Introducing: LensSeptember 26, 2022
Lens is currently relaxing in a hotel in Germany ahead of her set at Hospitality Heidelberg later tonight. While the other label artists are “taking a disco nap,” as Lens puts it, we’re on a call chatting about gigs abroad. One event Lens can’t help mentioning is Sun & Bass, which she’s travelling to after Hospitality. As one of the most loyal crowds in d&b, winning over the Sun & Bass faithful brings added pressure for DJs – something Lens acknowledges. “I’m very nervous…” She says before laughing anxiously. “Sun & Bass is a crowd you want to impress. Your selection has to be on point.”
It’s surprising hearing Lens still gets nervous considering she’s been DJing professionally since 2018. We’re talking about an artist who oozes confidence behind the decks with her energy and big mixes. An artist regularly featuring on main stage line-ups at Hospitality events. But Lens identifies the feeling of imposter syndrome stemming from her experiences in college.
“I trained in radio, TV and film at the Brit School. At the end of the course, our teacher asked everyone to write down their uni of choice, but I told him I wanted to be a DJ. He laughed at me and said I was going to fail if I didn’t follow education. I genuinely never thought this life would happen to me, and can’t quite believe I’m doing this as a job.”
Lens has done anything but fail, with 2022 marking a breakthrough year for the artist with her biggest bookings to date. While still in her early twenties, she’s played at festivals including Hospitality on The Beach, Glastonbury, Boomtown, Snowbombing, and Snowbox – the latter of which Lens considers to be one of the best moments of her career yet. “I was playing in this tiny club, and during my set, the crowd started shining their lights to my left,” she remembers. “When I turned around, I noticed Andy C had walked in.” Lens pauses with a nostalgia in her eyes. “Andy wheeled up three of my tunes that set. It was a pinch-me moment.”
Getting the seal of approval from Andy C is a big deal, but ever since Lens was welcomed into the Hospital Records team, she’s been building excitement across the scene. It started with a link-up supporting Degs’ live PA performances, and it has since seen Lens grow her own identity as a solo artist. It’s a journey she looks back on fondly. “I started touring with Degs as his DJ and was mostly winging it. It threw me in at the deep end as the DJ/vocalist combo wasn’t a thing then. It was all about us having fun. I’m thankful for that time because it gave me the confidence to push on with my solo career.”
As a solo artist, it’s hard to predict what a Lens DJ set will entail – especially considering her motivation to “create something with my sets where people are unsure what’s going to happen”. This ambition to surprise crowds draws from the artist’s upbringing, where a teenage Ellen Lewin (Lens) constantly tried to impress her friends with her music knowledge. “I used to make playlists for parties when I was younger,” Lens recalls. “I loved being in control of the vibe. I wanted to impress my mates by digging deep for tunes they wouldn’t know.”
Alongside the desire to impress with her selection, there has been an added ingredient in Lens’s recent DJ sets – her own productions. After multiple years of building a reputation as one of d&b’s exciting young selectors, earlier this year, Lens surprised everyone by releasing her debut track “Love The Way” – a collab with fellow Hospital regular Lally. It may look like the release came out of nowhere, but really, Lens had been quietly working away at her production game for several years before finding the confidence to release.
“There’s always pressure to rush things, especially when life goes quick,” she admits. “In the scene, it feels like you’re constantly being pressured by what others are doing. It was hard to not go – fuck it, I’ll just put it out. I wanted it to have Lens identity, and that takes time to achieve.”
She may only have a handful of releases to her name, but Lens’s productions are already showing glimpses of an artist with an appreciation for the music culture she represents. It’s the reason why Hospital entrusted her to curate the Hospital Mixtape 2022 – an album enabling Lens to introduce new names and sounds to the label.
While this was a big feat, releasing her debut Marufo EP on Spearhead Records earlier this month was the moment when Lens showcased her identity as a producer. While the EP is a mix of styles with the liquid of “Give Me a Reason” and the hearty basslines of “Gun Point”, there’s a clear understanding of jungle flooding through the EP – a genre of music Lens only discovered in 2019 – but one that provided her with renewed inspiration, as she explains.
“When I began DJing, I mixed what I was comfortable with, liquid d&b. But when I dug deeper and discovered ‘90s jungle, I felt inspired. To uncover this back catalogue of incredible breaks, basslines, and old-school samples was like discovering a new world. It motivated me to make new music.”
While Lens confesses she isn’t “a technically gifted producer”, discovering jungle allowed her to express herself by finding and making samples, mashing them together, and chopping up breaks and amens. “I became obsessed during lockdown,” Lens says. “I was searching for samples on old jazz CDs my grandparents had, then making tunes with them. After a few months, I formed Marufo.”
It’s a sense of having fun with music and being creative without restriction underpinning the foundations jungle as a genre is built on – a mindset the modern music world often forgets in favour of polished mixdowns and stringent music theory. But there’s a next-gen crop of artists coming through digging back to our jungle roots and breathing fresh life into the music. Lens is one of them, and alongside artists including Nia Archives and Sherelle, they’re part of what Lens considers to be “the resurgence of the jungle sound”.
As we continue to talk about her transition to producing, it becomes apparent it’s a change that has put her name in the spotlight in a challenging way. “It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” Lens admits. “Putting yourself out there as a producer leaves you vulnerable because it’s like a piece of you is being released to the world”.
Maybe it’s the way Lens feels like she’s “being judged by everyone” as a newcomer, or maybe it’s the pressure of being “one of the few female producers in a male-dominated scene” – either way, she need not worry because putting herself out there through her music has only provoked positive sentiment. The most significant came from two of her EP tracks, “Feels Like” and “Marufo”, making it into Spotify’s Massive Drum & Bass and New Music Friday editorial playlists, respectively – an incredible achievement for an artist who only released her first production in March.
“My reaction at the time would have made a great short film,” Lens says with a grin. “Despite being filled with crazy amens, ‘Marufo’ was placed in Spotify’s New Music Friday. It was mental to see it alongside loads of pop music, but it gives me hope for the future.”
As talk turns to what we can expect from Lens as a producer in future, she’s quick to recognise her direction will be reminiscent of her DJ sets – unpredictable. “As an artist, I don’t follow a plan,” she says. “I’m just having fun going with the flow right now.” But there are big bookings and collaborations in the pipeline – one of which is supporting Hybrid Minds’ headline show at OVO Arena Wembley next month. It’s a booking Lens can’t stop grinning at because her second DJ gig was supporting Hybrid Minds in an empty room two at Volks in Brighton – a moment provoking laughter at the memory of “turning down the master on the decks so I could hear them play”. It’s the big stage we’re sure to see Lens occupying frequently in years to come as she continues to develop as one of D&B’s exciting talents.
Jake Hirst is a freelance writer living in Bristol, UK, who has previously been published in UKF, DJ Mag, Data Transmission and Ticket Arena. A certified drum & bass head, you can keep up to date with his writing on Instagram.