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Eliza Rose: “I’m a raver before anything else”

Meet the DJ, singer, producer and avid record collector who just took a UK rave tune to number one

By Sam Davies

Eliza Rose (Picture: Phoebe Cowley)

Eliza Rose was making music long before she was famous. In 2015, she released ‘The Moonshine’ EP, five tracks including a T-Pain cover alongside some beautiful R&B sounding just a bit like Amy Winehouse. “If I’m generally anything, I’m generally miserable”she sings on ‘Straight & Narrow’, the second track on the EP. Marilyn Monroe said the same thing in 1960. “Oh my god, old school!” says Rose, blushing at the mention of her early stuff. “You know what you’re like when you’re 21, 22, you’re like, ‘The world’s awful!’ The people I was really loving at that time were damaged heroines, like Amy Winehouse, Billie Holiday, Lana Del Rey…” 

It’s fair to surmise she’s not miserable now. Her last single ‘B.O.T.A. (Baddest of Them All)’, officially released in August in collaboration with producer Interplanetary Criminal, went gold in the UK after topping the nation’s singles chart, making Rose the first woman DJ to hit number one since Sonique in 2002. It’s an addictive, unforgettable track, built on two chords sampled from Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s 1991 house hit ‘Let the Beat Hit Em’. But it sounds better on ‘B.O.T.A.’, sped up, cut to a garage beat and paired with Rose’s angelic chorus: “Do you wanna dance, baby? I know you see me looking at you on the daily…

She’s every bit as charming to talk to. “You all right, darling?” she beams as she joins the Zoom call. She’s speaking after a heavy night out at ADE music festival, where she played a set two nights earlier. “I love Amsterdam,” she says. “But it’s a bit too much partying, and I love to party so… too much temptation. And I always give in to temptation.” 

Rose grew up in Dalston, north-east London, the daughter of an acting father who had a few roles in theatre and TV. “If he was born in a different era, I feel like he would have done so well,” Rose says. “But there weren’t as many roles, there wasn’t Black Lives Matter. There’s a lot more awareness for diversity and equality now and there wasn’t that for my dad.” Her mum also flirted with acting before working as a secondary school drama teacher. She and Rose’s dad split and Rose lived with her mum and two younger sisters from the age of two, with two younger brothers on her dad’s side, making Rose the oldest sibling. “You wouldn’t know it, though, I’m probably the most childish,” she says, sniggering diabolically. 

At 15, she was due to start work experience at a modelling agency, but it fell through at the last minute, leaving her the options of working in a nursery or a record shop. She chose records over nappies and her love for music was born. She started going out to Rudolphs and the Opera House, both Tottenham nightclubs playing old-school garage, where she would sometimes see a young Danny Dyer on the dancefloor. She was still underage (“You’d photocopy your passport and change the date on it, so it looked like you were older than you were”). 

At about 18 she took her first pill. “I was quite anti it for a long time, having seen the darker side of drugs,” she says. She won’t elaborate much on that, but taking ecstasy had a big impact, even if she freaked out slightly. “The first time I took it, I called my mum and my mum told me to grow up! It was the best advice ’cos I felt all right after that.” 

After uni and a Master’s, Rose worked a few jobs at record labels and online distributors while also DJing in clubs. “When I went to number one, I literally had £16 in my account,” she laughs. “I had to get my friend to get me a round!” The story of how she wrote ‘B.O.T.A.’ includes a much-repeated anecdote: struggling for a hook, she glanced at her boyfriend’s wall and saw a poster for the Pam Grier film Coffy, with the line: “The baddest one-chick hit-squad that ever hit town.” 

Like Grier, Winehouse, Holiday and Miss Monroe, Rose is now approaching the life of a star. “I certainly don’t feel like a fucking pop star, I’ll tell you that,” she says, quickly. “Do you really see me on the fucking red carpet?” What about headlining Glasto? “I like to be in the crowd, that’s the thing. I’m actually a raver before anything else.” 

She was at the festival this year, her third time there, and went to see Kendrick Lamar headline the Pyramid with her mates. “I do love Kendrick, but I’m not gonna lie, I snuck off by myself and just went to rave.” She headed straight for the South East Corner, where she saw Robert Hood and his daughter Lyric play heavy techno to a twisted crowd. Her friends found her hours later. “They were like, ‘We knew you’d be here.’”

She finished the night watching the sunrise at the Stone Circle, where she stayed until about midday. Which is when someone started playing ‘B.O.T.A.’ from a Bluetooth speaker. Needless to say, she and her friends went crazy.