Hailing from Manchester, Aletha has become a heavyweight on the Leeds DJ circuit. The Lila Booth sits down with the party-starter to talk about how she started DJing, the importance of representation in the industry, and the impact nightlife has on a DJs mental health.
After a year of non-existent nightlife, the sound of Aletha’s electric acid, techno, juke, and groovy broken beat in the club is a god save. Growing up in Manchester, Aletha attended indie concerts that allowed her to discover dance music from their supporting DJs. She continued exploring the sounds of heavier techno and acid in her college years, before later moving to Leeds for university.
Here, Aletha began getting into the soulful and rhythmic sounds of bruk - while putting on her own events - and finally starting to DJ her own discography. Aletha is now one of the most sought after DJs in Leeds, after playing almost all the venues in the area; with a residency on Sable Radio and Melodic Distraction, and her name on the exclusive lineups of Dimensions, We Out Here, Outlook, Fabric, and Keep Hush.
Aletha began her path into music at home: “My mum and dad were both interested in music like Motown and R&B, so my dad would show me Lauryn Hill and The Fugees. They loved Luther Vandross. That influenced that side of the stuff that I like, but the main influence from my family was my uncle. He manages bands and would give me tickets to go to Manchester Academy, so I was into indie music because of the stuff that he showed me.”
"At house parties, people would ask me to choose the music. But I'd never even considered I could be a DJ..."
In Year 7 and 8, Aletha’s older sister would go to Ibiza, doing seasons out there and bringing back all the Ibiza classic CDs which Aletha says got her into electronic sounds: “I’d put them on my iPod and take them into school”. At sixteen, she began creating playlists on Spotify. “At house parties, people would ask me to put the music on, but I don’t think I ever considered that I would be a DJ. It was only the music. Back then female DJs weren’t as noticeable. It wasn’t until I saw Jayda G play at Wire that I thought this is something I could do. I didn’t think I could buy my own records or mix until I saw that representation. Seeing her being mixed-race, with curly hair, throwing it around, not giving a shit about what other people think… when I’d go to clubs, I’d be too scared to move my head too much – am I gonna get my hair in someone’s face and make them annoyed? Her not caring was really inspiring.”
Feeling inspired, Aletha began collecting records and started mixing after purchasing her first turntables, teaching herself as she went along alongside bits and pieces of what people had taught her. She solidified her DJing whilst doing resident sets at Belgrave and Headrow, becoming familiar with CDJs, after having started exclusively with vinyl.
At Leeds University, Aletha studied Human Geography, and afterwards started a job at the Leeds City Council as a planner, inspiring her to start a masters in town planning. After recently getting a job as a senior planner, she is passionate about combining this role with music. “I saw that there were a lot of struggles between nightlife and planning. A lot of the problems that occur in clubs is flats being built too close to them. I want to make a difference.”
During covid, the impact upon venue spaces was huge. The flats near the clubs were finally happy, but as a DJ it was hard to stop playing sets to a crowd. Not only did nightlife provide a space for letting loose to music, but it was also essential for many people’s social lives. “Everything was centred around a night out; when that all stopped, you had to then think of other ways to hold onto friendships. It became quite strange and isolating.
Covid didn’t necessarily affect my work life as much - I had a job and an income - but without having a musical outlet, it was just really strange.” Aletha lived on her own for the first three months of lockdown, which she describes as being horrible, especially to begin with. Due to already struggling with anxiety, it felt like going into overdrive.
“Everything was centred around a night out; when that all stopped, you had to then think of other ways to hold onto friendships. It became quite strange and isolating.
Metal health issues within the DJ community have been described as a crisis. With constant nights out becoming your work, substance abuse can be easier than ever to engage in, along with little sleep, and too much travel. “I often think I will have just a couple of beers just to settle my nerves, and then a couple of beers turns into more than a couple of beers. I think it’s a confidence thing, when your sober you can overthink everything so much, but I would love to DJ completely sober at some point as alcohol has had some form of impact on my mental health, and it does put me off.”
In the age of social media, the mental health of DJs has also been impacted by the constant need to self-promote through platforms like Instagram, which most promoters now use to scout DJs, as well as club-goers to find a party. “It’s kind of impossible now to do anything without social media. It’s stressful to have to be constantly posting and updating everything”, Aletha says.
“Some men have the perception that the only reason women DJ is for the look of it.”
As well as Instagram being used now for businesses and promotion, it can also be a self-branding platform in a way that is solely about image, beauty, and style. There are signs that this has begun to have influence people’s opinion of women’s priorities, as Aletha tells me how comments have been made on YouTube that women aren’t good at mixing because they spend all their time taking selfies. “Some men have the perception that the only reason women DJ is for the look of it.”
Now that clubs have reopened Aletha is being booked left right and centre. One of her favourite gigs to date was the live-streamed Keep Hush night at the Old Red Bus Station, where she went b2b with Dubrunner
on a heavy 160bpm set. The crowd were ecstatic and the energy in the room was at a non-stop high. However, there was a moment that forced her to re-evaluate the positive energy when a man from the crowd approached her, asking where she was from, and then denying her being from Leeds as she was “Multicultural”. “It massively threw me off, my mixing suddenly got a bit sketchy. Whether they were trying to throw me off because I was a woman or a person of colour, I don’t know, but after that point, I felt more determined to do well, which isn’t right. You shouldn’t have to do any better than you think you can, just because someone has made you feel that way. I think if there were other people in the booth in the future it’s going to make me more cautious. I’ve seen so many videos recently of female DJs recalling men messing with the mixer or trying to flirt with them. Do men have to experience that, or is it just us?”
Despite the hurdles that Aletha has faced as a woman of colour in the DJing industry, the future couldn’t be brighter for this talented, eclectic, and knowledgable DJ, who we can certainly all trust to give us a night to remember.
The Lila Booth
The Lila Booth is the spotlight project by Leeds-based DJ and booker Lila Cusset. With a regular slot on NETIL Radio, The Lila Booth provides a platform for emerging DJs on the underground UK scene.