In Conversation: Tiffany Calver

KISS FM DJ on OVO Sound, women in the music industry and being a fan above everything…

There are a lot of titles that could correctly be applied to 23-year-old Tiffany Calver, but the one she’d prefer is “music fan”. That’s the role that Tiffany has lived and breathed for as long as she can remember, growing up in Shropshire where she’d dance around the living room with her mother, listening to the latest Dipset records on Tim Westwood before turning on Channel U and texting her friends about SLK’s ‘Hype Hype’ video.

Tiffany’s love for music has been her North star, guiding her from her bedroom in the West Midlands to a career in the capital. The path has lead her through a number of different roles, including journalism, PR and throwing parties, but she’s eventually found her place – at least for the time-being – as a DJ and radio host.

This year Tiffany has joined KISS FM as the UK’s youngest FM radio host and the first female hip-hop DJ to have a national show, in September found herself in the global spotlight when she was asked to put together a mix for Drake’s OVO Sound Radio show. She’s still a fan above everything else. You’ll find her in the mosh pit…

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You’re playing OVO’s store opening tonight and obviously did the mix for their radio show recently, how did that relationship come about?

By absolute chance! I was supposed to be going to Berlin straight from Skepta’s SkAIR launch, because obviously No Merci always throw the best parties afterwards. I wasn’t even supposed to be playing that night, but I had all of my stuff with me to go straight to the airport with. I’m as waved as I intended to be, but it turns out that other people had gotten really, really drunk too! DJ Maximum comes up to me like "Do you have your USBs, by any chance?", and I was like, "Yep." So he's like, "Can you possibly play? For like an hour?” Because the person who was supposed to be DJing was just mash up. I just had to jump on.

Then a couple of days later Drake’s manager Oliver [El-Khatib] followed me on Instagram. I was half asleep, so I just looked at it like “What!?” Then when I properly woke up I was like “Wow, I didn’t actually dream that!” He DM’ed me saying “I loved your set at Skepta’s party. I’d really love if you could do a mix for OVO if you’re up for it?” Two days before the next OVO show he messaged me again like, “Hey, so there’s a space in two days…”

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I proper just wanted to use that moment to help push as much new stuff from the UK as I could. And it worked.

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How did you decide what should go into that mix?

I mean obviously it’s OVO and they’re renowned now, especially Drake, for being into UK stuff, so I wasn’t necessarily scared about using the platform to showcase a lot of new shit, because I know that’s what they’re into anyway. When Oliver was telling me the brief for the mix, he was just like, "Just make a mix that showcases you and your taste in music."

I feel like I've always been really clear about the fact that I'm always trying to bridge the gap between the UK and the US, with everything I do. I feel like OVO, to an extent, has really been a great platform to help and assist with bridging that gap. I remember when they played Section Boyz on OVO Sound radio and that just went fucking viral.

I was just like, "Well then, cool, I'm gonna use my mix to do the same thing." So I was working with people who were friends of mine, or songs that I really loved from the UK. The hits over here that I know haven't crossed over there yet, or songs that are completely unknown but I fuck with as a person that's into music.I just tried to blend everything so that it was as true to me as possible. At the same time, I proper just wanted to use that moment to help push as much new stuff from the UK as I could. And it worked. It wasn't a bad mix.

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Why is it important to you to bridge that gap?

When you’re trying to do something, especially the field that I'm in and that you're in, I think it's always great to have a very selfless agenda. For me, it came from a very selfish place, but also super selfless. I remember when I was a kid and I used to dance around my coffee table with my mum to Westwood every weekend. There'd be so much Dipset and Noreaga and Method Man: just incredible American music. But I used to sit and watch Channel U, texting with my friends, and be so involved in that world as well. I just loved both sides of the pond so much so for me it was just always about trying to push the idea of how sick it would be for UK and US people to work together more and make more music.

In the past few years – and obviously this has nothing to do with me – that has been happening way more often. I feel like it's a moment: the world in general are so much more open to hearing what is coming out of the UK. There really is a gap right now for us to jump through if we all keep pushing quality music, because there is quality music now, in abundance. I think we really do have the opportunity, now, to cross over: we've got J Hus, we’ve got Giggs. Look at AJ Tracey and Dave. They went to Canada and had a sold out show, where everyone knew ‘Thiago Silva’ off by heart. We really, now, are having the opportunity to build those fan bases abroad like how these foreign acts have over here in the UK. Which I think is really cool. And I just always wanted to be a part of making that happen.

