Henrietta Smith-Rolla was born in London, grew up in Devon and is of Ghanaian/Russian/German decent, but it was the city of Manchester, where she is now based, that drew out her talent as a musician. She has a reputable monthly show on NTS Manchester, but travels frequently to perform across the world. Her production crosses a wide range of styles, from classical solo piano to techno, house and electro.

How did you get into music?

I didn’t study music, and actually didn’t go to university, but I always had music in my life. It wasn’t until I came to Manchester that I realised I had the freedom to create what I wanted. All my friends ended up being in music in some way and were really encouraging, always asking me to ‘sing on this’ or ‘play bass on this’ or, ‘play some drums’. I became involved in a few bands and I had all these people around me telling me I could do it, so it just went from there.

How did you get into producing?

It was when I was part of the five-piece Synth and Electronic band, Sisters of Transistors. There were four of us on organs, synths and drums and we played sort of gothic, baroque, house music, mainly channelled through Ableton, which is a type of music software. As I was having to perform live with the band, the software was perfect – it allows you to control a few different sounds at the same time and is a bit like playing a live instrument. So, using Ableton in that live environment was how I really became involved with production.

Do you think Manchester is welcoming to female DJs and producers?

In my experience, I’ve only ever found the scene pretty encouraging and nourishing, particularly in Manchester. The problem doesn’t necessarily lie with the industry being male dominated as many suggest, but rather the lack of exposure for women who DJ. There are lots of women doing great stuff, but more needs to be done about them being booked. There are some clubs that try to book female acts specifically, NTS did a call out not too long ago, I think the city is trying.

Only 16% of registered song writers and composers in the UK are female, and only 2% are based in the north of England. Tell me about your involvement with Both Sides Now, an initiative created to tackle this

Both Sides Now is a three-year programme that is there to encourage women to get into all different kind of facets of music, from DJ’ing and production, to performance and writing for film. It was created to tackle the underrepresentation of women in music in the north and brought us together for mentoring sessions and workshops. It was a brilliant project to be involved in, and is proof that increasing women’s representation is part of Manchester’s conscious.

Is it important for you to encourage the next generation of music makers?

Yes, I always love an opportunity to share my experiences if it’s going to help someone. Last year, I took part in ‘Modul:Meets’, which was a series of free sessions for anyone interested in electronic music performance, composition and production. I was asked to showcase how I put music together for live sets and I went through my process and how it changes every single gig. You start producing something at home or in a studio, and then suddenly you’ve got to take that to live and you’re on your own – you don’t have someone to play drums, play keys and do bass and all of these kind of things, it can be daunting.

Photo by Lucie Rox

What is your process when playing live?

I don’t have a sound engineer, so I have to do all my sound myself on stage because I want it to sound a certain way. It’s a case of actually having my own mixer and queuing everything whilst I’m playing live – it can get a bit chaotic.

Do you find it hard to pass on responsibility when it’s to do with your own sound?

Definitely! There are people I would trust with it, but when you work so quickly and are a complete control freak like myself, having the accountability solely on you makes it easier to look after your own work.

What is your advice for aspiring DJs or producers?

Sat “yes” to everything! Say it all day long – even if you’re not sure how you would go about it, you’ll work it out. After working on a film called Baraka, a kind of war documentary, my whole writing style and process changed. When I got back I was writing in a completely different way, so I would say to try push yourself to experience as many different environments as much as possible. When you’re producing home alone, you can get quite closed off, and it ends up being much more inspiring if you’re working on different platforms.