Scottish polymath Eclair Fifi, aka Clair Sterling, is one of the founding figures behind LuckyMe – a label that has since grown to worldwide prominence. Known for the eclecticism, sophistication and diversity of her sets, as well as a passion for digging that began as a child, it is perhaps no surprise that in her teenage years she had already developed a love for the sounds coming out of Detroit and Chicago in the latter decades of the twentieth century, and was hosting her own radio show.
Below she discusses her influences, as well as the new reissue series she has curated and illustrated the artwork for. The release launches at the end of the month with 1987’s ‘Never Let Go’, by Mickey Oliver & Shanna Jae, alongside contemporary remixes from Aden, AirMax97 and Strip Steve, who bring fresh perspectives to this unearthed gem, re-purposing it for a new audience.
A resident first on Rinse, and now NTS, she has been a stalwart of the UK airwaves since the early part of the millennium, and is now giving crate-diggers around the world the opportunity to own rarities some considered lost to the ether, as well as shedding light on an assortment of songs close to her heart.
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So, the new release on LuckyMe is out this month. Can you tell me a bit the project, and the intersection between the artwork and the music, which I know has always been a big focus of yours the label.
I’ve been obsessed with “percapellas” from old Latin Freestyle and Chicago records for a long time and some have said that my sets are almost trademarked by dropping these in. I wanted to give these “b-side” a capellas the spotlight, commission contemporary remixes and get licensing them from the original producers - it took me months to find some of them... phoning old numbers on 12”s and getting greeted by an auto-stop station! I’m excited because this is the first of many to come and I can’t wait for people to hear them.
The artwork is just my part of paying homage to the original singers in each track, everyone knows I’m an illustrator too so I wanted that personal touch and something that people can instantly tell it’s my re-issue series when it’s on the shelves!
It's well known that you started out DJing young, at 16, on one of the first online radio stations; InterFACE. How did that come about, and what did you learn from it?
Found it online after school one day, introduced it to my mum. There was a chatroom with a live feed which looked exactly like Boiler Room, it felt very interactive and everyone was super friendly. Eventually ended up visiting the London studio a few times which was on an empty scary Commercial Street at the time (no flat white cafes or Urban Outfitters!), they branched out to other locations and that’s when they asked if we (my mum and I) wanted to host a radio show with camera feed from our home in Edinburgh... so we did that for a couple years.
I learnt a lot from it but the main thing was that it instilled a drive in me to keep looking for music constantly. As a 17 year old I was terrified of playing the same records every week so I would spend my weekly wages on going record shops, charity shops and car boot sales. I still have this attitude engrained in me, radio keeps you on your toes.
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I wanted that personal touch...
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As someone who is heavily involved in the current London radio scene, how do you think that the medium has evolved over the past couple of decades?
Hugely, as someone who witnessed some of the first ever internet radio stations, I see more and more control for people over what they can listen to now. Back then it was mostly just normal shows on BBC Radio etc and when I would tell people about these radio shows I found online no one really understood. Now we have thousands on online stations, spotify, DAB, etc it's incredible.
Recently, there have been some pro-active developments regarding the under-representation of women in the industry, such as e.m.m.a. and Ikonika's production workshops - do you think something like that is an area you'll become involved in?
YES! More of these need to happen. I have done some DJing workshops in the past and I'd definitely do more. It can be an intimidating industry for some at first and these safe spaces can really help young women and trans-women break into it without fear of being criticised to an audience.
I think if I was the same age as back when I started I would be more scared right now than back then as places like boiler room have given sexists a platform to troll and be outspoken, I don't think there was any less sexism back then but I was blissfully unaware of the extent of it until I got more active in clubs and online.
LuckyMe started out in 2007 - when you look back on that time, what do you feel?
The label has grown to help change electronic music and hip-hop. It's defined a weird time in culture and a new generation of music fans who consume this music via the internet. And stuff we were doing years ago in a basement now sound like the chart music you hear as you go to the shops. Which leaves us in a weird position of still being underground - but having a weird relationship to the mainstream. It can feel like our guys should get all this credit. But also - leaves us very proud of helping change music in some small way.
More personally, where did your love of music and art come from? Did it run in the family or was it something you discovered entirely independently?
A bit of both, I took a lot from my parents yet I was always finding my own stuff which comes with a creative family, my little brother is really creative in music too. My Mum and Dad were huge music lovers as kids then through the late 80s/90s they discovered dance music and often went to clubs like Pure in Edinburgh and Rezerection raves. They brought home cassette mixtapes of people like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, etc... I must have been around 9/10, I had a little routine where i would listen to a whole tape whilst on the swing alone in my garden, I remember not fully understanding it but loving it.
They’re both arty too and they always encouraged me to study at art school, never strict and pretty lefty. Couldn’t ask for better.
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I just love too much music to play one genre...
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And the diversity and eclecticism of your sets, which you're well known for – what made you (or enabled you) to branch out from your early forays into the Detroit and Chicago sounds?
Yeah in the early days I was a lot more consistent with my sets but was never consistent with what I listened to and bought. I was still buying and listening to hip-hop, experimental records from Warp and Benbecula Records, gabber, jazz, synth pop etc... Maybe it was a progression of getting better at mixing that I started to incorporate more genres into my sets! Haha! But I honestly think I just love too much music to play one genre.
When I play in clubs I am a bit more streamlined than my radio sets, though. I have so much respect for people who can stick to one sound but I'm too ADD for that.
A multidisciplinary approach is perhaps LuckyMe's signature attribute – existing at the intersection between art, fashion, music and technology. Do you think that the speed of communication now, and exchange of ideas, has brought these spheres even closer together?
I guess so. Collaboration with other disciplines is easier. And piracy and cheap apps mean you can jump into another field quite easily. And if you love underground music you probably love the culture that associates it - the fashion, the artwork - and have ideas about how that music should 'look'.
Many of your LuckyMe affiliates, as well as yourself, have had huge success recently in America, and similarly there are clear US trap influences in a lot of the UK Bass scene at the moment. Would you say that their audience is becoming more receptive to our sound, us to theirs, or that it's always been a two way conversation?
House and techno and hip-hop are all American art forms first. We mixed 'em up miles away and now people talk about scenes going back 'n' forth but it's all the same, isn't it?
How likely is it that this will expand to become a more global phenomenon, with barriers between nations and genres becoming increasingly eroded?
To be honest, I thought it was already happening. The internet has meant that subcultures don’t have time to manifest over decades, so everything is sponged up and adopted almost too fast and gets merged in with other subcultures and genres. I see positive and negativity in this, I love barriers being broken down but I’m obviously not into subcultures being exploited which is far easier to do these days.
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Words: Alex McFadyen
Mickey Oliver and Shanna Jae's 'Never Let Go' is out now on LuckyMe. Stay in touch with Eclair Fifi online.