“I’ve got that one remix that will win you ’round” – Charlie Hedges
Say the words Kiss FM these days and the chances are the person you’re talking to could list at least five of their past and present DJs. Everyone knows Kiss FM and what they do. But cast your mind back 10 years, to a time before Rinse FM were gatekeepers of the underground, when Brixton Mass, Stratford Rex and SE1 club were open for business and the London club scene wasn’t fading like a cheap temporary tattoo – Kiss FM were the champions of all things specialist. Having outgrown its pirate radio roots following the launch in 1985, Kiss was finally permitted a legitimate license in 1990, armed with a roster of DJs who remain as influential now as ever, the sounds of Trevor Nelson, Judge Jules, Richy Rich, Coldcut and Gilles Peterson were the break-out stars.
January 1999 saw the start of the multi-award winning Bam Bam Breakfast Show; which during its reign from 1999 to 2006 became the first to achieve market leadership over the dominant Chris Tarrant (Capital Breakfast), in the 15-24 demographic. Hidden in the background was Charlie Hedges, a teenager from Essex who was “determined to be that person on the radio”.
Eager to be where the action was, Hedges quickly became a part of the Kiss FM breakfast furniture – the story goes like this: Hedges’ dad is a black cab driver who happened to pick up Bam Bam one day and “dad being dad talked them into letting me interview them and the rest leads on from there”. Fast forward to the present day and Hedges has worked her way to the forefront of Kiss breakfast; now a recognized DJ in her own right we sat down to talk music production, gigging and why Ibiza will always be number one.
The track you’d play at your aunt’s wedding?
Well my aunt is already married so if she was to split with my uncle (hopefully not ever) and re-marry it’d have to be Daft Punk – One More Time
She arrives early and after introductions, we spend a few minutes talking about her recent change in management, Hedges is open and friendly and smiles often – her February gig in Sheffield, she says was special, playing to a packed house at Plug, she found herself encouraged by the crowd’s response; sharing her take on a tough House music sound, playing ones and twos to “a crowd that probably wouldn’t have heard my breakfast show, they just came out to hear the music”. On the surface Hedges isn’t a conventional choice for an underground House night – it’s not difficult to understand why this is, Charlie Hedges is from Essex. She’s blonde, she has blue eyes and the face of a cartoon lamb.
Add to this the fact her day job is the breakfast show on Kiss FM, a station that now has a national reach and competition from the likes of Capital FM and BBC Radio 1 and you can begin to understand how misconceptions can emerge. “I always say, I don’t mind if someone doesn’t like me – as long as they have given me chance. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and I respect that. But you have to give me a chance to play my sound first because I know I’ve got that one remix that will win you ‘round”.
She’s relaxed into the interview by now, the initial self-consciousness that comes from having a total stranger writing down everything you say has dissipated and the words come freely, “I’ve been doing it with my friends back home for years!” she then tells me about her early clubbing days, coming to London with her nose to the ground hunting out the clubs with a dark house sound. So why House? “I grew up with all kinds of music around me, but it’s always been about House. Each track has so much, whether its the vocal sample, the movie sample, the melody or the bassline there will always be something in there to draw you in”.
She tells me about the ‘performers’ she loves, the DJs that “don’t just play tunes they give you a show”, chief among this list is Steve Aoki “he’s unreal”, followed by Norman ‘Fat Boy Slim’ Cook “he’s always a favourite”. We talk some more about this idea of putting on a show for the masses and this brings us back to Kiss. I get straight to the point and ask if it’s a station that has lost it’s way, Kiss started out as a place that was dedicated to specialist DJs that knew their genre inside out – so what happened?
Hedges takes a minute to think about this before answering; she tells me that “Kiss hasn’t lost its way, far from it – the brand has just grown – it had to grow with the music because with wider audiences come broader tastes”. Hedges is a realist without the cynicism, “Kiss had to stay ahead of the competition and specialist DJs have specialist audiences”.
Most underrated track?
I’m loving Curbi Discharge at the minute, I hope it cuts through!
Hedges also has a weekly slot on sister station Kiss Fresh, launched in December 2014 as a replacement for Smash Hits radio, this new look station aims to play “non-stop new beats including hip-hop, R&B, EDM, House and Garage”. Artists like Tough Love and The Disciples are now the ones bringing a new vibe to the channel and every Friday from 10pm until midnight, Hedges continues to educate Kiss Fresh listeners about her sound.
The show she says is made up of new beats that she loves and club sounds that wouldn’t usually find their way into a Kiss breakfast show. “I’m just selective. It might be Deep House or it might be more Techy I just try to play what sounds good. It’s all about learning, whether its about the production process or the industry, most opportunities for me are chances to learn a bit more”.
I ask about this process; how DJs go about putting sets together and the difference between preparing for a set in Ibiza and one in Manchester and she tells me it’s different every time “when I’ve got a gig I always turn up early to soak it up, probably after one or two tracks I’ve already got an idea in my mind of what will work and what won’t. You have to always play for the crowd – I think the worst thing a DJ could do is turn up and just play tunes for themselves, You can’t think like that because it’s not your night, it’s their night”.
She tells me Ibiza will always be her first love DJ destination, the super clubs of Space and Amnesia will always be Mecca, “for a DJ to play there and unite the kinds of huge crowds they draw it’s totally about bringing people together on the same vibe where people sweat and dance for the love of the sound”. I tell her I’ve never been, preferring instead the cheaper less shiny offerings of Eastern Europe and she tells me Ibiza has those same places just like everywhere else, be it London, Sheffield or Manchester, “the people that want to be seen in Pacha won’t be there taking up space in places like DC10” she has a point.
The track you would play to save a set?
I don’t have any save a set tracks as I hope I don’t need them – but this classic always gets people in the mood for a decent night out Faithless – Insomnia
We’ve come to the end of our time and as we wrap things up, Charlie Hedges briefly reverts to her role as chief recruiter “you should come and check out a show”, she tells me “I know you’ll have a wicked time, I’ll find the tunes to win you over”, she’s confident and sure and my clubbing life flashes before my eyes as I think, be careful what you wish for.
Interviewed by Akua Ofei