The Queen talks fashion, passion, and spinning in a man's world
UK DJ Sarah Young may just be the proverbial renaissance woman. At 22, she can call herself a singer-songwriter, blogger, a four-pronged linguist, a DJ, a producer — and now she’s MTV Iggy’s Artist of the Week. She started spinning in 2011, combining elements of moombah, soca, reggae and bhangra to create her own brand of global bass. She’s since released one full-length debut, the aptly-titled Moombahton Queen, which she followed up this month with her much-loved EP I am Sarah Young.
We talked to Sarah about her inspirations, dream collaborations, and the winding trail she blazed in order to pursue her music.
What made you decide to study music?
My family. My mother is a musician; she plays like a million instruments and can turn her hand to anything musical (although she is way too modest to admit that). I first picked up studying music when I was 8 in the school choir, and then I wanted to learn an instrument, so I went on to learn the drums, which I loved– it got a lot of my angst and tension out ‘cause I really really hated school! From 12 years old I studied part-time for 3 years at the Academy of Contemporary Music. I was literally the youngest there by maybe five years, but I loved every second. It was an escape from school, but after I left ACM, I kinda left music at the same time. I guess looking back I was really uninspired and felt a bit skeptical and pessimistic about the music industry, so I let fear and doubt take over. After A-levels at school I had to make a university decision, so I chose to go to art school. At that stage I didn’t even know producing or DJing was a career option, but then that same year I took DJing as my degree, and the rest is history! You don’t have to study music to do it– that’s what I’ve learned, especially as I have dyslexia. The way I learn is so twisted and weird, most teachers just gave up even trying with me. I’ve just done it my own way.
How do you know so many languages?
Look, don’t try and test me. I’ll fail in an epic way! It’s so funny when people learn you speak a different language. They always demand that you say something and I freeze! I know Dutch because my two best friends who I’ve known since I was 17 are Dutch. They are like my sisters, and I spend so much time in Holland that they literally forced me to learn it! As for the others, I think it’s really important to know things like your cultural heritage, and to spend time getting to know the ins and outs of different cultures. That’s why I’m learning Arabic and Hebrew right now. The Holy languages and their two cultures are very close to my heart. I feel really one with myself when I’m speaking Hebrew. DJ Umb thinks I’m crazy (generation bass) and calls me a culturally confused Jew-rab!
What turned you onto global bass in particular? Was there a specific record or show you went to that made the lightbulb go off?
Erm, I always listened to reggae and my parents always played Indian sitar music, as well as stuff like Sergio Mendez, so when everyone else was listening to Coldplay and pop music I would listen to the more global sounding stuff– basically international music. I just thought it sounded exotic and much more interesting than the crap on the radio. When I first started DJing I played a lot of Latin house and off-beat stuff alongside Dutch house and the more mainstream big sounding Euro stuff. I also played loads of hip-hop and actually started out DJing grime, but that didn’t satisfy me and I wanted something else. Then about 2 years ago I was surfing around the music blogs bored as hell, and came across a Moombahton edit, and POW! It opened up a whole new world to me. The music I loved and had grown up with had a name, and I loved how within global bass music like hip-hop, reggae, etc. is all sampled and mixed up, so yeah… I really got into the whole scene then!
You’ve got a lot of passions outside of music, and a really nice website for all of them, I might add. How do you find the time?
Time is but a concept often used against us as a method of mass control by the authorities, so I just create my own version of time– dream time seems to work nicely. Music is pretty much my number one focus now, but as I said, I studied art and then went onto do a 3 year degree at the London College of Fashion. I did the whole fashion stylist thing for about 3 years. I was working in the music industry, but to be honest, I hated it. I was so frigging envious of all the artists I was styling at gigs and tours. I’d be like, “damn, that should be me up there.” So one day my dad said, “Sarah, you are unhappy. Let’s talk,” and the conversation basically ended with him saying I had to become a DJ full time and that music was my calling. For a man of over 50 to say that is pretty much a huge sign. After my father’s blessing, I really just went for it, and since then, I’ve had a moombahton mix release with WeSC which went out to all WeSC stores/stockists nationwide, and then shortly after bought out my debut EP with Adidas, and now I’m on MTV, bitch! But I love anything thats creative, visual, or audio. If you have that sort of mind, everything– in fact the oddest stuff– will kick-start an idea and stimulate you. In terms of passions, I’m pretty much a workaholic and slightly OCD, so the perfectionism side of me is a little neurotic, but it’s what drives me forward and makes me want to be better.
What’s it like being a female in the industry? Do you experience any discrimination?
This is a weird subject. I saw some crazy discussion online about me and the fact I was a female DJ, and someone said that female DJs get laid because we apparently wear bikinis and do magazine spreads nude, and that women ‘do it to themselves.’ I didn’t get involved in the discussion, but that whole attitude that we women bring on sexism and prejudice ourselves is really shocking. For me, if someone casts a negative judgment based on my gender, it’s their problem, not mine. The fact still remains that when women take on a typically male gendered job, we have to perform better and work ten times as hard to get the same and equal respect a man would. Whether you’re a DJ or a banker, we still live in a man’s world and sexism is a very subtle and daily thing every woman alive has to deal with– especially if you work mostly with men. For instance I had a gig the other day and the sound engineer called me ‘sweetie’ and ‘pretty girl.’ Some might say he was being friendly, but it felt patronizing. Another example is actually getting into the clubs at my bookings; I can guarantee you almost 9 times out of 10 I have to convince the security guards and door men that I am, in fact, playing and not trying to get in for free!
Who are your favorite UK artists right now?
Mz Bratt is a female MC who is really making big movements. She’s one of those artists who tells stories in her music; she has something to say and has avoided going for that easy, sexy image and has kept her integrity. Redlight and the other names he produces under (like New York Transit Authority). I met Chris Clark the other day. I wasn’t familiar with his work at all before I interviewed him. My boy Husky introduced me to his music and he makes just some crazy abstract stuff which I love. It’s music without rules, which is refreshing. Swindle is a sick producer, he brings new life to funk– he makes so much music he doesn’t name his tracks. He numbers them– sick!
If you could collaborate with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
People might think I’m a weirdo crazed fan (which is probably true), but I would love to collaborate with Diplo or Major Lazer. He is a career inspiration. Diplo goes in and out of genres and doesn’t stick to any pre-written rules or constraints, which I love. I don’t get why you have to make one kind of music. Dream artists: Bob Marley, Tupac, Biggie, ( all on one track!). Oh, and Ravi Shankar, too. I really wanna collaborate with Vato Gonzalez and Sidney Samson and to do a track with Buraka Som Sistema would be stoooooooopid sick! I’d also really love to do some kind of Moombahcore track with Benga and Skream!
What’s next for you?
Relaunching the website, so I will be giving a free track away per month and making a crate full of free music. This year I’m also going to bring out a few more EPs, and towards the end of the year start working on the album. Gonna be launching an exciting new radio show. I also have a few brand collaborations and a tour planned for later in the year, and a loooootttttt more that I can’t announce just yet!
By Olivia Salomon