In the week the government have continued to change the goalposts and completely let the whole nightlife industry down, once again, it’s pertinent to seek and cherish the good things that have come out of these frustrating times. Like how streaming culture has opened up the doors for a whole new generation of DJs to come through via streams. DJs like SABRINA.
Indonesia-born, London-based, Sabrina wasn’t even mixing when the pandemic first began. A devout fan of the culture since her first taste of rave when moving to the UK in 2013, Sabrina had hope of DJing in the future, but it wasn’t until summer 2020 that she truly dived in deep. Embracing the rare abundance of time that many of us found ourselves with, she started mixing on a friend’s controller and was instantly smitten and continued to dive deeper.
Within months she put a few mixes out, then got involved in a few streams. Now, armed with a reputation for pulling out doubles with classics that were made – as she jokes herself – before she was even born, she is now being booked for clubs like Printworks, Fabric, Thekla, The Cause and so many more.
Even in these accelerated times, few DJs have had such a rapid entry into the game, but such a rise isn’t without its turbulence. As you’ll find, though, Sabrina is 100% legit, she’s dedicated to her newfound career, getting advice and inspiration from some very respected artists and brands and she’s looking forward to playing real sets where there aren’t any keyboard warriors. Get to know…
Every day you seem to be announcing cool new shows! But you’ve only been DJing properly since August, right?
Yeah around then. Maybe September. It just kept going up and up and up! I had no expectations, I was doing something I enjoyed and suddenly it’s become a potential career. I’d wanted to DJ for years but only started on lockdown because there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. So it was a complete surprise.
Was there a moment when you thought ‘okay this is going a bit bonkers now!’?
When artists, friends and family told me I’m good. I thought ‘oh, okay really?’ I did a few live streams and invitations to do more came along and I thought ‘how is this possible? I haven’t been mixing for a year.’ I do know a lot of people in the scene and I network on a daily basis but that’s only going to get me so far. But this was becoming a weekly thing, sometimes I was announcing three or four new things a week so I thought, ‘Okay, let’s do this!’
Let’s get your musical roots… When did drum & bass come into your life?
I loved Drum & Bass before I even knew what it was. When I grew up in Indonesia and Malaysia there was no such thing as Drum & Bass, the community was non-existent, but you’d hear it on the radio or on the internet so it was always there. Then I moved to London in 2013/14 and heard it and I was like ‘I recognise this music!’ Then some friends took me to free parties and I was in love with it, and started digging more into it and found out more about the liquid side like Bukem and Calibre, the jungle side like Randall and Die, and where drum and bass came from.
Awesome. So you’re 20. You’d have gone into lockdown age 19. So I guess a lot of your early D&B and raving exposure was at raves like that?
Quite a lot yeah. I’ll probably get into trouble saying this, I snuck into legal places but I had to – I was really inspired by the artists playing and I really wanted to go and see them. At free parties you don’t get that many ‘big’ artists playing so it was more about going for the vibe, which I think was important for me. It was about the music and not the DJ, now it’s both!
Yeah I like that. Who was the first DJ you went to see in a legal dance?
Randall. It was a really intimate event, he was the special guest and he became a huge inspiration. Soul In Motion was another place I’d go to whenever I could too. There was several Soul:ution events I wish I went to, but most were in Manchester and too far to risk.
Randall and Soul In Motion! You went direct to the source!
I guess so, but I didn’t know about their heritage or what they represented when I went. It was for the love of this music and understanding the roots. I just thought they looked like events I’d like to check out. And they were huge inspirations for me, so I’m happy about that. I prefer the smaller intimate events, get a feel of the music differently.
That was back when you were studying art. Are you still studying or are you entirely focused on music now?
I did a Foundation course on Art and Design and I was always just going to do that. But then the lockdown came so I thought I’d try out the first year of an art degree, but I was drifting away from that because I was pushing my DJing. I actually started to bring the worlds together a bit and, during lockdown, I drew pictures of artists and posted them online and sent them to artists to brighten up their days. That was fun and I made some really nice friends with that. Then by then the DJing had kinda exploded a bit so I’m no longer studying and just focusing on the music.
