Profile: Sister Smalls – Beauty in the Beats

Emma Smallman, DJ Sister Smalls

Emma Smallman – aka DJ Sister Smalls – explores the world of dance music every other Thursday on Brum Radio at 8pm. She talks about her show Beauty in the Beats, her life, DJ’ing and the music she loves.

What is your show about – what do you want listeners to get from it?

It’s an exploration of dance music and the journeys of those in amongst it. I play a range of electronic genres throughout with various features including dance music from around the world, beats to work out to, remixes of popular tunes and the show always closes with a 30-minute mix either from myself or a guest DJ. I often have live guests on for interviews, from DJ’s to producers to agents. I hope that listeners discover new music and enjoy hearing and take inspiration from people’s musical journeys and creative processes.

Tell us something about yourself, including the music you listened to growing up.

I have to admit, I used to be really into pop when I was little, I had a giant poster of Kylie Minogue on my bedroom wall! Then as a teenager, I first heard Drum & Bass music and that was a pinnacle, a turning point for me in awakening my love for dance music. The love affair has continued and I still get giddy to land on a dancefloor in my 40’s!

How did you get into dance music in particular?

I’d say my older brother was a strong influence. He DJ’d and I was surrounded by a lot of quality music through him. I also went to clubs and outdoor parties when I was a teenager where I was exposed to the dance music culture and it just captured me in a visceral way like no other music style had before.

What got you into DJ’ing? Who do you look up to?

I actually started DJing when I turned 40 during Covid. I really immersed in music during that time as I was living in a flat on my own. I would spend hours listening to music through headphones and my relationship with it deepened. My friend Molly and I decided to learn together which was great as we could support each other through the process. It was something I always wanted to do but never thought would be possible due to the technical side but with time I am getting there. I am still learning now but am on an exciting journey with it. I really look up to Jamz Supernova and Danni from Crazy P. Both are absolutely smashing it internationally musically and have such great energy.

How easy has it been for women to succeed as DJs? How much progress has been made?

The scene seems flooded with female DJ talent right now which is fantastic, I see woman DJing all the time compared to when I first started going out. Not sure I knew of any back then, so yeah, it’s a really positive time from what I can see. I think progress has been made in that respect, promoters seem much more aware of diverse line ups. Other people may have different perspectives on this so am aware of that too, I still feel like a real newcomer to the industry though so I’m sure there are still challenges. 

What are you listening to right now?

My current favourite is ‘Acabemos Con El Femicidio’ by Pelada which I very kindly discovered through one of my guests on ‘Beauty in the Beats’

Anyone wanting to DJ, what advice would you give?

When I started connecting with music more deeply, I came up with some principles about what music I would buy and play. It had to make me move, smile, laugh or cry. 

Commit to your sound. Play music that you love. Accept that when you first play out it will be terrifying, do it anyway. Know that the only way to improve is to keep putting yourself out there as playing at home is one thing, but whenever you play out new learnings always occur, be it from the kit or the crowd. Finally, have fun with it!