Play On: An Interview With DJ Adriana

Close-up Culture welcome Adriana, DJ and the host of Opalakia (PBS FM), onto the website for an insightful and fun chat ahead of her closing performance at Play On (22 March).

Q: As the host of Opalakia (PBS FM), you take listeners on a journey across different cultures, exploring songs by musicians from Greece, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey. When did your curiosity in a diverse range of music begin?

A: Growing up in a big, fat, Greek family I was constantly listening to rebetika, laika and tsiftetelia. Whether it be at a family function or my dad blasting it in the car on my way to school. However being a teenager, I was definitely ‘too cool for school’ for such music and shied away from it for a quite a while.

It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I began to identify with my Greek background and felt pretty damn proud to come from such a rich heritage. This eventually led me to have the confidence to play the very music that felt so familiar and nostalgic to me. When I first began DJing, I’d chuck in one or two belly dance tunes amongst a mix of disco, boogie and house.

However with increasingly positive feedback after playing said music, I felt encouraged to push the boundaries even further. Slowly I began to play Turkish music due to its cross cultural influences with the Greek. Naturally the more I explored, the more I grew a taste for such foreign sounds!

Q: What usually goes into your preparation for a show?

A: During the week, I usually set some time aside to look for new and inspiring music. This usually involves listening to mixes, checking out favourite labels or heading down the dark rabbit hole that is Discogs. Some days I am on a roll and will find so much fresh and exciting stuff. Other days it is a real struggle to find anything that appeals to my palette.

Either way, I end up making a very long playlist that consists of recently found music paired with songs that deserve a replay. I then spend way too much time trying to make a playlist that flows. I always try my best to make a show that feels like a journey. I like to categorise songs based on mood, tempo and/or genre. That way if you are listening from start to finish, it feels like I’ve been telling you a story.

To conclude, I research the songs that I play to try to provide some context to the music. This I feel is very important for two main reasons. One, I have noticed that PBS listeners are curious and eager to learn. Two, on a show like mine that plays music from all around the globe, I feel it is my duty to respectfully pay tribute to other people’s cultures.


Q: What has hosting Opalakia taught you about yourself and your passion for music?

A: What has surprised me about the show is how my love for music only continues to exponentially grow. I constantly question how long I will be doing this for. I think after 28 years of being conditioned in a society that makes you think that you should be living your life a certain way, it’s quite easy to second-guess this “unconventional” lifestyle that I lead.

In saying that, here I am all these years later absolutely loving what I am doing. I have never felt so empowered or felt so driven to grow in this craft. I absolutely adore what I do and couldn’t imagine my life without it.

Q: What would you suggest as a good ‘jumping on’ point for someone who would like to start listening to the type of music you play on Opalakia?

A: What a fantastic question. I would suggest following labels, musicians, DJs etc who really make you want to jump out of your skin. Some of these labels for me include Fortuna Records, Habibi Funk, Strut, Soundway Records and Sofrito.

In saying all this, I also recommend digging where possible to find your own unique sound. I for one am a huge fan of stores that sell second hand records. There is no better feeling than picking up a sleeve that is basically falling apart at your fingertips. This to me suggests it has been loved dearly by someone before me. That piece of history crossed with the fact that not many other people would be spinning that tune, makes old records so appealing to me. It’s very easy to get lost in algorithms, or what’s “hot” right now. By all means, good music is good music. So play whatever you want.

I just can’t recommend enough following your gut when it comes to the music that moves you. Whether it be afro, jazz, rock n roll, trance etc. don’t confine yourself. Once you have a starting point, your soul will naturally guide you.

Q: What do you enjoy about live DJ sets compared to hosting Opalakia?

A: With the show being centred around global tunes, there is plenty of music that doesn’t fit within this brief, and so DJ sets are when I have the opportunity to show another other side to me. As I’ve matured and begun to pick up more sets, my musical taste has definitely broadened. This is why I particularly froth at a 4+hour bar set. I love to play anything from jazz, soft rock, disco, broken beat etc! Such DJ sets have no boundaries!

Q: Feel free to get as creative as you’d like here: What would be your dream venue and audience to perform a set?

A: Far out this is tough. I think for me it would be something like a festival overseas with the sun shining on our sweaty faces or somewhere like Giant Steps. The reason I mention the latter is because Brilliant Corners has had a huge influence when it comes to educating me with music. It hosts so many incredible people from all over the world, and so I have found myself listening to music that wouldn’t ordinarily come by. My soundscape is richer thanks to such musical platforms, so having an opportunity to return that favour would be an absolute honour.

The crowd itself is just as important so I am glad you asked this as well. For me, I personally believe in being surrounded by loving and open-minded people. When you have an idea of what somebody should deliver, it is easy to feel disappointed if they don’t measure up to your expectations. That isn’t the point of music, nor anything in life for that matter! Having an open mind means that you give somebody a chance to educate and challenge you.

Q: Speaking of dream venues, you will perform on the closing night of Play On’s sixth series. How excited are you to be involved in this cross-cultural show alongside performers such as Meng Wang?

A: I truly feel honoured to be apart of this. I have always marvelled at how Play On contrasts classical musicians with DJs, not to mention in an underground carpark of all places! No one else is doing anything like this in Melbourne, and it is such genius ideas that make me feel so lucky to live in our city.

Being paired with Meng Wang makes so much sense and I think it is really beautiful that we are paying tribute to so many cultures in one night, especially when Melbourne is bursting with people from all parts of the world! I am certain many will feel a connection to what they hear on this night, if not then at least gain some kind of respect or curiosity for it.

Q: What can audiences expect from Play On from your set?

A: They can expect to go down a very windy road that will lead to all kinds of different and fun destinations! Just wear some comfy shoes!

Play On, Melbourne’s favourite classical meets electronic music night, returns for its sixth groundbreaking series. Each of the shows in the series features the project’s signature format: a set of classical chamber music followed by a set by an electronic musician / DJ. For more info…

Collingwood Underground Car Park, 44 Harmsworth Street, Collingwood
Friday 8 March
Kyla Matsuura-Miller (Violin) / Babicka (DJ set) Doors 7:30pm
Friday 15 March
Thea Rossen (Percussion) / Sleep D (LIVE) Doors 7:30pm
Friday 22 March
Mindy Meng Wang (Guzheng) / Adriana (DJ set) Doors 7:30pm

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