Ever wondered who’s providing the soundtrack at Gymbox Covent Garden? Sarah Harrison might just be the culprit. We caught up with Sarah (a.k.a., Lady in the Trap) to find out more about life as a DJ.
So Sarah, how did you get into DJing?
I’ve been a musician all my life! I started out as a singer from a very young age, then I went to Sylvia Young theatre school. I moved into musical theatre full time with training, dancing, everything! Then I realised about halfway through that I’ve always been more musically inclined. I love the idea and the process of making music so I started making music myself.
DJing came as a hand-in-hand thing. When you turn 17 or 18 you’re looking forward to going out and going clubbing, which I did, but I was never really going to get drunk or party. I was going to listen to music and hear how it all flows together. That’s how I became inspired to become a DJ.
How did you turn that initial inspiration into a career?
I knew I had to brand myself to stand out and I was really interested in the trap genre which was picking up a lot of steam in Atlanta, America. I knew it was going to be a big thing down the line, and when I played it everyone was like “what’s this?!” It’s hard to stand out as a DJ playing music no ones ever heard before, so I went down quite a risky route…but it worked!
I branded myself as Lady in the Trap and that really stuck with a lot of people. Then I got a radio gig on a community radio station called Bang Radio in Harlesden. That really enabled me to solidify my brand and build the Sarah Harrison Show. From then on I started creating my own content, interviewing Hip Hop artists, rappers and musicians. My radio show grew out of that, which in turn helped my DJing. I started picking up gigs quite quickly out of building my own brand.
I also put in a lot of work digitally. Social media was only just starting to pick up then - AI was in its early stages - so I managed to work my way up digitally with organic pick up along the way. Now, it’s kind of reached that point where AI is just shitting on organic stuff!
Social media has become so saturated, it’s quite hard now to get your voice out there. There was a time when people used to post music on Myspace and a lot of people got discovered that way. Did you also post your music online?
Yes! I used to put mixes up on SoundCloud - this was prior to them coming up against copyright battles. I used to make my own music as well, so there was original stuff up on there. It’s not on there anymore because SoundCloud decided to take it down! My SoundCloud actually grew because of Snoop Dogg - he discovered my music!
That’s amazing! How did that happen?
He posted on Twitter about making a song out of samples he was posting and I came across one of the tweets. I liked the sample so I produced it, made a whole song out of it and posted it on SoundCloud. I tagged him and within twelve hours he had responded saying “this is fire!” He reposted it, that gained traction, then my DJ mixes gained traction.
As much as we can talk shit about technology, it’s instrumental in being self sufficient and getting your own audience. But then SoundCloud went through all that hoo-hah with copyright and terminated my account, and that put a big dent on my career and my portfolio. I wasn’t able to showcase what I’d done, and the popularity and respect it had earned. I started on Mixcloud then and it was an uphill battle. I had to start from the bottom. I learned that you can’t just keep your eggs all in one basket.
What is your week like as a DJ?
It varies from week to week! I’m trying to be more productive as you can get into that dangerous zone of waking up late, but there are so many hours in the day, you need to be productive! It’s not just about DJing on the weekends. It’s a very spontaneous lifestyle, a lifestyle where you have to be proactively looking for the next thing to do.
Gymbox is two hours a week, which sounds little, but it should be apart of my schedule. I’m getting into events so a lot of organising takes place for that, whether it’s social media planning, ticketing... And I’m building my own events brand with a couple of other DJs.
I also do radio on a weekly basis at Rinse FM. That’s not just turning up on the day, broadcasting for two hours and leaving - it takes a good day or two’s preparation. I constantly like to be researching new music or remixes, and I produce magazine style content where I’m interviewing artists. I’m just trying to create stuff that’s engaging and unique that’s going to bring a unique audience to the show.
The beauty of DJing is the boundaries you can push and the opportunities you can create for yourself, like travelling around the world and doing different sorts of events. I’ve DJed at multiple pop ups - I DJed at a pop up for Kehlani, and The Internet.
Have you had people act surprised when they find out you’re a DJ?
Yeah, all the time! It’s so irritating. The more girly someone is, the more surprised they are.
I’m really middle of the road - I’m not overly girly and I’m not a super tom-boy, but I am more chilled than the dressing up type. So it’s not that much of a surprise to most people that I am a DJ.
It’s such a bad image that people have in their head that because you have curves you can’t do something.
Who are some of your favourite artists?
Actually, the hard thing about being a DJ is that you’ve got to be playing up-tempo music to suit the environment…but what if I’m not in the mood?! What if I just want to chill and listen to some RNB, soul, and jazz music? Do you know how hard it is to break out of that?! It’s so hard!
I listen to Brazilian music, Brazilian funk, soul, everything! I’m trying to broaden my palate.
But if I had to pick my favourite artist…It’s got to be Future! I’ve been into Future since day one, for about 6 years. I know him, but it never changed me being a fan. With Future, there’s so much talent that people don’t always grasp. He’s such a good song writer.
What do you enjoy about working at Gymbox?
I love it! I really do. It’s a club environment. The way Gymbox is built is amazing, I love the aesthetics. It feels like a super-club, like you’re in Miami! At Covent Garden, the DJ is elevated so you have your own little stage. My first gig there I was thinking “right, how do I do this?” I’m used to playing in a club where there has to be some kind of dynamic; you have to start slow. But with Gymbox, I knew I had to go full throttle!
What I realised is that it’s an environment where I can be really experimental with my sets. All of these remixes that might not get a reaction in a club, the gym is the perfect place to put them in because they set the pace and are recognisable to the ears, but the remix gives them that extra bounce and movement.
Two hours may seem like a short set...I used to DJ 6-8 hours at Niketown, but that was okay because it was dynamic and I could play a chill song. You can’t do that at Gymbox! An hour in and I’m sweating like I’m the one working out! It feels like every song is finishing within ten seconds - I’m constantly looking for the next song.
I’m always looking over to the boxing ring to see what people are doing and see if I can vibe off them, putting myself in their position. I definitely try to be the person on the other side of the booth. I think “if I was on the treadmill right now, what would I want?”, but I try not to be selfish with it. Not everyone has the same taste! You’re not just targeting one audience.