Looking for a change-up to an overstuffed diet of EDM or hip-hop? Give a listen to DJ Samantha Michelle, who offers a slightly different range of musical flavors, including a tasty serving of rock-n-roll. Folk, funk, glam, psychedelia, blues or R&B, Michelle is open to a broad range of genres – from classics to deep cuts – as long as it rocks the party.
Spinning since 2012, the Canadian-born, NYC-based jock has made her mark in playing special events (fashion, arts, film fests, charity) and members clubs (like the London-based Soho House, which has 28 worldwide clubs), plus the occasional club and music-fest shows.
As she prepped for a series of West Coast events this month – two Soho House gigs, including an Oscar-weekend party, a private bash at Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills, another for the Canada House/Canadian Consulate – we caught up with Samantha Michelle to discuss her somewhat divergent, but no less passionate, approach to DJing.
How would you describe your niche in the DJ world?
DJ Samantha Michelle: I specialize in events. I’m old-school, soulful, slinky and upbeat. All about blending the past and present within a contemporary context and building a sound that’s unique for the brand or client.
What kinds of gigs do you play? What’s the range?
DJ Samantha Michelle: These days, my work is mainly focused in the fashion, media, arts and charity arenas. I’ve recently spun for the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Lotus Cars, YPO, Bulgari, Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, Christie’s, Liquid Media Group, and so the list goes on… I tend to play large global festivals from music to film to politics – Cannes Lions, Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Burning Man, the World Economic Forum. I love working with charities as well – Generation S.O.S., they help kids and teens navigate substance abuse and misuse. They’re an organization I’m particularly proud to have partnered with. I do also play the occasional club and work a lot with members clubs. At the moment, I’m actually out in L.A. doing a string of gigs at the West Coast Soho Houses.
What are your most memorable gigs and why?
DJ Samantha Michelle: It’s all about the experience we create together. I’m a sucker for a sweaty dancefloor. When the vibe is right for an epic boogie, those are the nights I treasure. I love to make people dance. I also love to travel and play in different parts of the world, so any gig that takes me somewhere wild is certainly one to remember.
Do you have an agent/manager? How do the gigs come about?
DJ Samantha Michelle: Yes, I work with Karrie Goldberg of The Kagency. I adore her – she got in with me early, when I was pretty much fresh off the boat in NYC from London. She totally gets me creatively and has been instrumental in my realizing many a dream gig. And ultimately, work begets work. I love my clients and am grateful to get to work with them repeatedly. And recommendations and referrals, karmic goodness in the spirit of spreading the groovy times, and all that.
Musically, what were your first influences? What made you want to pursue music?
DJ Samantha Michelle: It was the holy trinity of Dylan, Springsteen, and Tom Petty, who escorted me down the rabbit hole of a life in music. I suppose I’ve always felt a connection to the spirit and sound of the 1960s and ’70s, and that’s how my DJ career kicked off. I wanted to play music people secretly loved in places they’d least expect. I looked and listened around and everywhere seemed to have this same monotonous sound that, for me, just lacks in umph, ya know? Leaves the hips un-wiggled! Particularly in the realm of fashion parties and corporate events. I wanted to offer up something fresh, fun and different. I felt the need for it.
And DJing? What’s your timeline/evolution there?
DJ Samantha Michelle: It all kicked off on a night at The Groucho Club in London, circa 2012. From there, I built my way up through residencies and events within the members club circuit in Soho London, which led to performances at big club nights and music festivals around the U.K. In 2018, I moved back to New York City, which is where I went to college. Since settling Stateside, I’ve focused my work in events. I’ve been blessed to be able to bounce back and forth across the coasts and to Europe and Canada – where I’m from originally – bringing the boogie with me where I go.
Which DJs do you dig and why?
DJ Samantha Michelle: Here in the U.S., so many DJs are open-format, which is cool, but I have particular respect for DJs that have crafted and cultivated their own individual sound. I also love DJs who prioritize the fun. At the end of the day, we’re in the feel-good business, so one really shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. Certainly, there’s a levity to the work of the DJs I admire, and a brilliance when it comes to blending genre. DJ Cassidy and Mark Ronson are DJs I’ve long looked up to. I’ve also got an admirable eye on a new, up-and-coming NYC DJ duo called The Muses – Jack and Daniel are my best friends and what they’ve have created, and the speed at which they’ve soared, is nothing short of remarkable. They are inspiring.
In the DJ booth, what gear do you use?
DJ Samantha Michelle: I use a pretty standard club set-up: Pioneer DJ DJM-900NXS2 mixer and a coupla CDJ-2000s. I use Serato DJ software, which allows for swiftest access to audio files – so, when I’m up there, I can focus on mixing and mashing up. Over the years, I’ve played on and with everything – USBs, rekordbox, all-in-one pieces like the DDJ-SR2 and such. I love vinyl and it’s how I prefer to listen to music chilling at home; but when I’m at a gig, I want all my 10,000 songs with me! And I’m often sourcing new tracks up until the final hour, crafting the specific sound for the night. So working digitally affords me that space and freedom.
