If there was one song that took on a life of its own at Glastonbury 2022, it was Eliza Rose’s empowering house anthem ‘BOTA (Baddest Of Them All)’. Seemingly everywhere you turned at Worthy Farm, it was blasting out of a set of speakers: if it wasn’t being repeatedly spun by underground tastemaker DJs Jaguar, Peach and former NME cover star I. Jordan, then it was being played by actual festival punters up at the Stone Circle.
Since then the DJ, producer and vocalist’s star has ascended, having worked her way up through London’s underground scene over the past decade: from DJ sets for Fabric, Rhythm Section and Boiler Room to hosting a Vinyl Factory radio show, and collaborating with artists including Angel D’Lite (‘Pleasure Xone 43’), M4A4 (‘Shades Of Red’) and Cody Currie (‘Flame’).
“I’ve been DJing for a few years, but it’s only taken off recently,” she tells NME today over Zoom. “This is the first year where I feel like maybe I am a DJ – the impostor syndrome is finally starting to go away a bit!”
With ‘BOTA’ having clocked up over a million streams, we spoke to Rose – on a rare day off between back-to-back European festival bookings – about the track’s unexpected success, her transformative time working in a London record store and what’s to come. next.
You worked at Flashback record store in London from the age of 15. What did your time there teach you?
“I did my work experience there by fluke: I was meant to be working somewhere else, but, a week before, I was told they had double-booked. I was left with the dregs of work experience that nobody else wanted: a nursery or a record shop. Because I had been singing since when I was at school, I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to change shitty nappies…’
“My parents didn’t collect records, and I always thought of it as being an old, white, middle-class thing. As a young, Black working-class girl, it wasn’t something that I felt belonged to me. But as soon as I went there, I discovered so many Black soul artists and got into it really quickly and loved it. Finding artists that I would never have discovered shaped everything about me, even as a person – from my sound to my style, to what music I’m into.”
Who were some of those artists?
“Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Otis Redding, Al Green: classic soul sounds. Before that, I was listening to 90s R&B and UK garage. Then, when I discovered Amy Winehouse, I would play her tracks and other people who worked in the shop would recommend I listen to other artists, like Sarah Vaughan. Very quickly, I had all these incredible artists at my disposal that I wouldn’t have had access to had I not been working in the record shop, especially with so many genre specialists. They would show me rare tracks and pick out things for me to buy, so I got my musical education there – and it birthed my love for everything I love now. It was a gift I didn’t know I needed.”
“When I found out ‘BOTA (Baddest Of Them All)’ had been played at Glastonbury, I was like, ‘I’ve made it!’”
How did it feel to be a part of that community?
“It was a very white, male space [which], I think, record shops really are. But I still had people to look up to. One guy, who must have been 14 when I was 17, knew absolutely everything about underground UK garage: he showed me what labels to look for and who was good. So I was blessed with so much knowledge and amazing teachers working at Flashback.”
Did DJing come naturally afterwards?
“I wasn’t massively into buying records for the first couple of years at Flashback – mainly because I was 18 and broke. But as soon as I started getting into it I wanted to buy more, and thought about DJing on the side so I could get more records. The habit escalated, and I’d practice and practice until my brain clicked. Because I’m severely dyslexic, it took me longer than most to learn how to match beats, but I got there in the end.”
You’re also a producer and singer. Why is it important to combine all these elements in your music?
“I’m still very early [on] in my production career, but you’ve got to start somewhere. I’m a massive nerd, so I’m always doing courses and learning. Singing allows me to still put out music, and collaborate and create. In the current climate, there’s a lot of people who just DJ, so being able to sing allows me to stand out. I try to mix my original love for soul and jazz in a more modern way, bringing together the retro and old-school but with a modern twist that makes it more accessible to more people.”
What inspired your breakthrough single, ‘BOTA (Baddest Of Them All)’?
“[Manchester-based DJ and producer] Interplanetary Criminal sent me the song when I’d been really busy and putting off writing loads of tracks. So I wrote the ‘Do you wanna dance, baby?’ line really quickly, in about five minutes. But then it was a bit too cutesy: I liked that element because I wanted that ’90s nostalgia, but then I felt it needed some grittiness, too.
“I always use my surroundings to inspire me. I was in my boyfriend’s bedroom and he had a Jackie Brown poster, and the words were, ‘She’s the baddest, wickedest in town’. It was a Blaxploitation poster, so that’s something I’m proud of and want to represent. I used that to inspire my lyrics and knew what it needed to be – it was strange, like a gift from a higher power.”
‘BOTA’ had a massive moment at Glastonbury. How special did it feel to hear it being played everywhere?
“When I found out it had been played a few times at Glasto, I was like, ‘I’ve made it!’. On the last day at the Stone Circle, somebody came over to me and said, ‘They’re playing your song over there!’. So my friends and I all rushed over. That was a real moment, and it felt like the cherry on the cake of an amazing Glastonbury. Since then, the track has gotten so much love and nice messages, with people saying it’s the best tune they’ve heard in ages. I’ve also had a video of someone getting their catch of the day, this big-ass fish, with it playing in the background. It’s going everywhere.”
LF System recently achieved the UK’s first dance Number One of 2022 with their track ‘Afraid To Feel’. Do you think ‘BOTA’ can follow in its footsteps and climb up the charts?
“Here’s hoping, but I don’t want to get too big for my boots: I’m already happy with how it’s doing now. Big up the LF System boys – hopefully they’ve paved the way for me to come through. Again, I think that’s been to do with timing; everyone’s got that appetite because of summer. With artists like Drake and Beyoncé also making house tunes, there’s a wider scope of people getting into [the genre] and seeing house music as a proper art form.”
The ‘BOTA’ music video was made with queer broadcasters Faboo TV. Why did you want to work with them?
“It was directed by my friend Jeanie Crystal, who is a force to be reckoned with. With an Alice In Wonderland theme I wanted to represent the creativity of east London nightlife, and the queer scene is such a massive part of that. A lot of people in the video I’ve known for years, or bumped into on nights out. Being from Hackney, I felt like I needed to represent a space that has become less creative and more gentrified. I wanted to get across that this otherworldly space still exists, even though it’s becoming more and more whitewashed.”
Did you ever expect ‘BOTA’ to get the reaction it has?
“Never in a million years did I think it was going to do this well. My management were really excited about it and I was like, ‘It’s good, but calm down!’. I think you don’t expect it when you’ve been doing music for a long time. Because I’ve been away playing festivals while it’s taken off, it feels like I’m watching it from afar, which makes it even more surreal. It’s like I’m watching this happen to somebody else!”