Since leaving dBs Music, Manami Baba has become one of the most renowned DJs in Bristol, and her influence continues to spread further afield. Now signed to Higher Ground, she's poised to join BICEP on tour later this year.
We sat down with Manami to talk about how she's grown her profile over the years as a DJ and how she's now branching out into the world of production.
Manami was born in Tokyo, but raised in the UK after her parents moved for her father's work shortly after she was born. Though the move was only meant to be temporary they have lived in the UK ever since, but Manami returns to Japan at least once a year to see the rest of her family.
Growing up, Manami began to learn piano at an early age and was able to take part in an array of extra-curricular activities and clubs throughout school and it was this that would sow the early seeds for her love for electronic music, though her parents played a part in introducing her to classical and jazz.
After completing her piano grades in school, she was itching it to get her head into electronic music.
"What first drew me to electronic music and excited me is that you're able to create sounds beyond what you can play. The textures you can create go beyond the things that you can hit and strike with acoustic instruments. By having that even wider range of sonics to explore, that was pretty exciting and why I wanted to delve into it more."
Despite her early musical background and growing eagerness for electronic music, her path into higher education was already decided and she embarked upon a Psychology degree at Bristol University. This however, did not stop her pursuing music.
"I had started [DJing] as soon as I joined university. I got a little Numark controller and it all just kicked off from there. I had my first ever set in my second year of university in the Bunker on a really broken set of decks. By the end of third year I was playing at student parties, house parties and more established clubs around the city."
Building her profile
Though it was evident that Manami's path was only leading to better things, those early days proved challenging to get her foot in the door.
"In a way, it was easier to pursue DJing in those three years at university, because I was able to do it whilst studying, but in order to get noticed I really had to haggle. I was the only female in the DJing society for the three years I was there, though by the third year a few other girls had joined after I encouraged them, but it took longer for people to take me seriously.
"I had to keep messaging people to listen to my mixes. Once I was messaging them a lot, people would respond and say they would listen, but some still never did. By persevering I had that one opportunity to perform at the Old Crown Courts in Bristol when I was in second year, which then gave me the platform to create more connections, but I had to fight to get noticed."
Fighting to be taken seriously in a male-dominated industry is one of the biggest roadblocks preventing women from getting into music. We asked Manami if she felt that the landscape had started to change since she began.
"Luckily now, there's more initiatives and organisations that are encouraging females to start DJing and creating those safer spaces to learn and practice (Women in Music // Saffron Records). I encourage them to join those courses, and at the time when I was part of the DJing society I was teaching as well, and would encourage them to come along. Just having another female in that environment is a relief when you're sharing that space."
Being taken seriously and securing DJ slots was only a part of the puzzle for Manami's growth as an artist and she needed to build her network with other performers and the scene as a whole.
"Just being out and about in Bristol is really important, those first couple of contacts I got were from a night out at Motion. I went up to the DJ in the second or third room and sent them a mix and that had a snowball effect. By staying behind at the end of an event and giving my contact details to the promoter and sending them a mix - it was those little connections that went on to build my network."
Manami live at Motion (Photo credit: Alastair Brookes // KoLab Studios)
Based on our own experience, any industry professional's top tip for success in this industry will almost always be networking, and there's a reason. Unfortunately, for a lot of us the whole act can feel very forced and potentially give the wrong impression to the people you're trying to connect with. For Manami, it was about remembering why she was doing it.
"I think you add pressure to yourself if you go in with the wrong intentions. You should be there because you want to be there, rather than with the express intention to network. You're exploring a world that you're passionate about and that you love, so if you entrench yourself in that community those organic connections will come out of that."
Taking things to the next level
Now a graduate from university, Manami realised that in order to progress even further she needed to understand the foundations of audio production.
"I felt that I didn't have time whilst at university and even when I tried to open Ableton and Logic, it was so intimidating so I didn't really know where to start. I didn't have this understanding of sound so I joined dBs to understand the basics of production, which created a really firm foundation that allows me to manipulate and do more with sound in the work I produce now. I did the one year Access DJ & Electronic Music course and really enjoyed the more intensive nature of how we were taught."
Incredibly, that summer before joining dBs Music Manami played a few sets at Burning Man Festival.
"That was a whirlwind. I had a friend who was going, and their friend dropped out so he offered me the spare ticket. I already knew a bunch of his friends who were going who were already embedded in the music industry and they managed to get more some sets around the desert." (Photo credit: Khris Cowley // Here & Now)
It's not every student that begins their time at dBs Music with a few sets at one of the world's most iconic festivals under their belt. Coupled with an already established background in classical piano, we asked Manami if that gave her an edge when first getting into electronic music.
"It's interesting because when I first tried to get my head into production, I felt like the classical and jazz background played against me. There are these rigid structures in classical music, and electronic music is all about using effects to create weird sounds, so I was asking myself 'how am I going to understand this process'.
"And that's why I chose to go to dBs Music, so I could understand things like frequencies and understand sound in a different way. Now when I'm producing music, that classical training and understanding harmony, keys and chords has been really useful."
Reaching for higher ground
With the Access course behind her, Manami was now equipped with the network, experience and training to not only excel as a DJ, but a producer too, and shortly after leaving dBs Music joined the roster at Higher Ground, a signing that came through her newfound love for producing.
"Whilst I was at dBs I was writing tunes, but because I was learning, I wasn't writing them in order to release them. After I left, I was practicing more and more and creating fully-formed tracks in my Soundcloud, and it was those and the mixes that were already there that I shared with them [Higher Ground] and caught their attention.
"I also played a show with Hammer who's also on the roster and because it was his show that he was organising he put me in touch with his agent, who then reached out to me and it all came from there."
(Photo credit: Alastair Brookes // KoLab Studios)
Since joining the ranks at Higher Ground, Manami's influence has continued to spread. Until the disruption caused by COVID-19, she was due to head out on the road alongside label-mates BICEP for a UK tour, which has now been postponed until later this year.
That hasn't stopped Manami from staying creative though, and back in May she released her very first track, 'The 2000s' for Corrupt Data's charity compilation.
"I was asked if I had any tunes to contribute and was supplied some tracks that were already on there, so I just created my own to fit with the vibe of the compilation.
"I've definitely responded to lockdown musically. I've been creating more positive and happier sounding music. I'm just not really in the mood to write super dark, early morning, weird techno stuff. By making those more positive tracks it's definitely put me in a better mindset."
It's now been almost five years since Manami began her journey into electronic music, one that has seen her grow from strength to strength. Adept in both DJing and production, the relationship between those two skills has elevated her skills as a creator.
Her addition to the Higher Ground roster marks an exciting new chapter in her development as an artist and we can't wait to see where the future takes her.
More original productions are on the horizon, but for now you can stay up to date with Manami through her residency on Noods Radio (every third Tuesday evening of the month) and 1020 Radio (every second Wednesday afternoon).