Loving those portraits. It’s nice to put a smile on someone’s face. Especially at that time when things were pretty bleak!
Yeah it was fun to do and nice to just put something positive out there. And I did make some lovely connections there. Getting to know them and how they’re feeling and making friendships.
Who was the first one you did portraits of?
Trigga. He’s been so helpful and given me loads of advice as I’ve got into this. He posted that and people were into my pictures so I did some more like Voltage, Sam Binga, Kasra and also my up and coming DJ friends as well. It kept going and going. I did almost 300 pictures!
Wicked on Trigga. Is there any advice he gave you that you can share?
In a nutshell, stay humble. He said it’s so easy to be sucked into the hype and the lifestyle and politics of the scene. He also said because I’m a young girl, which I’m sure we’ll talk about later, more attention and pressure will be put on me because of this so stay humble, don’t rush into things and stay true to myself. Do things for me, basically. I thought was amazing.
Wicked advice. I was going to ask about support you’ve had and how welcoming have you found drum & bass coming through the way you have?
So far the scene’s been welcoming. It’s a small scene and everyone’s been really nice. There’s an incredible network of girls in the scene now, so I don’t feel alone, and I do feel like I have some incredible support. However, because I’ve come through online, there’s a comment section and the comment sections aren’t always very nice are they? People feel as though they can be nasty and it won’t affect you. Most people are cool, but there are always one or two warriors who will say something that’s really insulting or nasty and those comments stick with you. A friend reminded me that we don’t have comment sections at raves. You’re never going to please everyone, you shouldn’t please everyone but I am of that nature where I do like everyone to be happy.
Yeah totally. I think that’s indicative of human nature in a way. The fact a comment box doesn’t exist at a rave is so true though!
It does create pressure for me, because it’s a male-dominated scene. I’ve had messages from several people saying I’ve inspired them to get back on the decks or to continue to pursue their DJ career. I’ve had loads of messages from up and coming female artists saying keep doing what you’re doing. That’s great and so humbling but it also makes me feel pressure and that I have eyes on me. But I’m just doing this for fun, experimenting and experiencing, and for artistic and creative enjoyment. I have found that the more I get into this, the more politics there are, which can be hard to navigate but I have good people around me, so I think I’ll be okay.
I think it’s as political as you let it be. People like Randall, Trigga, others who you’ve namechecked just rise above that. They do their thing. The happiest artists do. But as a female artist that politics is imposed on you isn’t it?
Yeah it is. The internet and streaming culture has brought in a lot more female acts. And I know that there’s a great history of inspiring women in jungle like Kemistry, Storm, DJ Rap but for years you didn’t see a lot of those crazy-talented artists on line-ups. Now we are definitely seeing more again, which is amazing, but yes it is scary because it’s a male dominated scene. But I think it is getting better, so I’m happy to be part of that change.
It’s slowly getting better. Before we spoke I was literally just reading about artists who have diversity clauses on their rider so their line-ups have to be more representative. DJs like Alix Perez, Om Unit and The Upbeats have already got them.
That is great, but we need more. That’s another element to my situation because I’m also mixed race as well as a woman. I’ve had people I don’t even know telling me I’m only being booked because of how I look. That’s not pleasant to hear and makes me feel very uncomfortable. I just want to play sick music, to entertain, to tell stories with the music and do everything a DJ is inspired to do. Don’t look at me, just bloody listen to what I’m playing, you know?
Yes! You’ve been working hard on the doubles and digging into the history, too. It’s really clear that you’re not just playing free downloads or endless foghorns or jumping on musical bandwagons. Taking it very seriously and working hard on your craft.
Lockdown gave me the time to dig deeper, I spend most of time listening to catalogues whether it’s Hospital, V Recordings or Soul:r. Lockdown gave me the time to really dig deep and find my sound. Those three labels represent my favourite sounds in jungle.
