Ellie Prohan chats to DIVA all about living her authentic life as a queer DJ
BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS
Ellie Prohan’s DJ career has blossomed in recent years, whisking her away on tours across the UK and beyond. But what happens when a global pandemic gets in the way of all that?
During lockdown, Ellie started her popular cultural discovery series on Instagram, Eat, Dance, Discover to interview some of her favourite artists on the scene and has earned herself her very own playlist with Gay Times.
Ellie uses her relentless work ethic to influence other young girls and break through the stereotypes her middle eastern culture is so often associated with, both in career choice and sexuality. She’s living her truth and following her dreams like a real role model and we’re following her every step of the way.
How did you get into your current career as a DJ?
I’ve been in radio for about five years and then got into DJing. I spent the early part of my 20s head down, hustling. I’m from a single parent Persian household and growing up my dad wasn’t present. I felt a lot of pressure on myself to take care of my family.
I got to a stage in my life where I thought I’ve done everything for my family, but who am I? I knew I loved music so I went to a DJ night and approached the DJ afterwards, basically rugby tackled her, and asked her to show me how to DJ. I eventually started getting paid and started earning money off what was initially a hobby.
That’s amazing – what led you to where you are now in life?
It’s been a journey. Everything has happened so quickly. There’s people in the industry who have been DJing in their rooms since they were 16. I never did that. Everyone’s journey is so relevant though. If you make the right moves, connect with the right people and have the purpose behind it, you can get there. There are loads of DJ’s out there, but what’s the deeper essence behind it? Mine was that I wanted to represent people like me.
What is a day in the life for you like?
It’s very high energy. I haven’t had caffeine in four years. I’ve realised that my natural organic energy is so high if I added caffeine into that I would run into a brick wall. I get bursts of ideas all of the time. I love being active and feeling like I’ve got the most out of the day.
What would you say is the best and worst thing about your job?
I would say the best thing is connecting with people. The adrenaline that goes through you in a crowd of people, that is the best thing. But with my radio job, it’s feeling like I can represent my community – being Persian and queer. They’re two very strong communities and very often they don’t mix. I would love the eight year old version of me to know they don’t have to be a doctor or a dentist, you can be a bad ass DJ.
I think the worst thing is the cliques that form. You’ll often see the same names doing the same thing. It’s important that everyone is let in and there aren’t gatekeepers stopping you from getting into the industry. We should be lifting each other up.
I completely agree. Do you still get nervous before you perform at all?
Yes, things can go very wrong. There was one time when I was DJing that I got so gassed that I pulled all of the plugs out and killed the set! That was purely down to the fact I was overexcited about the song that was playing. It’s not always down to the size of the crowd. I’ve played for 70,000 people and been cool, calm and collected. But the thing with me is you can never tell that I’m nervous. When I get nervous my confidence amplifies, so nobody ever feels sorry for me.
What’s it like being a queer female in this industry?
I feel like it’s a position of power. I’m in a position to be a representative to say ,“You can be whatever you want in this life.” You can be brave enough and strong enough to own it. There are queer representatives in this community but that’s only really been in the last few years. We have such a massive influence in being able to teach young people that you can explore who you are and you don’t have to be what everyone wants you to be. You can really create waves with your voice.
Who are your queer music icons?
I have my queer music icons like Young MA. She’s queer but she’s also a stud which is so important for that side of our community. Anybody who is unapologetic about their sexuality has so much respect from me. Like Frank Ocean or Darko.
What do you think of queer representation in your particular industry?
I do sometimes feel like our community is quite segregated, and there have been times where I don’t feel like I belong because I don’t have my own representation here.
I was given the opportunity by Gay Times to create the EnGayged playlist, to merge our allies and the members of our community all together in one playlist. We are all part of the same scene, we’re not separate to the music scene. I love making it, I update it every single month and I get to showcase new artists. If you’re looking for a party vibe and if you’re looking to feel inclusive, it’s definitely the playlist for you.
Are you missing playing live sets? How’s the last six months been?
I think anyone who considers themselves a performer has probably missed live sets. That’s been pretty painful. I miss the connection the most – the energy that you get back is second to none.
How have you made the most out of the digital opportunities?
We adapted to lockdown really quickly. I had loads of sets booked but only a few of the brands decided to go down that digital route. We did Glastonbury, Wireless, Carnival. We had to stay connected with our community.
I also launched a series called Eat, Dance and Discover which I’m really passionate about. People taught me me how to make food from their culture – DJ’s, presenters, influencers and people who love cooking. The dance side was all about me making mixes, and the discover side was about interviewing people to find out about their life and their journey. It kept me connected and kept me active.
Well now I feel bad for just watching Netflix for six months! What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a similar career to you?
I would say: “Do everything with your heart”. When you do things with your heart, you’re not trying to do what other people are doing. You can watch what people do, but you have to carve your own lane. Know yourself and take time with yourself to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and find people in the community that support you.
Listen to Ellie Prohan’s EnGayged playlist, exclusively on Apple Music, here.