Despite starting out DJing only three and half years ago, 28-year-old Katbrownsugar has become a permanent fixture on the Manchester music scene and beyond. Old Trafford born and based, her chilled, neo-soul, future beats have gained her a global following on own radio show Sweet Vibrations Radio and monthly NTS Manchester show. In 2018, Katbrownsugar won two mixcloud awards for Rising Star and best hip-hop/RnB/afro-beats show, was finalised by The Black Madonna for a Smirnoff Equaliser campaign and secured a campaign for Nike with Footasylum. Also a musician, singer and producer, on the live circuit she’s performed at Outlook Festival, toured with Children of Zeus and supported Manchester soul-singer Pip Millet. Here, KatBrownSugar talks about making the self-employed leap, the music grants that have helped her through lockdown and how she overcame being undermined for her looks.

Tell us about your musical influences.

My sound is really soulful, chilled, laid back, relaxing, but always has a nice head bopping beat. Growing up, my mum listened to neo soul, so that’s where I have the neo soul and jazz love from. At uni I got really into old school hip hop, future sounds and chill hop. I sometimes play noughties R&B and it reminds me of my pre-teens listening to Nelly and Kelly. I take so much pride in curating all those vibes.

How do you think your University of Salford music course prepared you for the music industry?

I’ve never been into playing instruments and the course wasn’t really for someone who was just a singer, but I stuck to it. It was a popular music performing course, but the way I learn music best is by ear, just hearing and repeating. For quite a few years after I graduated I just worked in bars and hospitality, going into the studio once a week. I think I thought I was pursuing it, but I wasn’t really. I eventually got a job as an events manager which I finally loved, but I ended up losing it. It turned out being the best thing for me, because it pushed me to become self-employed.

‘You don’t let these men tell you you’re not good enough’

When did your music turn into a paid career?

My flatmate made me realise I could make money DJing and I’ve always wanted to work for myself. I remember being so broke, DJing everyday in my living room for six hours at a time to practise doing a long set. I ended up getting some gigs and it went from there. Jamie Grooveman was the first DJ to let me do a mix for him and I’m still so grateful.

Tell us about your radio shows.

I’ve had a show on NTS Manchester for two years now, it’s my little baby. Before that, I had a podcast which IAMDDB appeared on twice, but Sweet Vibrations is a new radio show I’ve started myself in lockdown. I found out about Mixlr website which you can host your own radio show and now I finally can produce a whole station that R&B and neo-soul all day. I’ve met so many DJs and selectors around the world that play this genre, so I realised I could use my connections to get mixes. We did our first broadcast in May with a sick DJ from India and my friend RebeccaNeverBecky from Manchester. The June episode was with a guy from South Africa called Chrysalism Radio who did a mix of future sounds, hip hop, beats and alternative R&B mix. Children of Zeus’s DJ Galex provided a neo-soul mix, you can listen back on my Soundcloud KatBrownSugar.

With regular DJ work drying up in lockdown, how have you managed to financially support yourself?

Through Manchester International Festival I got a lockdown grant to help me maintain my growth as an artist and it’s allowed me to keep exploring ideas. Shout out to those guys. I also started a part time job literally two weeks before lockdown, so I’m being paid on furloughed from that, thank god. Obviously, it still doesn’t make up for all the DJ gigs that I would usually do, but it helps. Lots of friends have got Help Musicians grants where they’ve been given £500 to help with bills, initiatives like these are brilliant to see.

‘For every couple of haters, there are so many people that appreciate what I do’

What is your experience as a woman in the male dominated Manchester music scene?

I’ve found it hard at times. People have said I have talent, I’m only good for my looks, I’m just sexy, even though I’m producing, doing radio and am obviously so much more than that. There are definitely people who are nice to my face but throw shade behind my back. You can’t dwell on it, though I’m actually quite sensitive.

When I was younger, I did a show then spent the next day crying my eyes out after this well-known guy on the scene did a status shouting out everyone involved apart from me. The only time he referenced me was pointedly mentioning my boyfriend was there. This guy knew everyone and after seeing him shade other females, I knew it was purposeful. He used to give me dirty looks if I saw him in a bar, despite being a grown man.

If that happened to me now, I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid because you’ve just got to have thick skin. I realised it was just one comment by someone who doesn’t even know me. I’ve done such amazing things and for every couple of haters, there are so many people that appreciate what I do. If I had paid attention to a small amount of negative voices in my hometown, I could have given up, but hell no! You don’t let these men tell you you’re not good enough. A man ain’t telling me shit.

Do you view yourself as a Manchester artist?

I try not to lose myself in a Manchester bubble because a lot of my fans are from America. I see myself as a global artist. I used to box myself into the Manchester scene but it can get stressful. It’s small, so there’s lots of clashing. A lot of my music is ambient beats and if I was trying to take over Manchester with that, it just wouldn’t work.

Recently I released an instrumental and it did alright but not many people in Manchester said anything about it, but I got so messages from people around the world of people saying, ‘That’s my jam, I can just relax and chill to that.’ It made me realise that you can’t think of your town as the be all and end all because there’s millions of people in the world that could relate to your sound. It’s beautiful that we can reach anyone anywhere.

‘You have to believe in yourself if you want other people to believe in you’

Have you ever worried that living in London is the only route to a successful music career?

