Faithless DJ Sister Bliss: 'The industry is pretty much run by men'

"I know that I’ve hopefully done some trailblazing in my field and helped to put dance music on the map," says Faithless DJ Sister Bliss

Rollo and Sister Bliss from Faithless: “People hadn’t stopped asking ‘When are you coming back? When are you coming back?’ so it was nice to have a reason to do so”

Rollo and Sister Bliss from Faithless: “People hadn’t stopped asking ‘When are you coming back? When are you coming back?’ so it was nice to have a reason to do so”

 

When Ayalah Bentovim answers the phone, she is in the midst of packing a bag for Ibiza. When she steps off the flight in the clubber’s paradise, she’ll cease being “Ayalah Bentovim from London” and become “Sister Bliss from Faithless” for the weekend.

LDN-IBZ is a route that Bentovim – known as Blissy or Lah to her friends – has travelled regularly over the past two decades, both as a well-respected DJ and as the “musical engine of Faithless”, as her Twitter bio puts it.

These days, she is once again juggling roles, since Faithless reunited for their 20th anniversary in 2015 and are continuing to play live dates across this summer.

Bentovim’s memories of the early days remain vivid, when she joined Rowland ‘Rollo’ Armstrong on his Cheeky Records roster and they enlisted Buddhist rapper Maxi Jazz as the MC of their new group.

“I remember the first time we heard ourselves playing live, it was on the radio in Germany, ” she says. “For the first time, we kind of listened and thought ‘Gosh, we do sound quite good really, don’t we?!’ I do remember very vividly what a strange and peculiar thing that was, because Faithless started out as a studio project. We only got a band together because we were selling so few records of our first album Reverence – so you could really feel that was the moment that fate started to change for us.”

Faithless enjoyed a long, multimillion-selling run from 1995 until 2011, when they decided to split. “It wasn’t my decision; it was Maxi who felt that he’d said all he wanted to say and done all he’d wanted to do, so it was his call – and he gave so much to Faithless that I completely understood that.

Itch to scratch

“He just wanted to try something completely different, which he has; he’s got his own band [Maxi Jazz and the E-Type Boys] which he’s doing alongside Faithless now and it’s as different from Faithless as you can probably imagine; it’s a guitar-based, funky blues band. It was just an itch that he wanted to scratch, so he spent his time out learning guitar.”

Sister Bliss was the first to broach a reunion . “It was only because I’d said ‘Look, it’s our 20th anniversary’ and we wanted to put together this remix album to commemorate it. So I asked [Maxi] if he was up for doing a few gigs. And also, people hadn’t stopped asking ‘When are you coming back? When are you coming back?’ so it was nice to have a reason to do so.”

That remix album, Faithless 2.0, was released in October and saw some of the biggest names in dance, from Avicii to Tiesto to Armin Van Buuren and Axwell, put their own spin on the group’s best-known songs, including Salva Mea, God is a DJ, We Come 1 and the career-defining Insomnia.

Putting it together took more than a year, she says.

“We had a wishlist and a few people couldn’t for whatever reason, but we got 99 per cent of the people that we did want. It was quite an intense experience, but I think the album brought Faithless to a new generation – and it was very eclectic as well, so I’m quite pleased that it reflects Faithless’s contribution to dance music. There’s so much to embrace in electronic music, and you can find most of it on our records.”

If Bentovim sounds a little immodest about Faithless’s role as pioneers of modern dance music, she has earned the right to be – but not everyone sees it that way. Earlier this year, fans tweeted their dissatisfaction that she had been left off DJ Mag’s (all-male) ‘25 Pioneering DJs’ list. This is not a new development, she says.

“Who knows what the decision-making process was,” she says with a resigned sigh. “But misogyny and the patriarchy are all around all the time, and the industry is pretty much run by men – so I wouldn’t be surprised if that had a part to play in it. Not necessarily even from a malevolent perspective, but there is certainly a ‘boys club’ that goes on in pretty much every profession, and dance music is no exception.

“I know what I’ve contributed and I know what I’ve done; I don’t need a magazine to tell me. I know that I’ve hopefully done some trailblazing in my field and helped to put dance music on the map, and fought for it and flew the flag for it when most journalists decided that dance music was dead, worthless and a poor cover for indie and rock music.

“I’m so glad that the dance music community has exploded globally and proved them absolutely and utterly wrong.”

That global explosion of dance music now involves a younger generation of DJs and producers – including North Americans such as Skrillex and Deadmau5. Yet the problem, she says, is not with Americanisation of the culture.

“It feels like a bit of a bankrupt sound now, but I think people really enjoy the energy of those kind of events – so there’s still a hunger and a thirst for your Tomorrowlands and your huge parties. My main concern, particularly in London, is that loads of clubs are getting shut down.

“My comrades and colleagues all started off in clubs and graduated; they didn’t just do one tune and suddenly end up as a main stage DJ, which I think a lot of Americans have. They haven’t cut their teeth in clubs for years and years and years, like the likes of Tiesto did.

Lack of growth

Some really major venues, which were incredibly important breeding grounds for DJs, have gone, and the growth and regeneration of the scene has just disappeared. So where do people go? How do they start? Where do they get that experience to enable them to become a main stage artist?

“At the moment, it seems to be just about making a record, trying to make it a hit and suddenly you get booked to play festivals. It doesn’t necessarily make for longevity in a career.”

If there’s one thing that Sister Bliss knows something about, it’s longevity. It may be true that none of Faithless are getting any younger – Maxi Jazz (incredibly) just turned 59, Rollo is 50, Bentovim herself is now 44 – but even so, the prospect of new material is on the horizon.

“We’ve been in the studio absolutely loads, and I’m really hoping that we can get some of our music out over the summer. I’ve been playing it out in my DJ sets and it’s sounding really good – so watch this space. I’m very much hoping that there’ll be new Faithless music out very soon.”

The secret of their endurance, she says, has been keeping their audience on its toes. “We’ve never pigeonholed ourselves,” she says, before she returns to her packing.

“When we first made Reverence, it was supposed to be like a mixtape for friends: your favourite reggae track, your favourite hip-hop track, your favourite chillout track. I know our dance anthems became our best-known songs because they’ve been the hits, but there’s always been many facets to Faithless, and we’ve always made music that was a bit darker than what was around at the time.

“It’s interesting. The 1990s seem to be having a bit of a resurgence at the moment,” she says, laughing heartily. “So we fit right in.”

- Faithless play the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin on Saturday, July 2nd

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