It’s been a wild ride for SABRINA since she first emerged in late 2020 as part of the new streaming generation of DJs who came through during lockdown.
First featured on the 1 More Thing podcast at the end of 2020, in one of her earliest interviews, SABRINA explains how she fell in love with drum & bass so much and became so focused on the art of mixing and DJ culture that she quit university to pursue it.
As we came out of lockdown mid-2021, the young DJ found herself in a whirlwind of hype and a tidal wave of bookings that included bucket-list venues like Printworks and Fabric. As she explained in this follow-up interview on UKF, this meteoric boost came with its own layers of complexity and anxieties of how life behind the decks will be in a real life environment compared to streaming online.
Another year on and SABRINA’s truly settled into her role at the forefront of the new breed of DJs putting their stamp on drum & bass and pushing the culture forward. Over that time she’s found her own style and signature that ﬂexes around the foundations of the culture. Often joking that a great deal of the music in each set she plays was made before she was even born, SABRINA’s thirst for history and seminal records has given her a timeless edge that resonates with older heads and has led to pioneers like Goldie, My Nu Leng and more pledging support and becoming fans.
For a taste of SABRINA’s selectionism and passion for the roots of drum & bass you can check her TRIBUTES series on her YouTube channel or her brand new residency on Rinse FM. A far cry from her initial mix she did for 1 More Thing 18 months ago, the London DJ’s wild ride continues. We check in to mark another exciting moment in time…
Congratulations with the Rinse show! How did it come about?
Thank you! I’m so happy! Who doesn’t want to be part of Rinse? I guess it came about through a lot of networking and my manager has been very helpful as well. I’d done a few shows for Rinse before and I kept hinting to them about working more together and for a residency and here we are. It’s only three months for now, but hopefully I’ll impress them and be able to stay on as a residency for longer.
You went IN on that mix! Loving The Prodigy intro. You play some of my favourite classics like Casino Royale and Nosher.
It’s the set I’ve dug the deepest for. A lot of tracks were made 20 years ago or older. I thought it was only right to start with the Prodigy and go back to the roots. I hope people like it; I put a lot of thought and research into it. More than any other mix I’ve made before. I know there are thousands of mixes being uploaded daily but I really wanted to make it special.
I think that puts a lot of value back into DJ and mix culture. There’s a real appreciation for blends and the artistry of DJing again which is sometimes lost. You can really tell when someone’s put thought and research into their mix…
I always think about it like, ‘Why am I using this tune? What is it about this tune? Why do I like it?’ It doesn’t just have to go well with the next tune, it has to make sense. I’m not always double dropping, for me it’s more about how well the tunes go together to tell a story.
Deﬁnitely! I guess it’s having the time to do that, too, right? You just mentioned having a manager and that’s a big development from when we’ve last interviewed or spoke. Does that give you more time to research your selections? Also, I’m sure a lot of young artists who’ve come through at similar time to you have thought about management so do you have any advice on that side of things?
Well the first thing I’d say is don’t rush. My manager and I were working together for a while before we signed any type of agreement because we had to gain each other’s trust. He had to see my passion and understand why I quit uni to pursue this. And from my side, I had to make sure he wasn’t just trying to take my money. So in any good relationship – business or otherwise – if they’re not willing to wait around for you then it’s not right. There needs to be trust. They’ll be more than happy to prove to you why you’re good.
And yeah, it does free up time for me to just focus on my mixes but, more importantly, having a manager has given me confidence. I needed someone to guide me and make sure I’m professional and helping me created a brand out of myself. Not only is this my passion but also my job now. I want to find out who I am and what my place is and I felt he’d understand that and help me find out the answers. It’s how you feel and what you want from this. He’s helped me so much.
I remember you saying you felt a bit lost or overwhelmed for a minute because everything was so rapid!
