— Jossy Mitsu —

On growing up in Birmingham, ’90s compilations, long hours at fabric and The Nest, studying Biology at UCL, Rinse FM, Astral Black and honing her skills on upcoming debut EP, ‘Planet J’.

(All photos submitted by Jossy Mitsu)

It’s been a challenging 12 months for Jossy Mitsu. A talented, hi-energy and explosive DJ behind the decks but quiet, introspective and thoughtful in her own company, a year of both perpetual lockdown and personal loss has thrown up obstacles she didn’t think she’d have to overcome so early in her career. Having only recorded her first ever mix a little over seven years ago, Jossy — now a well-established Rinse FM resident and a member of all-conquering DJ collective, 6 Figure Gang — might seem to have appeared from nowhere to the proverbial outsider, but as she herself reflects during our hour long conversation on Friday night, it’s been anything but an easy ride. “Right now, I feel pretty good”, she says, speaking from a room in her mum’s house in Birmingham where she’s spent the vast majority of the past year. “But it’s been really mixed. At first, it felt like a really nice break from everything and I think I needed that to be honest, but once I realised the situation was gonna go on a lot longer, I was like, ‘ah, this is shit’.”

“Actually, it’s felt a lot worse since the new year”, she continues, “but there was a really nice moment I had with my two sisters and my brother on new year’s eve. There’s this massive hill down the road from my house and you can see the whole of Birmingham from it. We took a bottle of champagne up there for a few hours and we could just see every firework going off from all over Birmingham. It was just really nice. But as soon as that moment passed, it was like ‘fuck’.”

Born in Birmingham to parents of Dutch and Ghanaian heritage, Jossy grew up in an area of the city called Bournville — “You know Bournville, the chocolate? Bournville itself is literally right by the Cadbury’s factory” — before later splitting her time between two houses in South Birmingham after her parents separated when she was eight. She went to an all girls grammar school in the city, an experience she describes as “tough but at the same time, hilarious” and excelled at her studies — “I was always good at science … probably everything thinking about it, but it’s been downhill ever since!”, she says, breaking out into laugher. Music though, never really seemed on the cards, despite playing piano throughout much of her school life. 

“I was always good at science … probably everything thinking about it, but it’s been downhill ever since!”

“My dad’s from Holland and I think when he was younger, he went to a lot of cool concerts and stuff over there … David Bowie and stuff like that”, Jossy recalls. “But he was much more of a music lover than anything else, he certainly wasn’t musical. He liked a lot of ’80s stuff, soul, even rock and hip-hop, and he’d play random CDs sometimes. I remember him playing Basement Jaxx for a while and then he’d flip to Kings Of Leon and bands like that, where as my mum played a lot of Highlife, so I remember a wide variety of music growing up.” 

What about her own tastes, I wondered? “I loved ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ … and I loved Shania Twain as a kid as well, I don’t know why”, she says, grinning sheepishly. “A lot of random shit, really. Everything that resonated with me either came down to a slightly weird melody or I dunno … there just had to be something. I remember there was a ‘House Classics’ CD floating around at home actually, and there was this compilation called ‘Dance ’95’ which was on all the time when I was really young. It had ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’ on it, some jungle stuff, even ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ I think.”

“I loved ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ … and I loved Shania Twain as a kid as well, I don’t know why”

“The first CD I bought myself was probably by Destiny’s Child”, she continues, “but I also vividly remember walking into a shopping centre in Northfield in 2006 and buying ‘Me & U’ by Cassie on CD. I started buying records when I was about 15 because a girl I went to school with was really into buying indie stuff on vinyl. I used to go along to the local Music & Video Exchange in the city centre with her and started finding all this RnB that I recognised and then ‘80s stuff. I got really into that when I was 17. My older sister used to listen to a lot of So Solid Crew and Dizzee Rascal when I was younger, so.I think hearing garage when I was like, seven or eight, came back around when I was 15, 16 as well. I totally rediscovered it but like, this time I realised there was a whole scene away from the the mainstream, commercial side … you know the instrumental, two-step stuff. I just remember thinking, ‘this is sicccccck!’.”

Unbeknownst to Jossy at the time, rediscovering garage would light the touch paper for the next 10 years of her life. Without the influence of an older sibling or friends at school, the onus was on her to dig out the records she loved — and learn to mix them. “I had a record player from about 15 I think”, she recalls, “and then I got my first decks, some Stanton belt-drives, when I was 18. They were given to me by a friend from primary school to borrow at first because by this point, I’d wanted to buy my own decks for a while. We’d reconnected over garage because none of my other friends were into it and had started to go out a lot together in Birmingham, mainly to The Rainbow. Anyway, there’s this area in Birmingham called Weoley Castle which gets a bit of a bad reputation. I remember being on Gumtree one day and finding a pair of turntables on sale for £50, which was my entire budget, and asking my mum if she’d take me. She looked at me and just said, ‘I’m not going there, it’s full of crooks’. There was someone on X-Factor from Woeley Castle a few years back actually.” 

