We Spoke to Sonia Hawkes of Sisters of Sound Ahead of their International Women's Day Set

Words: Sophie Gargett
Photos: Sonia Hawkes
Sunday 03 March 2024
reading time: min, words

Sonia Hawkes has been spinning records under the name Stiff Kittens for many years, playing at places like The Angel, The Bodega and Malt Cross. Now she’s joined forces with a host of other female DJs to create the Sisters of Sound collective. We caught up with Sonia ahead of the SoS International Women’s Day event to talk about life on the other side of the decks, buying vinyl, and how she organises her huge record collection.

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Can you tell us what originally got you into DJing?

It’s quite funny… I used to do the school discos with my friends because we were all into indie and alternative music and that was the only way to hear it I guess. That’s when the vinyl collecting began and I still have a lot of those records now and love playing them.

A few years later I got into dance music and raves, but when they introduced the Criminal Justice Bill some sound systems had to start club nights. I luckily found myself DJing at some of these around the Midlands and ended up co-running our own night The Experience which we later brought over to Nottingham, putting on events at The Marcus Garvey and Deluxe. That was it… I was hooked again!

What do you notice about the Nottingham nightlife scene from the other side of the decks?

I think the nightlife scene in our city is very exciting, it seems a lot of folks are collaborating and putting on a real mix of events. That’s one reason I was so happy when I first moved to Nottingham, all the different sound systems doing parties together, it was fantastic!

Also the positive reaction from other women when they see a female DJ, I believe it’s encouraging and refreshing for them to see. Also from blokes too, the last few years receiving much more positive recognition, it’s very refreshing! Always get lots of smiles!

Tell us a little about your collective Sisters of Sound…

Wow, yes!! I’m really so happy that this all came together! I met up with my dear friend and fellow vinyl DJ, the super lovely Sue, known as Starstruck, a few years ago at Broadway. I was stoked when she suggested we should join up and see if there’s any other female DJs who fancied setting up a female vinyl DJ collective! I’d already thought up the name Sisters of Sound a while ago thinking about sound engineers as that’s my other profession, but it didn't materialise. So it seemed like serendipity for us!

There’s five of us…Tess, Cherry, Sue, Kat and me! We have all found each other by chance from going to gigs around the city and realising we all love the same thing… playing records! With such a diverse taste in music it’s just perfect and we are so happy to have our long running residency at The Bodega, playing 6-10pm every first Saturday. We also have a special International Women's Day event there on Friday 8 March from 6pm till 3am, what a bonanza!

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I only buy vinyl from record shops. The atmosphere and knowledge are so much better than a screen for me!

The ever important question - why vinyl?

There are many reasons why I choose and love vinyl… I have got so many records that I’ve collected over time that to replace them all would be very expensive and time consuming. But that’s not the most important reason. Vinyl delivers a far more accurate representation of the recording as its analogue and not a sampled waveform. If you buy records the artists are far more likely to benefit financially over downloads or copying, so they’ll be able to afford to create more. The artwork is a really special element, just as important creatively as the recording. As they’re instant access and visible you can actually read the grooves and see where the breakdowns are, so even if you don’t really know the recording you can see the structure. I’ve done sets using vinyl I’ve never heard before and been able to see where to mix in or out, something I taught students to do when I taught DJ skills.

Do you know how many records you own and what is your preferred way to organise them at home?

Oooh that’s a good question! I think I must have a few thousand and that’s just the albums and twelve inches. If I think about all the singles as well, I reckon I must have a few hundred of these too! I always organise by genre as I do lots of different gigs and so when I’m planning for these I know exactly which section of my collection to go through. Also I have a lot of white label 12” of which I don’t know the name or it’s limited info on the sticker so impossible to alphabetically organise them.

What are your favourite places in Nottingham to buy records?

I’m really into finding random vinyl at Rob’s Records, and I’ve now started collecting cassettes which I’ve noticed he’s started selling! Got to say Rough Trade is phenomenal for pretty much everything… I’ve got really into buying film soundtracks recently and was over the moon to find Stranger Things there the other week! There’s a really cool new shop called Fac1968 that’s opened on St James Street. I've been visiting and finding some classic singles and they are very well priced too! Sometimes it’s not just about the vinyl but also the shop… this is definitely one of those places! In fact, this is why I only buy vinyl from record shops. The atmosphere and knowledge are so much better than a screen for me!

It’s early doors, the bar is filling up but people are glued to their seats, what track do you put on to fill the dancefloor?

Well this kind of depends on the venue as I play different vinyl in different places. However, I’ve got an amazing remix of Beastie Boys ‘Ch Ch Check It Out’, which is an absolute belter! I’ve also got a few releases on the Disco Deviance label, that always goes down a treat!

Tell us about your International Women's Day event and what else you have coming up!

Fantastic yes… we have a bonanza going on at the fabulous Bodega, we normally do an early evening set but for this occasion we’re rolling from 6pm till 3am, in the downstairs bar. We have got Cherry Fuzz, Kat Among The Pigeons and Starstruck playing 6-10pm, then me and Starstruck till close, with more tbc.

There is more future fun ahead as we have been asked to be part of a special woman only night entitled ‘Cyndi Says Relax’ at The Malt Cross, with an idea to create a venue that’s a safe space for women with inclusion of non-binary and trans communities.

Head down to the Sisters of Sound International Women's Day event at The Bodega on Friday 8 March from 6pm till 3am

[Facebook] @SistersOfSoundFemaleDJcollective

[instagram] stiffkittensdjs

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