Yeah my growth was really quick. I hadn’t found my sound. I was playing very chill vibes but then I started digging and digging and finding all this other stuﬀ and I really refined what I wanted to play. I still play a little liquid in my sets but it’s not what I’m booked for any more.
I was getting booked for liquid events a lot to begin with which was great and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities but I didn’t feel I could be myself in those sets. So back to having management, he helped guide me towards the right bookings like Fabric where I could be myself instead of shows like Printworks which was a mind-blowing experience to be booked for but very difficult because I felt the danceﬂoor wanted something diﬀerent to what I wanted to play.
I hear that. Was there a penny-dropping moment or particular record you heard that helped you reﬁne your sound or feeling you’re pursuing?
It’s all thanks to Soul;r. When I started listening to Soul;r records I heard what drum & bass is really all about. It’s lots of subgenres on one label – that deep and rolling sound, the soulful sound, the harder stuﬀ. So if there was a penny-dropping moment then it was when I first found myself down one of many Soul:r rabbit holes I’ve been on YouTube listening to all the things you won’t find on Beatport.
During lockdown that’s all I did! Finding tunes on YouTube and appreciating the range of artists like Calibre and Commix and realising how dark and heavy they can get. So even though my sound changed quickly it was still a gradual development that was inspired by every new record I’d hear!
Are you a list writer? I have mad lists when I’m down rabbit holes!
I have a lot of screenshots on my phone. Most of them are ones of tunes I can’t find to buy. I’ve actually messaged the artist a few times and they’ve come back with the wav which is amazing! So yeah, I’ve got screenshots and I’m just on YouTube all the time. It’s never-ending.
That’s great artists are replying with wavs. It was cool seeing Goldie post about you last year…
Yeah! It was very surreal to have this relationship with him just after him witnessing the last 15 minutes of my set. I was on the line-up before him, I didn’t think he’d even be there except for the last 5 minutes of my set. But he was there, and he really enjoyed it. He was very supportive and we’ve worked together which led to me being a few Metalheadz line-ups. That was a dream come true and I’ve really been able to be myself during those sets. The show I did for them in Copenhagen was amazing in particular. I was really able to be myself.
I think that was your ﬁrst ever international show wasn’t it?
Yeah it was!
What other ‘pinch yourself’ moments have you had?
I’ve said this before in a previous interview but just being able to play out in general! Playing to a real life danceﬂoor is always a pinch-me moment and I’ll never tire of it. Playing out, being approached by artists, getting recognition from people and seeing crowd reactions. It’s all a dream come true. I would say that connecting with Goldie was one of the biggest pinch-me moments so far. Being able to call him a friend and him oﬀering advice is inspiring. Getting to know a lot of artists I’ve always looked up to is quite unbelievable full stop.
People recognising your due diligence. You’re tapping into something timeless…
Definitely. The reason I play this stuﬀ is the history. The fact it was made from a certain time and place. The old school rolling sound feels ingrained in me. It’s what I love – I love the drum patterns, the details in it. There’s not so much of that in modern drum & bass. Music is always evolving, and I do love that, but that foundation vibe is the sound that really gets me and I want to pay tribute to it.
Totally! And a very nice segue into your TRIBUTES concept, too. I wondered with you joining Rinse whether that series would be coming to an end…
Yeah I’m continuing with them. I want them to be special and not get lost in the sea of streams. Doing them every few months gives me time to think about each mix and find the venues to record them in. I did a Soul:r one in Trinity for example. I’m really happy with how they’ve gone so far but I don’t want to rush them. I want each mix to be special.
I love the not rushing approach. The whole idea of digging back and given old gems a new lease of life is really apt for these times. You’re upcycling in a way and reminding people that tunes don’t have to be retired so quickly. Celebrating the lifespan of the music more, I guess…
Yeah. And celebrating the time and place it came from. The 90s seemed like such an incredible time for raving and a very creative time for the music. And you’re right, a lot of people think these tunes are new. Ravers my age will come over and say, ‘When’s this coming out?’ And it came out 10 or 20 years ago! It’s fun playing tunes that not everyone will know but go oﬀ in the rave. Sometimes I’m shocked the age of tunes. I think, ‘Wow it’s as old as me.’ Even something like 4 Points by Spectrasoul is 10 years old and that absolutely pops oﬀ to this day.
