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When the Coronavirus shut us down, clubs and festivals ceased, and everyone was essentially forced inside with no definitive end in sight, DJ Times wondered: How is our tribe coping? How are DJs getting by?

So, we sent out our “Coronavirus Questionnaire” to DJ/producers from all musical genres to find out. During this period, DJ Times will continue presenting the questionnaire responses from talented music-makers from all over the world. Here’s our latest entry, this time from the United Kingdom, the Worcester-based house DJ/artist Ali Story.

Ali Story, Worcester, U.K., Axtone

What’s it like where you’re living? How did you spend most of your time? I lived a fast-paced life in London for 10 years, but I’m currently living in Worcester in the country, so it’s very peaceful here. I was living in London when lockdown hit, but moved up here while the world was on pause. I’ve spent most of my time in the studio making music – but also managed to complete a few games on the PlayStation, too! 

Did you lose important gigs, or income-producing work? No, I didn’t have much going on prior to lockdown, only a handful of gigs. Luckily, for me, though, lockdown was a blessing in disguise. Before COVID hit, I was working in London full-time for a record label, so juggling an attempt to “make” a music career, whilst working 9 to 5 to keep a roof over my head was difficult. When I lost my job in March 2020 to COVID, it gave me the most precious thing in the world, which was time. I converted the basement into a mini-studio, got my head down to focus, and it’s been nothing, but growth ever since.

Are you doing anything now that can or will produce music-related income? Yeah, I’ve released several collaborations and released my first single, “Smile,” on Axtone Records after getting personal feedback from Axwell himself, which was insane as I’ve been a huge fan of his for years. “Smile” is hit 1 million streams on Spotify in just over one month, so I’m feeling pretty blown away by it all. I should start earning some royalties and publishing deals from my music soon, and I have a few gigs lined up this summer next to some heavy headliners. I think it’s safe to say music is going to be my main source of income, which is a dream come true. Not many people get to love and enjoy their jobs, so I feel very blessed and lucky to have that. It doesn’t even feel like a job to me.

What are you doing now that’s ultimately constructive to your music life/career? Producing music and networking are my focus right now. It’s not enough to just be a DJ these days, as there’s so much competition out there. I spent days and days researching the industry during lockdown. How the everything works, how record labels operate, how to get myself an artist account on Spotify, Apple and Beatport. I even spent two weeks building myself a website – just to give myself some presence. But it’s the music that does the talking at the end of the day; so if you can DJ and produce, it will give you a massive head start.

Any new releases? Yes, I’m super-excited for my most recent single, “Higher Love,” on Love & Other. It’s very similar to “Smile,” with an energetic piano-house beat and a vocal delivery to die for. I was sitting on the instrumental for a while, not knowing which direction to take it, so ended up collaborating with the talented Maria Mathea from Sweden. She originally wrote the song for the Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden, so it’s got a cool story behind it. I hope I’ve done it proud.

In the studio, what’s your set-up? I’m very lucky to have my own studio in the basement of my home; although I don’t think the neighbors feel as lucky – ha! It was an empty spare room for a long time, storing junk mostly. But during lockdown, we got some soundproofing foam, stuck them to the walls and roof, and voila – a new studio! I’ve got a lot of instruments and equipment down there… an electric violin, Focal monitors, Komplete Kontrol MIDI keyboard, Native Instruments MASCHINE, a studio microphone for when I want to sing or record my own vocals, and lots of other bits and pieces for producing. 

What’s your creation process in the studio? Usually, I spend hours browsing music libraries, listening to older music, playing, and experimenting with new plug-ins, or taking inspiration from what’s going on in the market. My production is very “on-the-fence” with both overground and underground styles, as my musical taste is extremely broad, so it’s always super fun to get creative. I’ve had some happy, good-feel summer tunes out recently, but I’ve got some underground surprises coming very soon on some heavyweight labels. 

What’s your DJ set-up? I’m lucky to own a full set of decks which are set up in the studio. Four Pioneer DJ CDJ-2000NXS2s and a DJM-900NX2 mixer. I have to say that it took me years and years and a lot of sacrifices to save up and buy all my production and DJ equipment. I’m not loaded and, if I compare myself to my friends, they own houses and provide for multiple children, so it really is each to their own. Spend your money on the things that make you happy is what I say.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve realized during this period of social distancing? If I’m being completely honest, I’ve had huge highs and huge lows during lockdown. There’s been a lot of self-reflecting and learning about myself as a person and how my brain is wired. When you sit in your own company for long periods of time, and truly have time to think and reflect, you either run a danger of getting into a negative headspace, or you’re lucky and fall into a positive headspace. Mental health has been a huge thing for me and a lot of people I know, so I appreciate the learning and self-love I’ve gained from being on my own at times. I don’t compare myself to people as much as I used to, which is refreshing.

Have you done anything online recently? I did a live-stream with Axtone Records last month to review demo submissions from a ton of talented producers out there. It was my first live-stream, but it was so much fun! It was nice to offer personal feedback and support to up-and-coming producers out there from a professional musical capacity.

Have you seen any DJ video streams that impressed you? Honestly, I don’t watch live streams. I’m so busy with production and working, I rarely get a chance to watch them. I don’t particularly enjoy seeing my favorite DJs through a mobile phone screen, as it really doesn’t beat seeing them live. I like to keep an element of mystery between myself and the artists I look up to.

Any theme tunes recommended for the moment? Absolutely. I’ve had “Mind” by Emily Nash on repeat all week. I love her voice!

Any advice on staying sane & relatively positive through this situation? Luckily, in the U.K., restrictions have been lifted and clubs, bars and restaurants are fully reopened. I sense that people are still tense given the gravity of the last two years, but things are looking more positive, at last. If I had to offer any advice, I’d say slow down, breathe and take a moment to appreciate what you’ve got. It’s so easy to get caught up in a fast and fake world, so try not to compare yourself to others and ultimately just give yourself a break. Life is good. It’s all about how you look at it.

To check out more Life in Lockdown interviews, click here.

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