Drum and bass queen Reid Speed has been at the top of her game for years. Since she broke into the scene in the late ’90s, she’s continued to outshine her competitors, not only in drum and bass, but throughout the genres of dubstep, trap and twerk music as well.
The accomplished label-owner runs Play Me Records out of Santa Monta, California, which stands out as a widely recognized and highly respected label that caters to multi-genre bass music. We sat down with her ahead of a recent performance alongside DJ Marky at Output Brooklyn to talk about mind control, selling drugs, the current state of music and more.
Reid Speed, are you a robot that was created by the government?
I’m not sure, but if I am, they should have done a much better job!
Well they made it so that you made amazing beats. Is that what the government wants us to be doing?
I’m pretty sure they do not. I’m pretty sure all the government wants us to be doing is consume things and die slowly.
That’s not what your objective is?
No, that is not my objective!
What is your objective?
My objective is try to make the world a better place through music, and maybe with some cats and some weed. And some aliens.
Cats + Weed + Aliens + Music = Reid Speed?
Plus bike rides.
And bike rides? Urban bike Rides?
Yeah, not off road.
Tandem bike rides?
I’ve never done that. I’ll go with people, but I don’t think anyone would want to go on a tandem bike ride with me because I pedal in a weird configuration where I go as fast as possible in the easiest gear so I look really silly riding.
That’s weird, do you know how gears work?
I have sciatica, so it’s actually good for my sciatica to do that according to my physical therapist.
I would love to see what that looks like.
If you have ever seen the ‘Wizard of Oz’ where the wicked witch is pedaling on the bike — if you fast forward through that part it looks like that.
I’ll have to do that when I get home. Well now that we got the important stuff out of the way, I want to know about your time in New York. Specifically, when you were living here and how you broke into the scene and what it was like at that time.
New York was a crazy rave scene. I guess you could say I was a part of the ‘Rave 2.0’ wave in the mid-’90s. I was a raver first, but I knew I wanted to be a DJ. I went to raves to try to learn how to DJ, so I would go to raves to watch the other DJs to see what was going on. But that wasn’t really helpful, so I would buy people’s mixtapes and then buy the records on the mixtapes and try to recreate their mixes. Back then, the record store was the center of everything. Like the way we have Facebook right now, we would have Breakbeat Science, and Satellite, and Sonic Groove, and you would go to the record store every Tuesday to get the new releases and meet up with all the other DJs. That was the scene. It was more person-to-person.
So you basically listened to mixes and tried to deconstruct and then reconstruct them?
Yeah, and over time, once I actually owned turntables and sort of had it figured out, I realized that half of the people I originally looked up to were not very good DJs. So I bought Dieselboy and Darren tapes because they are really good. Then I really learned how to mix.
Records are expensive. How did you build up the cash to start a collection?
When I was in high school, I used to sell drugs to buy my turntables and fund my vinyl collection. Then once I stopped doing that, I started working at a record store so it was not as expensive and I got a lot of promos.
Would you recommend selling drugs as a way to buy records?
You gotta do what you gotta do. I had a job too, but it paid me no money so I thought, realistically speaking, this is never going to work.
When did you start to break into the scene? Was it when you were living in Manhattan or Brooklyn?
I started DJing in ‘96, and in early ‘97 I got my first booking at a club called Camouflage, which was a weekly drum and bass party. Actually that is not true, my first booking was at a party called Hot Fudge Sundays. They basically were like ‘Bring five records and you will get a tryout.‘ After that tryout, they said I had done a good job and invited me to be a resident of Camouflage. Then, I became a resident of Stuck On Earth, which was the largest rave company back then. Then, I became a resident of Direct Drive, which was like the next drum and bass party that became the Saturday night drum and bass party. Playing for Stuck On Earth really broke me into the scene. I would play for 5,000 people all the time. They had huge parties and I got to play at all of them, it was pretty amazing.
New York is so notorious for being a ‘hustle and grind’ city. Do you remember what your drive was like at that time?
Oh yeah, I was on a mission. I knew what I was going to do and no one was going to stop me from doing it. Thankfully, I was young enough and hungry enough at the time, where I could live on no sleep. I was going to college full time, working 35 hours a week at the record store and DJing 3-5 nights a week, and then getting 3-5 hours of sleep a night. You had to just go, go, go. Its expensive as fuck to live in New York, so you can’t just be complacent. You gotta hustle, so that’s what I did.
What would you recommend to kids who wanna find that hustle but might not know what that ‘thing’ that they wanna do is?