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It's almost scary that I'm the one doing that. No pressure.

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You’ve recently started your own show on KISS FM, how has it been settling in there?

It’s super surreal! I was in an Uber the other day, coming home, and they were like, "Next up, Tiffany Calver," and I was like, "What? That's so cool." Because, obviously, before my show was just online. It's really cool to have a show that's being played not just to London but to the whole of the UK. I've had to learn to not swear as much, which has been really interesting, for me, because I literally have the mouth of a sailor. My producer loves me because I'm still learning how to clean records, so I think every single show takes her about seven hours before it even goes on air.

I’m really happy that my producer is super open with what I play, I was initially concerned about that being that it’s a commercial radio space. I think everyone at KISS is getting to know me and what I want to do, and they’re understanding the kind of show I want to build. They're way more open now, with what I wanna play. They’re always been super down with me mixing in absolutely unknown stuff whenever I want. So my show hasn't really changed that much. Obviously it's not gonna be as underground as it was when I was at NTS, especially when I was at Radar. But I think that also just comes with me as a person, too, and me growing into this career.

I really like KISS. Big up them for being one of the first national radio stations to put on a girl to have a specialist hip-hop show, I think that's wild. But I'm glad it's happening in 2017. It's almost scary that I'm the one doing that. No pressure.

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It’s crazy that it’s taken so long for that to happen. What is your approach to dealing with the prejudice that clearly still exists in this industry?

I’ve always been very aware. And I think you can never, ever say, as a woman, that you're not aware of the difference between you and male 'competitor' and how people will treat you.

As much as I hate it, I'll always be a female DJ. Like as much as Little Simz hates it, she will always be a female rapper, even though she is way past that label. She shouldn't even be categorised as a female rapper, she's doing so much for rap, especially as a British rapper, that it shouldn't even be a thing. The only thing I can do is just keep going. It's really great that the conversations are still happening because it's making people way more aware. That's the one thing I love about the Internet, because it's just so in your face all the time. You almost can't brush it under the rug anymore.

Something that I'm going to work on next year Is a platform spotlighting and shining a light on just how many females there actually are in this industry. When I was 16, 17 in the West Midlands, with just the Internet to inspire me to pursue this career, I wasn't exposed to just how many women there have been before me and that are here currently. That's not necessarily just to say, if I wanted to be a DJ, if I wanted to be a presenter, if I wanted to be a photographer, the usual stuff that you do see on the Internet.

I'm talking about the people that are in the labels sorting out your favourite artist's bullshit day-in, day-out: the tour managers, the publicists, all of these different career paths that you wouldn't necessarily even know about, being 17 or 18 years old. So one thing that I'm trying to do myself, to be proactive about this, is to push it myself by making a platform where we can actually talk about and celebrate successful women in the music industry, in all areas, not just the glamorised ones.

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I'm never gonna jeopardise my own brand to make somebody else happy…

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I’m always inspired by people who manage to remain a fan of music while working in this industry, because I think so many people become focussed on their career and lose sight of their love of music. I know that above everything else you’re a fan, how do you maintain that?

I often get people getting moody at me because I won't play a song and we're friends. I get in a lot of situations like that. Obviously I'm getting these emails from the labels or I'm getting asked to play this as a favour and so on and so forth, but I think it's a respect thing at the same time. I've been given a platform to showcase my taste; I'm not going to tweak what it is I like and put in something that I don't actually support. I'm never gonna jeopardise my own brand to make somebody else happy.

That's what I'm coming back to saying: it's a very selfish and selfless career. That is the selfish part of it. I'm such a music fan. I’d rather use three minutes playing a song that has five plays but I think is fire, than three minutes playing a song that has label-backing and is doing fine on the Top 40 without me.

And at live shows nothing’s really changed for me, apart from obviously now I get nicer passes and stuff. But I’ll always be in the crowd. That’s never going to change. I’ll be 50 years old and I will be in the mosh pit – I’ll just pee in the nice bathroom backstage – but I want to experience everything like I experienced it when I was 15 and when I was 16 and I was totally oblivious to everything that goes on behind the scenes.

At the end of the day with the platform I have and the platform you have, we're supposed to still be fans at the end of the day. We are not the artists. I'm not a superstar. I'm not A$AP Rocky, I'm never gonna act like I am. I'm supposed to be the voice of the rest of the fans of the world of A$AP Rocky. That will absolutely never change.

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Catch Tiffany Calver on KISS FM from Midnight on Mondays.

Words: Grant Brydon
Photography: Filmawi Efrem

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