Jodie Harsh, Before the Glitter
We caught up with the cultural icon and nabbed some exclusive new images.
We caught up with the cultural icon and nabbed some exclusive new images.
Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG
Mindfulness is described as the act of focusing on the present moment. Said present for multi-hyphenate London DJ Jodie Harsh seems to be a few steps ahead of the rest of us. Indeed, she embodies so much of what culture "is" today, but hopefully she's also a vision of what’s to come. Whether that means dialogue around gender and its surrounding visuals or simply what music we should be listening to, Harsh has become a beacon of good taste. It’s why everyone from Burberry to Beyonce has wanted the Harsh DJ treatment.
But while she might be ahead, Harsh is looking to the past for her forthcoming project. She’s partnering up with friend, collaborator, and V Magazine favorite Love Bailey for a short film titled “A Letter from Daddy”, in which Harsh reads out loud a letter her father wrote her when he discovered she was hanging out with a queer crowd. Partly because of her being a drag queen, one could say that we’ve seen Harsh’s creativity and knack for manifesting fantasies rather than learning anything about her personal past. So in that light, the film opens up new doors for the public to better understand the person under the teased, platinum blond wigs.
We caught up with Harsh to talk about the film, her forthcoming sophomore album, and what it's like to reveal more of herself to the world.
Where are you right now?
In my hotel room and there’s glitter absolutely everywhere. Housekeeping is not going to be happy. Basically, glitter exploded all over this hotel room, which is kinda a good analogy of my life really.
Glitter is also like, the hardest thing to clean.
I mean, it’s impossible. I find glitter five days later in the weirdest places. It’s a problem.
What city are you in right now?
I’m in Ibiza right now and then tomorrow I’m flying to Mykonos. I have a DJ set in Mykonos and then I’m taking a few days holiday with my friends. And then back to reality. Back to London.
So you’re actually based in London?
I’m based in London, yeah. I travel a lot. I DJ most weekends somewhere. And then I tend to do all the fashion weeks and I tour a bit. Like a month ago I did an Australian tour. And I get to the States a lot.
As an American living in Europe, I feel like the proximity of all the countries here really lends itself to that nomadic lifestyle.
Absolutely. I wanted to move to LA once because I really kinda have a big love for LA, but when you’re over here you’re so far from everything else. You're so far from Europe. So I think it’s good to stay in Europe because it’s kinda easiest. The easiest place to be based.
Yeah, it does make it a lot easier. Are you born in the city or where do you come from?
Well, I was born in a little city called Canterbury, which is kinda famous because of Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Canterbury Tales”. But actually, in this century, it wasn’t particularly interesting to me. I was born there and raised there. And I couldn’t wait to move to London. I remember school trips and family days out to Buckingham Palace or something, and I would just think, “Oh my God, I just want to live in London.” I always felt like such an alien where I was growing up, so to me being in sort of a small town, I just felt I wanted to escape and live a crazy life in a crazy, dangerous city. So I did.
And now here you are. Did you find London to be a pretty welcoming city when you moved there? Or what was that transition like?
I kind of fell into London on my feet, on high-heeled feet, because I’ll tell you a funny story. The day I moved to London, I did drag for the first time. And me and my best friend went to Heaven, the gay nightclub, and my best friend was kissing this guy who he then ended up having a three-year relationship with. And the guy was Kim Jones, who’s obviously now at Dior and Louis Vuitton. So I remember this night, it’s the first night we moved to London, so my friend is kissing this dude and I just stood there talking to this guy’s friend whose name is Nicola. And we’re just like chatting away, whatever. And like, “Oh, I work at this magazine,” like Nicola Formichetti. Literally the first night I was friends with that gang, so I kind of fell on my heels the day I moved to London. But aside from that, I found London to be quite a dangerous city. But I’ve never really had any trouble there. I always kind of protect myself quite well. Don’t walk around late at night by yourself and that kind of thing. And I like the danger, anyway. I’d rather be in some crazy, dangerous metropolis than be back in Canterbury.
