This is ‘The Spotlight.’ Many artists pass through D.C. on a weekly basis, but this column highlights one specific artist who happens to be playing in the district during the week. That way, you may join their journey in influencing the house music landscape.
House and techno are a dominating force in today’s American music scene and Sarah Myers is a leader in DC. Rightfully labeled a “hometown hero,” I became acquainted with many different sides of Sarah over the course of our interview. Sarah and I talked about the Life parties she was involved with around town, what it’s like being a Flash resident and whether there’s a Flash-UHall rivalry, her favorite roast chicken recipe, advice she has for up-and-coming DJs, how she got to play Space Ibiza the same night as Carl Cox, and much, much more. Catch Sarah this Wednesday (June 17) at Flash Bar – she’ll be playing a four-hour set while John Digweed plays the main room upstairs.
You will find an abridged version of the transcribed interview below along with the audio from the interview and a sample of Sarah’s mixes:
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SM: I grew up in the area – Severn, MD. Even though Severn is closer to Baltimore, I consider DC to be my home. I’ve been here for a while. I don’t know if you know this about me, but my friends and I started a party here.
PB: Yeah, Life – tell me a little bit about that.
SM: So my friends and I felt that there was a gap – there were a bunch artists who people wanted to see, but not a lot of promoters were booking them in DC. So we decided to throw a party and we booked artists from Matthew Dear – that was one of our first parties at this club called Muse, way back in 2009 – to Maya Jane Coles, Heidi, Francois K, Steve Bug, Josh Wink …
PB: Wow, those are a lot of big names.
SM: Yeah, we brought a ton of artists. It was super fun, but one of our guys – Mike Fisher – moved to New York and I think our last party was Lee Burridge at UHall. It was so insanely hot – probably one of the hottest days of the year, just sweat everywhere … it was a great party. We just decided to take a break though and the break’s been about two years now. So yeah, that was super fun. I did some of the bookings, the social media, driving to pick up the DJs … but I have a full time job actually. I work as a systems engineer for a government agency – DJing is a more of a serious hobby.
I worked a while with Life as a promoter and DJing came to me spontaneously. Someone had turntables for sale on Craigslist and I thought “this is really good deal – I’m going to buy them.” I had no intention of playing out.
PB: What make and brand of turntables were they?
With the Life party, I realized that I had this great opportunity to open for DJs. I started DJing in 2011 and here I am now.
So at what age did you spark an interest for music and do you play any instruments?
SM: I’ve always been into music, but then again, have you ever met anyone who said “I’m not into music”?
PB: That’s true. Music is an essential art that ties us all together – there’s nothing quite like it.
SM: Exactly. But then again, I don’t understand how anyone could not be into food, but my dad isn’t – he doesn’t care, he’ll just eat anything. I’m a foodie – I love cooking.
PB: What’s your favorite dish to cook?
SM: I make a roast chicken that’s really good. The chef from French Laundry, Thomas Keller, has this great recipe that’s super simple – his restaurant is in Napa Valley. Everyone’s intimidated by making a roast chicken, but it’s the easiest thing to make. It takes five minutes and then you throw it in the oven for an hour at 450º F. You don’t even baste it – the key is you have to truss it really tight with string to keep all of the juices in. It’s super easy, I’ll send you the recipe. But back to the question – music.
I grew up listening to all kinds of music – classical, 90s hip hop, R&B. I don’t actually listen to a lot of house and techno in my spare time unless I’m preparing for a gig. I feel you have to take a break from it and get your inspiration from other kinds of music – it helps refresh your palate.
As far as instruments, I played violin when I was younger for a few years. But I don’t know how to read music because I took the Suzuki method. I played flute for a few months and I taught myself how to play guitar, but I don’t play any instruments right now. I think playing instruments helped, especially learning music by ear.
PB: I read in your Music is 4 Lovers interview that you’re dabbling in production – can you tell me about that.
SM: Yeah, it’s sort of slow going. Having a full time job and the DJ thing takes up a lot of my time … so yeah, I have a keyboard, an Ableton Push, and a Moog Minataur, but I’m not quite there yet – I’m still learning. I have Ableton Live 9. That’s my goal for the next year or so: to definitely get into the production side.
PB: How would you describe your sound, both production and DJ sets? Not just genre, but also vibes from your sound.
SM: When I first started DJing, people would say “it may take you a little bit to find your sound.” And I couldn’t really wrap my head around that. But everything really did fall into place. I’m drawn to the darker, deeper sounds, with rolling bass lines. A lot of artists like John Digweed – he’s my favorite.
PB: Some of Digweed’s Bedrock material or his newer music?
SM: Some of his older music. I love John’s music, but for me, I actually have to see him live – it’s an experience. His Global Underground 19: Los Angeles was really what drew my attention to him. The whole Lexicon Avenue, trippy, dark music – that’s what the real progressive came from.
PB: So your sound is deep and dark with rolling bass lines?
SM: Yeah, I think in another interview I described it as “dank nasty house,” haha. I don’t play too many vocals. I feel that with vocals, you have to use them sparingly – you have to make the audience want it. So when you do play them they’re like “oh, shit!”
PB: Who or what would you consider your greatest influences. This doesn’t have to be music – it could be works of art, books paintings, movies, or people.
SM: There’s an artist I really like named Stella Im Hultberg. Her pieces are very feminine and sensual.
PB: Cool. What was the most moving piece of music you have ever heard and what about it moved you?
SM: Definitely the Burial album, Archangel. I had never heard anything like that before – it completely captivated me. It was just so emotive and haunting … it was so trippy. My favorite album for sure.
PB: What was your favorite track off of it?
SM: Archangel. There’s actually an edit by Saso Recyd. I feel like that with a lot of special pieces of music like that, there are some that you shouldn’t touch at all, but this guy really nailed it. Every time I play it, people are like “oh my gosh, this is crazy!”
