Joey San on making dance music in Manchester

Joey San has had a momentous year. In the haze of summer after the first lockdown, he was featured on BBC Radio 1’s show Introducing Dance. Joey lay in bed with his earphones in, waiting for his song MeToBe to play. It had been a long, boiling hot day and it was not until 12:30am that the song came on. “Pretty weird” as experiences go, he says.

The song was recorded in July last year and has a definite feel-good factor. I put it to him that it sounds like music for a post-pandemic world. “A post-pandemic world? I’d not thought that,” he laughs. “But I do hope a post-pandemic world feels like how that track sounds.”   

MeToBe is Joey’s first song on Spotify, a platform with tighter gatekeeping regulations than Soundcloud, where the rest of his music is available. I asked what he thought of the way music was dominated by the big streaming platforms.   

“A blessing and a curse,” he says. “If you put a good tune on Spotify and you get added to a certain playlist then the amount of listens you can get from that is pretty crazy to be honest.”

“Algorithms can be your best friend. But, at the same, it’s the fact that you don’t really have that control.”  

As he is well aware, if an algorithm changes then it can impact an artist’s income irrespective of the quality of their work: “If you’re reliant on that [income], then that starts to become a problem,” he says.      

“I always think if you can use your own platform, then that’s in your best interests. But, in this day and age, it’s pretty difficult. If I had a website where I put my music out, to actually get people on to the website to listen to just my music would be an issue.” 

But he does think change is coming:  

“People are getting a bit tired of a being pushed around by these big platforms and are trying to take it back into their own hands. I just think, when we get out of this, there’ll be a massive resurgence of the underground, whether that be going to raves or releasing more physical music on vinyl, cassette etc.”  

Streaming platforms are hardly the only obstacle for a young musician. The slashes to welfare spending of the last twenty years, allied to a work culture of long hours and intrusive access, can make it hard to find the time to make music. The days when young artists could afford to spend years on the dole perfecting their sound are no longer.   

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“It’s a bit of a struggle, to be fair,” Joey says. “On a good day I’ll finish work at like 7pm. So, after I finish work, I’m knackered as it is and then I need to go and put in an hour or two to produce.”  

“But this is not just me in this position, anyone who is trying to make music is in this position […] but sometimes I do struggle after work to even do an hour. I’ve realised if I ever want to do anything with music, I’ve just got to suck it up and do it.”   

Growing up in a household suffused with the sounds of hip hop and R&B – the genres played by his older brother, who is also a DJ – Joey got into electronic music aged thirteen.  

“I discovered dance music when I was in Year 8. I saw an advert on BBC 3 and they were playing a tune and I was like ‘what the hell is this tune!’. I don’t think Shazam was around at the time, so I had to like Google ‘BBC 3 advert blah, blah, blah…’ and it was Skrillex’s BREAKN’ A SWEAT and to this day I’m still obsessed with that tune.”  

Some of his – slightly more conventional – formative music moments came about when clubbing in Manchester city centre. He says Manchester and its music scene have influenced him “100%.” 

“2014, 2015, 2016 – ish, I was going to Sankeys quite a lot, Warehouse Project quite a lot, and whenever I was there, I was like ‘yes, I definitely want to be a DJ.’”  

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Having been many times as a punter, Joey got the opportunity to play at Sankeys before it closed in 2017. Much is changing in Manchester, not all of it good: Sankeys was an important space for him and for many others, but spiralling property prices forced the club to close. A statement on their official Facebook reads:  

“The entire building has been sold to a residential property developer who intends to turn it into apartments […] when you look around Ancoats you’ll see new apartment blocks and new developments throughout the area.” 

“We have done well to fend off the developers for so long.” 

Nevertheless, reflecting on the future of the city, Joey struck a positive note: “Something is definitely happening here.” That sense of optimism comes across in the music, too: MeToBe has a floaty, micro-housey feel to it: the song is most definitely music to dance to.  

And, as the days lengthen, and we creep ever closer to the end of lockdown, music to dance to suddenly feels much more of the moment than it has for a very, very long time.    

On his own future, Joey hopes that in a couple of years he might be able to do music full-time. “Even over the last year my songs have improved,” he says. “I’m definitely no way near there yet, but I think my sound is getting there a lot quicker than it was.”  

Listen to Joey San’s music on SoundCloud and Spotify.

The artwork for the single was created by Lottie Peachey, you can find more of her work on Instagram.