Make the music come alive: Saachi’s genre-bending sets are filled with personality

today01/03/2023 10

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It’s really fun watching you weave South Asian tidbits into your sets, but have you ever been nervous about playing Bollywood music to Western audiences?

I used to get really nervous in general. For the first two years or so, I had the world’s worst nerves. It was awful. For my first ever set that was streamed on YouTube, I couldn’t even enjoy it. After that, I had to ask myself: what’s the point if I’m not enjoying it? It’s taken me a very long time to get here, but I don’t feel as nervous anymore.

In terms of playing Bollywood music to a Western audience, I don’t get nervous about that. I would hope that my listeners are open and receptive to sounds that may not be familiar to them, because I’m always going to keep moving it around. I’m not ever going to paint within the lines.

I’m just gonna do what I enjoy and if that’s something that would make you uncomfortable, you probably wouldn’t like my sets at all. So that’s why I don’t feel nervous ever playing anything like that.

What’s made you less nervous about DJing over the years?

I’m a very reserved person and I always worry. I had really bad imposter syndrome when I started DJing. I’d always wonder why I was getting these cool opportunities. But I think having some really positive experiences has helped with my nerves. One that stands out was in 2020 at Brixton Courtyard. They were having open decks and I got selected. This was back when everyone had to sit at tables because of the COVID rules. I was chuffed to get picked. When it was my turn to go play I was so nervous, but then I looked up at the crowd and everyone was clapping for me. Not at the end – in the middle of my performance! I can’t describe how much that meant to me. I went home crying and called my grandma.

I sound so big-headed, but I don’t mean it like that. It’s just, having that affirmation from people is really touching. It’s an incredible feeling. So I think over time, gaining experience and getting nice feedback has made me more comfortable. I think another thing that has helped is accepting that I’m not going to please everybody. All I can do is play music that I enjoy and hope that they have fun with it too!

Read this next: Imposter syndrome in the music industry is rife, but it’s not impossible to overcome

You’ve said that Boiler Room changed your life – how come?

It was crazy. To even play that set was such an honour. I learned how to DJ from obsessively watching Boiler Rooms. I used to watch Hunee’s Seoul Set over and over again. Like I’m pretty sure half the views are me because I would just sit and listen like: what’s he doing? What does that button do? Just trying to work it out for myself. So it meant so much to me to be invited to play that set; to get an opportunity to play on the platform that I learned from. I was like, what the hell? But it was also so nerve-wracking because how do you approach the biggest race of your life?

Working with Rohan [Rakhit] was also incredible. I have so much love for him. You only have to watch the Boiler Room to see how amazing the energy was in there – imagine actually being in the room. It was the first time the South Asian community came together like that. Before that, the only South Asian person I knew in music was Yung Singh. It’s so daunting to look up there and not see anybody who sounds or looks like you. It makes you wonder how you’re supposed to achieve what seems impossible. When we all came together, we realized that there are actually so many of us in the South Asian community who love music. To be a part of that cultural shift, that moment in music culture history, it was incredible. I was so thankful for it and I’m so thankful for that opportunity.

What does it feel like to be a Brown woman in a scene that has been largely dominated by white men until recently?

At the beginning it was hard. I felt like I didn’t really fit in anywhere and like I wasn’t taken so seriously. I was always the warmup – even though I had more experience than some people in the same line-up. It wasn’t a nice feeling – but it was also hard to tell how much of that was because I’m Brown, or a woman, or just because I played a lot of house at the time. Now that has changed. I feel more comfortable and I’ve had more positive experiences. Now it’s just constantly people saying my name wrong, or getting confused by my name. Sometimes it can still feel like my presence is tokenistic – like a diversity checkbox. But I try not to let myself think like that. Every time I get a chance to play, I’m happy because I know how hard I’ve worked to get into that position.

Read this next: 37 South Asian artists share what music means to them

How do you navigate expectations to represent certain cultural or political issues while remaining true to yourself & your passion for DJing?

Honestly, just by being true to myself. Sometimes I think people expect that, as a Brown woman, I should shout about my identity from the rooftops – whether that’s through the clothes I wear or the music I choose to sample. But I think that being an authentic representation of a Brown woman DJing means being myself. I don’t want to have to perform my identity. My “Brown woman” looks like funky shirts, UKG and grime, and being reserved over outspoken. I hope that, by being who I am, it helps others in my community to feel more comfortable being their authentic selves too – even if it doesn’t live up to cultural expectations.

You’ve been involved in a lot of collectives with activist roots, from Daytimers to Selextorhood – do you feel like activism has a place in music?

Oh yeah, of course. Massive. Music unites people. I grew up abroad in a very international space and listen to music from all around the world, so when I see the industry starting to get exclusionary in some spaces, I think that’s wrong. Music is a global thing. It should be reflective and open to everyone, so of course activism in music is important. That’s why I started my show, A Seat at the Table. I really wanted it to just be an open, accessible space where the only thing that matters is if your music sounds good or bad.

Tell us about your Impact mix

This mix is very much where I’m at right now in terms of my sound — it’s a high-energy mix and that’s the energy I’m bringing into 2023. I just had fun with it so I hope that when you listen to it, you also feel like you wanna move!

Fizzy Noor is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter

Natural Mission (Bakey RMX) – Bakey, Sam Binga, Redders
Operation repatriation – Shapeshifta
Thesecrethistoryofjennysparks – Jenny Sparks
Dripping – Panar
Different Style – Oldboy
Connecta – Swindle ft Richardo China
B Boys – Wodda
I’m a bass assassin – Shapeshifta ft ST
Parisian Pitstop – An Avrin
London Bridge – BRLLNT
Get me – GLBDOM
Central Cee Dub – Y U QT
Tasty – Soul Mass Transit System
More flava – Father Funk & DJ Hiphoppapotsmus
Pump the jam – FELIXCW
Fatal Attraction – Detroit’s Filthiest
Shaolin – Pantile
Heartbreaker – Guido YZ
Mash up – Skream
Lean back – Myledo
Only U – Spooky Bizzle
Sunshine Dub – Bakey
Vinyls – Preditah (Eddy’s Refix)
Acid black box – Jaymie Silk
4X4 – Mushkilla & KobeJT
Girls – Eddy’s 140 Refix
Backshot – ATW
Cheque 1-2 – Spooky Bizzle
Crazy 4U – Macarite
ShapEUlator – Shapeshifta ft MC Stimulator
U know whats up – DJ Crisps
Rub-a-dub stylee – Shapeshifta
129 Space Line – Fixate
Untitled A – Interplanetary Criminal & Dj Cosworth
Alakazam – Bluetoof
Dreadful – Tom Blip
Gammy Knee Skank – Rumor Control
Night vision riddim – Orangesky

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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