Play what you love: SABRINA is the new gen drum ‘n’ bass DJ dealing in old skool sounds
After moving from Indonesia to London, SABRINA became immersed in the sound of classic drum 'n' bass. She speaks to Jack Ramage about her journey and shares a '90s d'n'b-fuelled mix
With much of her mixes deep-rooted in the old skool drum ‘n’ bass style, Indonesian-born and London-based SABRINA admits a lot of the records she selects were made “before she was even born.” Taking inspiration from legends like Kemistry & Storm, her sound is a transportation back into the glory days of 90’s raving.
Arriving onto the scene at the tail-end of 2020, this 20-year-old DJ has quickly become one of the industry’s most acclaimed newcomers. As the world was at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, SABRINA could be found skipping her uni assignments to spend hours on her bedroom decks — she put in the work and it's paying off.
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She’s since achieved more in the space of two years than many do in a lifetime: securing bookings at top-tier venues and club nights like Printworks, fabric, Metalheadz and Hit & Run MCR - to name a few - and shows on the revered Rinse FM. Her name has been shouted from the rooftops by some of the scene's most notable names - including props from Goldie.
Sabrina talks us through her short but impressive journey so far — from free parties to the main stage, her eclectic musical taste, current issues surrounding diversity within the scene, her “bloody weird” Spotify playlist, future goals, and the all-too-relatable feeling of “being born in the wrong generation”. Check out her Impact mix and Q&A below.
When were you introduced to drum ‘n’ bass?
What’s interesting is that when I discovered drum ‘n’ bass, I didn't even realise what it was. I moved [to London] from Bali and there’s literally no drum ‘n’ bass out there. When I moved here, I was taken to free parties and spent some time in raves, and realised I really liked the music. Someone told me it was drum ‘n’ bass and recommended me a playlist, some mixes, and which artists I should listen to. It went from there really.
Can you tell me more about these free parties?
My mum is going to kill me when she reads this… It was just one of those squat raves where people could jump on the decks whenever, I remember going to one and I was like 15 maybe. Obviously, we were too underage to try and use fake IDs to go to legal raves. I think there was a really big headliner - I want to say it was Randall but I really don't remember.
[Back in those days] one of my best friends lived down the road from me and would be like, “oh, there’s a rave on tonight” and we’d go. They would send us a message on Snapchat saying to meet at Kings Cross at 10:PM - before I knew it I was in Reading or something thinking how the hell am I going to get home? But yeah, without the proper squat raves, I don't think I really would've loved drum ‘n’ bass as much as I do.
So you were introduced to raves at a pretty young age… when did you start actually DJing?
I started DJing around a year and five months ago. September 2020 was when I felt most comfortable behind the decks and I had my first show around that time as well. It was a typical thing of lockdown boredom: I got some decks and wanted to try them out — I’ve always wanted to be involved in the music industry, I just didn't really know how. I was at University in Central Saint Martins, London, at the time, which was very intense. I didn't really have any time to sit down and think about how I wanted to get involved in the music industry and what side of it I’m interested in. So instead, I got myself some small decks and it just kind of just went from there. Before I knew it, I was spending six or seven hours on my decks and not doing any of my uni work.
Do you think your heritage influences your DJing?
Yes and no. There’s hardly any scene there - hardly anyone [in Indonesia] knows what drum ‘n’ bass is so all of my musical influences have basically come from when I moved to the UK. That said, I have plans to try and explore what the music scene is like in Indonesia and Bali, to see if I can make some connections. But it’s two different worlds really.
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You’re on the tip of everyone's tongue in the UK scene - coming into that post-lockdown, how did lockdown influence you starting out? And do you think the scene has recovered?
I think lockdown just gave me more time to dig deep and to understand what drum ‘n’ bass actually is, as well as where it came from and who the pioneers were in the scene. It gave me a lot of time to dig deep and explore - experiment really.
As to whether the scene has recovered, in my personal opinion, I’d say it’s 50/50. We’re definitely not going backwards but there’s still a lot of progress to go to make the scene better. I don’t think it’s ever going to be perfect - nothing in the music industry is perfect - but there’s still a lot more to go.