I like Trentmøller. His essential mix from 2006 is one of favorite mixes of all time. It’s very eclectic. That’s definitely an inspiration for me.
I listen to a lot of 90s hip hop and RnB. That’s mostly what I listen to now. Artists like Erykah Badu, SWV, and Jodeci. I recently acquired my parents old vinyl collection so I’ve been playing a lot of Queen, Michael Jackson, Peter Frampton, etc. lately and I’ve been buying the vinyls that I used to have on cassette as a teenager like Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana.
PB: Nice! Have you encountered any obstacles or challenges in becoming the artist you are today?
SM: It takes a lot of hard work. The technical aspect of DJing is actually not that difficult to learn. You have to be really passionate about it obviously. The hardest part is that you get bored quickly of your own music. Sometimes you feel that you don’t have a good barometer to tell you if other people are sick of certain tracks too. Because if you play it all the time, you think “oh man, is everyone in the audience sick of it too?” But generally they’re not. They’re not as big music nerds [as you].
I wouldn’t say that being a female DJ hasn’t hindered me at all. I’d say it’s helped me. It definitely opens a lot of doors. Its a double-edged sword though: people definitely judge you harder because they’re thinking “oh she’s a girl, but can she really play?” It’s kind of messed up, but that’s just how the world works. It’s definitely helped me. If you have the talent to back it up, then that speaks for itself. You just have to ignore all the other background noise.
PB: How has being a female DJ opened more doors for you?
SM: People have an interest in you being a female. There are just not that many around.
PB: Your podcast is called Hooked, right? Tell me a little bit about that.
SM: Yeah. So I’ve been doing that a little more than a year. I like to invite artists to give me guest mixes. I invite artists who I’m inspired by. I’ve had Mihai Popoviciu, Pornbugs, Bella Sarris, Randall M, Dubphone … I also like to feature local and up-and-coming artists that people may not have heard of yet.
PB: Nice. You’re a Flash resident, right? How has that been?
SM: I love playing at Flash. I’m very, very spoiled. The sound system is just crazy. It’s definitely a pleasure and an honor to be able to play there all the time.
PB: Do you think there’s a rivalry between Flash and Uhall seeing that they have two of the best sound systems in the city?
SM: No, not at all. They are cool with each other. For example, one time Flash needed a mixer in an emergency and Uhall lent it to them. Honestly it’s just good for the scene [to have them both around].
PB: And they both have their niches.
SM: Yeah, they have their different styles. It’s great for the city.
PB: What advice would you give to listeners just getting into house and techno? Who are some artists to watch right now? What venues should DC club-goers check out?
SM: Definitely Flash. Man, it’s like so difficult – there’s so much music out there. Hard question. My advice for up-and-coming DJs is to record everything you do and listen back to it immediately. I would definitely start on vinyl or CDJs – not Traktor. I started with Traktor and I felt that I became reliant on the visuals, so I switched to USBs so I could tune my ear. But yeah, I still try to record everything and I listen to it after gigs. I’ve heard Sasha still listens to his sets after every gig. You’ll remember what you were doing and thinking at the time that you made that specific mix. As for getting gigs, GO TO EVERY PARTY, GO TO EVERY AFTER PARTY! Always be prepared, always have a USB. I actually got to play at Space Ibiza. I lived in Ibiza two seasons ago. It was my Carl Cox’s closing party. My friend was DJing for his birthday in a side room and he was really drunk. I went up to my friend and told him “You’re doing great!” And he leans over and says “man, I wish someone would just take over right now.” It was like a movie. I said, “I have my USB,” and he said “alright, get up here.” And what was funny was that my roommate had gone to the bathroom and she would be like when she got back “what is Sarah doing up there?” I’ve heard that’s actually how Jamie Jones got noticed – he lived in Ibiza for a while and sometimes DJs wouldn’t show up and he would just go up there and play.
PB: Crazy story!
SM: So yeah, be prepared, go to every show – people aren’t going to book you if they don’t know who you are. So get to know everyone. If you want something, you’ve got to ask for it.
PB: Great advice. So who are some techno/deep house artists to watch?
SM: There’s this female producer from Ukraine, tish. I play a lot of her stuff. Mihai Popoviciu is one of my all time favorite producers. He’s from Romania and I actually just got to play with him at Flash. There’s this duo from Portugal, Fredy & D’Joseph, they’re always producing really cool stuff; Enzo Siragusa, Jamahr, and Samu.l. I love tINI, definitely one of my favorite DJs, and I love the stuff that BLOND:ISH has been playing lately. Martin Buttrich is an amazing producer. One of my favorite nights at Flash was when he played there.
PB: Finally, what mix of yours best represents the “Sarah Myers sound?” For people who haven’t seen you live, what gigs do you have lined up in the near future? What should we expect from you for the rest of 2015 (and in 2016)?
SM: I recently did a mix for Mihai’s label, Cyclic. It was just a one hour mix. Definitely one of my favorite mixes that I’ve done recently. I also just put out a yoga/meditation mix for the Forward Festival Infinity series – I feel like that kind of re-energized me … it’s completely different from anything I’ve done. I layered in some binaural frequencies that are supposed to help open certain chakras, definitely one you need to listen to with headphones.
I’m playing a lot of rooftop parties in DC this summer. On Wednesday, June 17, I’m playing an extended set downstairs at the Flash Bar before John Digweed comes one. I’ve got some gigs in Orlando and Boston coming up. I’m going to dedicate myself to producing. I’m also going to work on my Hooked Podcast.
This concludes the Sarah Myers Spotlight interview. On behalf of Blisspop, I would like to extend a profound thank you to Sarah for agreeing to do this – you rock!