The life of a DJ with Sara Simms
Today on What On What’s Good with Jovin Tardif, I am here with DJ Sara Simms. Simms is an innovative DJ, turntablist, and electronic music producer known for her love of music technology. She’s entertained audiences across continents and played events for brands such as Dior, Victoria’s Secret, and Guess Jeans. Simms is also the co-creator of the Future Prophecy, a graphic novel, and concept album series with DJs as superheroes and villains. On top of that, Simms has a new track that I wanted to chat with her about it.
1. When did you know that you wanted to be a DJ and can you tell us how it all started? (ie. Topics may include musical background, do you play any instruments, etc…)
As a teenager, I played piano and guitar…and studied jazz guitar at Humber College. When I went to a rave for the first time, I decided to change my path. Being a DJ suddenly seemed a lot cooler than being a jazz guitarist! My Dad helped me to buy my first DJ mixer and I spent a lot of time record shopping in Toronto with my sister Melle. One day we stumbled upon a DJ battle DVD, and discovered turntablism.
Around that time, I was able to find a DJ mentor who taught me how to scratch, juggle, and mix and he helped get me into the DJ scene. Later on, I attended Harris Institute for the Arts and earned a degree in Audio Engineering. After I finished school, I invested my energy into finding the best sets, creating mixtapes and DJ videos, and recently started to focus more on producing techno.
2. How did the evolution of music and technology change the life of a DJ?
I started off scratching vinyl records and was encouraged by a friend to get into digital DJing. The first DJ program I used was Final Scratch and at that time, the concept of playing digitally was brand new. Back in those early days, I used to gig with a computer the size of a large purse and a monitor! I began using Serato when it came out and then switched over to TRAKTOR, which I still use today. Digital DJing really changed the way I play; TRAKTOR helps me to organize my music effectively and mix creatively. I mix with up to four decks and try to make the most of TRAKTOR’s amazing effects.
3. Can you describe how you switched from hip hop to electronic music?
I started out as a hip-hop turntablist and drum n bass DJ. I’ve always liked all types of music, especially edgy sounds. I had a lot of fun playing hip hop; the bpms are slower and a DJ keeps the energy up in the room by mixing in and out of songs quickly. To pursue DJing, I moved downtown and while working at Moog Audio a friend brought me to a techno party. I developed a new curiosity about this sound and began collecting techno tracks and learning about the artists who produced them. A great deal of time was spent studying Richie Hawtin, a legendary Canadian DJ, and moved to Berlin for a period of time to immerse myself in the techno scene.
4. If you are relatively new or a student wanting to be a DJ, what sort of programs and equipment should be considered?
I recommend new DJs get into a digital DJing program like TRAKTOR. Since CDJ’s are quite expensive, a good way to get started would be to invest in a DJ controller like the Native Instruments KONTROL S3 or S4. You could go the USB route as well, but CDJ’s and media players are more expensive for beginners starting out. If you want to learn on CDJ’s, I’d recommend renting a pair, rather than buying them. It’s important to find a good teacher and I encourage new DJs to find a DJ school or seek out a local DJ for lessons.
5. In another interview, you mentioned mentors. Do you have any female DJs that you look up to? (ie. Can you describe their styles, why you are a fan, etc…)
When I first started DJing, there weren’t that many female DJs, especially in Canada. I remember reading about DJ Killa Jewel in a hip-hop magazine. She’s really rooted in the underground hip-hop and turntablist scenes. I reached out to her and we’ve been friends ever since. Another female DJ I really like is Eliza May, she’s a great artist who’s based in LA. Eliza May has a background in turntablism, and she’s established a career for herself as a trap and EDM producer. She has a lot of energy when she plays and really knows how to rock a club! My favorite female artist at the moment is Charlotte de Witte. I love her acid techno style; she’s a really powerful and inspiring artist for me. She plays at all the best festivals around the world and has her own label, KNTXT.
6. Tell us about the ‘Future Prophecy’.
The Future Prophecy is my comic book series that I created together with my sister Melle Oh. The series was written by Melle and is set in a post-apocalyptic version of Toronto. The Future Prophecy features DJs as superheroes and villains and the characters are based on DJs and producers from Toronto. We’ve published three issues of the comic in English and Japanese. You can find out about The Future Prophecy here.
7. What can you tell us about your new release?
My new release is ‘Finally’. It features Miami’s JEI on vocals. JEI is an amazing artist. We connected with each other during trips to Miami Music Week. She’s for her work on Intruder’s (Oscar G and Ralph Falcon) “Amame”, released on Ministry of Sound and Defected Records. Juno-award winning producer and my good friend John La Magna is the producer of ‘Finally’. The lyrics of the song and the rose on the front cover allude to romance, bringing a new theme to techno.