I don’t know how to describe it because I love the scene with all my heart: the people, promoters and all of the friends I’ve made out of it. But there is some stuff [that isn’t right] — I might look at a line-up and notice there’s only one girl there, or if someone booked me and I was the only girl on that line-up. [On one hand] I might think that’s really cool because I stand out as the only girl - but I shouldn't be the only girl on that line-up. When people say to me “it’s because it’s a male-dominated scene” — yes it is, but it shouldn't be anymore when there are so many female artists coming in at the moment. So I’d say that the scene is slowly getting better, we’re not going backwards [but there’s more to do].
Was there a moment when you realised you were actually making it in the scene?
I’ve had many moments like that, but not in a big-headed way. It’s more along the lines of little moments, like becoming friends with this person or [making a name for myself] in the scene. At the end of the day, in the music industry, there’s no right or wrong way to go about making it in the scene. I feel like it's about achieving little things: don’t measure success in the scene by how many bookings you’ve got; how many songs you’ve put out; how many listeners you have — measure yourself in what actually makes you happy. For example, I’ve become really close with Goldie just in the past couple of months because he saw one of my sets and now I’m with his agency. I’ve had the chance to speak with him a few times and had some really great chats, things like that makes me feel like ‘I’ve made it in the scene’ but that’s never going to stop me from pushing myself. I’m still very young, very fresh and just excited for all the stuff coming up.
Have you found the scene to be welcoming of your success?
Yes… I mean the scene still is welcoming because I’m still making my way in it. Everyone is really welcoming, helpful and gives me advice. But the more I dive into the scene, there’s actually a lot of stuff going on that I didn’t realise. Obviously, I can’t really say any of that but I’ve learned a lot in the last year. The fact I’ve just started out and I know what I know is actually quite scary. For instance, let’s say I get booked for a show, and I get involved with an agency or manager, the promoter might not want to book me anymore. It’s scary but I’m self-employed — I’m my own brand, my own boss. I can do what I want in the scene and if I don’t want to do something, or play for someone, just because I’m the only female on the line-up, I can easily say no.
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What work can be done to make the scene more welcoming for marginalised communities?
If I was a promoter I’d really think about my line-ups. Let's say a promoter sees another promoter's line-up and they think 'that’s really cool, how can I curate that?’ What do they think about it? Get advice from other promoters [who are curating diverse line-ups]. I think that’s the main thing for me: showcasing big and small talent. Also being more out there with the artists you book and not just sticking with the same acts. Do more exploring, don’t just book an artist because they’re a female that’s blowing up at the moment. Find an artist that will fit the line-up musically: what they play out, rather than just because they’re a girl or just because they played for Chase & Status last weekend. If that person suites the line-up musically then book them.
Your Impact mix has a lot of old skool, '90s drum ‘n’ bass and jungle influence. Is that your usual style?
Yeah, I think mainly most of the songs I play were made before I was born. However, I do find a lot of newer stuff that reminds me of the '90s which I put in. I also threw some songs that my friends made in there because they make good tunes and I’d love to support them. It is a variety, but I’d say 90 per cent of the mix is old skool vibes and then 10 per cent is the newer stuff. I’ve had a lot of people say to me that my sets remind them of what raving was like in the 1990s. Honestly, I say to myself all the time that I think I was born in the wrong generation - I should really be raving back in the '90s.
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What inspires you?
That’s a big question and I always struggle to answer it because my inspiration changes all the time. I’d say what inspires me the most is my life story, because I’ve been through quite a bit from someone really young. The fact that I’m alive, healthy and happy keeps me going. Hopefully, that’s how I express myself. I’ve been through a lot, my dad passed away when I was young and I moved around eight different countries. I’ve been moving around my whole life and I keep going. That’s my motivation. It inspires me every day that I keep on going. That sounds really up myself, that I inspire myself, but hopefully [readers] will know what I mean.
What are your biggest most notable musical influences?
