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Escaping bad energies: How Si’Noir is inspiring DJs to be non-linear

The irrepressible dancing DJ is igniting movement and expression in her homeland’s club scene

  • Words: Tracy Kawalik | Photos: Alexander Scott Lambley | Make Up Artist: Bianca Raposo | Retoucher Shen Scott | Stylist: Emmanuel Lerato Dihangwane
  • 9 January 2020

When it comes to dominating a dancefloor, Si’Noir’s flex is undeniable. Fusing decades-worth of time honing her skills as a ballet dancer with her prowess behind the decks, the femme DJ and dancer has carved out a name for herself as an icon of South Africa’s underground club scene. Most importantly, she’s done it on her own terms. “A lot of leading female Joburg DJs are playing balls-to-the-wall techno to distract from the fact that they’re girls. But Si’Noir doesn’t hide her femme energy from her sets,” says Pussy Party creator Coco.

A ‘typical’ set for Si’Noir is anything but. While delivering a mix of deep, soulful house with live vocalists, gqom and afrobeat, her pink braids whip from a hair toss as she jumps from the booth to get down with her voguers, flip into flash acrobatics, then drop into the splits.

Read this next: Gqom is the explosive South African sound bursting into Europe

Off the back of a blazing two-year rise, Si’Noir's sweat-soaked sets have not only clocked up fans and critical nods but seen her lock down gigs at Oppikoppi Festival, play the Red Bull Stage at the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival, and land a slot at Joburg’s Afro-Punk.

Positioning herself at the forefront of Pussy Party as a femme activist as well as DJ, Si’Noir is quick to make it clear that her hype isn’t purely fuelled by theatrics. There’s a plague of gender-based violence in Joburg and nightlife is not exempt from that. Si’Noir aims to spark change. “I want my music to ignite movement and expression and for people to know they can hear it in a safe space,” she says.

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In a hypermasculine, heteronormative scene, South Africa’s LGBTQ clubs are a fragile but growing alternative. “Si’Noir is a fucking amazing DJ technically and has a beautiful energy that fills the party,” Coco continues. “The scene might be rising here, but most queer and femme nights happen in spaces that weren’t meant for us. Where other DJs wouldn’t, if she walks into a club and she sees bullshit, she’ll call it out.”

“Si’Noir’s inspiring DJs to not be linear,” adds Joburg DJ and co-host Lazarus Mann following her set and panel talk at the Joburg BUDX. “You can bring so much more to a set other than just the music you play, and Si’Noir’s is a testament to that.”

When did you start dancing?

“I’ve been dancing my entire life. I used to make jokes to my mom that I came out doing pirouettes when I was born.”

What turned you on to become a DJ?

“My sister and I used to clear out the lounge and blast drum ’n’ bass mixes and pretend we were the DJs. She was six years older and when she went to GrietFest [a sadly defunct electronic festival] she would record all the sets from our favourite DJs to CD.”

At what point did you decide to put your skills into practice?

“My mom passed away in 2015, but before she went, she could see how much I loved music. She would say to me all the time, “Don’t you want to go DJ? ” I always thought I was gonna be a prima ballerina, but a year after she passed, I started DJing.”

Did you already know the kind of music you wanted to play?

“I started with lo-fi, hip hop and jazz. But I was like, ‘Girl, your body wants to move!’ I have ADHD so it was like, ‘What can I do with all this energy?!’”

Who were your earliest musical influences?

“I’ve always been influenced by old-school vibes. South African labels like Soul Candi and DJs like Euphonik who did rad things and genres like Kwaito are still a major influence. There’s so much soul and depth in the lyrics, basslines, mad percussion and beautiful jazz vocals.”

What would you say inspires your sound the most now?

“Anything with drums, I’m there like a square. If you find me a drummer, I’ll marry him. If you give me a track with drums, I’ll play it. I’ve just started producing and mixing my own tracks and I want to go more into drumming. Drums send my head to an extremely creative space.”

Where does Pussy Party fit in?

“I played my first gig at Pussy Party and now I’m a big part of their crew. People can dress how they want, act how they want and know they can be comfortable being themselves in a safe space. We’re a strong femme group who host monthly events and DJ workshops for our allies and anyone in the LGBTQ community, and we push others to do the same. I’ve even started my own event called Glitz & Titz.”

How would you describe the club scene for women in South Africa?

“Hectic. When I go outside of underground and queer clubs, it’s an unsafe space for me... every time. There’s so much toxic masculinity. If I have to go to the bouncer and say that a guy’s harassing me, I know there’s a high chance nothing will happen, or he’ll get kicked out for five minutes and be back in again.”

What’s been the biggest challenge for you?

“There are too many men in the music and entertainment industry here. I can’t speak for all women, but from my own experience, I’ve had to work ten times harder to get to where I am. I’ve been taken advantage of by men a lot, who have no respect. I was told after one of my earlier sets, ‘Oh, I didn’t even think you could play. Most women don’t know how to DJ’ – and told that I wasn’t going to be paid. And that wasn’t only once.”

When did you decide to integrate dancing and DJing as a combined concept?

“Just because I was DJing, I didn’t want to let go of dancing. Everyone was telling me to choose, choose, choose, but I didn’t want to. It all came back to me and my sister moving the couches and chairs [so we could dance]. We’d be DJing, then we’d somehow be part of the crowd. Why couldn’t I do that? I had stepped back from dancing when I quit ballet so that I could reconnect and allow my body to understand how it wanted to move when it was ready. The moment I started DJing I was ready. The music made me want to dance, so I thought, “Right, you’re really flexible. Why don’t you just do some cool shit? Do some aerial mad hangs off the DJ booth. Do what you were born to do’.”

Read this next: No more 4x4: How sounds from the Global South stopped club culture stagnating

You recently jumped in the video for ‘OMG’ with Zambian, Ninja Tune singer and rapper Sampa The Great. How did that come about?

“I always ask my universal angels to bless me with people who want to align with me and my vision. Likewise, if they have a vision that I align with, then that’s beautiful, let’s go. Believing in that has always led to me attracting other really strong females from the industry. Sampa The Great is the perfect example of someone who’s not doing it for the masses but to transmit a creative, strong femme voice.”

We know South African selectors like yourself, DJ Buhle and Angel-HO are gaining traction and international hype, but who are the underground DJs in South Africa that you’re championing?

Abby Nurock who’s a vinyl DJ here, she’s dope; ANDRD 18 is amazing. My sister Little Miss Kay is another rad female DJ on the scene now.”

How important is the aesthetic part of your brand?

“If I could DJ naked that would be amazing, but we’re not there yet as human beings! I express myself a lot in how I dress even if all I’m wearing is glitter. I feel very powerful in how I look because it’s the medium where I communicate to people who I am without them having a say.”

What advice would you give to female DJs stepping on to the scene in Johannesburg?

“There are so many bad energies around that will try to distract you. There will be people who will align with you that will try and distract you, and make you feel like less of an artist simply because of the fact that you’re female. As women, we know what we want, we know our path, and we know how we feel. Don’t ever compromise on that. There are so many times when I’ve had to remind myself not to lose focus. I know everyone says it, but stay true to yourself. Once you’re true to yourself, nobody can touch you.”

Tracy Kawalik is a freelance music and culture writer, follow her on Twitter

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