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Ant Mulholland

Q&A

In Conversation With Sammy Virji

NOW READING •

In Conversation With Sammy Virji

Over the last few years, the rise of a particular individual in the UK electronic scene has mesmerised not only British followers but music fans around the world alike. With a solid foundation of work spiralling back almost a decade, the notable rise of one Sammy Virji has been fascinating to follow. A producer who holds no boundaries when introducing new sounds to his work, his consideration towards a plethora of genres, and influences, throughout the multitude of sets he plays is a testament to the musicality he possesses. In more recent years, his ventures into the UK garage world have seen him reach the very pinnacle of underground dance music, unquestionably placing UK electronic music at the forefront of a more global movement.

The London-born artist has been responsible for some of the very finest UK garage and bass house rhythms of recent times. Over the years, there has been an abundance of household Virji tracks that hold great weight within the scene including ‘Daga Da’, ‘Find My Way Home’, ‘Never Let You Go’, and ‘Shella Verse’. With current releases ‘Moonlight’, ‘Goodums’, ‘Hot In Here’, and ‘Summertime Blues’ demonstrating a legacy that will only get stronger. These recent tracks have included notable artists such as Champion, Salute, Unknown T, and Flowdan exhibiting how desirable he is to work with as a producer. In what is just a tiny flavour of a wider discography that attacks a variety of musical genres, Sammy Virji fans are consistently treated to hit after hit – making him one of the most prolific producers in the game.  

From dubstep head to UK garage superstar, it has been a multifaceted electronic road he has followed to be where he is today. Many influences over the course of his musical learning, which meticulously include dubstep, bassline, garage, house, soul, and drum & bass, have ensured that we are witnessing an artist who can undisputedly curate DJ sets that live long in the memory. Although pinned as a UK garage artist, it would be unfair to label him into just one category. Any avid Sammy Virji listener knows his sets are full of variational flavour. His current productions may tick boxes within the UK garage genre, but if you consider his work over the course of his career it is effortless to identify a wide range of sounds that have forged Virji into the force he is within a wider electronic scope.

A highlight from 2023 that has undoubtedly brought a deserved status within the scene, alongside his many forward-thinking productions, is his DJ Mag live set last summer – accumulating over a million views on YouTube. A real performance for the ages. This set dissects the brains of Sammy Virji to perfection, showcasing a wide range of UK garage, house, bass, and soul. Its R’n’B-influenced style created an experience that demonstrates a musicality that is undeniably distinctive. The way he carried himself throughout the performance was infectious to the crowd and this was really evident for the duration of the stream – bringing joy to so many people who have viewed it since.

With a huge year in store which already includes more overseas touring around North America, as well as a return to Australia and New Zealand, it’s clear to see that Sammy Virji is truly making an impact on a more global scale. With debuts in Ibiza and Glastonbury coming up this year, on top of a colossal number of bookings, we predict another momentous period for the London-based artist.  

So talk to me about some musical inspirations growing up.

My first obsession growing up was Michael Jackson, and with that came a lot of the other Motown stuff. In terms of electronic music, a mate of mine gave me a Rinse FM CD mixed by Plastician. It had all these tunes on it that are now so iconic like ‘3K Lane’, ‘Rhythm & Gash’ remix by Spyro, and loads of other cool dubstep bits. He gave me another one mixed by Skream, and that was my gateway into dubstep – which was the first genre of electronic music I was into. I was about 11 when I started getting into it, so it really wasn’t the sort of thing most of my friends were listening to back then. When I got to around 14 when ‘Sound of Dubstep 2’ came out, it started to become more of a popular thing to listen to amongst friends my age. 

It sounds like you knew from an early age you were into your electronic music. Did you try to make music during this period too?

Yeah, so at the time I was also messing around on GarageBand. My Dad had Logic on his computer so when I went to his house I’d try to make dubstep tunes. He was a musician; a trombonist. He was able to teach me some basics of the software. He would produce some stuff for things like Channel 4 and other bits like that, so he knew his way around production. I made some terrible tunes during that time. They’re definitely somewhere, I might have to dig them up. 

Looking into your early DJing and production days, when did it become clear that you could make a go of it full-time, if at all? 

It was never my intention to end up producing full-time. I was just obsessed with making music and I was producing it all the time. It was only really when I was in my third year at uni that it started to seem possible. When my bookings started really picking up, I sat down and calculated that I could really make a go of this full-time. I really hated my biology course during my time at Newcastle Uni, so I was at the point where I was keen to do what I love instead. I always secretly wanted to do it, so I just went for it. My form of procrastination would be to produce so it really didn’t go well with my studies. When it became an actual reality that I could do the music instead of the degree, it was a bit of a no-brainer. 