That’s sick. I said this to Ink in a recent interview but I’m jealous of people getting into jungle drum & bass now as you have so much to explore. Like diving into an ocean…
It really is. And I hope that shines in both my selection and, when I’m ready, my production. I think I’ll have multiple sounds but I hope what I mix shows what I’ll eventually produce. Those three labels I mention are like the pillars of what I’m looking for. Hospital with the most contemporary sound, V for everything and Soul:r’s futurism. Like the drum patterns and the emotion in the music. They represent what this music is for me.
Awesome. Anyone else surprised you or caught your attention? I know you did a sick mix with John B’s Up All Night.
With Bad Ass, that Danny Byrd tune! Yeah, that’s my favourite blend! I play it every set and a few people have said I play it too much, but I played it at The Cause recently and it caused a bunch of people to get kicked out because they got up and danced! Another old favourite is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by High Contrast, or Red 7 by Marcus Intalex but there are so many. And something I’ve realised is that I don’t care if a tune isn’t contemporary or the newest thing out there, if it gets a crowd going, it gets a crowd going. It makes me happy to see people are enjoying a blend I play over. I’ll play a lot of new stuff, older stuff but mainly ones that were made before I was born.
Ha! So gig-wise I know you got Printworks and Fabric and I see you announcing loads more, almost daily! What are you most excited about?
I’m only going to be excited when things actually do open again and they’re happening! The government keep letting us down and it’s so frustrating for the whole industry. But it’s quite scary. I’ve only played to actual people twice! And they weren’t big crowds. So it doesn’t feel real at the moment. The two I’m the most excited about are the ones you mention – Printworks and Fabric. The two biggest clubs in the UK! It’s mad to see my name on the line-up with people who’ve been on this for years and years and years and I’ve been doing this for a year. That’s so crazy it’s weird to be excited about. It’s all so new.
Have you been able to practice on a big rig?
I use Pirate Studios a lot and have done some streams on some really good soundsystems and I’m sure the people I’m playing b2b with will help me because they know I’m new. I’ve practiced on all kinds of formats and mix by ear so I’m not really worried about that. All I need are two working decks (minimum – for now!) Plus a box to stand on so I can see over the decks! That’s it really. I’ve got a little set-up at home which I’m obviously practicing on, but it’ll be nice to do some gigs and actually earn some money and save up to buy a laptop and produce. Right now I’m using my boyfriend’s laptop (thanks Joel) but I need my own set-up.
Where are you at with production?
I’m starting to explore things. I’ve been so busy with getting my name out there, but I’m always dabbling with ideas and watching as many tutorials as I can. I wouldn’t call myself a producer at all yet but it’s something I’m interested in and will push myself in just as much as I am as a DJ. I know the time will come when I finally get my hands on a good new laptop, I’ve just got to be patient.
Amen! What else does the world need to know about Sabrina right now?
Hmmm… Just that I’d love to see some familiar faces at my first few raves, knowing friends are out there will help me because I get stage fright really badly. I’ve only announced 15 of the 50 or 60 bookings I’ve had too, which is crazy. I’d also like to say to anyone reading this, is do your career the way you want to. I’m not playing the same sounds as a lot of other up and coming artists. Dogger said to me ‘play the music you want and make sure you’re on the line-ups with artists you want to play alongside.’ That was really good advice. Basically stay true to yourself and play what you love whether people will like it or not. In 10 or 15 years time, you want to look back and be happy that you’ve done what you wanted to do, and not follow a crowd. Take inspiration from others, but do your own thing. And that’s what I do; I’ll be playing songs by anyone from Spirit, Doc Scott, Marcus Intalex to fellow friends like Sl8r, Dogger, No Patterns, Viridity and more, but I only play what I like and it’s nice to know that people have seen how much thought and hard work I put into my mixes. So yeah, thank you to everyone. Also, can I ask, will this a Who The Hell Is feature?
Amazing. To have a Who The Hell Is feature has been on my bucket list for a little while now! So yeah, thank you and thanks to everyone who’s supported me so far!