Determined and driven, Helena Star knew her path from an early age. Sarah-Louise Maillet sat down with the Foundation FM resident to hear her story.
Like many of today’s most promising young DJs, London’s Heléna Star grew up a music lover. Her mum and stepdad first introduced her to electronic sounds with Milo, Moby and The Scissor Sisters. And as a child of the digital age, she took advantage of YouTube and Limewire for music discovery and downloading, playing the newest tracks on her iPod at house parties. “I would always be on the hunt for the newest music to show everyone,” she says. But an early interest in radio is where Star begins to break away from the average DJ mould.
“I was watching CBBC, and wanted to be the next Fearne Cotton or Reggie Yates,” she says about her childhood. And at 16, she took a chance that would have a lasting impact on her career, approaching local Guildford radio station Kane FM to see what it was all about.
“I spent a week watching and learning how a station runs,” she says. By the end of the week, she was hosting an hour long slot. “I was so nervous, but it was the most exciting thing I’d ever done. The team at Kane then asked me to join the breakfast show every Wednesday.”
Before school, Star would get up at 5 AM to walk to the station. “It was pretty intense, but a really great experience,” she says. “I became addicted. After six months I was offered my own show, and then went on to host the drivetime slot every Thursday for the next three years.”
Fittingly, today Star plays the first and third Thursday of every month at Foundation FM, a female-led radio station based out of London. She’s also a DJ, having played at Soho House, Creative Debuts, Reprezent Radio, and Netil Radio in 2018. She says DJing was another career move she was meant for.
“I was always certain that I wanted to be in the music industry,” she says. “Even when people and teachers told me to have a plan B or to go to university, I always stuck to what I knew was right for me.”
That path took her to the same Hoxton-based radio production course that Radio 1 presenter Monki completed. It also meant instead of attending university, she moved from Guildford to London, where “stayed in a friend’s flat and worked in retail whilst exploring radio,” she says. As Star explains it, moving to the multicultural London was one of the best decisions she ever made.
“I felt so much more comfortable,” she says. “I’d finally moved somewhere that I didn’t have to explain ‘where I’m from’ or have to deal with outright racism, and I could find my own identity.”
Racial identity is an important issue to Star, and one she says she’s long struggled with. “It took me the majority of my life to accept being a person of colour and loving my skin. I grew up in an area with an extreme lack of diversity and a lack of education on other cultures. I spent a lot of my childhood not believing I was a good person due to my skin colour and that I wouldn’t succeed because of it.”
But Star’s experience with radio has helped build her confidence—she has a voice and is being heard. “My experience is being listened to instead of belittled. I am in control of the dialogue and it is a positive one.”
Even when people and teachers told me to have a plan B or to go to university, I always stuck to what I knew was right for me.
The past few years have seen more mixed-race and black female artists making their voices heard in electronic music. This has helped shift the balance of power through newfound awareness, which Star wants to contribute to.
“What I aim to do now is just be a positive role model for womxn of colour who want to get into music or radio, and championing others, as we deserve to be here,” Star says. “I think inclusivity is also very important to educate others. We should always try to include the people we are trying to educate. But having spaces which allow you to do this with fellow womxn is also important. Speaking on this subject in front of men might not be as easy due to experiences. I think there is a balance. ”
When it comes to new identities and ways of challenging the status-quo, London’s music scene is booming and blooming. Nights such as BBZ, Pxssy Palace, Femme Culture, and Percolate are reshaping London’s nightlife. “It is so exciting seeing these nights grow. The lineups they are curating are unreal, and the vibe is just what you want in a night.”
music industry. “[They] are fantastic,” Star says. “I have met some wonderful people. It is such a supportive, happy environment to be in. I came across Flexx after meeting someone from the team who runs the night. My daytime job was running events in co-working space The Office Group, so I found them a space to run the night with. Going to events like Flexx are a great way to connect with other womxn who you might even be able to work with in the future.”
Networking nights aren’t the only option for womxn in music who want to be supported. The collective Rhythm Sister organizes open events that encourage womxn to learn how to DJ, and Red Bull Music Academy’s Normal Not Novelty hosts workshops for different sectors, including music production, within the music industry. “It is just really nice being in a space where you can talk freely without feeling out of place or judged,” Star says. “Sometimes I feel more comfortable being in a room with womxn.”
For Star, The move to Foundation FM has been a natural one. The Peckham-based station was founded by Becky Richardson, Ami Bennett and Frankie Wells, who’ve worked at BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra, Radar Radio and other national stations. Since its launch last November, it has made waves on the scene by
New challenges are awaiting womxn in many industries, including in music, arts and culture. And the rise of collectives and events for womxn in London and worldwide are the proof of change.
Helena Star plays every first and third Thursday from 7pm to 9pm on Foundation FM. Find her on SoundCloud.
Sarah-Louise Maillet is a freelance journalist based in London. Follow her on Twitter.