What tracks do you think kickstarted your early career?

I did a bootleg of Darkzy’s bootleg of ‘One Dance’ which was on DEEPROT that did the rounds. There was a group called Lengoland which was a big thing for me, their Facebook group in particular did a lot for me. Just after that, another massive tune that helped me was ‘Never Let You Go’ which did so well on Soundcloud. Both tunes really put me on the radar I think. Bassline was really popular during this period and I was riding that wave. 

What other artists were you looking at for inspiration during the early periods of your career?

I looked at TQD a lot. Particularly Flava D. She was one of the first DJs I’d seen live, this was when I was at uni. It was mesmerising. When I saw her play, it made me really want to perform as well. I remember she dropped ‘In the Dance’ and that tune went off. It was special to witness once she wheeled it up. She was definitely a massive part of my musical influence at that age – so were Royal T and DJ Q to be fair. I would also throw DJ Champion in there, but honestly, there were too many to choose from on the bassier side of things back then. I was also making garagey stuff back then but I wasn’t too knowledgeable about it at the time. I got really into my old-school garage eventually. It was with my housemate Yemi who I DJed a lot with at uni. He would play house music and I would come in with the bass-heavy stuff. We decided to meet in the middle with garage and became obsessed with it. We listened to people like MJ Cole, Todd Edwards, Tuff Jam, and other artists like that.  

As time progressed you were able to touch upon this UK garage sound and it seemed Kiwi Records was a real turning point in that.

For sure. I didn’t make it that big when I was in the bassline scene, it was a real turning point when I became involved with Kiwi Records. I always speak about how much I really appreciate Conducta for giving me the platform to do the vibier stuff. It was something I definitely wanted to do, but I felt a bit stuck at the time in terms of being in a certain scene.  

What is your view on the UK garage scene at the moment? Why has it been perceived to have increased in popularity from the period before lockdown to now?

It is appealing to more of a younger crowd now, for sure. People are less shy to make a bass-heavy style of uk garage. Pre-covid, the crowd was a bit older. Its increase in popularity is probably due to bass-heavy garage and speed garage, through artists such as Interplanetary Criminal. I’d say that is the main difference. The important thing for me is that the garage-y drums are there. I try to not market myself as just a garage artist because a lot of the songs I make aren’t – even though many people would label it as that. The one thing that remains consistent with me is that they have these swingy drums in the tunes. And I have to say, it’s nice to see it creep into other genres too.

How was touring around North America this year? Did you notice any differences between the UK and over there? 

Really fun. It’s really cool to see the garage sound reach North America. It seems to be a nice crossover between two popular genres over there; fast house and EDM. The fact you can’t rave till you’re 21 over there makes a massive difference to the crowd attending in comparison to the UK. I found that they were very open-minded to music. It was a nice contrast to be fair. Certain tunes didn’t go off the same as they would in the UK but also vice versa. I did have to switch it up from time to time. I played a festival at the end which was a house festival, so I played a bit lighter for that. In New York, I knew they were forward-thinking with music so I could go a bit more experimental. I had local artists play on my tour. On the whole, they were great. The warm-ups were playing really great garage sets. In Phoenix and Texas there were some wicked sets. In San Francisco, there was a guy called Jared Jackson and he was honestly one of the best DJs I’ve seen in my life. Real old school bumpy garage tunes which is my ideal warmup. Right up my street. It made me realise that garage is really spreading. New York, San Francisco, and Denver were my favourite shows. In LA I got to meet Chris Lake and do a session with him. We made a tune and he even came out on my LA show later that evening. It was a cool little moment. 

Wow, that sounds like so much fun. What about in Australia and New Zealand? It must be crazy for you to comprehend that they love your tunes halfway around the world! 

Yeah, I’ll never get used to hearing people sing my songs on the other side of the world. It was my second time going over to perform. It’s definitely got even crazier for uk garage over there. I remember my first time playing in Melbourne, it was such a cool experience. The tour lasted about a month and I could have definitely stayed out there longer.  

Last year was a really busy one for you with bookings. Were there any highlights that spring to mind?

Reading festival was one of the maddest things I’ve done. I got to perform with my best mate MC Cunning. He was also MCing for me at Boomtown when I was back-to-back with DJ Q. They were both real highlights of my summer. If you had told me a few years ago that I’d be going back to back with DJ Q on main stage Boomtown I just wouldn’t have believed you. All the UK festivals I did last year were so good to be fair. And of course, my DJ Mag set was probably my favourite moment of the year. 

