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Beats 1's Julie Adenuga Wants Women To Worry About Work, Not Gender

When the three main weekday hosts for Apple’s new Beats 1 radio station were announced back in June, there was a surprise on the list. Alongside radio heavyweights, BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe and Ebro Darden of New York’s esteemed hip-hop station Hot 97, was Julie Adenuga, a virtual unknown.

Although the 27-year-old from north London might have entered a male dominated fray (a 2013 survey found women make up just 20% of solo radio broadcasters,) she wasn’t fazed for a minute. Adenuga was more concerned about messing up the controls, which, this being Apple, presumably had an ever so slightly more sophisticated set-up than her old station, the community-licensed Rinse FM. Not to mention that she was now broadcasting to 100 countries.

“I felt really comfortable talking because I’ve been talking my whole life; talking nonsense,” laughs Adenuga, when we meet in a café across the road from the Beats 1 studio in London’s Highgate. “But I was a bit scared of the new system. I did mess up the fade at one point but, nah, I never get worried about having something to say.”

With a particular passion for drum’n’bass, jungle and grime, Adenuga is a refreshing new voice on the airwaves, her ease, enthusiasm and energy all palpable over the speaker.

Although she never set out to be a radio DJ (she wanted to present Top of the Pops when she was a teenager), an unbridled passion for music led her to host her own shows on pirate radio.

“I used to do a radio show with a friend of mine and we’d just talk about songs we liked,” recalls Adenuga. “We’d be like ‘this bit is good but this bit is NOT good’. It wasn’t the most polished thing. But we weren’t afraid of saying how we felt about music. We always had an opinion.”

It is this sort of attitude, Adenuga insists, that has meant her voice has never been drowned out in the male-dominated radio industry.

You shouldn’t be worried about your gender, you should be worried about the work that you’re doing and how good you are at the work.

“I get along with men really well,” says Adenuga. “And I’m quite a dominating character, even in a room full of men. When you’re in that position it can be easy to feel self conscious of being the only woman but you don’t need to give that off. You shouldn’t be worried about your gender, you should be worried about the work that you’re doing and how good you are at the work.”

Her ease with being surrounded by men must come down in some part to growing up with three brothers (two are older, one younger.) She tells stories about the four of them terrorising their parents when they were little by playing ball games in the house and turning wardrobes into vocal booths.

Her brothers also encouraged her love of music. She might refer to her two older brothers that she used to clown around with as Junior and Jamie but music fans will know them better as Skepta and Jme, the toast of the UK hip-hop scene who are championed by everyone from Kanye to Drake.

“It’s funny, whenever we went to a grime rave, and I’ve been to so many, there would be 10 MCs on stage who are all guys and there would be one girl. You’d always want that girl to get the mic and prove herself or whatever. You’d expect the guys to be like ‘I’m not giving you the mic’, but they’re more than willing to. They don’t see it like that. It’s a sport to them and they don’t care if you’re male or female. It’s about the woman being confident enough to say: ‘It don’t matter that you’re guys, I’m gonna take the mic and spray some lyrics.’ They’re receptive to us; I think sometimes we have to be a bit receptive to them.”

Despite being a self-confessed tomboy, Adenuga insists she does have a girly side (although she says she didn’t discover it until she turned 21.) She loves getting her nails done and when we meet her grey tracksuit is accessorised with some seriously vampy talons.

She acknowledges that she might find it easier to get along with men because she grew up with them but she urges women to not be spoken down to.

Until last week Adenuga went up directly against Lowe and Darden on a show called 'Triple Threat' which saw them all host at the same time. It never worried her.

“My biggest competition in life is to always feel like I’ve done the best I can do,” she shrugs. “I don’t think anyone could ever challenge my gender if I was doing that.”

Julie’s current favourite beats

Okzharp (feat Manthe): “Dear Ribane”
“I’ve been playing this everyday. It’s just a brilliant tune from South Africa. I do a dance to it in the studio when I play it.”

Kali Uchis: “Ridin' Round”
“She was born in Colombia but she lives in America. She has blonde hair, wears pink and has next level lipliner. She’s so funny. She has a nice vibe and makes good tunes. Doesn’t take herself too seriously.”

TĀLĀ & Banks: “Wolfpack”
“She did an EP recently and travelled to Istanbul, Cairo, New York and other places working with all these different people. I listen to this tune every day. Banks is brilliant as well. I listen to it all the time.”

Maverick Sabre: “Give Me Love”
“It’s from his album Innerstanding. When you talk to him he has the thickest Irish accent ever but when he sings he turns into this mad soulful thing. This has a ska, reggae vibe that I like.”

Listen to Julie’s show on Beats 1, Monday to Thursday 8:00pm - 10:00pm here.