upsammy: ‘Sound became more sculpture-like’

Check out an upsammy DJ set and you’ll be treated to a surprising and dynamic blend of experimental electronic dreaminess, spatial soundscapes, sci-fi-inspired techno, psychedelic drum & bass, and intense, idm-fired workouts. She rightly received praise for two superb contributions to Nous’klaer Audio’s sell-out Paerels compilation, leading to a debut solo EP for the same label and later on a mini-LP called Wild Chamber, containing a mix of crystalline electronica and otherworldly ambience. Further releases on Die Orakel and Whities manifested her status as one of dance music’s most exciting new producers. But for now, upsammy is concentrating on doing what she does best: channelling natural inspirations into mind-altering music and unique, otherworldly DJ sets and the occasional live-set. Her latest album, Zoom, was released via Dekmantel in the summer of 2020. Also check out her takeover in our Instagram Stories this week!

How have you been in the last few months since the pandemic started? You graduated from university and started focusing full time on music fairly recently.

The last few months have been challenging, I miss playing for people and going to clubs. But on the other hand, I have had the time to develop myself more artistically, living a more slow-paced life, which I really enjoy. I graduated in 2018, so I’ve only been a full-time DJ/musician for two years; a lot of things regarding the way I make music or DJ are still subject to change really.

You used to organise illegal raves back in the day. Could you talk about this era and how it formed you? Is organising events something you’d still like to do?

I started organising illegal raves with some friends in the area where we grew up (I think we were around 17 years old). For us, it was a way to create our own vibe and place, somewhere to feel at home a little bit. During this time, I had just started DJing and what I remember most about these parties is that I played every kind of music, there was no pressure or expectation. It was a very free and adventurous experience. We stopped throwing parties a couple of years ago, apart from the police becoming stricter, we also started having different priorities. Right now, a lot of people are looking forward to a new kind of party because of COVID-19 and I think it can be an interesting challenge to think of a safe concept, but it will drastically change the core of a party, maybe even the type of music played. I’m not sure if everyone is ready for that yet. Right now, I’m mostly focused on making music but who knows, maybe in the future….

Apparently, you started by playing a reverb guitar with keys. How did you progress to the more intricate, detailed sonics that you do now?

When I started DJing, I started exploring more and more different kinds of music, often ending up listening to more 90s ambient techno, early 2000s glitch and so on. I saw some connections with new electronic music, which sometimes relies heavily on sound design and texture. From here on, things got more abstract and artistic for me, as I was going to art school at the same time. Sound became more sculpture-like for me as opposed to something very functional (which dance music is sometimes).

The RA Breaking Through feature describes your DJ sets as oscillating between “danceable” and “weird”. How do you structure your DJ sets? What is this “weirdness” that you are looking for in these records?

I usually structure my sets in such a way that I have different parts containing different tempos, then I try to come up with ways to shift between these parts. I always try to create interesting contrasts between textures and genres; it’s not exciting for me to play one genre. I guess this weirdness that you are describing is the connecting factor between all the tracks. When you first hear it, you might not know how to dance to it, so it challenges you to find a way how to dance to it, this is fun for me. I think that the perfect record contains both body and mind elements, you start moving to it but at the same time you are surprised by how you are moving and how it sounds. Almost as if you are getting tickled, I would say. How I transition between certain tracks might also seem far-fetched at first, but after the next track comes in again, a certain dialogue arises, and it all seems very intuitive to me.

Your latest album is called Zoom, and when listening to the album, it is as if we were zooming in and out of these magical alleyways with lush melodies and an airy atmosphere. I guess this perspective of zooming in and focusing also applies to a broader context that you wanted to address?

Yes, it’s about being more curious about your surroundings. Sometimes things can be forgotten or go unappreciated because of being taken for granted. In the detail you can find things that also apply to a much bigger scale. I often try to look or listen to things as if I’m seeing or hearing them for the first time, rather as a child would, I would say.

At the end of August, you also released a score composed for a collage of archival footage of the Dutch ship MS Oranje. The short film explores the lifecycle of the ship, from production to usage, and to the fire that ultimately destroyed it. Can you talk about this project?

Sjoerd Martens and I were asked to work on this project together; he made the film and I did the score. We both received a lot of archival material that we could use to make our work. With the music, I tried to reconstruct the building site of the ship and its journey, whilst also playing around with the time in which the recordings and footage were produced. I wanted to create something nostalgic and futuristic at the same time, portraying the hopefulness of the era. For this I used a saxophone VST, which is both digital and acoustic-sounding at the same time, alongside delayed rhythms, portraying the echoes Sjoerd created in the video.

In the aforementioned RA feature, you also mentioned that you hoped you wouldn’t overdose on music, once it became your main thing. Do you think this could happen?

Right now, I’m not afraid of it, since the projects I’m doing are so diverse. But I definitely try to build in times of quiet and silence.

Amsterdam’s De School (which announced its closure in the summer) is a club you’ve played at, but are there any other spots that you’d recommend in the Dutch capital?

Garage Noord, OT301 for certain events, Het Hem, Muziekgebouw aan het Ij.

Interview: Lucia Udvardyova
Photo: Sophie-Wright

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