We’re finally back with another BLUP50 feature, this time with London-based DJ, broadcaster, and creative producer Vanessa Maria. She continues to advocate mental health through music with a variety of projects, including the “Don’t Keep Hush” initiative, which she has helped grow over the past few years.
We delve deeper into her early experiences in radio, her big plans for this year, such as podcasting, and the challenges she has to work through in order to thrive in her multifaceted career. With these wins, it is evident that Vanessa Maria is a trailblazer who has built a reputation for herself in her industry by working hard and consistently pushing the boundaries. Read on as she shares her sources of creative inspiration while also imparting some life lessons for all of us to remember.
// DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN ONE WORD.
Introspective or silly – but I’ll go with introspective!
// YOU’RE DEFINITELY A MULTIDISCIPLINARY CREATIVE WHO DOES MANY THINGS, WAS DJING THE FIRST THING YOU BEGAN WITH?
I actually started off doing radio. I would break down my psychology lectures on the show, bringing in topics that were the typical ‘entertainment’ topics like love and attachment theories. It actually helped me solidify ideas in my studies – I thought it was a sick concept at the time.
I learned to DJ the year after I graduated university, I was a student officer at my university. The janitor (big up Andrew) would help me set up decks during my lunch break from the DJ society. That was really the start.
// WAS THERE A BIG MOMENT WHERE EVERYTHING JUST CHANGED FOR YOU?
I don’t think there were any ‘big moments’ but there were more consistent ‘smaller’ moments. I won a foundation FM DJ competition, so I then DJ’ed at Wireless, which was an introduction to the music world [for me].
// YOU RECENTLY SHARED ON INSTAGRAM HOW IT CAN BE LONELY AS A DJ. TALK A BIT MORE ABOUT HOW ‘DON’T KEEP HUSH’ PROJECT CAME ABOUT.
With that post, I didn’t realise how many people felt the same. It’s sad, but I also found it ironic and kind of funny because we’re all feeling the same way. I also have performance anxiety so it can really affect me, whether it’s a new place, new city, or even home events.
Don’t Keep Hush is a collaboration with Fred, founder of Keep Hush, an underground music community. We’ve been a bit quiet this year but we’ve done fundraising events, sold T-shirt merch, panels, and hosted a night to support Black Minds Matter. The next objective is to start a monthly supper club which will be called ‘Spinning Plates’. We want to have a community focused space outside of the parties so we’ll have open decks, people cooking and we’ll eat together and talk about whatever’s on our minds.
// DO YOU HAVE A GO TO STYLE OR FAVOURITE FASHION BRAND YOU LIKE WEARING?
I thought about this – I don’t think I have a favourite fashion brand. I live in tracksuits.
For next year, I really wanna start getting more into thrifting and wearing secondhand clothing. I hosted a panel for Depop and it really made me think more about circular fashion and also sustainability so I’m trying to think about how I can purchase and keep it sustainable.
When it comes to occasions like Halloween, I know exactly how I would want to look. It wouldn’t matter where the items are from – could be from Prada, could be from Primark! But Zendaya is a style icon for me, she never misses!
// HOW DO YOU SWITCH OFF?
I think this year I’ve definitely learned how to do that. If you’re going through life fast ahead and you don’t care about your health, you won’t stop until you have a problem with your health – that will humble you. I have pre premenstrual dysphoric disorder so that was humbling for me because I have to focus on my wellbeing and energy – that’s helped me switch off. Also exercising, reconnecting with friends and family is always a nice way to switch off.
// HOW DID BEGIN YOUR AWARD WINNING DOC, ‘WHEN WELLBEING IS WHITE’?
At the time I didn’t know anything about film & documentary, so I just tweeted about my idea and then from the tweet, I built a team. I didn’t have any budget, it was just a passion project but I was lucky enough that people wanted to get involved.
A lot of the freelancers, even from BBC, were helping me through the process of how to basically produce documentaries. We’d write a script, find narratives and find the talent who would be involved. I was doing a lot of it in my spare time.