It also feels quite hard to have a voice if you’re not based in London and even now I wonder if I should move to London. People still say you have to move there if you want to be in the thick of it and the people I know in London are gigging every night. But ultimately, I don’t think London lifestyle is for me. I’m not a busy person and I like living in a relaxed area – I don’t even like going to Manchester City Centre, so I don’t know how I’d survive in London! I think I’d be overwhelmed.  It’s also obviously very expensive, so I have to weigh up what the quality of my life would be like there, versus here. I get to live in Manchester and travel lots. The opportunities may not be as much as I could get in London, but I’m happy.

Do you feel encouraged by the great talent coming from Manchester right now?

Manchester is building a big name for itself with the likes of IAMDDB, Aitch and Children of Zeus. They’re killing it and shining a light back on the city. Children of Zeus are brilliant at supporting new talent – they invited me on tour with them and Layfullstop and KSR, last year – and there are so many amazing women breaking through here. Layfullstop, Laura Ell, Pip Millet and so many DJs – we’re doing our thing.

The city’s identity is definitely still wrapped up in the Madchester era, but it actually doesn’t bother me, I think its sick. If I could party in the 90s, I’d have been in the Hacienda too. But there’s a new Manchester R&B soul scene happening right now and in the next few years, I don’t think we’ll only be known for indie Hacienda vibes.

‘I think it’s important for people who are self-employed to have multiple streams of income’

How has the covid 19 pandemic affected your music plans?

I was meant to be on my DJ tour in France in April, amongst other things, which is upsetting, but there’s no point being sad. Every person on this planet has had their life affected by this virus in some way. I was on holiday the week before lockdown began, so had to leave early. I’d been working so hard beforehand, just getting through thinking, ‘I’ll be able to chill soon’, but no.

How have you been passing the time in lockdown?

It’s been up and down mentally, of course, and there are days I wake up panicking that I’ll never be able to DJ and make money again. But no one knows what’s going to happen. I’ve done so many new things and have had time to self-care. Everyone I’ve connected with recently has told me something new they’ve learned and I think it’s so cool that we’ve had this time to work on ourselves. You’ve got to embrace it, really.

Musically, I’ve produced some new beats. I also shot and edited a music video myself for a new instrumental, so I’ve basically become a director. I’ve really surprised myself.

I love to cook and have been researching a lot more about Jamaican food and ital cooking, which is usually vegetarian and avoids processed foods and sometimes salt. I love eating vegan and I really connect with the spiritual ital lifestyle. I’ve been cooking so many random things with plantain, from pancakes to curry. I watch a lot food vlogs on YouTube and lash tutorials, because I’m also trained in lashes, and I’ve been reading up on finance.

‘Don’t hold yourself back’

Do you think the lack of education around finance is a failure of universities?

We were definitely not taught anything about money, but I also probably wasn’t interested. I think it’s very typical of a creative to live month to month, cheque to cheque. I’ve never really had any savings, just used student overdrafts, but I’m in my late twenties now and want to get to a more stable position.

I’ve been researching how to make savings, which is so necessary, especially with what’s going on now in the world. Things are going to be changing financially and I think it’s important for people who are self-employed to have multiple streams of income. If I only had DJing work right now, I’d have no work. It’s cool to branch out and do a few different things. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s to have three months of rent and bills saved up.

What’s been a standout career moment so far?

When I performed at Blue Dot in 2019, I did a DJ set just before the headliner and the whole tent was packed. I was with my best friends and it was such a surreal moment. Everyone was dancing to this really cool South African music and it felt so good. Anytime I travel I’m at my happiest. I’ve DJ’ed in Egypt before and I love playing in France. I do a Valentines Day gig in Paris every year and it’s so cool connecting to people through this vibe of hip hop and neo soul.

Any advice for those starting out in the music industry?

You’ve got to have thick skin, especially as a woman. People always have opinions and if you believe in what you’re doing, and it really is your passion, then don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it. Keep your eyes on the vision. Go for it and don’t hold yourself back, because you doubt that you’re good enough. You have to believe in yourself if you want other people to believe in you. Be fearless.


Three words that define your music.

  • Chilled, soulful and Pisces.

Three words you want your work to make people feel.

  • I want it to take people to their happy place, mine is on a beach or in a jungle.

What is the song you always blast for max creativity?

  • Chronixx ‘Ain’t no giving in’ is what I listen to if I’m feeling stressed out or nervous.

How do you tackle a creative block?

  • I do guided meditation for creativity and I always burn some sage before I work to clear the energy. 

What’s your perfect midnight snack?

  • Cheese on toast, made very specifically. You’ve got to grill one side until it gets brown, flip it and add a layer of ketchup, then add the cheese. Toppings can vary.

What’s the weirdest thing in your bag at all times?

  • I take my hard drive everywhere, it’s basically a child to me.

Strangest work habit?

  • I’m a proper early bird, so I’ll be mixing in my room at 8am burning sage. I never record at night.

Who should we be following on Instagram?

  • Photographer Maya Mothi.

What does your discovery page on Instagram look life?

  • Eyelashes and cute animals. I don’t really follow lol accounts but I send pictures of baby rabbits, otters and cats constantly to my friends.

What’s the first think you’ll do post lockdown?

  • In an ideal world, I’d be on the first plane to Jamaica. But realistically, I can’t wait to just chill Chorlton and Whalley Range bars. There area is full of creative people and there’s a bif scene for craft beer which I’m really into. You’re more likely to see me at a bar having a cheeky beer than on a proper night out in town.

Tell us one positive to come out of lockdown for you.

  • Pushing myself to do new things like making the music video. I’ve been doing live streams on Twitch – which is usually my idea of hell – but I’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone and I’m enjoying it.

What are five words that sum up your Quarantine life?

  • Business, Desperate Housewives, facemasks, booty workouts and nature.


More interviews coming real soon!