It sounds like the nightlife there was really what welcomed you in, which is a really lovely thing that I feel happens often within the queer community.
Yeah. And I grew up being obsessed with Boy George and that whole New Romantic scene. And when I came around, it was the days of Henry Holland. And we were going to Boombox and all these kind of really cool clubs that ended up being quite famous. And it really felt like there were some really exciting things happening. And because London’s such a big city, it’s obviously very diverse, but it’s got lots of different pocket scenes and subcultures happening. So, similar to New York, you can dip into different club cultures and different squads, and you can have very different experiences in London every night, every day of the year. It’s a city that’s constantly evolving. It’s constantly exciting. I think it’s having a real moment, as well. I’m in Ibiza right now. I’m here with Riccardo Tisci and we were just saying how London’s popping right now. It’s having a moment, in terms of fashion. There are really cool clubs going on. It just feels as you walk around London, or you go out, or you do your thing in London, it just feels like there’s something going on again, you know? Like Riccardo with Burberry and the big Vivienne Westwood collaboration that was just announced. And with all these new designers coming out like Matthew Bovan.
I agree, and in particular, it really does seem like people are taking London Fashion Week more and more seriously, for example. Also, all of these creative kids were moving to Berlin for a few years and now people seem to be choosing London.
100%, yeah. And I’ve never really been into that whole Berlin vibe. It’s not quite me. It’s a bit too rough around the edges for me, you know? Because I quite like an expensive shoe, so even from my aesthetic and that kind of stuff. I’ve had some great nights in Berlin. I’ve done Berghain. I probably sound like such a tourist when I say that, but what I like about London is it’s sort of steeped in this very rich, sophisticated history, you know? There are palaces everywhere. We have a royal family in the UK. You can go to other parts of London and it’s crazy warehouses and stuff.
How did you shift from just enjoying nightlife and partaking in it to actually DJing and working within that industry?
Well, it was all very accidental. I started doing drag literally the day I moved to London. I was hanging out with people who were doing drag before I was, only for one night at a time, because I grew up less than 2 hours away. So I’d pop into London with a fake ID and was hanging out with drag queens and stuff. So it started with drag and I went to London College of Fashion. And I spent my university days going to clubs and getting £50 for dancing on the bar or whatever. Just kind of hustling my way through London nightlife. And then I started my own club night after I graduated. It just started as an income generator, and just for the experience, for the creativity of putting together a club night. I quite enjoyed that process and that led to DJing. And that then led to TV, and finally I started making music and writing stuff for people. And that’s the order it all kind of happened in. It always felt very organic.
I’m just kind of doing things that I’m interested in, you know? I love to party, so I love to create the parties. I love the glamorous world of fashion and makeup and all sorts of things like that, so I like to do drag. And I felt quite alien, so I like that I do drag because it’s sort of left field. And you know, music. All I do all day is listen to music, so that’s a big part of my life. So I like playing it out and making people dance, and making the beats.
Can you talk about “A Letter from Daddy”?
Yeah, so Love [Bailey] was introduced to me by Sussi, who obviously we love, and when Sussi sent me Love’s work—this was a couple years ago now—I was like, “She’s amazing, wow.” I immediately just felt like I wanted to work on something with her and just get creative with Love Bailey. I was like, "What? This is so me.” So, exciting. And so we made this plan to kind of tell my story, me growing up and my relationship with my father, which is very fractured in that we haven’t spoken in a long time. The major themes of this short film we’re currently making are abandonment and homophobic parents, but being ourselves, and being the little punk, and not fitting in, and escaping normality. And so the actual film, it’s a little abstract. It’s basically my journey to where I am today. And we started filming it, we’re in the middle of a process, so it’s not ready to rock, but I can definitely talk about it.
When you’re making art like this that’s so personal, where’s that line between what you want to share with the viewers about yourself and what you want to keep private? It can be a really vulnerable thing to put out into the world when it’s so autobiographical.