// FOR MULTIFACETED AMBITIOUS CREATIVES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE ON HOW TO BALANCE THINGS, ESPECIALLY WHEN THERE’S SO MANY THINGS WE CAN DO ?
I would ask yourself what season you’re in at the moment, what is bringing you joy and where your interests lie. Focus on what is that fire in your belly.
I think a lot of the time, especially as young people, we see one thing and we’re like “that’s what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life”. But that one thing can open doors to a lot of other things. If you don’t know exactly what you want to do, just give things a go and something will stick more than something else. It’s easier to say you don’t like something than liking it – that’s what I did when I started. It doesn’t feel like you are progressing, but you are because you already know what you don’t wanna do – which is great.
// GO TO SONG OF THE YEAR (2022)?
Sticky – Drake and also Slizzy Like – Cash Cobain
// WHAT’S RECENTLY SOMETHING THAT’S CAUGHT YOUR ATTENTION ON TIKTOK/INSTAGRAM?
A platform and magazine called New Currency, ran by an amazing creative and all around visionary called Kazeem. He’s from Toronto, and he came down and connected with almost the whole of London in like a week! He brought his magazine down to London and held a 2 day festival at 180 Strand – full of workshops, art, music. That really inspired me because I know how hard he works on that.
I’ve also started hopping on TikTok which has really inspired me as a platform recently. I used to think it wasn’t for me but then I realised it’s an amazing place to share as a creative. It’s nice to see it used in a different way – the way they use TikTok in a way that’s subversive is amazing.
I also love the work GUAP is doing and all the work they’re doing to support and uplift other creatives, as well as Shannie Mears FSRA at the Elephant Room.
// WHAT IS A COLLABORATION THAT MEANT THE MOST TO YOU?
The RA x Black Minds Matter podcast. It was just amazing to have the focus on music and mental health as the underlying driver and theme throughout the series. We then turned that into a short documentary with Fauzia and Damn Shaq which was a great experience.
// WHICH BRANDS WOULD YOU LOVE TO COLLABORATE WITH?
When it comes to brands, I like thinking out of the box. I’d love to do a project or DJ on top of a train for national rail, dj under a waterwall for a national park, or collab with some skincare brands to tailormake some products for the clurb.
I would also love to work with Nike, Carhartt and Converse.
// IS THE ‘NOTION X NO BOUNDARIES’ SERIES COMING BACK?
Yes, me and my friend, Stacey Olika are bringing it back for 2023. The focus is on Bristol as the project is to support up and coming creatives outside of London. Everything is so London centric and there isn’t really a base or spot for people doing things outside.
// DO YOU LISTEN TO PODCASTS ?
I do but I listen to ones that many people would not expect me to listen to! The main one is Andy Huberman – it’ll cover things like gut health or he’ll break down depression or the science of love / relationships from a biological perspective. But he won’t just talk about the topics, he’ll have fresh research that came out like from last week. Then on the opposite scale, I love the Receipts Podcast! I also like the Party of One Podcast which is more self help/motivation – I love the way she breaks down concepts on TikTok.
// WHAT’S NEXT ON YOUR BUCKET LIST?
I’m most looking forward to starting a podcast and more festivals, international bookings, gigs, more amazing guests lined up for radio. I also wanna train as a therapist on the side.
// WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST LESSON YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE?
When thinking about where you are at, eliminate the word ‘should’. ‘Should’ holds you back and feeds into your deepest insecurities. When people say stuff like, oh, “I should have done this, or I should have done this by this age…” This can turn into such a barrier to the point where some people actually just give up or they stop.
You are where you need to be and there’s nothing to say that you can’t get to where you wanna go. It’s just a matter of opportunities, time, effort and consistency.
I’ve seen that the year is always bigger than you – I’m grateful for every opportunity. You are a moving part in someone else’s story and also in someone else’s moment of glory, so it’s amazing to find gratitude in that as well.
FOLLOW VANESSA MARIA’S JOURNEY
Portfolio / Site: www.vanessamariawilson.com
Don’t Keep Hush: @dontkeephush