“DJing has never felt like a job to me, ever. The day I say ‘Oh no, I’ve got to be here today’ is the day I’ll give up. I was a clubber before I was a DJ and it feels like I’m on the dancefloor when I’m playing records. My hands are in the air, I’ve got a smile on my face and I’m singing every single word. I’d never gone into production before because I play other people’s records as if they were my own. But this is the next stage.” – Sam Divine
If you know your house music, then you’ll know Sam Divine. A worldwide DJ for the past decade, Sam is a House connoisseur with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre. She has a reputation as a party starter, with an in-built ability to hype any crowd. Having stormed a closing set on the Defected stage of We Are FSTVL to a 6000 strong crowd, Sam is now set to embark on her first main-stage show at the prestigious South West 4 festival in London.
Sam is on a worldwide domination mission and it’s no wonder she has millions of listeners across the globe; tuning into the Defected Radio show which she presents every week . The show is the #1 House Music podcast on iTunes in the UK.
Sam was always destined to be a DJ. As a 10-year-old she used to tape the Top 40 on the radio, cutting out the DJs’ inane chat between songs. “I was mixing even then! What 10-year-old does that? I should have been out playing, but there I was on a Sunday cutting up the charts, and I’d listen to albums in bed on my CD Walkman.”
Having won the first DJ competition she entered at a local Bristol club, Sam soon began booking DJs herself while also working as a buyer for record shops, sourcing underground releases and honing her self-confessed trainspotter knowledge of house. But, as Sam says, “Bristol wasn’t massive on soulful house and London was.” So, when the time felt right, Sam moved to London, sofa surfing until she was able to find her own place. It coincided with her first season in Ibiza, where she has since played at all the major clubs and gained devotees from a three-year residency at Ushuaia. “I learned so much from my 4 year residency at Hush in San Antonio,” says Sam. “If someone has half a drink left, they can easily leave. You think ‘What can I play to make them stay and buy another drink?’ and, if they do, they’re often the people still there at 6am when the lights come on.”
Shortly after arriving in London, Sam was snapped up by Defected, who she credits with guiding her career as well as loving their legendary nights – “Still my favourite parties to play, anywhere.” Sam has since played with an international Who’s Who of DJs, from Frankie Knuckles and Dennis Ferrer, to Nick Curly and Masters at Work.
A personal tragedy in her life made Sam decide to set up an annual DJ charity night, La Vita, which has so far raised £36,000 for Breast Cancer Research since its launch in 2007. Guest DJs have included Frankie Knuckles, Matt Jam Lamont and DJ EZ. “I’m in this game for longevity,” says Sam. “It’s nice to be able to put something back with a night I can carry on doing forever.”
Sam started her own label, D-Vine Sounds, last December, and has certainly been getting it right so far. Each of the label’s releases has reached the Top 10 on Traxsource, with Rich Pinder’s infectious ‘Hat Play’ sitting pretty at No 1 for four weeks. “There’s no theme to the records we put out on the label,” explains Sam. “It’s just house music. Once you start making tracks because they’re on trend, they’ll only have a shelf life of maybe six months before something else comes along. The records I sign are timeless. The scene is getting younger, but if you play an 18-year-old something timeless from 10 years ago, they go crazy because they think it’s just come out. I don’t like to pigeonhole myself.”
The acclaim for D-Vine Sounds has been universal. But now it’s time for Sam to add production skills for her to build up with the same thoroughness and passion she’s shown for being behind the decks. “My work ethic has been my ethos from day one,” says Sam. “But I love what I do so much, I never approach it as a job. If I get a spare day, I hit the studio. Even when I take two weeks of in January to hit Thailand, I’ll play shows there. I’ve always got a smile on my face. If I’m not enjoying something, it really shows on my face!”
So now, having lit up dance floors in Australia, Brazil, Japan, America and every major city in Europe, without needing to go into remixing or making her own tracks, is about to do just that and get into production. Sam feels the timing for this progression is right, being at the top of her DJ game. The first taste of her production expertise was the insanely addictive remix of Sweet Female Attitude’s classic anthem ‘Flowers’, which is already getting love from Radio 1 and 1Xtra.
Then comes Sam’s own track, future anthem ‘Confessions’. Based on an ‘80s Motown sample, it was the first song Sam worked on with production partner Curtis Gabriel. “I got sent 10 different vocalists’ demos, but none of them felt quite right,” says Sam. “I love vocals, and it needs to be something I can relate to, that touches me. When I play a track in a DJ set, I sing along to every word – I own those vocals! So they need to be just right on Confessions. It’s a timeless track, and I’ve been working hard to make sure it’s absolutely nailed on”
Not that this diversifying means Sam is preparing to start hanging up her headphones any time soon. One of the most passionate people of music from any genre, Sam is a brilliant ambassador for DJing.
“I’ve earned respect from doing this the right way,” Sam enthuses. “I’ve seen DJs come and go, and I’ve seen how to DJ the right way and the wrong way. When I started, I wanted to be like the DJs I looked up to, like Kerri Chandler, Kenny Dope, Dennis Ferrer – Solid artists who’ve been in the industry a long time and are still at the top of their game because they play the records they love. That’s what made being a DJ seem achievable to me. The most important thing is to stick to your roots.
Sticking to her roots and knowing the escapism that house can offer are what has seen Sam last. “I try to take people away from their 9-5 job when I play,” she muses. “They don’t have to think about work when they’re at my shows. I want them to lose themselves for those few hours and enjoy the moment. I don’t want people to be aware of their surroundings, I want them with a smile on their face and having a good time.”
As anyone who’s seen Sam’s celebratory DJ shows can attest, Sam Divine is a guarantee of the universal joys of clubbing, but her freedom of expression – and infectious habit of singing along to every vocal track – is allied to a trainspotter’s deep knowledge of both every shade of house music and the ability to know exactly what tracks any crowd wants to hear. As Sam puts it: “I can do everything from warm-up to peak time to playing after another DJ and lifting a night when it needs it. That’s my niche, knowing when to play tracks at certain times, rather than running the same set into the ground.”
Although Sam points at a new wave of female DJs breaking through so that the scene is likely to change in the next few years, she admits that DJing is “a massive boys’ club.” But that doesn’t faze the adopted Londoner. “I was never a girly girl,” she laughs. “I can chat shop with anyone and hold my own talking about music, and the guys can see the passion for that music in me. I’ve done this on my own with guidance from my mentor Simon Dunmore, (owner of Defected Records) and I’m not stopping until I’m where I want to be.”
She’s got a heart and compassion as big as her 12” collection, and she is an inspiration to other aspiring DJs. Sam Divine is as real and determined as any DJ under the sun – she has an unbridled reputation for being humble and down-to-earth. It’s just one element of her personality that has earned her such an incredibly loyal fanbase – one which she connects with at every opportunity. The production world won’t know what’s hit it.