It’s difficult to think of Reid Speed without having a cat superimposed somewhere on that mental image. Felines populate the long-standing DJ, producer and label head's popular social media channels, sometimes more than information about her numerous musical activities.
Speed is an active participant in “Caturday,” collecting images during the week and strategically posting them throughout her kitty-special day. She speaks to her numerous pet cats as if they were her offspring — possibly the only time her voice takes on a softer tone, as her regular speaking voice is extra-loud. If you’re sitting with her in public, you may want to keep the personal talk at bay, as her responses will be broadcast for a good few yards.
Though she doesn't look old enough, Reid Speed has been a DJ for some 20 years. She started with drum ’n’ bass and expanded into multiple genres, from two-step to speed garage. Her sound now encompasses a variety of heavy bass sounds, which is also the ethos of her tastemaker label, Play Me Records, established seven years after her relocation to Los Angeles from New York in 2002. A showcase of her sharp dance music acumen, Play Me has been a springboard for such big names as Dillon Francis, Bro Safari, Bare and Riot.
“My mood switches every five minutes,” she shouts, referring both to her temperament and her musical taste. Her drum ’n’ bass side can be experienced with her monthly “Speed of Sound” mixes, or you can tune into the open bass format “Bass Station,” her popular weekly Facebook Live stream. “Everything I like makes perfect sense to me. I love the art of DJing. It’s my favorite thing in the world, to mold people’s emotions.”
Speed takes the setting and her place on the lineup very seriously. She has painstakingly curated numerous folders on her USB sticks with tunes for a variety of moods, however subtly different from each other. She’ll go as far as checking in with the DJ scheduled to play after her to make sure she doesn’t step on any toes with her selections.
“I come from an era where promoters had more of a vision of what was happening,” she explains. Like her music, her speech tends to move at 100 miles per hour; she barely pauses for breath at the end of every verbal paragraph. “The vibe was the most important thing. Every DJ wasn’t a producer. The flow of the DJ was important. These days time slots are determined by Facebook likes — even if the artist with more likes make chill trap and the artist with less likes makes heavy drum ’n’ bass.
“The hallmark of a good DJ [used to be that] the music never stopped and no one noticed it transitioned," she continues. "Now it has to stop, you have to get on the microphone to talk about it, and you just killed the vibe. Why is there this need to stop and be told to pay attention? Drum ’n’ bass fans, especially, are some of the most capable. They know what they’re there for. They don’t need to be told. It doesn’t need to be made obvious, and you can be subtler with your programming and end up with a better-feeling night. I always want to do what’s going to be appropriate for the party. It’s still me, but it’s going to be the best possible iteration of what I’m capable of.”
As much as she is a master at the decks, Reid Speed is still a fan. Unlike other dance music stars who won’t be seen on the dance floor — not only at their own gigs but avoiding that space altogether if they’re not performing — you often will find Speed either fan-girling hard at DJs/producers she admires or in front of the stage, losing her mind, dancing a hole into the ground, before her set, after her set or on any given night.
When it comes to production work, however, her restless energy can sometimes work against her. She keeps switching gears with the styles she produces, which doesn’t help in getting her studio reputation solidified. Her upcoming release, “Animal,” falls under the trap/bass umbrella, while its follow-up, “Hydra,” a collaboration with Not Sorry, is straight drum ’n’ bass.
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“It has worked against me,” she admits of her schizophrenic output. “It would be great if I could churn out drum ’n’ bass bangers in the style that I am really good at playing, but that’s what I’m least good at producing. And how can I commit to that when I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow? If I make something, I want to get it out there. I don’t want it to die just because it doesn’t fit the narrative of what I was doing last week. It’s definitely harder doing it this way, but I don’t know any other way to do it.
“My biggest hurdle is my own self-doubt and constant self-hatred to the point where I’ll convince myself what I’m doing is terrible and find all the reasons that it’s no good. I get in my own way all the time," she says. "It’s hard to be like, ‘Yeah, I’ve been doing this 20 years, but I still have to convince you I am good enough to be on the lineup.’ You can only do the best you can do."
But, as she reminds herself, a 20-year career in dance music is no small feat in itself. "Even if you’re a sick producer, you’re only as good as your last production anyway. So the fact that I can even still be considered to compete [in] any arena, I’m grateful for that.”
Reid Speed DJs at Bassrush Presents Funktion with Calyx & TeeBee and State of Mind, Wed., Feb. 1,, at the Belasco Basement. Tickets and more info.