On the evening that I meet with Louis (a.k.a. CITIZEN) back at ‘The South’, he and his mates are buzzing from fresh news that he is the winner of Jungle Zen’s recent mix competition. He’s now booked in for their jungle night at The Cause on 16th July, and it’s looking like CITIZEN already has a busy summer ahead of him, with gigs already planned across Tottenham, Dalston and Manchester. ‘This summer is actually gonna be quite big, loads of stuff is happening,’ he says, carefully spreading mustard onto his favourite pork pie. ‘I keep forgetting that June’s only next month, d’you know what I mean? It’s all gone so fast from all being, kind of locked inside, to –’ he gestures around to the crowded pub garden – ‘this!’
At a time where production boosts many artists on the club line-ups, CITIZEN is establishing himself as an unapologetic DJ and mix-man. ‘What I’ve found is that the people who succeed the easiest tend to produce music as well,’ he says. ‘Whereas I think for me, if I wanted to succeed it’d be because I’m a good DJ. That’s what I’m good at.’ And he clearly is – CITIZEN’s style is inspired by early-90s era breakbeats, peppered with UK drum ‘n’ bass, garage and techno influences. But a large portion of Louis’ talent exists in his ear for new sounds and constant drive to experiment in his mixes. ‘It’s like an ever-evolving thing,’ he says. ‘I’m at a point where I’m pretty much playing all [types of] dance music, like I should probably think about playing some other stuff!’ Nothing is off limits: ‘I mean I really wanted to get into hip hop and disco and stuff like that. Instrumental hip hop… and getting back into grime again, lots of 140 [BPM]!’ Louis therefore doesn’t feel the need to market himself through a neatly-packaged DJ identity, and is instead brandishing his multi-genre skills with pride. ‘I just feel like sticking yourself to one genre is possibly the worst thing you can do, realistically,’ he says. ‘I deleted all of my playlists on Rekordbox,’ he tells me, as my jaw drops in horror. My own USB is far from organised, but the thought of going in blind is still pretty terrifying. ‘Yeah! I got a bit bored of them,’ he says, nonchalantly. ‘I just kept playing the same stuff, I keep going to the same songs, so I need to challenge myself.’ He makes it look so easy – and perhaps it should be.
Of course, that experimental ethos has always been integral to the underground scene. ‘Partying has definitely influenced it,’ he smiles. ‘Without all of that I don’t think I’d be here, I wouldn’t be the same person!’ London born-and-raised, Louis has been surrounded by a network of creatives since his teens. But it was actually at an after school club in Stoke Newington that he first picked up DJing. ‘I must’ve started about year 8. It was me and the teacher, DJ 247; he still does stuff now. But I learned on CDs! On a set of really dusty Numarks, and I started playing funky house, cause that’s what he played.’ After the club shut down to lack of funding and attendance, Louis was without DJ equipment until some years later, when he started getting involved in his own parties, but this time as an MC. ‘Drum ‘n’ bass, garage, whatever, if you can spit over it I could do it,’ he reflects. ‘But I’d just be up there, I’d have my USB and I knew how to DJ but I wouldn’t be playing. So that was my initial motivation to get back into practice again.’ CITIZEN’s momentum hasn’t slowed since. ‘Soon as we was off’ – he makes a swooshing noise – ‘I loved it. There hasn’t been a day I don’t dig for music.’
