DJing since the mid-80s, Grace Sands was a key, core member of legendary, Nottingham-based free-party collective, the DiY Soundsystem. A crew whose commitment to “rave” put them on a head-on collision with the establishment. A crash course that, in May 1992, culminated in the infamous week-long Castlemorton Common Festival. As part of the duo, Digs & Woosh, alongside the sadly departed Pete Birch, Grace span all over the world, including at stint at Ibiza’s Cafe del Mar. Still globetrotting, Grace currently holds London residences at acclaimed house all-dayer, Adonis, and the more eclectic Marshmelee events. Somehow she also manages to to find time to produce, and run her own label, TruVanity Music. To say that Grace is a veteran of the festival scene, is a serious understatement. A regular at Glastonbury’s Block 9 / NYC Downlow, this year she will also appear at Wild Wood Disco. Here Grace quickly chats to The Insider. The space / time allotted barely does her multi-storied career justice. 

Interview conducted by our favourite four-to-the-floor expert, The Insider.

Grace Sands Photo

Thanks for talking the time to talk Grace. Where are you and what are you up to today?

I’m at home. After answering your questions I’ll be prepping for the Adonis All-Dayer on Sunday. It’s gonna be a big one! 8AM `til 2AM – hold on a minute!!

grace sands adonis poster

Where are you from in the North originally?  Where are you based these days?

I’m from SK8, South Manchester. I’m now in East London, via fun times in Nottingham with DiY Soundsystem, pals and crew.

Where have you been playing recently?

Last weekend was on the busy side – I played Gayzpacho, a tomato juice covered gay wrestling party in Dalston on the Friday, and that was packed. I worked it. I played a cool independent cider venue, Cider Box, in Bristol on the Saturday – fun with Kweens and kids. That was Superstar DJ Grace, complete with ballroom hits, fun mixes, waving and blowing kisses! (laughs) Then back to London for Marshmêlée, a party with eclectic vibes that I do with a couple of pals at All My Friends – The Cause’s new bar – in Hackney Wick, which was heaving for the bank holiday, and then closed the Dalston Supestore Gauche Room for their 14th birthday. It went off, garage and deep house all the way! So Yea, busy and having fun!

grace sands all-my-friends

Grace, you’ve been DJing for a fair few years. When did you first start dabbling with records?

Back in `86, when I moved to Nottingham. I auditioned for the university radio, but they knocked me back! Then at a house party the next year the same guy came up and complemented me – so justice was done… bitch!

What got you into playing around with music?

I’m a dancer first and foremost, which got me into buying tunes.

Can you remember a few of the first records you bought?

I loved, and still love, the first Everything But the Girl album, David Bowie – Ziggy, Spiders, Hunky Dory – I love Kooks – I got into the Berlin series later. I am a big Marley Marl and Cold Chillin’ fan, with Big Daddy Kane my No.1 MC – don’t go chatting about Rakim please!!! … JVC ForceStrong Island is a classic that I got back then.  … also, house-wise, NY House’n AuthorityNew Elevators on Nu Groove, AdonisNo Way Back, when I was living in Manchester and going to the Hacienda.

Where did you used to shop for records?

Back then I used to go to Spin Inn in Manchester. I used to work at Manchester Airport, in the bar, during the summer of `86. I met one of the other servers in there shopping. This was in the early days when they’d play you the new 12s – well they did for him!! (laughs)

Where were you first gigs pre-DiY. What kind of vibe were you playing?

My first gig was playing my hip hop records in between bands at an MDC gig at The Garage in Nottingham… then house parties mainly. Me and Harry (Harrison) from DiY did a less than successful back-to-back at the University student bar in 87.

Who were the artists you were into initially?

I think everybody draws on Prince as a inspirational allrounder and general groovy fucker… Grace Jones, Adrian Sherwood and On-U SoundButthole Surfers, Bolt Thrower – I love the energy and dirt of these kinds of bands, since I first heard Heresy at The Garage.

What were the clubs and parties you were into in your early clubbing days?