Tune! You’re joining the dots with the new stuﬀ, too. I guess part of the research you mentioned before is working out the moments when you can bridge the generations?
Yeah that’s right. With contemporary productions I’m always looking for tracks that have that timeless vibe so they fit well. For instance, I’m not that big on foghorns. I’ve got nothing against them, they’re just not my style. But there is a lot of amazing contemporary drum & bass that does have that old school style. And it is important to bring the two together and play the new stuﬀ. I want to support my friends and support the artists and give everyone a boost. But it’s also important to show you know your music. So its not like, ‘Look how many dubs I’ve got.’ But neither is it like, ‘Look how many classics I know about.’ It goes both ways.
This is really interesting and a newfound responsibility or era for preserving the foundations within a new drum & bass generation…
For me it’s really simple – without the music from the 90s we wouldn’t have what we have today. I love the history. I wasn’t able to rave back then, I wasn’t even born. I often joke that I was born in the wrong generation. But that doesn’t stop me from paying tribute to the old school and telling important stories. It’s inspiring and I know it can work. Look at Nia Archives and her role as a jungle ambassador. She’s smashing it now and playing these incredible places and representing jungle in this way with both old and new tracks. I want to do the same with old school drum & bass.
Love that! In your Rinse mix you played Mantra’s Nocturne. Rupture has a vibe that reminds me of when I ﬁrst got into raving in the late 90s. It’s got that spirit. Have you had the chance to go?
Unfortunately not… Yet! I would love to play there. It’s on my bucket-list. Like headz, like Ram, like Fabric. Mantra and Sweetpea invited me to EQ50 takeover, though. I have a funny story… I was a bit star-struck when I met Mantra I was like, ‘Sorry, I don’t want to be that person but I’m a huge fan, and also you made Nocturne, right?’ She’s so inspiring. I’d love to play there one day, but I’d want to earn it. I want to earn my place in the scene. I’ll be really honest, I was a bit gutted I didn’t get booked for Glastonbury this year. But there’ll be plenty more years and I know people who are making their debut this year and they’ve been around a lot longer than me. So I want to earn my place to play at these places.
It’s only a matter of time! Sounds like Fabric was great, though?
Yes it was! I wish I recorded it. The feeling I had through my set. It was just ‘Wow.’ I could play music I love through this amazing system and the crowd were loving each tune. No one was requesting a cheesy song or asking for anything diﬀerent. I can’t wait to go back there, I’m playing next month and can’t wait to re-live that.
And, I have to say, it’s not like I can’t play what I want in other places. But I have to think about the crowd. Playing somewhere where I get to be 100% myself and express myself fully is much more important than playing to a massive crowd. Every set I get booked for is a diﬀerent experience and I learn a lot from them.
Totally! So how about the summer? What do you have planned?
There’ll be more Rinse shows and I’m playing more international shows, too. I can say Paris and Vienna but can’t say who for. There’ll also be more TRIBUTES stuﬀ, but I’ll only put it out if it feels right. Hopefully some releases, too, but that’s a main priority for me; I still want to educate myself.
But to be honest, I’m most excited for playing at shows full stop and meeting people. To be able to stand on stage, to see people on the danceﬂoor and meet my peers… I can’t wait. It’s about the quality of gigs too. It’s a very competitive world and some DJs are able to post up a lot of gigs and others can’t and I just wanted to say it’s not about the quantity, it’s about feeling right on a line-up and knowing you’re playing to the right crowd who get you. I don’t want to look back in 10 years time and regret shows I’ve played. It’s about the music for me and nothing else.