CITIZEN channels this passion into the parties he’s hosted, be it the house and garage nights with Manchester-based friends Champion Sound, or the drum ‘n’ bass events with Motive Hunter. In the forested areas of London, he’s also used to throwing free parties through Banjo Soundsystem. ‘That kind of holistic, natural environment is probably the most freeing for me. That’s what drew me to raving actually, that freedom aspect,’ he says. ‘Just being able to be there, hands in the air, don’t really give a shit, with whoever, wherever, you’ll hug a geezer next to you and he’ll hug you back kind of thing.’ The crowds are diverse and everyone’s welcome: ‘we’ve got the normal ravers, old skool ravers, kind of punk rock people, kids in tracksuits, to people like, living out in Chelsea, people living in warehouses, people still living with their parents – ah, it’s the best,’ he says. It’s clear the family ethos has been pumped into every party, right from its origins. ‘It’s named after our mate Banjo, he passed away about two years ago,’ he says. ‘We used to go to raves together, and he was a big part of the group.’ With a tight, but ever-expanding network of people, then, ‘we’ll go till like 6, 7 in the morning, sun’ll come up. Turn off the music, everybody will lay around in the grass, go round, pick up their trash, and go home.’
The parties mean CITIZEN’s work is constantly inspired by those around him. ‘That’s one of the main reasons I love meeting new DJs,’ he says – ‘every time, they show me something new. What I’ve found is that the more I expose myself to things outside my normal comfort zone, the better a DJ I become.’ But of course, music has largely become a solitary experience during the lockdown. ‘DJing by myself is possibly one of the most harrowing experiences,’ he reveals. ‘Cause I’ve got no one there to kind of guide me along! Yeah, can’t stand it.’ Nevertheless, he’s even managed to find an audience, during these strange times, through his show on Bristol’s 1020 Radio, allowing him to keep experimenting with new sounds. ‘It was kind of like the best thing for me,’ he says, ‘because it gave me a sense of purpose through lockdown: it kept me digging, it’s helped refine my tastes, and select my sets better.’ He’s now prepared for getting back out in front of the crowds, although which state nightlife will be in post-pandemic he’s not sure. ‘Everything’s so measured and clinical nowadays. People are more cliquey, head down, or they don’t really wanna dance too much cause they’ll get sweaty kind of thing.’ I agree that certain crowds can seem more like a fashion show than a party. ‘Yeah is it just me or, I love a sweaty party?! It makes me feel alive! Yeah I’m ready to turn up in a t-shirt and that’s it,’ he reminisces. ‘The best parties are the ones where I go to the smoking area, and I’m like, fuck meee,’ he laughs. ‘You get that air, quick ciggie and straight back in.’
In the long-run, then, CITIZEN plans to keep his feet firmly on the ground: the jet-set lifestyle of being a full-time DJ doesn’t have much appeal: ‘it’s hedonism, the ultimate hedonism,’ he says. ‘I’d just like to become established enough that I can curate a night without having to fight my way into the job; I’d like to be able to promote other DJs and help maximise other people’s talent.’ He’s therefore passionate about the future of the scene, and opening up the space inside the booth a little. ‘It still [ends up being] white guys in their 30s who are either running the club, or on the decks,’ he says. ‘And a lot of this music comes from Black people and Black spaces, and you just never see Black people doing it.’ He’s a fellow fan of NYC-based techno duo AceMoma (combining MoMa Ready x AceMo). ‘Yeah they’re going back to the origins, they’re Black and they’re unapologetic, and they’re playing this Black music from a Black perspective, with that kind of funky, warm vibe to it.’ CITIZEN’s fluid and technically tight style provides him with the confidence to keep experimenting: the ultimate example of the rich fruits which can emerge from an open, varied scene. ‘We need a load of 18, 19 year olds playing vinyl-only drum n bass sets; females DJs, female MCs,’ he says. ‘There are good communities of people who believe in good things, and are good at what they do, who don’t get a foot in the door at all. And they deserve a chance.’ The pandemic hasn’t helped our cause, but if anything, I hope it’s provided some fresh soil for new seeds, Bleached Club among them, to take root.
On Monday night, CITIZEN’s live set from Let It Roll Records sent sparks flying, as he criss-crossed the most diverse sounds of our city with ease. You can watch the set back here via Bleached Club’s Twitch page. Louis will be guiding us back onto the party scene over the next few weeks, playing The Cause b2b with close friend and previous guest AKIRA on 23rd May, as well as Jungle Zen there on 16th July.