled,” she recalls. “So obviously when he went out, I would go and try and find where that music came from. I just kind of latched on to it. I was probably quite annoying to him at the time. And so, I had to do everything on the DL.”
She was good at swiping his CDs and tapes, and by the time she was old enough to go out, house music had brought her and her brother together in a special way.
“House music did [that] for so many different kind of relationships. It just kind of it just allowed bridges to happen.”
Being in the building when a DJ performed was a transcendent experience for Rae. She was on the dancefloor when she realized her life purpose.
“I'd just be kind of standing the club like looking, thinking ‘That's where I need to be.’ It was just this yearning. I really want to be playing the music to people like me.”
So, when her brother got turntables, she saw her window of opportunity open.
“The timing of it was just so beautiful. It was as if the tapestry of my life just kind of played out so well.” She already had a collection of vinyl but had no way to weave it all together.
“I didn't know really what I was doing, I was just stumbling around, finding my way, and doing what felt natural to me.”
Rae continued to do what felt right, and manifest opportunities for herself. Her ability to magnetize is a talent that almost rivals her innate musical abilities. She never misses an opportunity. When she was leaving Ibiza and heard Sandy Rivera was going to play at Bora Bora, she grabbed her records and asked the owner if she could step in and DJ when he was late. It put her right behind the decks with him and sparked a working relationship and friendship that would last for years. The pair have collaborated on a number of hits including their rework of Kosheen’s “Hide U.”
There’s a sense of nostalgia that overcomes her when she sings dance classics like that. And she gets to do it often with Hacienda Classical, an ensemble that performs classical renditions of dance music’s most iconic songs. It sparks visceral memories of singing to her brother’s CDs and tapes in her room as a kid.
“I remember being in my old bedroom singing to Inner City and quite a few of the songs that we do in the Hacienda Classical. And to do it with live orchestra with thousands of people in front of you, it's just the most beautiful way of delivering such timeless songs. Honestly, I have goosebumps so often throughout the show.”
When COVID obliterated her gig schedule, she hit the studio hard. She also found out she was pregnant, so the break from late nights and early flights was perfect timing.
“I made loads of music. I was able to sit here in my studio, and produce, write, and sing and do all the things that I love,” She explains. One of the projects that came out of that time was her collaboration with David Morales, “Something I’m Going Through,” a poignant, soulful, and personal number.
“Sometimes it feels like there's that cloud over you and I don't like that feeling. I need an outlet for it just get the weight off my shoulders. That process for me, making a song like that, it really does just lift your spirits. It’s so strange, because you sometimes write and [are] almost in tears doing it, but then it's just cathartic to get it out there. It's like writing pages in your diary. Once it's done, now [you] can breathe.”
Now that her beautiful baby girl is in the world, she’s shifting her focus. “So, this time I have to be a devoted mother. There's still so much happening as the overspill of all that work that I plowed into when I had the time. I know that I will find the time again, as well. As a parent, any parent knows there's windows, and it never feels like a chore. If I really want to make a certain thing happen, I'll make it happen and I won't compromise her. I won't compromise the music, it will just happen naturally.”
She wants her baby to grow up in a world where vocalists get the same kind of recognition as producers and DJs. They make invaluable contributions to dance music, yet often go completely unrecognized.
“I've always also wanted to try to champion that. Because so many people will be like, ‘Oh yeah, I know that song, but I didn't know that was you, or I didn't know that was her or him.’ You would not know so many of the greatest voices of house music if they literally walked past you right now. And I really want a chance to kind of change that in my career. And I hope that it is changing now. So, the voices have a face, have a name, have a profile that people know, and I will keep trying to champion that for as long as I'm doing this.”
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