I guess I feel very lucky that I knew what it was that I wanted to do and had the drive to do it. If you don’t know what you wanna do, I don’t know how you would figure that out. I would highly recommend starting as young as possible, and as early as possible. Figure it out before you have to pay bills, when you are still living at home and your parents are paying your bills. Get those 10,000 hours in, or as many hours as you can put in, because once you have to pay bills, it gets exponentially harder to find the drive to work 40 hours a week and go to school. The older you get, the less energy you have after you have to pay rent.
Is there anything you really miss about New York?
Is there anything you miss about that time being in New York?
Yes, I miss my friends, and I miss the way the scene was accessible on a human level, and that the barrier to entry was having skills and being persistent with your skills. Like today, the barrier to entry is having good branding and enough money to pay for social media and ads and ghost production or whatever it is to go to Icon Collective. Back then, there was no amount of money that you could pay. If you did not have the skills and you did not have the drive, then you were not going to get in and I really miss that. If we could go back to a place in time where having skills mattered, then it would be dope.
But do you don’t think we’re at that time right now in music?
No, having skills is like a bonus and it doesn’t hurt, but it certainly is not a requirement for entry or success, which is sad.
Do you think that’s true for all of the industry right now or just that Top 40 stuff?
No, it’s all of the industry, no one cares.
What about Play Me records?
No, for Play Me records, all that’s required is skill and the persistence to get through to us. If you’re really good, and your sound matches what we want, and we can find you, we’ll probably put your music out. Like we don’t care if you don’t have a large social media following, however if you have none, and you are social media illiterate, we probably won’t fuck with you because if we can’t tag you in a post, it’s probably not going to help anybody.
Do you feel you go to artist mostly or artists come to you?
It’s a lot of both. We get a lot of submissions and a lot of recommendations through other artist friends and sometimes i’m just listening to SoundCloud or I’m playing in a city and I meet a new person and they give me demos and they’re great. There are a lot of different ways, but we’re open to all of them.
You are playing with DJ Marky right now, which is crazy. Being that you play a lot and create a lot of drum and bass music, Marky must have been an influence of yours at some point?
Yeah, Marky’s dope! “LK” is an anthem I still play to this day and he’s a very well respected DJ, so I’m super honored to be playing with him. I’m always really stoked when I get to play with any drum and bass DJs because that’s the music that I love and the music I’m so passionate about. It’s always a better show if you’re playing with someone who’s a big drum and bass headliner, because I’m not known specifically as a drum and bass producer. Like, I might be known as a drum and bass DJ in whatever circles DJing is still a relevant concept, but a lot of my fans only know me from Play Me or dubstep or trap or twerk or other stuff, and then it’s like I have to convert those people into drum and bass, so it’s always like a treat if I get to just play drum and bass for drum and bass heads and I don’t have to convert anyone. But, I always love to play other genres too, so it’s not like it’s not a treat to play trap or dubstep. I love to do that too, for sure, it’s just a different experience.
Do you remember one of the first artists that you looked up to that you got to play with?
I mean, Darren and Dieselboy were the first I looked up to, and I got to play with them and it was super cool. I was just so lucky at the time. Like within the first two years of my DJing, I played with any Uk drum and bass artist that ever got booked in New York. Either I was opening for them or closing for them.
Because you were like the name of that scene?
Yeah, because I was the resident of the main drum and bass party and one of three drum and bass residents at the big rave party, so we’d all play. So I feel so lucky that I got to do that. I got to open for Hype, for Zing, for Andy C … legends.
Was it very humbling or did you kind of just get used to it after a while?
Honestly, it was sad because 99% of the artists that I played with, that I looked up to, were complete assholes to me when I would meet them. They would not even acknowledge that I was a DJ and if they did, it was more like “Thanks love, can you get us a beer?” “Oh, do you want to shag later? You’re kinda cute.” No one ever wanted to be my friend or talk drum and bass with me and that was really sad. I guess it just kind of made me stop trying. I would be excited about them as artists but disconnect as people.
Tell me more about what that’s like — when you look up to these people and they turn out to be d*****bags. Is that still the case?
Yeah, a lot of artists are d*****bags, and they may not be in their private life, but it may just be that they’re so stressed out and they had to take a shitty 13 hour flight to get there, and they don’t know who the opener is. Now it’s more common to see female DJs, but back then, there were not any and I was maybe one in New York doing drum and bass. At least I never took it personally. It made me sad that I would see that guys would get to be friends with these DJs, like “Oh, you opened for me, you took me around, we can hang out.” One of the only artists who really came through was Bailey . He was really nice to me and we’re still friends to this day. And Dom & Roland, and maybe a few others, like Zinc, but the majority could not have cared less and it’s sad. But you know, you look up to people because of what they do, not because you’re like “Oh, I’m gonna hang out with you every day of your life and be your best friend.” I just try and be a nice person as an artist. I hope I’m not like that to people, but we just do the best we can.
Check out some of Reid’s most recent releases below:
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