Dance Music: an interview with DJ Tiff Lai

Our Arts and Culture editor Sofi interviews Tiff Lai ahead of her much anticipated DJ set at the upcoming Clitbait Cabaret this May.

Being a long term Clitbait collaborator, it is only fitting that Tiff Lai has her fingers in many creative pies. Besides being a prolific and talented journalist, today she has agreed to let me play the interviewer and give us the insider’s scoop on what it means to carve out a career as a DJ in London today. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Tiff DJ across a few venues now: soundtracking a supper club at MAP studio cafe; filling out the dancefloor at Nico’s in Hackney Bridge, and spinning vinyl at MOKO. Her impeccable selections have certainly got people moving, but it’s also got me thinking… Is there a science behind getting people on the dance floor?

Having studied a Masters in Magazine Journalism and boasting a broad portfolio of hosting broadcast and digital interviews, it’s safe to say Tiff knows one or two things about being a reporter. She politely (and wisely) suggests I make an audio recording of our discussion. For some reason I didn’t do that, so our chat went (something) like this…

Your monthly radio show ‘Seasonal Expression’ is inspired by a unique concept of ways listeners can experience music. You guide listeners through temperatures and settings rather than standard music genres. Could you tell us about where the idea came from and how you think this informs the way you collect songs as a DJ? 

I pitched the idea for Seasonal Expression to Voices Radio around two years ago now. I had this experiment in mind to see whether I could translate a particular temperature in a particular place into a sound that produced a feeling for instance ‘’32 degrees in the city’ . Every episode I change these two variables and the result is you end up with a very specific sensation. The music inspired by this sensation can create a particular mood in a listener often more evocative than a broad music ‘genre’ or ‘decade’. It’s also a way for me to look and discover music in a more expansive way; in preparation for each episode I am constantly widening my sources of songs and constantly gathering from different and surprising places.

Places much more surprising than a spotify algorithm I can imagine. How do you get your recommendations anyway?

I love to get recommendations from people I admire and I definitely keep a sort of master-playlist of liked songs for all the track suggestions friends have sent my way over the years. I listen to them each in my own time. But If someone like my mate Gabo, for instance, sends me a link to a song or Youtube clip, just know that it’s getting listened to immediately.

 How does this change when it comes to vinyl records? 

For vinyl, I would definitely like to grow my collection. Ahead of playing MOKO last month, which was my first vinyl only gig, I booked a special vinyl appointment with Josh FB who runs Discotheque Tropicale. This experience of discovering new music is completely incomparable to a music streaming service. He had recently gone crate digging in Paris and sat me down over a whole afternoon, heard what my tastes were, picked out a fat stack and dedicated to playing me selected tracks until we came up with a keep and discard pile. It was great and I am especially keen to make the transition over to vinyl because some of the most inspiring nights out in London right now are doing that, like the brilliant party they do in Limehouse Town Hall. It’s a no phones allowed on the dancefloor kind of vibe; and it’s purely vinyl, playing the full songs each time with no mixing in between. It invites the audience to really be in the moment and, honestly, the crowd there is always great!

What does a great audience interaction look like to you as a DJ? Do you think a DJ’s role is performative in any way, or is it simply to bring people together?

In an ideal world, I would like the DJ booth to be a one way mirror situation where I can see the crowd but they can’t see me ! Haha no, but for real, the DJ’s role is not like a musicians. We don’t need to be on a stage. That being said, I love watching the audience, I love seeing people letting go with their friends, and strangers. There is nothing better than an intergenerational crowd. There is also nothing better than friends creating silly dance circles to get each other to giggle with their running man moves. I love that stuff. 

Beautiful stuff, and it’s true, I’ve seen people of all ages dance to your tunes- my mum included! We are super thrilled to have you both DJ-ing at our Cabaret this May. What does the rest of 2024 have in store for you?

I’ve just taken on a role as a listening room host at 180 Studios’ new exhibition Reverb. I’ll be playing records on one of the highest quality hi-fi systems around and introducing them as I go. I’ll be working Fridays and Sundays so I hope to see some Clitbait readers there! 

Relevant Links:

You can find out more about the  Reverb project here.
Stream all episodes of Tiff’s radio show Seasonal Expression here.
Get your tickets to see Tiff DJ at Clitbait Cabaret on Thursday 23rd of May at Red Door Studios here.

Interview and graphic by the incredible Sofi Pla.