“Smokin Jo is one of the first generation of superstar DJs” writes Abigail Ward in her review of Smokin’ Jo’s memoir ‘You Don’t Need A Dick To DJ,’ published this week by White Rabbit Books.


Smokin Jo is one of the first generation of superstar DJs. Her career ignited in 1990 with a residency at London’s wildest queer club, Trade, where she honed her soulful, jacking house sound and rare ability to read a room and feed it exactly what it wants. She rapidly became a global sensation, playing the world’s biggest clubs, including Ministry of Sound and Ibiza’s Space and Manumission. In 1992 she was awarded DJ of the Year in DJ Magazine’s Top 100. To this day she remains the only woman to achieve this accolade, a fact that annoys and upsets Jo greatly, as she explains in her book.

‘You Don’t Need a Dick to DJ’ tracks Smokin Jo’s journey to this point and beyond, detailing the manifold barriers she has faced as a mixed heritage woman and survivor of the UK care system.

Jo spent a large part of her childhood in Hambro House, a London children’s home where she and her sister suffered years of cruelty and neglect. Her account of this period of her life makes for tough reading, particularly when we witness her nascent abilities as a performer being crushed underfoot by her sadistic guardians, but she ends the chapter by stating that she emerged from the experience a true survivor, and we go on to learn how this grit and resilience have served her throughout her remarkable journey.

By 1981, aged 15, Jo is back living with her birth mum and is finding solace in music and fashion, becoming an underage kid on the London club scene, dipping her toe into soul-girl, New Romantic and punk styles, but being too fucking cool to commit to any one tribe.

She shaves her head and dyes her hair blonde, does a bit of modelling, bags a neat job at the Junior Gaultier boutique and from there begins to forge her ‘chosen family’ – a set of lovable, mostly queer, reprobates – who together find themselves at the centre of London’s acid house scene.

Many of us, especially those who have experienced truncated childhoods, will recognise what follows. Ecstasy and loved-up nights dancing to house music with ‘we can change the world’ lyrics hasten the process of bonding deeply with a group of new friends. Suddenly there is love, fun, family and intimacy, but it’s all propped up by the ‘borrowed bliss’ of Ecstasy, coke and acid. This is how everyone holds their demons at bay.

As the years fly by Jo’s life becomes a harshly plotted graph of extreme highs and lows. One minute she is playing out of her skin on stage at a 9000-capacity club in Ibiza, the next, falling out of a taxi into a Brixton gutter, ably rescued by the ever-loyal Skin (of Skunk Anansie fame).

Scenes of debauchery are recounted with relish. We encounter lesbians fisting in the netting at Manumission whilst a ‘very well known male DJ’ does a big shit in the middle of a dancefloor. But these riotous tales are underscored ominously by the reader’s knowledge that Jo will end up in rehab, as this is where she starts her story, with a prologue from a facility in Antigua.

As a DJ myself, or should I say, a ‘female DJ’, I particularly enjoyed Jo’s account of digging in record shops, buying decks and teaching herself to mix in her grotty flat shared with the first of what becomes a string of manipulative men. She makes little of her natural musicianship and dogged commitment to both technique and vibe, but it is obvious she has it all in spades. We root for her as she claws her way out of poverty, becoming one of the most successful DJs of the era. The backbreaking hard work of it all just steams off the page.

Each chapter opens with a comment Jo has received from various bigoted (unnamed) punters and promoters over the years. These range from the all-too-familiar ‘your mixing is good for a girl’ and ‘you should smile more’ to viciously racist or misogynist jibes that really help to spell out what this warrior of a woman has endured.

It’s not a spoiler to say that – thank fuck – this autobiography ends on a happy and stable note, and as anyone who follows the house scene will attest Jo continues to smash it out worldwide entirely on her own terms. Watch out for an intriguing cameo from Nick Clegg in the closing chapter!


You Don’t Need A Dick To DJ’ by Smokin’ Jo’ is published on Thursday 23rd May by White Rabbit Books. Copies bought from the Heavenly Recordings Bandcamp store come with an author signed book plate.

Pre-order yours today.

Abigail Ward is a music producer, DJ and curator. She is a co-founder of Suffragette City, Manchester: An annual large-scale club event celebrating female, trans and non-binary DJ talent, which raises funds for local grass roots charities.

In 2008 she edited the book ‘1 Top Class Manager – The Notebooks of Joy Division’s Manager’.

Abigail is also a co-founder of Manchester Digital Music Archive, an online repository of Greater Manchester music ephemera.