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Interview with DJ Betti Forde. Funk Is In The Heart.

Posted by Mandy Randhawa on May 31, 2024

Flygirl: It is truly mind-blowing how accomplished you are. I was trying to wrap my head around all the things you do (author, musician, DJ, lecturer, business founder, …) and I wondered, with all that you have going on, how do all these things work together? Do each of them feed into the others and spark new creativity?

DJ Betti Forde: Thank you for the kind words! It’s a balancing act, but I find that each of these roles complements and energizes the others. Being a musician and DJ keeps me grounded in the creative side of things, constantly exploring new sounds and trends. This firsthand experience feeds into my work as a professor, where I can bring real-world insights to the classroom and keep my teaching relevant and dynamic.

Running my business (Dialed-In DJs) hones my organizational and entrepreneurial skills, which are crucial whether I’m managing a class or planning a live event. Writing allows me to reflect deeply on my experiences and share them with a broader audience, which often sparks new ideas for my music and academic work.

Ultimately, it’s this interplay between the practical, creative, and academic aspects of my life that keeps things fresh and exciting. Each role I take on provides a different perspective, and they all intersect in ways that constantly inspire new projects and collaborations. It’s a whirlwind, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Flygirl: It’s not just that you do so many things, you are also incredibly successful in everything you do: your book is in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Museum and Library in Cleveland, your band Stink Mitt has songs on hit TV shows like The L Word and Lost Girls, your DJ career is exceptional, you have a Ph.D. and teach at the University of Wolverhampton, and I could go on. And on. But does one of these things bubble up for you as your first identity or biggest love? Like, what is your elevator pitch for how you would describe yourself?

DJ Betti Forde: If I had to sum up my core identity or biggest love, I’d say I’m a “creative connector.” At the heart of everything I do—whether it’s writing, performing, teaching, or running a business—it’s all about connecting with people and connecting ideas.

Music is the central thread that ties it all together for me. As a DJ and musician, I get to directly engage with audiences, creating shared experiences that are powerful and unforgettable. This passion for music deeply influences my academic work, where I love dissecting the cultural aspects of the industry and sharing those insights with my students.

So, in an elevator pitch, I’d say I’m a “musician and academic who bridges the worlds of creativity and education, constantly exploring and connecting different facets of the creative industries.” It’s this blend of roles that keeps me energized and always looking forward to the next project.

Flygirl: How did you get started in music? Was it a big part of your life growing up?

DJ Betti Forde: Music has always been a huge part of my life, and looking back, it feels like I was destined to become a DJ. Even though I didn’t DJ in public for money until I was 24, my ‘tweens, teens, and early 20s were marked by an obsession with collecting music, making mixtapes, and dancing anywhere possible. For a brief time when I was very young, my father owned a Radio Shack and some of my earliest memories are of being obsessed with the family HiFi equipment. I loved the towering wood speakers covered in soft fabric, the record player, tape deck, amplifier, and my parents’ and sisters’ records. As a pre-teen, I learned how to work the amplifier and make mix tapes. I was also obsessed with dancing.  I studied tap, jazz, and ballet throughout elementary school until I dropped out in junior high due to fat-shaming, which was unfortunately rampant in the 1980s. Despite this, my love for dancing never waned. In Grade 7, I lived for after-school dances called ‘shags’, where I would joyfully get down to Siouxsie and the Banshees, Prince, and New Order.

By age 15, thanks to my older sister’s ID, I became a ‘club kid’, going dancing at least three nights a week in Calgary’s few alternative nightclubs. I shunned mainstream top 40 clubs with terrible music and unsettling atmospheres, favouring places like The Warehouse and The Republik, where I would hang around the DJ booth, watching the (always male) DJs mix tracks on records and sometimes cassette tapes. I often pestered them about the tracks they were playing and made at least one request per night. While on the dance floor, I would anticipate the next track and when the DJ would mix it in, often guessing correctly.

I fell into DJing through my involvement with feminist activism, not realizing it would eventually become my professional livelihood. While I might say it was an accident, it’s clear that my love for playing recorded music and dancing to it has been with me since childhood, exploring my sisters’ record collections and making mix tapes on my parents’ stereo equipment.

I often reflect on how I might have been drawn to DJing earlier if there were more representations of women DJs during my club-kid days. As Bayton noted, “the lack of women role models makes it difficult for girls to identify with performers and picture themselves in such active roles.” Nevertheless, those formative years set the stage for my career in music.

Flygirl: I know you have shared the stage with so many great artists: Peaches, The Gossip, and
Cyndi Lauper to name just a few. Do you consider any of them your musical influences?
Have you had the opportunity to perform with any of your idols?

DJ Betti Forde: Yes, I’ve been extremely lucky to work with many of my idols in various capacities. Lydia Lunch was and is a big influence. I wrote a book about her in the late 90s which led to me producing a short tour for her and we’ve been friends since. Another major influence is Lady Miss Kier (Dee-light). I met her at a Stink Mitt show in NYC; I was so shocked and excited to meet her that I screamed rather maniacally, causing her to be freaked out initially. But she soon realized that I was in the band she was there to see and that I was just a huge fan. She sang my lyrics to “Camel Toe” back to me. I died, obviously. I later produced Kier’s Toronto Pride set in 2012 and we’ve stayed friends.

Other big influences that I’ve had the honour of performing with include Vancity’s own Jean Smith (Mecca Normal), Mark Moore (S’Express), Andy Bell (Erasure) and Kate Peirson (B-52s).

Recently I had the profound honour of interviewing Samantha Taylor from Video Hits; she had a massive impact on me (and thousands if not millions of others). That was a real “pinch me” moment.

I was also incredibly lucky to have spoken with Regine Zylberberg in 2020; less than two years before she passed. Most people don’t know who she is, but she basically invented nightclub culture and DJing as we know it. Look her up!

My biggest influence perhaps is Kate Bush. No, I didn’t meet or work with her, very few people have. But I saw her perform live in 2014; that touched me beyond description.

Flygirl: You do a variety of things in music: you’re a scholar, a musician, a DJ. Is there a relationship between the musical style of all these projects? How would you describe your musical style as DJ Betti Forde?

DJ Betti Forde: Funk is the heart and core of everything I play as a DJ. I was a dancer before I was a DJ so I consider myself a dancer first and foremost. When I DJ, my goal is to get everyone in the room dancing the entire time. I take the dance floor from house to hip-hop, disco to funk, retro to future, and everything in between. I’m a party rocker, in essence.

Flygirl: Do you have any life advice to share, anything that you’ve learned or that got you
through or that has helped guide your success?

DJ Betti Forde: Be authentic to yourself, meaning, always embrace what makes you unique as an artist and focus on that. Always seek inspiration but never imitate. And when you can open/push/kick down a door, hold it open so other people can enter.

Flygirl: You have already accomplished more than three or four people together might dream of doing, but do you still have any unmet goals for your career or a hope for your future?

Currently, I’m working on three book projects and a documentary film, all about DJ culture, so I want to finish those and release them onto the world. I want to continue improving as a professor and instructor. I’d like to improve as a music producer as I’ve never really had the time to take production as far as I’d like. I’d love to work as a music director for film and TV. Ultimately, I want to get a dog (or three) and live by the ocean again.

Thanks for chatting with us, DJ Betti Forde!

 

 

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