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Justine McLisky | DJ , Founder of BYO Vinyl / Open Decks

Some people’s passion for their community and bringing everyone together is contagious and  that’s the case with Justine McLisky, DJ ‘J’, a selector who also runs BYO Vinyl /Open Decks events in Aotearoa New Zealand. These events are meant to be social and inclusive opportunities to meet other people, and for anyone to be a DJ. She also started the event  ‘Singles Going Steady: 7″ Open Decks’, a monthly vinyl club at Northern Line, a local bar near Karangahape in Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland, connecting like-minded music lovers. Since she’s moved she’s also started a branch in Pōneke/Wellington, while the original is still going strong. Justine’s goal in starting these events was to encourage other women / female identifying people to get involved, by making it accessible to anyone who was a beginner, to see someone like them doing it, and to help get over the fear of using the turntables. Justine runs regular gigs and one-off specials with various themes like New Zealand Music Month, or the  perennial theme of ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll’, as well as a couple live online versions over various lockdowns. “I am really proud that over 50% of our selectors are women, many of whom had never played in public before and who are now regulars in the crew or who now have the confidence to do their own thing.”  Justine doesn’t stop there she is also co-running other vinyl events including a spin-off (pun intended) in Auckland called ‘Vinyl Decision’ and an all-formats BYO Vinyl event called ‘Vinyl Tap’ in Wellington with her friend and fellow DJ, Semi-tone.  She is the admin for several social media music groups, and spins at clubs, bars, gigs and record shops, sometimes with other women including Miss Dom (interview here), Vintage Vamp, and others in Dom’s ‘Hey Ladies’ DJ collective.

When she’s not at or preparing for an event her full time job is the Director of a team who develops public-facing events for a range of audiences at various creative and cultural sites across Pōneke / Wellington. “I love having something which is also creative but different to do out-of-hours which connects me to people and shares my love for vinyl.”

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?

My gateway drugs were hearing Buzzcocks on Barry Jenkin’s midnight-to-dawn radio show amongst many other gems. Then stepping up to be a DJ at the local student radio station while still at secondary school, seeing local and international acts on the late night TV music video show ‘Radio with Pictures’, hanging out at local record shops and reading a free music paper called ‘Rip it Up’ – all of these introduced me to the type of music I couldn’t hear anywhere else – particularly not on commercial radio – and opened up a whole new world. It was also exciting to me that, in a small country, singles like ‘Transmission’ by Joy Division and ‘Too Drunk to Fuck’ by the Dead Kennedys could make it to the top of the country’s record charts, with the Fall, Bauhaus, the Clean, the Chills and others making into the Top 20 – proving it doesn’t take that many people to make an impact! The DIY spirit that was such a feature of early 80s independent arts and music, particularly in an isolated country like New Zealand, was really inspiring to me.

I first got involved in hosting events back when I was living in London, when my friend Dub Module aka Mike Hodgson, a fellow kiwi, started an event called ‘Super 7s’ where you could step up and play your own 45s for 20 minutes, something he described as like a “book club but with records”. I hadn’t played in public for over 30 years, since being a DJ on the local student radio station, but this re-ignited my love for playing and collecting records. I brought the concept with me when I moved back to NZ three years ago, and started an event called ‘Singles Going Steady: 7″ Open Decks’, a monthly vinyl club at Northern Line. I’m always happy to show someone else the ropes, and I’m no professional – often responsible for a wrong-speed wonder – but it’s fun and that’s the important thing, you don’t need to be skilled. It’s about participation not skill and experience, or at least that’s my approach.

What is a day in the life like?

My participation tends to be after-hours or on the weekends, and it’s really varied, depending on what’s in the works next. I may be spinning at a local record shop or bar, publicising and preparing for the next ‘Singles Going Steady’ event or sifting through the bins at a local record shop.

In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?

I’ve been lucky to initiate or participate in so many cool events. One more recent one that springs to mind was pulling together a one-off female / non-binary DJ collective called ‘SPINsters’ to play records by women at City Gallery Wellington during their exhibition of amazing Swedish pioneer abstractionist Hilma af Klint at a late night event on International Women’s Day earlier this year.

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

Time and money are always a challenge… I tend to not get paid for gigs, but that’s in the inclusive spirit of the events I run, and I’m pretty happy to do it for pizza and gin – but I do find I’m shelling out for cartridges, adapters, headphones etc. My time is pretty squeezed on the organizational and planning side of things, fitting it around the day job – but again, I enjoy it and it’s part of the deal. I’m lucky to have a regular job that allows me to afford all the records I buy!

