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INTERVIEW: DJ Lee Ann Roberts on Her Music, Activism and Label

With her debut record Miyamoto released in 2020, Lee Ann Roberts immediately made a name for herself within the techno scene with her distinct sound. Having lived all over the world, she takes her inspiration from different cultures and communities, making her stand out in a wildly popular music genre. Now based in Amsterdam, Roberts has stayed busy during the pandemic, starting her own record label and using her platform to advocate for wildlife preservation and animal rights. Ahead of the release of her latest track I Want You, we spoke to her about her music, the Dutch techno scene and her activism.

RC: Hi Lee Ann! What made you first get into music? Did you get into techno straight away?

LA: Hey guys, thanks so much for having me. 

I have always been into music since I can remember, I was that kid that for every birthday and Christmas only asked for music CD’s and music tapes or merchandise from my favourite band at the time…fully kitted haha…I was also in the school choir for many years. I come from a family of dance and singing so music always resonated with me and was always a part of me.  Later on I started collecting my own records and was involved in the clubbing scene from a young age, in fact most of my circles were all music related. It just came naturally to take to the turntables myself as well as going to music school, which eventually led me to being a radio host on Mutha FM in Cape Town.

[On being into techno] No, I was actually a big rock n roll/punk fan first, that’s how it started for me – I still am – then I went through a psy trance and house phase, then into techno. 

RC: Techno is obviously huge worldwide, was it hard to distinguish yourself within the genre at first? How did you find your own sound?

LA: Techno has always felt so natural to me… I went through different sounds and where I am now is totally different to how I began, but I evolved over time with the music and found my sound with experience and just figuring out who I truly was along the way and what most resonated with me. 

RC: You’re from South Africa and are now based in Amsterdam: what inspired the move and how would you compare the music scene in both places?

LA: I actually moved from SA in 2014 to the States, I only just moved to Amsterdam in October 2020. I have always loved Europe and knew this is where I wanted to be, and Amsterdam is honestly one of the best cities in the world…great vibes, amazing people and the best music! The techno scene in South Africa is very small whereas here in the Netherlands it’s part of the culture so it’s very different, it has continued to be at the forefront of the electronic music industry whereas South Africa is always playing catch-up. 

RC: The Netherlands is a country that has a very prolific techno music-scene, what’s been the best thing about being in Amsterdam?

LA: I moved here during the pandemic so nothing has really been open, but I have been here a few times and without a doubt its diversity is the real highlight.

RC:You’ve recently set up NowNow records, what inspired you to start your own label?

LA: As an artist I am trying to create my own sound, so the idea of having control over my own release schedule became a really exciting idea. I am trying to create something unique with my music and I love the idea of having my own label and control over my own release schedule . On top of that there is some incredibly inspiring music out there right now and I’m really excited about signing some new artists. 

RC: You’ve cited influences such as Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, how do you incorporate such different music styles into your own?

LA: I grew up being a huge Jimi Hendrix fan , obviously that doesn’t mean I’m going to put insane guitar feedback in my records, and the same what inspired me about Nirvana however their music always puts me in a certain mood and it’s very hypnotic for me. It always transports me to another place and I always try create a similar feeling with my own music, where I try to create an amazing few minutes of escapism… I just want to do my best to create an amazing transcendent feeling that music can give. 

RC: You’re also a philanthropist, working with Music Against Animal Cruelty: how did you get involved with them and why is this particular cause so important to you? 

LA: Yes, I am a keen wildlife activist and I have been working with different organisations for a long time now. I recently joined MAAC which is a cause close to my heart alongside many talented artists, it is important to me to be able to use my voice for those who don’t have one.. It all began when I was a kid, I basically grew up on a mini farm, we had everything under the sun from gigantic tortoises, pigs, exotic parrots, all kinds of birds, snakes, geese, rabbits, you name it we had it! On show and tell days I would bring different animals to school so they started singing “Old MacLeeann had a farm” from then on! I definitely learnt how to love and care for animals from my mom. I grew up with most of them and brought some of them up from babies, feeding and nurturing and that’s an experience like no other. My pig was so smart he used to play hide and seek with me and play ball almost everyday after school, animals have personalities, are smart, have feelings and emotions and just having that close emotional experience has made me who I am today and this is why I feel so strongly about Veganism. Cutting out meat and dairy is so important for us and for the planet…I could actually go on about this topic for hours…

RC: Live shows have obviously come to a standstill due to the pandemic, what have you missed the most about it this past year? Has the pandemic affected your music-making process a lot?

LA: It’s been tough, I have missed playing out so much, just having the real connection and seeing all the happy faces and dancing like there is no tomorrow…nothing compares. For me the pandemic has helped my music process as I have had a lot of time to spend in the studio and just being fully focused on my productions.. And then I got inspired to take the leap and launch NowNow Records. 

RC: What are you most excited about for this year? 

LA: Seeing where the label goes and grows , and getting back to gigs and most importantly getting back to dancing together! 

RC: Lastly, if you could play any festival or venue in the world, which one would it be and why?

LA: There are so many choices but if i had to choose one i would go with Awakenings Festival… I have always dreamed of playing here, it’s really such a great festival from the lineups, the stages, the visuals are mind blowing and it’s based in Amsterdam… or Time Warp .. ha not fussy.

Lee Ann Roberts’ latest track ‘I Want You’ with a Dense & Pika remix is released 16th April on NowNow Records, pre-order here.

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