2020 has been the most turbulent, unpredictable and stressful year of most of our lifetimes. The impacts of the pandemic have brought adversity in all forms, and we continue to learn how to live in such a crazy world. However, in the darkness there are always stories of individuals who adapt and overcome challenges, especially in communities like the bass music scene that are bursting with creative and innovative artists.
Becky Saif started off the year with 17 years of DJing experience, regular bookings and a music studio, all while living in London, immersed in the culture of drum & bass. When March came around and lockdown hit, Becky lost everything – her job, her home in the capital and her hopes for the future. “In the space of six months, my life changed completely,” she said.
After moving back to her hometown of Sheffield, she was torn from her friends and the city that she loved. With this came the loss of her music studio and all forms of income. Forced to start fresh, Becky had to plan for life without live performances, studio sessions and the big city lifestyle.
Fast forward six months, Becky has rebuilt her life back in London, established her own community on Twitch and is stepping ever closer to releasing her first drum and bass tracks. In a time of absolute desperation, she has redefined what it means to be a DJ and producer in 2020.
“I was itching to get back to London – it’s become more of my home now,” said Becky, speaking from her new studio set up in which she has been working on her long-awaited music projects. “Now that I’m settled in London, I’m really focusing on finishing one of the eighteen or nineteen almost finished tunes that I have.”
She describes her initial sound as dark and technical, taking inspiration from the likes of Monty, Enei and Ed Rush and Optical. “I like the darker side because I’m quite a dark person myself,” Becky admits. “I really like the emotion that you get from darker sounding tunes.”
Her love of drums runs even deeper than the synthetic kind: “I’m really obsessed with drums and drum patterns because I’m a drummer,” she reveals. “I love drum programming and creating intricate drum patterns with industrial sounds.”
It’s been a long journey to get to this point. During lockdown, Becky’s whole attention was directed at creating new online content for various platforms in order to make ends meet. From busy weekends in clubs and weekdays in her music studio to now streaming on Twitch and uploading on YouTube, Becky’s routine has been overhauled. “It’s really opened my eyes to a new way of doing things” she said, explaining how her transition to an online artist has been a learning curve.
“The thing that makes me love the whole drum and bass scene so much is the community and family side. When the gigs were taken away, that community aspect was taken away as well. Streaming on Twitch and having the community online has kept that aspect in my life.”
Becky’s love of community and culture was what drove her to London years ago, but without raves and real-life connections, she had to revive her drum & bass family through the internet. Like many of us, people’s support and compassion through a glass screen and an internet connection has got Becky through what has been one of the hardest years of her life.
“I don’t like to look too far ahead, because I think it’s important that we don’t lose ourselves in the future and remain present,” she says. Although she was able to nurture a new life online, Becky has been open online about her struggle with mental health and emphasises the importance of community in healing and personal growth. “Personal development has always been a passion of mine and I like to use music as a way to convey that message,” Becky adds. “Because I think there can be a lot of mental health and trauma that goes hand in hand with musician and the arts.”
While she was growing her online community through Twitch and Patreon, streaming and offering DJ and production tips, Becky also claims that the lockdown has given her time to “fall in love with the music again” in a period of reflection. This is why she finds herself almost twenty unfinished tracks deep and raring to make more. “It’s going to be really interesting to develop my own sound,” she explains.
The work Becky has put in to provide tutorials, 1-2-1s and general entertainment for her internet family has given her a platform to be creative again. However, her YouTube presence has created equal impact in its refreshingly positive but insightful perspective of life as an artist.
“The YouTube channel is a new thing for me, but I’m just going to stick with it because I do actually have a lot to say,” she states. Covering everything from production skills to online abuse and mental health, Becky has used this new tool to redefine what it means to be a drum and bass DJ by becoming an advocate and mouthpiece for the scene and those in it.
She believes that “it’s important to start the conversation” when it comes to topics that aren’t discussed enough, such as online abuse. “A lot of artists were calling me during lockdown telling me about the abuse they had been receiving,” she explains. As somebody often at the receiving end of abuse online, Becky felt obliged to start a dialogue around the topic of bullying on social media.
“It’s quite easy for someone to go in your inbox and talk about how shit you are,” Becky explains. “If they’re in your inbox, you aren’t protected and no one else can see what they’re doing, because it’s not public.”
Becky uploaded a YouTube video about online abuse that lead to many other artists confiding about their struggles with trolls on social media. “Quite a few of my followers got in touch and said that the reason they stopped trying to become a drum and bass DJ or producer is because of the abuse they received on their way up,” she explains. The messages span from criticism about mixers being unplugged, not using the cross fader and, particularly from male viewers, being told how to DJ or produce when providing tutorials. Sometimes it’s just general hate, telling artists they are simply not good enough.
As a female artist, Becky explained how she has “got used to” abuse online, commenting on how “as an artist, you learn to grow a thick skin and ignore it.” Most notably, she mentions the constant conflict between whether female artists are using their image to further their career, or if they “haven’t got enough image to have a brand.”
“Women treat women in a bad way as well,” she adds. “They can say things like, ‘who does she think she is, she thinks she’s better than me’.”
“On one side, artists are human beings and they have feelings. On the other side, artists choose to go into the arena and choose to put themselves in that position.” Becky explains the difficulty in tackling online abuse in an industry that has been revolutionised by social media. With her new platforms, she hopes to raise more awareness for abuse online. “It’s not just me talking to the top of the industry, it’s me talking to the industry as a whole and them talking back to me. They throw their opinions out there and it’s quite nice to have these discussions online with people.”
She mentions the importance of each person in the scene speaking up about injustice, prejudice and inequality: “From the DJs to the people on the dancefloor, everybody has a part to play. Sometimes at the top it can feel very distant from the people on the dancefloor and what they’re trying to say.”
With the increase of online communities and forums for bass music, these conversations are becoming more frequent, Becky explains that “Right now, there is an explosion of community online and conversations are happening all the time.” But, she adds, these discussions need to be inclusive and cover topics that may not be in the limelight as often.
With the support of her newfound Twitch and Patreon community, Becky has managed to create new ways to be an artist in drum and bass during lockdown. “It’s a really nice time to be a creative and learn a lot about yourself” she said, later adding, “I’m not making any money, but I’m surviving and I’m enjoying my time. As long as I can pay rent, write music and create content, that kind of satisfies my cravings and my soul.”
In a time where the world seems to have lost its spark, artists like Becky are working to create content and lift the spirits in the bass music scene. The surge in online streaming, tutorials and other new media has enabled music to guide us through the down days and lift us higher on the good days, like the best kind of therapy. We can only hope that there are more stories of positivity to come out of times of struggle, and the joys of bass can continue to be felt by all those in the community.