Hacienda, Quadrant Park, Winston’s Wednesday night in Sheffield at Occasions – where he played fresh bleepy house off cassettes that people brought for him! The Garage and Venus in Nottingham – where we had DiY nights later.

Can you tell us a little about the legendary Castlemorton free festival? 

It was a huge culmination of many home answering machine messages, free party crews, and of course being on the 6 o`clock news – no it wasn’t just Spiral Tribe! (laughs). It was a damn fine, crazy party weekend, but also the death knell for big parties like that.

What kind of vibe were you and Woosh playing at that time?

We were regularly going to Eastern Bloc in Manchester, taking the Trans Pennine Express – so a lot of Interactive Test, UMM, DJAX UP Beats – there’s actually a whole load of new 12’s coming out with that sound on labels like Kalahari Oyster Kult, Slump Recs, Life On Mars – which we took through the craziness to Italian dream house like Night Communications, with labels like Heartbeat, Oversky, UDP.

Is there a record that was a signature tune for the two of you?

TraikosTracks Vol 1 on Music Man Records – is a classic that I still play from time to time, which pretty much sums up our set at Castlemorton.

You had an ambient show, Serve Chilled, on the pirate station Rave FM. What was the idea behind the show?

We both had collections which included albums by Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers, Ohio Players, Dexter Wansell, with beautiful chilled and musical tracks on there. The FloatersFloat On was a classic favourite. Pete Woosh was a big jazz and head music fan, so he’d play John Hassell and found sounds. It was a fun way to play these tracks, and yes we liked to blaze so it was a fit really!

DiY had a good stint in Ibiza. Where did you play, who did you play with?

We met Jose Padilla from the Cafe Del Mar on our first trip to play at Amnesia – where Harry nearly got kicked out for turning on the foam machine. We got on with Jose really well, he brought us over to Pacha, Space Terrace, Eden, and me and Pete  played the Cafe Del Mar.

I love the quote by Factory Records founder, Tony Wilson, who called DiY “Culturally the most dangerous people in the UK.” Why do you think he said that?

We could navigate the city club world, and also be pals with the site crew and travellers. That’s not a skill that everybody has.

Glastonbury / Block 9 has been part of your summer each year. Are you there this year? What is it that`s so special about this event to you?

NYC Downlow is a they say ‘the best queer club in the world’ for the 5 days that it exists each year. I grew into being Grace there, so it’s a very special place for me. There’s a massive family that grows and gathers there each time.

Quinn Whalley of Paranoid London told me that Adonis is possibly the best club / party he’s ever been to. As resident, why do you think the party is so amazing?

Shay Malt who promotes it, is a Bristol party boy – well, man! – first and foremost and he knows how to pick good DJs and draw people together – gay, lez, kweens, kings, trans, thems, allies  – we’re hitting it sweetie!

As summer festival season gets closer, I see you’re playing at the Wild Wood Disco Festival. Have you played there before?

I met the organizer, Vicky Fenton, while in Ibiza for a pal`s 50th last year. We had a giggle at Pikes, and she asked me to come and play.

Wild Wood has a big inclusive focus. Can you give us some insight to this amazing event?

The line-up looks inclusive, Bestley, from Feel It, is on alongside myself. From what I know of Vicky and her party energy, it’s gonna be a goood un. 

What are you gonna drop at peak party time Grace?

I’ve actually got a few nuggets of my own that might cut it!

Who will you be hoping to catch on the line-up?

I always love Crazy P, I know SecretSundaze from London, and Paulette from playing at Homelectric. I’ll see who else catches my ear!

Are you any good at slumming it in tents?

Yes, although I am blessed with bell tents, and sometimes a tee-pee these days  – massive clanging hint!

You can catch Grace as part of the star-studded line-up at the Wild Wood Disco Festival, taking place at The Woodland Glade, Horseheath Racecourse, in Linton, Cambridgeshire, between the 16th and 18th of June. You can find more details, and purchase tickets, here.

If you’d like to learn more about the DiY Soundsystem, invest in Harry Harrison’s brilliant book, Dreaming In Yellow. 

dreaming in yellow

Copy of wild wood disco Festival-2023

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