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Behind the decks: SAVVY

*t/w: spiking

Ruby 'Savvy' Savill-Downs has placed herself at the forefront of the Leeds electronic music scene. Her contributions have ranged from her electro driven club night Savvy & Friends, music journalism for the local BabyStep Magazine and, of course, her consistent appearances playing hard-hitting footwork, techno, and breaks on local lineups. Alongside hosting her radio show, Ladies Lovin’ - which analyses the history of women in the music industry - Savvy is on a mission to showcase the future female DJs.

Ruby grew up in a quiet area of Essex which inspired her to make as much noise as possible. Raised by punk parents who were in a band together while she was growing up, this isn’t a surprise. Ruby also spent a lot of time exploring the art and music spaces of London - “because there was nothing to do where we lived” - which inspired her to pursue music. She mastered grades 7-8 in guitar, piano, saxophone, organ, and singing, leading her to teach music at 14. “Music was the thing that was essential to my life.”

Her talent led to a scholarship to study at a grammar school for sixth form where she fell into the academic field of politics and philosophy, the subject that brought her to Leeds for university. “It wasn’t until I came to uni and started going clubbing that I reignited my love for music, and that was through DJing.”

Savvy’s journey on the Leeds airwaves began in 2019 with her radio show Ladies Lovin’ - a show that spotlighted the contribution of women to the arts. “We went through every decade from the 60s to the present day, talking about how women in music and art influenced and related to each other.” The show led to an event under the same name: “I wanted to DJ, but I didn’t know how. So, we thought: 'let’s just put ourselves on the lineup and teach ourselves to DJ in the meantime'. It was a month away, but we thought it would be great pressure for us to learn”.

“I want to create an environment where people don’t have to worry about the things I’ve had to worry about before.”

After DJing for the first time at her event, Ruby put on many more events under Savvy & Friends and Savvy’s House. Her motivation behind these club nights was to “create nights that are fun and safe for everyone”.

“Going out is such a release, but the night is dangerous. Because of that, I’ve worked with a lot of collectives to try and make nights as comfortable for women as possible. I want to create an environment where people don’t have to worry about the things I’ve had to worry about before”.

Public awareness of spiking was heightened at the end of 2021. A particularly disturbing detail was the rise of injection spiking, in what seemed to be a hate crime more than anything else. A collective of women known as Girls Night In was at the forefront of protest, holding a boycott of all nightclubs in Leeds on the 27/10/21. Thousands of students stayed in to protest the rise in cases in the hope that more would be done to combat it.

It was a rough period for promoters; the clubs felt unsafe, and footfall was low. “Promoters definitely felt the negative impact. As a woman, I was scared anyway. The atmosphere for the nights was bad and we’d have to close events early. I think venues in Leeds did a good job of doing what they could, but there needs to be a lot more funding, and at a higher level, because the nightlife industry is such a big part of hospitality. It plays a big part in the formative years of people’s lives. A lot of people overlook that, it’s a shame.”

Another hurdle to making club nights a better place is the inclusion and balance of all genders on the lineup. In a predominantly male industry, it is more necessary than ever to even out the inequalities. However, it can easily lead to tokenism. Savvy felt shocked at the beginning of her DJ career at how she could feel like so much of a token: “I’m still trying to navigate how I feel and talk about the issue of tokenism in music, inclusion riders, having space for women on a lineup, and how you do that in a way that honours the person. I still get booked for garage nights; I don’t play garage, I’m a world away from that, but I still get booked for it. I want to be booked purely on my talent, not because I’m a woman. I want to be booked in a meaningful way.”

The next step is to talk about the issue of tokenism and speak to promoters about the way they navigate curating lineups. “You’ve got to know who you’re booking and why you’re booking them. I’ve had experiences before where people have gone through a list of female DJs and just picked a few, one of them being me.” Understanding and appreciating the uniqueness in each individual, without categorising purely through gender, race, or sexuality, will certainly help filter out tokenistic bookings.

This includes the appreciation of femininity in its own form. Equality comes from honouring potential differences, rather than ironing them out. “Your image doesn’t have to be something that you feel objectified by. Feeling confident in yourself instead of having to play it down is important. My image brings me confidence.”

If you live in Leeds, make sure to go down and check out one of Savvy’s sets, or better still, one of her events. She is one to watch, and certainly an inspiration to all lovers of the electronic music scene.

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.


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