Yes! Bringing me nicely onto that DJ Mag set that captured the imagination of so many electronic dance music fans. Talk me through it.

Thanks! Because of the tempo people labelled it a garage set, but there was a lot of bassline, house, bits of everything that’s influenced me over the years. After I finished I had a feeling it could’ve been the best thing I’d ever done. It was wicked. I knew I must’ve done well because the crowd reaction was unreal. I really didn’t expect the crowd to be as receptive as they were. And I definitely didn’t expect it to do as well on social media and stuff like that. I guess those 360 sets do the best on socials. I’m really grateful that I was given the opportunity to play that set. Before then, I was always itching to do one of these 360-recorded sets, so when it came through I was really, really, excited. I had to make sure I planned my set and on top of that I was in the studio making sure I finished off some tunes ready to go for the performance. 

Talk to me about some of your more recent releases…

There’s my remix of ‘Counting’ by Hamdi. I made that specifically for the DJ Mag set. I asked Hamdi if I could get the ‘Counting’ stems. It had a real moment on TikTok and socials in general. Loads of people were asking for it to be released. Hamdi hit me up afterwards saying he was doing an official release remix pack of the song, which went out in February. Luckily, around that time the film ‘Saltburn’ came out and was playing that ‘Perfect’ tune which is the original song for the sampling of the ‘Counting’ track. Releasing the remix around that time definitely helped. With ‘Goodums’ I’d bootlegged Unknown T’s tune, also in preparation for DJ Mag. This one also had its moment online. I didn’t actually meet him. We asked if we could make it official and they agreed to it. Just by chance, on the day of the release he was touring in Auckland at the same time I was, so I actually did get to meet him in the end. He even came on my London show too – which was amazing..  

Are there any plans to release a body of work such as an EP?

I would hope to do a bigger body of work in the future. Right now, I’m struggling to crack on with tunes with all the touring and bookings. When I’m not playing I need to catch up on sleep. I’ve got time off planned and I’m going to knuckle down and spend a good chunk of time producing some new music. I do make music when I’m touring but a lot of it I won’t put out because it needs to meet a certain standard. I guess I just need to continue doing what I’m doing. I would like to play out a little bit less. The schedule can be very taxing. Ultimately for me, it’s about the music that I’m making. I’m slightly hindered at the moment in terms of producing because I’m always tired due to shows. But once it calms down a bit I can start to look at getting a body of work out. It would be so cool to get an album out maybe. 

What two collaborations stick out for you in your career? And are there artists you’d still like to DJ/produce with in the future?

Salute is up there. The track we have ‘Peach’ is one of my personal favourites. Conducta is another one. I’ve done the most back-to-backs with him and he’s a real good mate of mine. I would love to work with Skrillex and Four Tet in the future. They’d both be really cool to work with. Maybe Skrillex is a bit far-fetched. Four Tet has some forward-thinking ideas and I think we’d work well. I’ll also throw Disclosure in there as well. 

You’ve had a career filled with top-draw releases. Can you name any standouts?

‘Daga Da’ is definitely one because of all it’s done for me. Hearing it on that Strongbow TV advert was so weird. I don’t know how it got on but it was insane, when I found out it felt surreal. One I don’t really speak about in interviews is my remix of Piri and Tommy’s tune ‘on & on’. It’s one of my favourite productions. One of my more recent ones ‘Moonlight’ is also in contention. It might not do crazy numbers, but when I made the song it felt like I’d put my stamp on it. And finally, ‘Find My Way Home’ and ‘Shella Verse’, they’ll always be considered in my top releases. 

What exciting talents are you rating at the moment in the UK Garage scene? 

Bakey for sure! He’s one of my favourites. He’s way younger than I thought. He makes the best two-step garage. A lot of people try to copy his sound, but just can’t quite get his sound spot on. isGwan from Melbourne is making some really wicked tunes at the moment. Skeptic is another one. Love him. And one more to add in is Prozak. He’s such a great producer. 

Just to wrap things up, we’re all intrigued to know what your top three events you’ve played at are.

That’s hard. My top three events would have to be anything at Warehouse Project, Reading Festival, and Boomtown. 

And your top three cities?

The top three cities I’ve played in are a lot harder to pick from. I’d have to go with Melbourne, Leeds, and for the third one I can’t decide so I’ll have to say it’s a toss-up between London, Sydney, and Nottingham.

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