“Residents Too Scared To Leave Their Homes At Night”, she continues, reading a headline from a local newspaper story off her PC monitor like a newsreader. “Basically I ended up missing out on them but luckily my friend, who I was talking about earlier, let me borrow his old Stanton belt-drives because he’d just got some Technics. And yeah, I’ve still got them … he never asked for them back!”

After leaving school, Jossy decided to take a gap year before university, heading off to first The Gambia — “my mum’s friend was stationed over there, so I went over and did some work experience with her for two months” — and later, Thailand, where she spent four months, mostly on the island of Koh Tao, making friends with locals and integrating as best she could. “I’d known I wanted to go there for ages and I think I just wanted to escape life here”, she says, sinking back into her chair. “It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life … I feel like that was my peak!”

On her return to the UK, she headed to London to study Biology at University College London or UCL — by all accounts, one of the most prestigious universities in the country. “It was horrible”, she says bluntly, grimacing slightly. “It wasn’t that hard … actually no, it was hard, but maybe not as difficult as I thought it’d be. It was just the amount of information I had to take on. I’d been used to cramming my whole life, where as at UCL I was having to be consistent, I couldn’t leave things to the last minute or do everything at once. I was so distracted by being in London and by music too. By the time I got to my final year, I felt that I had to knuckle down but it was like my brain didn’t work anymore.”

Living between Farringdon, Highbury, Hackney and Tooting, before later moving to New Cross after she’d graduated, Jossy was able to sample the city from different vantage points, each with their own unique sights and sounds and flavours. Functioning like snapshots, experiencing the city through these different lenses was crucial to both moulding her own dance floor education and giving her the confidence to step out as a DJ. “I think I recorded my first mix in 2014”, she says, tracing her mind back. “It was only a 15 minute mini-mix, but that was definitely the first thing I uploaded. It was about that time that I’d gone to see Dusky at Studio Spaces in Wapping and I remember going to fabric a lot back then. It was amaaaazing. I’d never really gone to any raves in London before so I was so fresh to it all. My sister did live in London for a bit when I was younger though, so I didn’t go to any of the freshers week events or even my university induction because I just wanted to be out all the time.”

True to form, she didn’t stop going out for the next three years — and after just six weeks in the capital, she landed a job at fabric, where she worked in the cloakrooms, (and basically anywhere she was asked), for the next 18 months. “It was on-and-off depending on university and exams and stuff, but I loved it there”, she recalls. “Sometimes I’d be put on this lost property job, which basically meant walking around the club with a torch looking for shit on the floor. That was the best job to get because it meant you got to hear everyone playing in the different rooms all night. I worked on the bar at The Nest in Dalston after I left fabric for about six months as well. That was sick because it was just one room, so I was getting to hear every DJ play from beginning to end. Sometimes it’d be hip-hop, other times it’d be techno or garage. It was fun to listen each night because it felt like an education in a way.”

Emboldened by these early rave experiences from all angles of the club, Jossy felt confident enough to start uploading regular mixes to her Soundcloud, which quickly started to attract hundreds of followers. “I guess my first big mix was Volume 1 of my Garage Mix that I upload every Valentine’s Day”, she explains. “I’ve just recorded Volume 7 actually, so that means I must have uploaded my first in 2015. I didn’t really know anyone like promoters or anything and certainly wasn’t getting bookings though, so it didn’t really feel like anything more than a hobby. I’d still not mastered the skill of mixing on CDJs either because I was still using my Stanton’s for all my mixes at home, so I ended up going to this university group meeting for people who liked electronic music one day. They used to host workshops and they had CDJs to practice on … I ended up finding them so easy to pick-up. Through going there, I got a chance to start playing student nights and RnB and stuff like that, but I was still listening to a lot of electronic bits in my spare time and heading out to raves when I could. It gave me a lot of confidence, doing that.”

