Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Connor Pope
Sitting on stools in the Dark Horse that are slightly too big for both of us, DJ and founding member of High Key, Ringers, is telling me about her introduction to electronic music and how she’s made the jump from consumer to producer in just two short years.
For Ringers it all started during her first year of uni, with PST and a jungle night she attended with “a slightly cooler friend.” Ringers explains her raver baptism “wasn’t a very conscious thing,” but the difference in vibe between club events and raves kept her coming back for more.
“I just felt really cool, the music seemed cooler, and I liked how heavy and bassy it was,” says Ringers, thoughtfully comparing her Broad Street experiences to those in Digbeth’s underground scene. “People are more there for the music. Not just to get drunk.
“It’s always something different at the rave. It’s more unique, not to shit on the mainstream.”
Ringers emphasises there’s nothing wrong with enjoying regular clubbing. Still, she feels like raves (often but not always) “serve a different purpose.”
She continues: “I don’t know many sober people who enjoy going to clubs, but I know a lot of sober ravers and DJs, so there’s a differentiation there.”
When Covid-19 made cramming hundreds of sweating bodies into well-dressed warehouses illegal, Ringers “was missing going out and missing the culture.”
Following some well-intended Youtube research and becoming inspired by a girl who was a bedroom DJ on Tik Tok, Ringers “bought the cheapest pioneer dj controller from Argos” and set about “mixing tacky drum and bass” – a right of passage for every electronic DJ.
“God bless my friends for putting up with my awful mixing,” she reminisces.
So how did Ringers go from bedroom/house party DJ to putting on gritty, inclusive events across the city? Well, it all started with Birmingham’s much-loved Nikki Tesla. “I met her through one of my uni friends,” says Ringers.
Meeting Telsa spurred Ringers to join Selextorhood, and Ringers explains her “journey would’ve been so different if it wasn’t for that community.”
After a Selextorhood open decks, and her first paid gig at The Sunflower Lounge – filling in last minute, Ringers secured an infamous Keep Hush slot via their open deck program, travelling to Bristol to perform what was essentially her second-ever gig to hundreds of people.
“I got a big leg up, and it was such a big opportunity early on.
“The stories I’ve heard of other DJs and how they’ve had to come up and get gigs is very, very different. It’s a lot of putting up with shit from promoters if you want to climb your way up, unpaid gigs, men being creepy to you if you’re a woman.
“It’s a really unregulated industry. I always say there’s no HR department for DJs’ or union for DJs and producers.
“It’s underground music, so the culture is underground,” but High Key is working to change that culture.
High Key started as house parties before Covid. “It wasn’t even me,” Ringers explains, “it was more the boys who I run the label with. They were bedroom DJs, and it was this big motive that happened every couple of months.
“They called it High Key cos’ when they were hanging out it was ‘low key’, and when they were house parties they were…’” Ringers laughs, it’s simple but effective.
“That ended when they all finished uni,” she continues, “but lots of us were still around in Birmingham. But living in flats, got 9-5s, and didn’t have the amenities to run a house party anymore.”
Someone suggested that High Key make a come back in the form of a kind of uni reunion, but Ringers wanted to “make it a wider thing and share it with the rest of Birmingham.”
The first public High Key happened at Sucki10c and “went really well.” making Ringers more determined that the events have a “moral compass” and addressed “exploitation in the scene and making it inclusive and safe for people.”
Ringers adds: “It’s me and a bunch of lads, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be inclusive. Why don’t the events I go to (regularly) have safe space policies?”
Ringers wants High Key to “set a standard” when it comes to making sure everyone can rave happily and safely. “A lot of our residents are male, white, and straight,” she says, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t be inclusive of everyone. We want everyone to feel safe at our event.
“We recognise that being a promoter is a huge responsibility. It’s not just about booking DJs and getting clout.
‘You’ve got 100s of people potentially coming to your event who might be on drinking or on substances. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and up to a point, it’s your responsibility to manage how the event functions.
“If you have messaging up that says, ‘look we’re not going to take any kind of harassment or discrimination’, they know they can’t come to an event and get away with it.
“It’s kind of our USP even though it shouldn’t be,” and we both agree events shouldn’t have to be ‘community-based’ to be safe and inclusive. Creating safe-space policies should be standard procedure. Though Ringers reasonably acknowledges “for a lot of promoters it doesn’t cross their mind” because they “don’t have that lived experience.”
“It’s a male-dominated scene, especially in terms of venue owner promoters, security guards, so there is just going to be that lack of understanding.”
While “it’s definitely improving,” Ringers stresses, “people are always like we need more female DJs and artists, which we absolutely do, but we need more women in high-up positions, in managerial positions organising and directing things.”
High Key puts on monthly open deck nights at the Dark Horse in Moseley every third Thursday of the month. For more from High Key, go to www.highkeyrecs.com
And it’s High Key’s ‘1st Birthday Rave, Murder He Wrote’ on 19 March in The Rainbow’s Cellar, featuring the club night’s staple combination of UK garage, DnB, and jungle. For online ticket sales, click here.
For more from Ringers, go to www.soundcloud.com/ringers