Toolroom star DJ Anna’s success certainly did not come overnight. The Brazilian producer and DJ has been hustling hard since the age of 15, and over the years, she’s amassed tons of knowledge and experience for making it in the often fickle world of dance music. Toolroom recently quizzed her on what you need to know—particularly if you’re an up-and-coming female producer—to make movements in the industry.
Why did you want to become a producer and DJ, and is it how you expected it to be?
My path has been different from what often happens nowadays; I started out as a DJ and much later on I got into music production. My father has always been a club owner. Then one day, when I was about 14 years old, I was complaining about what the DJ at his club was playing, so he told me go there and do better, and that’s how it all got started. I think that things have worked out really well. I’ve been living what I dreamt of from when I started out—making a living out of my music, releasing music on good labels that I like, and touring the world—but I have to say it’s way harder than I thought it would be.
Who were your role models?
Richie Hawtin, Sven Vath, Vitalic, Joris Voorn, Laurent Garnier, Green Velvet—all of them, because of their huge amount of talent, of course, but also for being around and on top of things for such a long time.
Women are underrepresented in this industry. How do you think this has affected your opportunities?
I think it has helped me at some level, especially about 12 years ago when I was starting out; it was an extra thing to help me get bookings and be able to show people my work. It still helps me nowadays as well; people just seem to like seeing women on the decks.
Female DJs have found themselves sexualized in a way that the men have never endured. What is your experience with regards to that, and how have you responded?
I have always been more focused on my music than on my image. I want people to leave the club saying, “This is a great DJ who definitely knows what she’s doing, who’s got content,” and that’s why I work so hard researching music, perfecting my technique, and making music. I think if you do all of these things and are good at it too, I don’t see a problem on improving your image and taking advantage of your beauty. It’s only bad to base your whole career on that, and have nothing to show when you perform live in front of your audience.
What qualities do you think a woman needs to succeed in dance music?
I think the same qualities of anyone trying to succeed, really: being talented, devoted, open-minded, focused on the style you like and believe in, but open to new things. I think music is in constant movement and if you don’t step up, you get left behind.
What tips would you give someone just starting out in dance music?
Work and study a lot; learn to take criticism and keep your head up; go to venues where you’d like to play and go check out the DJs you look up to playing live; meet people—having a good network can take you a long way; research new technologies and new music. If you’re great at what you do, don’t worry, there will always be a place for you.
What strengths have you developed being in this industry?
I was always very shy, and after many years having to deal with going on stage and being in front of so many people I don’t know in so many different countries, it slowly faded away. I can say I’ve developed myself culturally, both socially and musically speaking. After so much traveling and researching, I am also more independent, as I’ve had to find my way around during tours, dealing with dodgy promoters and things like that.
Have you seen any changes as a female DJ in this industry since you’ve been in it?
Definitely, there are certainly more of us out there, and most importantly, more of us standing out and being successful, even in an industry still dominated by men.
What has been the best advice you have ever received?
Always be professional; do your best and don’t worry about the rest.
Do you have any female role models in the industry?
Like I’ve mentioned before, my main role models are all men, unfortunately, but I’ve always admired Mistress Barbara and Monika Kruse as well. They are really talented and play the music that I love. Monika also runs Terminal M, a label I’ve been into for a very long time.
How has Toolroom, or any other labels, helped establish your career in dance music?
I’ve been a DJ for about 12 years, and making music for the past six, but I’ve only started to get recognized after releasing on labels like Toolroom and Tronic, both very well-established labels with a great following. Labels like that are the best way to expose your work to a greater audience, and after a few releases on Toolroom, a lot of doors have opened up. Requests for gigs and releases on other labels started to pop up all of the time.