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Shelley Liu reinvents childhood nostalgia

Since her teen years, this Naarm (Melbourne) based DJ and artist manager has been carving out her place within the Australian music industry. Shelley Liu’s mixes take us back to the early 2000s. Her choice of tracks featured on the likes of classic So Fresh CD’s creates a nostalgic atmosphere.  

Shelley’s ability to push past any setbacks that come her way, and continuously support local emerging talent, is why she is a beloved music community member. Her passion for her work is infectious, encouraging others to reconnect with their creative side. 

We had the pleasure of chatting with her about her obsession with Australian Idol and the struggles of living alone during lockdown. 

Tell us why you love music?

I love how certain songs or artists can remind me of memories from the past that I may have forgotten about. Some albums remind me of really distinct periods of my life or certain people. 

I love how it can also have such an influence on your emotions and mood. I could be feeling sad about something and then listen to a funky, upbeat song that instantly changes that. 

Who was your biggest musical inspiration as a kid?

I don’t think I had one specific musical inspiration. I studied classical music when I was in primary school / high school, and that is mainly what my parents listened to. I learnt to most contemporary Western pop songs from watching Australian Idol; I was obsessed with that show. I also had an mp3 player that I couldn’t figure out how to add more than one song to, so I listened to ‘Superstar’ by Jamelia on repeat for about a few months straight. 

Tell us a bit about working with so many different artists, and how this affects your own style of DJ’ing.

I work with about 15+ artists from around Australia either as their artist manager or booking agent. All of them are super different from each other – everything from RnB to House & Techno. I don’t confine myself to any one genre when it comes to working with artists, and I think that is also a reflection of me when it comes to DJing too, as there is literally an endless list of genres I’ve DJed depending on the event, vibe, crowd etc. 

How do you feel our concept of the musical genre has changed over the years?

Over recent years, music genres have become much more fluid, and many artists don’t want to be boxed into just one category. You can see this reflected on platforms like Spotify, where a lot of playlists are now defined by mood or themes, rather than a specific genre.

We have more access to music content than ever before with the Internet. People discovered and listened to artists and genres that they might not have found if we were still living in the pre-streaming era. You can spend hours online searching through new music for free, whereas in the past you would have had to spend money on physical CDs, vinyl & cassettes to listen to new songs, so people didn’t branch out as much. We really are spoilt for choice now!

What is your go to artist/genre when dealing with heartbreak?

Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill, Celeste, SZA, Mariah Carey!

What has been the biggest struggle in pursuing your dreams in the music industry?

I entered the music industry when I was pretty young and was doing internships since I was about fourteen, then my first full-time job in music at eighteen. I was always super self-conscious of being too young to be taken seriously so I would never tell people my age and make myself look older by wearing a lot of makeup. Now I have the opposite problem, and I constantly feel too old!

Also – Imposter syndrome. It’s quite common amongst women in the music industry and is something that I’ve experienced in the past. When I mentioned this about myself, to some of my friends, they were shocked. They said they did not expect that from me at all! Which goes to show how much of it is to do with internal self-doubt vs outside perception. I’m a massive perfectionist and set really high expectations for myself – probably something that stems from having immigrant parents. Another contribution to this would have to do with the fact that there are very very very VERY few women of colour who work on the business side of the music industry in Australia. Hopefully, over time this changes and encourages future generations of WOC/GNC to enter the industry. 

What are the some of the challenges you’re facing during Covid-19?

The financial toll I took was a big challenge. Majority of my income comes from live shows, whether from artists I work with as a booking agent/manager or from my own DJ sets, none of which could obviously go ahead. I had to cancel about seven different tours that I had scheduled for artists I work with, and about ten to fifteen of my own DJ sets.

In March, when COVID-19 was starting to break in Australia, it was just non-stop emails and phone calls of things getting cancelled. At the time we thought it might just be a month or two of cancellations – but that quickly escalated into nine months. Even now things still aren’t back to normal and probably won’t be for some time. 

Another big challenge was the mental side of things. I live by myself, so during the lockdown, there would be times where I went a couple of months without seeing any other human beings other than staff at my local supermarket. It was a weird thing to go through and something I’m still processing a bit, to be honest. I still get a bit nervous being in crowded spaces again because I’m so used to just being alone in my apartment. Shoutouts to my friends who spent many hours of Facetime with me and made the time go by quicker during the lockdown.

How do you personally navigate the creative industries as a POC?

I surround myself with many other BIPOC creatives and people I can relate to; it’s nice to have each other’s support and build each other up. 

Who do you think is currently changing the music industry?

Young BIPOC!!! The gatekeepers are slowly starting to change and young BIPOC will be the future. 

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