A DJ In The Shadows...
Just as the bar opens for business, one barmaid asks “where is the CD?” There is no real answer but the lack of tunes does not stop the slot machines being moved and emptied. It is then with the photographer in situ beside the writer in a dark, dingy but warmly lit Nice’n’Sleazy on the old main drag of Glasgow (Sauchiehall Street to those not familiar with the city). Rafla, tall, with brunette hair down to her knees strides across the floor in black top, leopard print tights and boots.
Relaxed and with a drink off comes her leather jacket as greetings are exchanged between all three of us. She regards herself as a supremely lucky person. Music has been part of her life from being a teenager to now, being an all night dj at one of Glasgow’s hippest bars, Nice’n’Sleazy. In the formative years her music was shaped by the choral group she sang for in Iceland, but this changed a couple of years later when exposed to Iceland’s music. It was the handing out of the records which released a passion for something completely different “being commercially successful was less of a goal for bands in Iceland as it's so small. A 'scene' which was much more alternatively minded came from that, there has always been plenty of bands doing interesting things, their own thing, less concerned with 'making it'. I didn't get records for free, but they were quite often going very cheap. And it has to be said that this was all pre Bjork and Sigur Ros. The focus on Icelandic music has completely changed since them”.
Of course it is not just about being obscure though. There is something more urgent about what she wants, “I don’t just listen to just one thing anymore, there is so much out there. I like music with a primal urge and raw power”. This may hark back to her Scandinavian roots, but is something within her, after all Bjork is no Iggy and the Stooges “I really like her. I think what she does is very sincere and she does her own thing”. This eclectic taste is also to do with the amount of travelling which has been done, having lived in Glasgow and Denmark.
After leaving Iceland behind, it was suitable that she went to Denmark to and enjoyed a career in graphic design. This was a quite successful move as she says “I enjoy drawing and the bands [like Speaker Bite Me, Our Broken Garden and British band Our Lunar Activities] asked me to do some work for them. There are some surprises though, as talented as she is, Rafla, apart from being a chorister has never been in a band “I never wished to be in a band”.
“I never had the urge to be looked at on stage”. This is someone who is either shy or modest. It is more likely to be the latter though as for many years now, she has not only djed in her current location, also a place called The Goat, on the acoustic night there and Brel, a smallish pub on the trendy Ashton Lane in Glasgow’s west end. “The Goat was where I started, but then I moved to Brel, then I came here”. There were some restrictions at the former places, but they were easily got passed as she was setting those limits herself “the music I would have like to play would have been too much. I was playing their [The Goat’s] acoustic night so metal would not have fitted in, but I have a wide ranging musical taste so I did not matter and they were never like ‘oh you can’t play this or that’ and I still got at the end of the night people saying ‘Thanks for playing that tune, I never thought it would ever be played in a pub, but you played it’”.
Life in Glasgow has treated her well, not only provided her with her current occupation, but she attended Art School coming out with a Master of Fine Art, taking a shortcut because of the previous work, Rafla managed to graduate in three rather than the typical four years. As well, there was an installation of Rafla’s sculpting work, having been displayed in the Fever (Glasgow Project Room) you will find it in the annals of the art press.
Of course this is not quite the motivation for which the djing is done “I do it because I enjoy it”. With the freedom she gets as well it is easy to hear and see why. “I like to go on journeys and make connections between music and a time and a place where I heard a particular record, it sometimes goes in different directions and off on wild tangents. The arms display this flailing around to give the thoughts life, like the music. “I don’t like to put music in a box”.
Rafla practices what she preaches too. When spinning those classic tunes she stacks all the records on the black leather sofa behind the red easy table which forms her office in the bar. However, it is not just the office where Rafla will unleash her full throttle taste on some innocent drinkers. This happens in the basement every fourth Saturday of the month a club night called The Hot Club at Nice and Sleazy where she and co-hosts with dj NOBODADDY who plays in The Phantom Band. “We just play records – we’re not really into band promotion and we only have a band on every couple of months”. This is a prestigious compliment for whoever plays: “we won’t have someone we don’t like and if you’re not good, we would not bother”.
The confident Rafla is then whisked away for a quick shoot around the bar with photographer Sean Anderson. Asked to do certain poses, she rejects the idea. Pulling an aggressive face, she asks “why? I don’t go around like grrrr”. The face is a grimace with the hands in a claw like grapple. Still Rafla sees the funny side of things and says “I hate my photo being taken”.
“That is all, thank you”.