Student club nights would ultimately prove an unlikely entry point into electronic music, too. Booked to warm up for Jon Phonics — DJ, producer and label head of cult label, Astral Black — for a show at The Nest in early 2016, Jossy played a set that would lead her to the position she finds herself in today. “He told me that my set was really good after he heard me play”, recalls Jossy, “and that he’d be in touch about maybe booking me for one of his Astral Black parties. At first, I was like ‘yeah right, that’s never gonna happen’, but true to his word, he booked me for Bushido’s ‘Grandmaster Cash’ EP launch at Rye Wax in Peckham a few months later. I played a few more shows after that and then he asked me if I’d like to play the Astral Black show on Radar a few times which was cool. I think that whole 2016-2017 period was pivotal for me because I started playing at The Alibi a lot for different friends’ club nights as well. Basically, when Dalston was the place to go, it all just felt like one big community.”

“I never really thought it’d become anything”, she continues. “When I first started buying garage records when I was 17 or whatever, I remember thinking I really wanted to learn to mix just because I loved the tunes so much. The goal from there was just to play in a club, especially in London, but I never thought about radio or touring or anything like that. Once it started to happen for me, I dunno, it feels like it just unfolded. I honestly never thought it’d get to this point, so it’s been nice. For a long time, I didn’t let myself think of deejaying being a real career either. Personally, I didn’t see myself as ever doing it as more than a thing on the side because of my background. It took a while to get used to that feeling of thinking, ‘yeah, this is what I do now’.”

“When I first started buying garage records when I was 17 or whatever, I remember thinking I really wanted to learn to mix just because I loved the tunes so much. The goal from there was just to play in a club, especially in London, but I never thought about radio or touring or anything like that.”

Such was her impact on dance floors all over London, it wasn’t long before Rinse FM came calling in the autumn of 2018 — a nod of approval that cemented her reputation as a DJ firmly on-the-up. “They just emailed me once I think”, she says, stretching her arms back behind her head before pausing briefly. “Or maybe it was a guest mix I did first, I can’t remember. All I do remember was that I was at my best friend’s wedding when I got the email, which was nice. It’d be nicer if I didn’t leave it until last minute to go through tracks and plan my show every month! I used to get so anxious but it was completely my own fault. Mixing live, pushing myself to host and speak on the mic and stuff, it’s all helped me grow as a DJ massively though. I never plan anything aside from the first tune either. Having to think on my feet and focus like that is really quite therapeutic. Just learning to be okay with things not being perfect, you know.”

For someone with such a technical, analytical mind — she loves Architecture and is now weighing up applying for a place on a Masters course to study Environmental Design in September — Jossy’s relationship with deejaying feels like it’s still developing too. “Being a DJ is a really weird one for me because it’s so social and you’re very much reliant on other people”, she explains. “I mean, I do absolutely love it, meeting people and playing with friends and stuff, but I can’t be like that all the time. I usually prefer being left alone to go deep on things, that’s just how I work best, so it is different to what I’m used to and I’ve had to work at that. When I first started doing music production a few years ago though, I felt more complete as a person straight away, because it gave me the space to listen and learn and nerd out.”

‘Whirl’, a choice cut on Astral Black’s ‘Frass FM 5’ compilation released in February 2020, landed as Jossy’s first ever official track — and quickly left her wanting more. Now, almost a year on, she’s just announced the release of her debut EP, ‘Planet J’, incoming via Astral Black on February 26. Comprised of four rugged, technoid UKG burners, loaded with the sort of whiplash-inducing club freight that’s come to define her DJ sets, it’s as powerful and unabashed as it gets. “The response to the announcement has felt quite good”, Jossy says earnestly, “but before that, it felt horrible! It’s a really unusual feeling, especially sending off pre-masters and waiting for them to come back. From having my show on Rinse and being on the other end of it, listening to loads of tracks each month and being like, ‘don’t like that, don’t like that, won’t play that’ … I guess it’s hit me that other DJs will be dong the same with my tracks. It’s been quite hard to get my head around that.”

“It’s a really unusual feeling, especially sending off pre-masters and waiting for them to come back. From having my show on Rinse and being on the other end of it, listening to loads of tracks each month and being like, ‘don’t like that, don’t like that, won’t play that’ … I guess it’s hit me that other DJs will be dong the same with my tracks.”

“I’ve been saying ‘this is gonna be the year I’m gonna start music production’ for about the last five years”, she continues. “There’s been points where I’ve tried to learn but I think I’d get impatient, especially trying to learn my way around Ableton. I had to sit down, focus and accept that it’d take me a while to write the sort of music I wanted to make. I think because I’m still quite early on in my production career … I started in the summer of 2019 … the learning curve has been really steep. Even ‘Whirl’, which came out on the ‘Frass FM’ compilation, like, I can’t listen to that track anymore even though it got a really good reception. I just feel like I’ve improved so much since then. Thankfully I’m really comfortable and happy with the EP and on that note, I really do owe a lot to Jon Phonics and my agent Toby from 3’Hi / Astral Black because they’re both a huge part of my story and of getting me to where I am today.”

