My favourite DJ on the Dublin scene is Jen Healy. I am always amazed by how she combines old and new, mod and punk, funk, pop and even a bit of rock. I’ve seen her pack dancefloors in many clubs, although she seemed to have hit her stride in the Saturday night spot in the Dame Tavern. I asked Jen about how she got started in the DJ business and what advice she has for people wanting to break into the music scene.
How did you first get interested in music?
I think I was around 5 when my eldest brother Phil, a Beatles nut, bought me ‘With the Beatles’ on tape. I was hooked from the get-go. My aunt then bought me the film ‘Help!’ on video – once I saw their zany antics I knew I’d love them forever. I really don’t understand Beatle deniers! 😊
Where did you buy your early records?
I used to go ‘for the messages’ with my mam in the Square in Tallaght. There was a HMV on the top floor so I’d always sneak in there for a browse. I remember legging it in to get my hands on The Charlatans album ‘Tellin’ Stories’. My mam spent way too long in Dunnes that night – I was desperate to get home to play the album!
Was going to gigs important to you when you were growing up?
Absolutely. I grew up in a house where music was a constant feature. My Dad and his family are all big into trad music. When I was growing up almost most every week there’d be a ballad session in my Nana’s house. Me and my brothers were so lucky to have been able to witness that. It was really magical. Two of my brothers also played in bands. Phil played bass in a Housemartins-esque band called the Cherry Brogues. I hardly ever got to see them play cos I was too young, but they did play in the Clondalkin St. Patricks Day parade once. I was proud as punch telling my mates about that in school! Then my brother Gav, also a bass player, was in a band called The Josephs in the mid-late 90s. I was still too young to be going to gigs at that stage but I always looked a bit older than I was so I managed to sneak into Eamon Dorans and the Mean Fiddler to see them. They were a Mod band. I was immediately obsessed with all things Mod. I thought, and still think, it’s the business.
Any favourite early gigs that you recall?
I have to admit that, due to an obsession with Neighbours when I was 6, my very first gig was Jason Donovan in the Point! Cringe! My first “proper” gig was Cast in the Pod in the mid-90s I was allowed go with a bunch of my friends. I don’t remember much about the gig because, obviously, we drank at the back of the bus the whole way into town. But it still stands out as being a great night.
How did you discover the music you loved? My musical taste is really quite eclectic. Apart from the Beatles, my first real eureka moment with music was when I was first exposed to indie music. I quickly became obsessed with the Charlatans, the Stone Roses and Oasis. Somehow my parents allowed me to camp outside HMV on Henry overnight to try to get a ticket for Oasis in the Point. I was only 14! No mobile phones back then kids! After all that I still didn’t get a ticket but luckily my brother’s band The Josephs were signed at the time and through their connections I got on the list. After indie I got really into Mod music which of course led me down a wonderful path to all things 60s. I’ve been mad about Northern Soul for years now. There are just so many hidden gems to uncover. I’ve been going to Northern Soul do’s since I was about 18 but I’m still hearing songs I’ve never heard before. This kind of music really grabs me.
When did you begin dj-ing?
I started DJing about 12 years ago. I’m not sure I’d even call myself a DJ. I just like to play cool records and try to create a nice vibe in a room.
How did that happen?
My brother Phil was DJing at an indie club in the basement of the Oak on Dame Street. He asked me to fill in for him one night. Eventually he couldn’t commit to the weekly night so I took it over. I was DJing regularly there for about 4 years.
Could you give us a little overview of the places you have dj-ed at? Other than the Oak, I’ve DJ’d in Anseo, the Thomas House, Drop Dead Twice, the Grand Social, the Mercantile, the Mezz, Sweeneys, in the window of Vans on Grafton Street(!), I’ve done a few weddings too, and the closing night of the Dublin Film Festival in Café En Seine.
Do you stick to one genre?
No I love to play a real mix. I usually include punk, soul, garage, ska, indie, disco, new wave and Motown in my set.
What kind of preparation do you do beforehand?
I usually figure out what my opening 2 tracks will be, and the closing song of my set, but otherwise I try to read the room and see what’s working well and what’s not.
Do you have ‘sets’ in mind or do you just decide what to play on the night?
I think you have to go with the atmosphere in the room, planning out a whole set usually doesn’t work in my experience.
Any dj disasters…clearing the floor etc? I was DJing at a wedding once. I was instructed by the bride and groom not to play any chart songs. Of course, I got lambasted by in-laws and out-laws for not having the latest hits. I got scowled at quite a bit. But the bride and groom were happy so that’s the main thing!
What makes a great dj?
For me it’s all about creating an atmosphere in a room. Getting that right mix of bangers and more mellow tunes. Feeding off the energy of the crowd. And you have to enjoy yourself too! Or at least look like you are.
Were there any other women djs doing what you were in Dublin when you started?
When I started there weren’t many other women doing it, not in the indie clubs anyway. The amazing Dandelion of course was playing at all the 60s nights around town. It’s great that there are lots of women involved now putting on really great nights. A friend of mine, Angie Sheehan, runs a brilliant monthly club called Rip it Up in the Thomas House for example.
You also worked in the Irish music industry. How did that happen and what was it like?
It was always my dream to work in the music industry. I studied Marketing in college with a view to working in PR in the music industry. My first job out of college was working for IMRO, then I moved to concert promoter Pat Egan Management. It was really interesting to see how the mechanics of music licensing works while I was at IMRO. At Pat Egan’s I got an insight into the amount of work it takes to just put on a gig! Most people wouldn’t even think about it but there’s an incredible amount of work involved.
You now work in TV production. How did that happen and what is it like?
While I was working for Pat Egan Dublin TV station City Channel launched. They approached Pat to put together a monthly event guide programme for the channel. He landed it on my desk. It was a baptism of fire but I ended up enjoying that part of my job so I sought opportunities in TV and got a job with independent production company Mind the Gap Films. People think TV is a glamourous industry – trust me there are lots of mundane tasks to be done, but it’s great getting the opportunity to work on projects that really interest you as well. Every day is different.
5 songs that you love playing when you dj?
Doves – Pounding
Sister Sledge – Thinking of You
Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons – The Night
Echo & the Bunnymen – The Cutter
Heaven 17 – Temptation
What tips would you give to someone who wants to be a club dj?
Make playlists! That has always been one of my favourite things to do. When you listen back to them you’ll hear places where maybe another song choice would have worked better or been a better transition. Then just approach people who book DJs or run their own club nights. Most people are sound. And some places do open DJ nights. There’s one every now and then in the Attic pub in Swords. They can be a great way to get your foot in the door. The more frequently you DJ, the more gigs you’ll get. Get out and about and be seen on the scene.
What tips would you give to anyone who wants to work in the music industry?
It’s a difficult industry to break into so I would suggest getting your foot in the door whatever way you can. If that means applying for a job you think might be beneath you or not your area of expertise I would suggest doing that. Once you’re in the job you can always work your way into the role you want.
Michael Mary Murphy