How would you describe your style of DJing? Seems like you like to mix a wide range of music, but you’re not afraid of the rock side of things – that seems like a bit of a rarity these days.
DJ Samantha Michelle: Totally. All about the rock-n-roll baby. And I do love to mix genre – I play everything from soul, funk, disco, ska, rock, and, depending on the occasion, I might toss in some ’80s pop and New Wave, a little tropical house and carefully curated upbeat electronic music. Definitely, my sound is unique in the landscape, because, ya know, why be like everyone else when you can stand out? But really, the music I play is just what I wanna dance to – that’s the truth of it. And I think that love for the music itself translates in a powerful way. Really, creativity should be about expressing your own authenticity, staying true to yourself… and I, I love rock-n-roll.
What are some tracks that are always in your “DJ box” and why?
DJ Samantha Michelle: One, John Gibbons’ version of Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” I love this remix, the way the song builds, climaxes and crescendos. It starts off with this soft, haunting quality and then it takes you on an epic adventure. It’s one that’s a real pleasure to blast. Two, Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” Talk about a journey… I absolutely flippin’ love this song, and fact is, so does just about everyone else. This one never fails to fill the dancefloor. Again, it kicks off with a tasty tease, a little auditory foreplay, if you will, exquisitely setting the stage for the bang-bang-boom-woo-hoo that’s to come! Three, Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Halogen has a great remix that’s fun for a club setting, but the original is just completely brilliant. And let’s be real, it’s a beautiful one to shout along to…
How did you survive the lockdown? Did you do it creatively or was it difficult to find your muse?
DJ Samantha Michelle: Oosh, the lockdown was rough for me. Ain’t no doubt about that. I had some dream gigs on the books for winter/spring 2020 that just went poof! And I’d gotten so used to non-stop travel – I was on 28 airplanes summer 2019! – so staying put was tricky for my gypsy soul. But creativity is what carried me through, for sure. I used the time to write, read, learn to play the bass, and I spent heaps of quality time with my family. I also got back into presenting radio.
How has that worked out?
DJ Samantha Michelle: During lockdown I launched “The Samantha Michelle Show” remotely on online radio stations. The show kicked off on Boogaloo Radio, moved over to Totally Wired Radio, and then found its way home to Soho Radio, where my radio career first began back in London. I actually helped the station to launch their U.S. outpost in New York City. We’ve now got a heap of phenomenal presenters broadcasting live from Rockefeller Center, which is kinda iconic. My show’s a music-history special, traversing through deep cuts and rare gems from the 1960s and ’70s, strung together with anecdotes, facts and general music musings. Tune in, it’s a trip!
How has it been like returning to gigs?
DJ Samantha Michelle: Returning to live gigs has brought me such immeasurable joy. When the pandemic first hit, I thought, maybe for a moment, “That’s it… buh-bye running round the world making people dance and smile,” and that made me incredibly sad. So, to be able to return to doing what I so love to do, truly, it means the world. And I just want to do it. Every day. All night long.
What’s your main studio gear?
DJ Samantha Michelle: I’ve started working on my own remixes using Ableton Live with a pal of mine, Maika Harrell. We’ve just released our first, which is a re-edit of Tina Turner’s “The Best,” and are about to release our next, a re-edit of Prince’s “Erotic City.” It’s, in a word, erotic.
Which producer/remixers do you most admire?
DJ Samantha Michelle: The Reflex is probably my favorite remixer out there. His sound is so his-own and the way he reworks and extends funk hits, updating ’70s bangers so they can be played with and layered live with DJ gear is awesome. Give a listen to his remixes of Free’s “All Right Now,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.” Other remixers I love… Joman, Adam Freeland, Viceroy, Gigamesh – and, then, of course, there’s the genius that is Kygo.
In your mind, what makes a great DJ?
DJ Samantha Michelle: Ultimately, I think DJing is about providing a service, that is… the energy, the vibes, the party. So, I think the best DJs are the ones who really bring it, who look and feel happy to be there, who groove along with their audience. I’ve also got a soft spot for the unexpected, so I love DJs who keep the crowd on their toes, never knowing what’s coming next… you can’t underestimate the power of a little mystery. For me, it’s really all about reading the room – with taste, everything is taste! – and giving ’em not just what they want, but what only you know they need…
What’s next for you?
DJ Samantha Michelle: I’ve got some real fun gigs on the diary for this spring and summer with clients I love. Performances at music and film festivals in the U.S. and Europe, charity events in the Hamptons, a coupla nightlife gigs in NYC and LA… there is much to look forward to.
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