More concerning, there’s still lazy sexism against women / female-identifying people in the vinyl world – we’re under-represented and should be better supported in the sector. I’ve had men reach over my shoulder when I was sifting through the bins in a record shop – something they would never to do another man. I had some bloke at a record fair offer to show me how to put a record into the sleeve, as clearly my lack of a penis meant I wasn’t able to figure this out on my own. I also got mansplained recently in a café for my band t-shirt by some dude who assumed I didn’t know who the Cramps were – he was quite wrong and I was happy to school him on seeing them in 1986, but again he would probably never think of calling out another bloke. I’ve got the confidence to push back but I know some other women find it tiring and don’t want to engage. Hopefully the more women who get involved in the scene at all levels the less of a problem this will be, but it needs everyone to call this behaviour out.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

Just get out there – get involved, don’t wait for someone to give you permission. Find someone who is like-minded and connect up with them, or do what I did and bowl up to a local bar and just ask.

The beauty of something like an Open Decks record club is you collaborate with your venue in a fairly simple way – my arrangement is I do the publicity, set up the night, organize and support the DJs and provide some of the signage and kit, and the bar provides the venue and the decks, and some free drinks & food for the organizer. It’s easy and works well, and anyone can do it, but it definitely needs a clear theme and someone to be the host and publicist, and a clubhouse feel at the venue. Platforms like ‘Women in Vinyl‘ and others also help to connect with like-minded people, and share your events.

Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?

Yes, I collect. My dad was a big collector of classical vinyl, and I followed in his footsteps with other genres, and all my peers collected records. I was lucky to grow up in Otautahi / Christchurch where there was a great live scene in the ’80s, small DIY record labels, a lot of amazing record shops, interesting characters involved and a strong student radio scene. I like to collect things, and I love owning and holding and looking at (and of course, playing) records. Running and participating in vinyl clubs re-started my interest in collecting, especially of 7″s. I love 45s, they’re reasonably cheap, accessible, and easily transportable! They’re a great stepping stone into collecting vinyl.

What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.

I am really happy that the ‘vinyl revival’ is well and truly underway, but I’m concerned at the price of some records – 80 bucks for a new record is just not possible for a lot of people. I’ve also seen some truly ridiculous prices online – let’s be realistic and keep this accessible for others.

Sustainability is a concern too. I love that BYO Vinyl clubs are popping up all over the place, as they are cheap, easy to run and fun, and am really happy that I might have inspired some women to become involved in this.

Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry?

Lots of amazing people from fellow female selectors like Miss Dom, Vintage Vamp and Kiran Dass and many more, to Dub Module aka Mike Hodgson who started ‘Super 7s’ several years ago in London which was the direct inspiration for ‘Singles Going Steady’, to people like Clive and Kim who have been running ‘Vinyl Therapy’ for many years in South London, to the people who started my passion for music and records like Barry Jenkin aka Dr Rock, a night shift DJ on a local commercial radio station who played the music no-one else did, and Tony Peake (RIP) who ran UBS Records at Canterbury University who was very tolerant of this schoolgirl and sold me my first Throbbing Gristle record. I’m really inspired by people I see just step up and do it, whether it’s friends in bands, local DJs or creative practitioners in other fields like the visual arts.

There is an amazing supportive record-loving community in Auckland and Wellington, including selectors, record shop owners and venue owners, many of whom did it pretty hard over lockdown but who kept going out of passion and enthusiasm. I see myself as part of an eco-system of creative thinkers and doers, and I’m very happy to be part of that. Also, I’m not a professional, strictly amateur and happy about it.

Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you’re listening to: 

I ended up thinking way too hard about this – it’s a very tricky question to answer! I enjoy, collecting and playing a lot of different genres, from post-punk to funk and disco to hip-hop to afrobeat to dub and reggae, with a fair bit of 80s pop sprinkled in there too. Since living in SE London, where it was heard everywhere, I’ve collected a lot of dub – the slowness, space and repetition is really appealing to me, I find it really calming and it’s great to spin on a lazy weekend afternoon. I’ve always found the local music scene super-inspiring, and was interested to discover that a lot of the stuff I listen to and collect now, very hip and sought after internationally – for instance the music produced on small local labels like Xpressway, Propeller, Ripper, Flying Nun and more. It’s nice to see live music coming back to venues – my most recent gig was Dimmer, and I’ve got Pitch Black lined up for November.

Find Justine: 

Instagram: @singles_going_steady_byo_vinyl

Facebook: Singles Going Steady 7″ BYO Vinyl

Events: Singles Going Steady / BYO Vinyl

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