Tim Hughes asks the DJing phenomenon, What Hannah Wants?

She is the new face of dance music – a rare female face in the male-dominated world of house and garage.
Her bass-heavy sets are setting club land alight – with crowds packing venues all the way from the Balearics to her native Birmingham, via New York and Glastonbury.

But who exactly is Hannah and, on the eve of her Oxford club night, does anyone really know What Hannah Wants?
“I want to be the best that I can be!” she laughs. “There’s always room for improvement in every aspect of life and I strive for the very best.”

Plain speaking Brummy, Hannah has gone from cult DJ to superstar with her own What Hannah Wants brand, in no time at all – but, she insists, her ambitions go way back to her first exposure to garage, growing up as Hannah Alicia Smith. 

“I really enjoyed music growing up, it’s been my passion for as long as I can remember,” she says. “I knew from my very first – under-age – clubbing experience that I wanted to become a DJ.

“I stood and watched in awe as the DJ controlled the dance floor and, from that moment, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I bought some Numark belt drive turntables, a mixer, some vinyls and I literally locked myself in my bedroom to hone the craft.”

Things stepped up a gear when she visited Ibiza, and since then she has built on her fanbase with high-energy sets and successful dabbles in production.

So how did she get from Hannah Smith to Hannah Wants? 
“I used to DJ in Ibiza under the name Hannah S, but I had always wanted to find a better name,” she says.

“One day I very randomly opened the dictionary to the letter ‘W.’ I actually like the letter ‘W’, I like the way it looks; is that strange? Anyway, I wrote a few words down next to Hannah that began with ‘W’ and as soon as I saw Hannah Wants I just had a gut feeling about it.
“I like the open-endedness of the name, and when it comes to my career and life in general, I do actually want a lot. I am a very openly ambitious person, so it fits very well.”

So how does she sum up her sound? “Simply put, it’s house music,” she says. “The majority of it is bass-influenced. I’ll dip into most sub-genres of house. If I like it, I’ll play it. I like to sort through new music and old music.”

It’s a sound which separates her from the crowd of other club DJs.

“It’s all down to the variety of my influences and not being afraid of mixing things up,” she explains. “It’s all about how confident you can be as a DJ.

The Oxford Times:

“My influences came from speed garage, UK garage and bassline house. When I was 16 and just started going out and learning how to DJ, those things were really working in Birmingham. My sound is made of bass lines, garage beats and house beats with a modern twist.” 

A defining influence was Tottenham UK garage maestro DJ EZ. “Growing up, DJ EZ was and still is a major influence,” she says.

“He’s a UK garage legend and my DJ idol. I listened to his Pure Garage compilations when I was starting out as a DJ, and I admire his technical skills behind the decks. It’s my ambition to have a career as legendary as his. I set out with goal years ago to become known for my live sets and being a great DJ.”

She also has time for her hometown. “Birmingham has been a massive influence to me in terms of how popular UK garage and bassline house was back in the day,” she says.

“It definitely played a part on my sound and style as an artist.”

So how does the woman, who two years ago was crowned both DJ Mag and Mixmag’s Best Breakthrough DJ and Mixmag’s Star of the Year, feel about showing the men how it’s done? Is it hard being a woman DJ in a male-dominated world?

“That is genuinely not something I even think about,” she says. “I just focus on what I do and concentrate on my own game. I always have and I always will. If anything, I prefer being a minority so it’s all good.”

Tonight she comes to Oxford, for a set at the O2 Academy. What does Hannah want from us?

“I love a crowd that can match and surpass my own energy levels,” she laughs. “I don’t get to play in Oxford very often so I’m looking forward to it.”

She goes on: “I think the last headline gig I had in Oxford was back towards the end of 2013. Needless to say, my style and career has come on a bit since then. I don’t get to hang out that much when I’m touring, but I remember thinking that the mix of students gave the place a really nice, diverse energy. It’s a beautiful town too – I’d like to come back as a tourist.”

As a DJ she insist the trick to a great night is getting the crowd on side – and getting the tunes right.

“It’s all about a receptive crowd and a perfect selection that bring people with you on a journey,” she says. “That’s the motto behind my brand What Hannah Wants.

“My philosophy is to deliver a great rave and book DJs who can deliver to a dance floor irrespective of their production portfolio.

The Oxford Times:

“My favourite kind of clubbing vibe is a warehouse rave vibe. I love the raw, intimate, low-ceiling feel. The brand reflects this ethos. The venue is key to creating a great rave. That, along with DJs who can deliver, make for a great night which is what it’s all about! The bar has been set high for the WHW events but I like that. It makes me work ridiculously hard, which is imperative if you wanna stay at the top of your game.”

And that means hunting for fresh cuts.
“I spend whenever I can looking for new music,” she says. “It takes up hours and hours of my time and I wish I had even more hours too. I get sent hundreds of new tracks weekly but I really love going through old hard drives and archives to try and find some of those gems.”

And her current favourites? “One of them would have to be my latest release on Toolroom, Just – there’s something very special about seeing a crowd reacting to your own music and it’s always different. Also my Hidden Love ft Detour City. I’m very into Triangle’s Dense & Pika and Roger Sanchez’ Remember Me.”

Already one of the nation’s favourite DJs, Hannah Wants a lot more to come…

“I want my reputation to grow as a solid DJ worldwide, that was my goal years ago and it’s still my goal now,” she says.

“In terms of production, I’ve been working on lots of brand new solo material for well over a year now which I’m happy to say will be released over the course of 2016.

“I’m so excited to finally be able to share what I’ve been up to behind the scenes.”

Though she admits, things, that sometimes things can get a bit strange.

“One thing that’s pretty weird is the higher you climb in the industry, the more you find absolute strangers telling people – and yourself – the widest array of completely made up things about you and your own life,” she says.

“You need to learn how to navigate in the industry. But I can’t keep track of all the fun things that have happened to me since I started to DJ. That’s what made me embrace this career and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”

Hannah Wants’ club night, What Hannah Wants, is at the O2 Academy Oxford tonight.

Tickets here ...