Musically, I’d say my DJ friends really inspire me. If I were to say artists, I’ll have to give you my top five - in no particular order: Marcus Intalex; DJ Die, DJ Storm, Kemistry & Storm, and also Harriet Jaxxon is inspiring me a lot — she’s really doing it for the girls at the moment.
Are there any genres outside of drum ‘n’ bass you listen to?
I barely listen to drum ‘n’ bass, that’s the thing. That’s why most of the stuff I play is very old skool - I find it very difficult to explore all the new stuff that’s coming out at the moment. If someone sends me a song then I will listen, but I find it really difficult to branch out. I listen to mainly different subgenres of techno (mainly Detroit techno), a lot of hardcore, and - this is going to sound weird - but a lot of Arctic Monkeys, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, stuff like that. I don't know if that's going to play a part when I actually make music, but that’s the stuff I really listen to.
If I’m really in the zone and trying to get inspiration, it would mainly be people like Burial, SB81 - artists which make music that you can’t really pin a genre to. I literally have a playlist called ‘bloody weird’ because [it’s made up of] all the types of songs that you can’t pin a genre to. Do you know when you have set playlists for drum ‘n’ bass, techno or EDM? ‘Bloody weird’ is just everything.
What’s the best night you’ve played so far?
I can’t name one, I have to name two, for two very different reasons. I’d say Printworks because it’s literally every DJ’s dream. Metalheadz in Copenhagen, Denmark, a couple of months ago because I got to play all of the songs I wanted to play, which is a ‘headzy’ kind of vibe — the fact I got to dig really deep into my mix was amazing.
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You’ve played some massive venues already, but is there any you would like to play but haven't yet?
I’d say Warehouse Project. I haven't played there but I’ve been booked to play at the Mayfield Depot and I’m looking forward to it. I would've loved to play The Drumsheds too. I’d love to play Ministry of Sound because my dad, before he passed away, used to rave there. That would be a huge achievement for me. I know some people might think there are other places out there, but for me, it’s about playing at a place that means something to you.
I’d also love to play Berghain in Berlin, although they won’t take drum ‘n’ bass DJs. You never know, I might play some techno there. I’m starting to DJ a lot of other stuff outside of drum ‘n’ bass, maybe under the same alias. For drum ‘n’ bass nights, in particular, I’d love to play at Warehouse Project, Ministry and loads of other smaller-scale nightclubs too.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Do you have any long-term goals?
Making good money from music to have my own place [is one]. But hopefully having the chance to be able to collaborate with some people that I really look up to, whether it’s making music with them or DJing with them. Hopefully I’ll get some production out too. I’ve recently started making music - I’m very picky with my production, I’m sure a lot of people are, but if I don’t like something I just won’t put it out or even tell anyone about it.
I’ve got a project called Tributes, a mix series that I’ve done dedicating to the jungle and drum ‘n’ bass scene. The first mix I did in the series was an influence mix - playing tunes from people I look up to. The next one is going to be a Metalheadz only mix. So hopefully my Tributes mixes will blow up a bit more because I put so much hard work and effort into it. I do it for fun so I’m just excited to see where that goes.
Hopefully, I’ll play some really big festivals too. Places like Glastonbury, Boomtown, Outlook Festival — loads of places that I really want to play that I hope I can tick off by then. And hopefully, I’ll get to meet more artists - there are a lot of older heads that I really want to meet and get to know. I’m just really excited to see the scene thrive a bit more in the next few years.
Given your success in such a short space of time, do you have any advice for aspiring DJs?
I’ve been asked this before when I did an Instagram Q&A but I think the main advice is to get yourself in with the right people and the right line-ups. I want to look back in five or ten years' time and think I’m so happy that I played that line-up, because that’s the songs that I wanted to play, that’s the crowd that I want. Don’t just do mainstream stuff, [if you do] you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. I’d rather play to a smaller scale audience if that means they’ll know all the old skool stuff that I play. Play what you love. Make sure you do what you want and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Jack Ramage is a freelance journalist, follow him on Twitter
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