Away from the emotions attached to writing her debut record, Jossy is quick to acknowledge the lesser-seen personal struggles that made 2020 one of the most testing 12 months of her life. It was a year punctured by enduring sadness, after losing both her grandfather and close friend and fellow DJ/producer, Baytrilla — losses she admits she’s still not fully come to terms with. “I’ve been thinking about life and death a lot and very deeply since my close friend Baytrilla and my grandad passed away”, she says. “They’re two really different types of loss to come to terms with. Luckily, I could travel to Holland for my grandad’s funeral and the whole thing was such an emotional but really special and dignified send off.”

“With the loss of Bailey (Baytrilla), I don’t even think I’ve fully come to terms with it yet”, Jossy continues. “It’s been hard as I’m so removed from my previous life now and I haven’t seen so many of my friends or been in the places we used to go to for a long time. It doesn’t really feel like it’s getting any easier to accept because I know that when everything opens up again, he won’t be here to see it and that makes me dread it. But what helps me is focusing on memories and how lucky I feel to have known him for those years.”

It was an overarching sadness compounded by catching COVID-19 at the start of 2021. Mentally fatigued and physically drained, she decided to isolate herself from everyone around her, reassessing her relationship with social media in the process. “I just felt really down if I’m honest”, Jossy explains. “Taking time away and isolating myself, it really helped clear my mind a bit. I took the decision to deactivate my Instagram for two months as well, and I found it extremely liberating. Reactivating it recently has been a bit anxiety-inducing but I’ve found I’ve got a more healthy relationship with it now, and the support from everyone means a lot. I really do feel like it’s helped me to pull myself out of a very dark place and at the moment, I’m feeling quite positive and hopeful.”

“I took the decision to deactivate my Instagram for two months as well, and I found it extremely liberating. Reactivating it recently has been a bit anxiety-inducing but I’ve found I’ve got a more healthy relationship with it now, and the support from everyone means a lot.”

This hopefulness has manifested itself not only in the form of the impending release of ‘Planet J’, but also by way of teaching herself guitar, reconnecting with the piano — “I’ve found it such a good release … I’m working on Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary Etude’ at the moment which is great for those moody days” — and taking up learning Japanese. “I took a trip a while back and loved it so much”, Jossy explains. “My reason for learning is so I can go back again but for an extended period of time. I met up with some people I knew out there last time who showed me round some of Tokyo and Osaka and I went out to three clubs in Tokyo on my own because I was fascinated by it. I saw Shygirl, Coucou Chloe, Bambounou, DJ Nobu and Mars89 out there and I also did a lot of sightseeing on my own which I really enjoyed. It was a proper life-changing trip basically.”

Her ambitions don’t stop there either. Combined with working part-time as an A&R for Holding Hards Records since last summer — “It’s been a really sick experience that I’ve learnt so much from already” — Jossy has also been exploring the possibilities of balancing music with further academic study. “I’ve been thinking about a Masters for a while now”, she explains. “I found this Environmental Design field, which, if you work in the architectural world, basically looks at how you can help new buildings make sense for their environment. I thought that was really cool because it’s basically a combination of everything I’m interested in and means that one day, I could potentially incorporate that knowledge into helping design club spaces. I’ve thought about learning to do 3D modelling as well, so that’s gonna be a challenge for me over the rest of lockdown, I really want to teach myself to do that.”

“I feel really torn though”, she continues, “because the Masters is the sensible, career-minded thing to do but at certain points with my music production, I’ve felt like my wildest dream would be to be a really successful music producer. I have periods of being really focused and productive with it, like, I launched an alias for my more down-tempo, hip-hop stuff in December and made a load of tracks in about three weeks. I found it easy because it’s not tied to my club stuff and I’m not as bothered about people’s opinions, but equally, I haven’t really felt like making music for a while since then. Basically it’s like, what do I do? I don’t know how I’m gonna combine the Masters stuff with my music. But, recently I listened to an RA Exchange that Martha did with Lawrence Lek. I think he studied architecture but is also a music producer with releases on Hyperdub who makes his own 3D films, so he’s made me think it could be possible.”

Having met a difficult, testing year head on and come out the other side with a quiet, steely sense of resolve but perhaps more importantly, a deeper understanding of herself, it feels like 2021 might mark the end of the beginning in Jossy Mitsu’s story — and if ‘Planet J’ is anything to go by, we’ve all got a lot to look forward to. 

Jossy Mitsu’s ’Planet J’ releases via Astral Black on February 26:

https://astralblack.bandcamp.com/album/planet-j

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