Well, I don’t share myself out of drag just because I am super private. And I always think that’s something I really like, the fact that I hold something back. I’m not on reality TV. I don’t need to be posting boy selfies or stuff. It’s just something that I kind of always wanted to hold back. And that’s me in my work mode. And yeah, the story is very personal and I’m in a vulnerable position telling the story, but I definitely want to do it. And it’s also kind of therapeutic to me because I have a really bad relationship with my dad. And basically my dad, when he found out I was gay, I was 16 years old, and he found out I was going to crazy nightclubs with a fake ID, you know? Sleeping with boys and things. He ended up writing me a letter basically disowning me, and basically telling me that he didn’t think he could love me anymore and he doesn’t want a gay son. And all this kind of stuff. So I kept the letter. Obviously, if you were going to psychoanalyze the situation, of course it strengthened me. And of course that was that part of the journey to where I am right now. And I’m sure a lot of my life is a big “Fuck you” to my dad, if you really want to get into my brain. But I kept the letter. I bring it out once a year or once every couple of years, and I read it back to myself and go, “You know what? I kinda feel bad for you.” And when Love and I were talking about what the film should be, I said, “I got this letter from my dad. I could bring it.” So the duration of the movie is me reading out the letter from my dad. So it’s very sad. When Love read the letter, she was like, “That’s so sad that a 15-year-old who was just kind of coming to terms with who they are in life could then have one of their two parents write those words on a piece of paper and hand it to them.”
Well, not to minimize your experience at all, but the unfortunate truth is that this will be relatable to a lot of other people. It happens and it’s important to address it, like you are.
100%, yes. 100%. It was time to do something like this, like reveal it and not just be the person who makes you dance in a fashion show, a party, whatever. I just wanted to go, “Oh, here’s a bit of me actually. And you might relate.” And this thing happened to me and it took me on this journey. And it led me to this point now where I can get on stage and DJ to other people and be like, “Let’s fucking dance.” Because that’s my attitude, where life’s never easy for anyone, really. There are always little bumps in the road, right? But at the end of the day, it’s all good. Let’s just have a dance. That’s really what my throwing a party, or DJing, or making a beat for people to enjoy, that’s what it’s about. It’s all about a little moment of escape and just giving someone three minutes or so, or more. A few hours for a club, a couple hours for a DJ set. But it’s just all about an escape from normality and the dramas of life. But let’s have a little bit of fun. Let’s have a dance. That’s kinda my thing about what I do.
It’s really a crazy gift to be able to be an artist and turn something as painful as this letter into a piece of work. You get to recontextualize something terrible into a beautiful message, and while it’s therapeutic for you of course, it also will be uplifting to others.
100%. And that’s definitely the key message. You can get through stuff like this. This is not a rare story. How many kids have fractured relationships with their parents when they’re coming out, for whatever reason? And yeah, I haven’t actually spoken to my dad at all in about ten years.
But I’m interested to know what he thinks of the film because he’s gonna get a copy when it’s out. [Laughs]
What else do you have coming up?
A new mixtape, as well, dropping next week. Just a DJ mix. I’m actually doing another thing that’s in progress right now. I’m putting together an album, which will come out next year. Yeah, I’m aiming to get ten tracks together. Each with a different vocalist. And I’m producing the beats and I’ll work on the songs with the artists. But I have made loads of beats and I have my wish list of different pop stars and musical people that I’m gonna start hitting up for collaborations. So I’m quite excited about that. It’ll be my sophomore album.
Follow Jodie at @jodieharsh on Instagram and Twitter
Catch Jodie on Fridays at Dollar Baby in London (@dollarbabyparty) and DJ touring schedules are posted on Instagram
Creative Director: Love Bailey at Slather Studios
Photographer: Jordan Millington
Makeup Artist: Mikayla Gottlieb
Stylist assistant: Bebe Huxley
Photo assistant: Kristen Jan Wong
Hair: Wig Chapel
Video Shot & Edited by: PJ Magerko