Midlands Zone Readers’ Awards 2019 Best Club DJ winner Robbie Lewis chats about his career, musical influences and life away from the DJ booth...
What’s the best thing about working in the Gay Village, Robbie, and in particular at the Nightingale?
I absolutely love my job, so being able to get up and play in front of all those people every week is something that never gets old. Also, the dancers, other DJs and the management team are great people who are very creative. We have a lot of fun working together.
Talk through a typical Saturday night in the village...
I arrive in Birmingham around 10pm and set up the club. If I get time, I'll experiment with the lighting or stage setup to keep things fresh. The ground floor fills up as soon as we open, and it's high energy right till the very end. Around midnight the dancers join me on stage and it becomes a bit more of a performance. By performance, I mean the dancers being amazing and me dancing badly! At 2am, Just Soriah takes over and takes the music in some cool new direction. She's very good at that.
How long have you been in the DJ business and what first attracted you to the job?
Eleven years now! I started out in Leicester playing the back room in the only gay club there at the time. I’d been working as a barman previously and figured out pretty quickly that the DJ booth was for me.
You were part of a duo called The Mix Munkies. What influenced your decision to go solo?
I'm really proud of what Sam and I did with Mix Munkies. We achieved a lot, and I wouldn't have got this far without it. In 2013 we were both trying other things. During that time I got a solo gig at a club in Leicester and realised that I wanted to push ahead on my own.
You’ve worked with numerous other DJs. Who’s been the best to work with?
I've done a lot of work with Lisa Lashes - she's been a great friend and inspiration over the years. Driving around to different cities can sometimes be a bit lonely, so it's hanging out with the other residents that I really appreciate. Just Soriah, Richard Moon, Simon Harris, DJ Corey are all great friends who I've worked with for many years now.
Who’s influenced you most as a DJ?
I try to focus on being a really good resident DJ. That means I get to know my crowd really well and work hard to give them what they want every week. So I take influence from the scene. If a new track drops on Drag Race and it'll work in the club, then I'll have it on the following weekend.
What are the advantages & disadvantages of being a DJ?
I love partying. Being able to steer the ship on a busy night in the club is the best thing in the world. I also love the creativity and all the different people you meet. The disadvantage is that successful DJs don't get very much sleep!
If you could change one thing on the scene, what would it be?
I'd bring back the days when bars and clubs were packed every night of the week! I'd also like to see more ‘production’ in clubs in general. By this I mean dancers, performers, lighting and special effects. It's something we're really focused on at the Nightingale, and I consider it an integral part of my performances.
What’s your view on the current unrest in the Gay Village that’s been caused by the proposal to build more residential properties?
I'm very aware of the growing threat to our nightlife from poor residential planning. I've been involved in petitioning Birmingham City Council at every stage, and I encourage others to do the same. It's an issue affecting the nighttime industry across the UK, and it needs constant effort from communities to prevent further erosion.
As part of the organising team for Leicester Pride, what are your views on the recent call for a straight Pride?
The mere suggestion of it is insulting to the members of our community who are still fighting every day to gain acceptance and freedom of identity. It shows that we still have a lot of work to do.
What would be your ideal night out away from work?
Pizza, Xbox and an early night!
What would be your second career choice?
In the daytime I work as a web developer, integrating ecommerce websites with back-end systems. It's a great mix of creativity and problem-solving, and sitting in a chair all day gives me a welcome rest after the weekend!
Where did you grow up?
In a little village near Leicester. My childhood was spent making dens in the woods and riding my bike. I still live nearby, in a village 10 minutes away. I love the city, but when I'm at home I like the peace and quiet.
When did you first realise you were gay?
I was aware of it before I even knew what ‘gay’ was. I had relationships with boys and girls until I was 21. At university I thought I'd give having a girlfriend one last go. That didn't work out, so I've considered myself gay ever since.
When did you come out?
My mum is a lesbian and I'm fairly sure she knew all along. I never felt any pressure to be one thing or the other. I'm very thankful for that and understand how lucky I am compared to some.
What would you say to your 18-year-old self?
Buy facebook.com, twitter.com, instagram.com and snapchat.com now, and in 10 years you'll be rich!
What makes you angry?
I find party politics very frustrating - when our elected MPs spend more time vying for control than tackling important issues. It also annoys me that so much misinformation is spread across social media and the tabloid press. Both of these issues waste so much time and energy and are of no real benefit to society.
What makes you sad?
It makes me sad that our trans and non-binary community are experiencing the same struggles that LGBT people have been facing for decades. We must support them in achieving the same liberties and freedoms that we’re beginning to enjoy. There’s still so much work to do through Pride events and in our local communities.
What makes you smile?
When I drop an old or obscure track and everyone in the crowd goes ‘Ohhhh!’ because they know it. Or when we're on stage and one of the dancers does something really cool or unexpected and the whole crowd screams. If we have a few of those moments during a night, I go home feeling great.
Are you a gym junkie?
Yeah, a little bit. I only got serious about it a couple of years ago. It’s definitely become a bit of an addiction, but there are far worse ones to have, I suppose.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I'd like to be a little bit shorter! I'm all arms and legs, to be honest, a bit clumsy - and it's hard to find t-shirts that fit. I've got quite a few dents in my head too, so let's hope I don't lose my hair.
How important is your appearance?
Good skin and hair will do for me. I'm no fashionista, so I have to work on the bits that I’m able to do well. Working with the performers at the Nightingale has taught me that confidence can come from all sorts of places. The looks they throw are consistently amazing. Unfortunately I lack such talent.
Who’s your all-time favourite music artist?
I actually love all music genres. In the car I listen to rock and metal; in the gym, drum & bass and dubstep. At work I listen to classical. So it's a tough one. For club music I'll go for Whitney Houston, Destiny's Child and Missy Elliot.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
It's going to sound corny but getting my residency again at the Nightingale. I first started at the club in 2010 as part of Mix Munkies, and we were residents until financial problems forced the club to close. It took four years of hard work to prove to the new management that I had what it takes. I gave a great performance in The Loft at Birmingham Pride 2017, and that's when I got the call.
You can catch Robbie as a resident DJ at Helsinki in Leicester and the Nightingale Club in Birmingham.
He will also be performing on the main stage at Leicester Pride on Saturday 31 August.
You can follow Robbie on Instagram at @djrobbielewis
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