Interview with Laila Sakini

Over the course of seven years Laila Sakini has built a reputation for her thoughtfully pieced together sounds in mixes published by the likes of Oyster Magazine, i-D, LFI and Sanpo Disco, as well as on radio shows including NTS, Red Light Radio, Hope Street and LYL Radio. She has evolved from co-curating her own Sunday afternoon event Day Care, playing at festivals like Inner Varnika and Sugar Mountain to releasing an EP Figures with poet Lucy Van and starting her own series Careful. Laila has moved about often but music has maintained central to her life. We sat down with her in London and discussed her journey: from her radio shows, current projects, moving abroad and her perspectives on the two cities she has called home: Melbourne and London.

Beginning from when you first wanted to pursue music, describe to us your musically journal up until now?

I started to play the piano when I was three, I don’t remember it vividly as I don’t have many memories from that era. My brother, who I was always jealous of, got a keyboard for his birthday. My parents knew I would be jealous so they bought one for me as well. I got really competitive and wanted to get better at it and played every day for a long time. But, in terms of turning it into a professional pursuit, that happened later on. I wanted to do academic work, went to university and did other things. I was really pushing that hard and was working as a writer as well, as a copywriter and an editor. I started making music and mixtapes on the side for fun. Then I just started to get bookings. They kept rolling in and it seemed like a sign. Even though it seemed trivial to me, maybe not trivial but indulgent to peruse music there was clearly much more of a demand for that work than there was for me working in social services or in a middle management job. I thought maybe there is use for me in that way. My journey has been one where I haven’t hustled like most people do, which make cities like London that bit more difficult because I prefer it if it comes to me naturally. I don’t want to give it away if it is not wanted. My journey has been more of a surprise and it feels new to me, maybe because I have that approach, I don’t have a trajectory that I am building towards. Sometimes I feel as though I am just starting out.

Your mixes show how important is it to tell a story through music, how important is it to you to create a story? 

I would not agree with that statement 100% but I think with a lot of the mixes I make I’m better with the storytelling. In terms of unfolding a narrative, combining sounds that link and then develop and take you somewhere. The journey is the cliché term we all use. I feel like when I’m playing live on radio it is much more ‘whoaaaa whoaa whooa’ it is all happening quite quickly for me, which is fine but I don’t know if I’m telling a story as well as I could be. I think that is an area I think I can improve on. I don’t know if it’s storytelling as much as it is mood amelioration, so like a mood alteration or mood persuasion. Persuading people, not seducing that’s too sexual, but guiding them somewhere though something that they might not necessarily be willing to go through unless you take them in a certain way. That is how I approach any of my dj’s/radio sets, guiding people to a place that they might not necessarily have gone through before. I’m not sure if it storytelling as much as it is persuasion.

What made you realise that there should be something other than club music in regards to Day Care?

Lack. It wasn’t an alternative to club music rather than an alternative to club nights and the way that clubs’ function. The hierarchy of a club, like lineup, the time slot and the dj focus. I wanted to invert that, I wanted to challenge that as an experiment, see what would happen if that could be flipped around, introduce people to this new format. I could see all of these connections between different people and music, in different areas and friends that I have met throughout my life that had interest in club music but were nervous to be involved and I thought ‘I think there is a way to bring these people together that doesn’t exist yet’. I think something like could happen that would be really interesting, none else was doing it, a space became available and I jumped on the opportunity. I had the concept formed around a year before and it really worked out well. I was really happy with the way it turned out; I think that everyone picked up on it as well. We all made so many friends who were club people, music people some of my best friends I know from that party that may I may never have met. Everyone got a bit closer, not even just in terms of patrons.  We became friends with club guys who we used to be intimidated by and they became friends with us, music band guys became friends with club guys. It became this nice community thing which I think it should be. Anything really can’t be about you and I felt that club music was very much like the headliner, then other people. I want this to be like a group of people, I think community is important. I noticed that there was a lack of that happening and everything was separate and disparate, I saw a way to bring these people together.

Day Care naturally ended when I moved to London and the other person involved moved to France. A lot of people miss it but I have started a new thing which is a podcast series. That is me wanting to utilize online and digital stuff. The formats that exist at the moment they are quite set in stone and established but I think there is a room for movement there and I am trying to test the waters with that. Careful is more about the artist enjoying experimenting, sort of like Day Care where the performers are enjoying themselves. Musicians can cop a fair amount of slack from the industry, they can take on a heavy burden of like there is not enough money etc., so I thought it was important that it becomes a life thing where they do what they enjoy, that they are excited by it, it is outside the format of having to make a record or having to do a radio show that goes for x amount of time. Melding sounds and making stories in different ways. Using sound in different ways. The platforms exist and the medium could be fluffed out a bit more. I’m not sure how well the audience receives it all the time but sometimes that does not always matter. Whenever I receive a podcast or work with someone making one, they are always so excited about the idea of making sound work in this way and that is a joy for me. Being ‘a solo artist, DJ’ a lot of what I do is alone and it can feel guilty if I’m too self-indulgent and I like to be able to work with other people and to see other people be happy with other music. There has to be something in it for other people. I think where happiness comes from is from sharing things. I was having some ethical debate with myself about how ethical is it to be an artist, I need to focus on this podcast series as  a community thing.

What are your plans for Careful? 

I think that hopefully Careful can keep going for a while and it takes time for the artists to make the work, sometimes they make them in no time. … Cucina Povera made one and she made it in a week, which is a rarity. The idea I initially had was that I will start doing these and find a way to make these into a party series that has the same ethos, but that will take time and I’m not sure about finding a venue and all of those things will be (?) . I do see something, I see it going somewhere, I’m not sure where though.

How intentional was the move to Europe?

It was very intentional. It was a personal decision and a bit of career suicide actually. My agent at the time was like ‘you are doing really well in Melbourne, you’re making money, you’re are doing really well’ but it was a personal choice. I’m European so there is the passport, I’d been living in Melbourne my whole life, I was just like ‘I’ve got to go, I’ve got to do something else with my life’ so I just packed my stuff and moved to London. I’d been London like once for five days and I hated it. I was like ‘I don’t even know what it is, I’m just going there’ I just went.  I packed up my whole house that I’d lived in for seven years, I packed everything and left. “I’m going into the abyss”. I didn’t know what was going to be there but I made it work, I was so driven. It was intentional, towards the end I was getting worried, I was beginning to miss being a DJ. I was playing NTS and stuff, which was fun but nowhere near what I was doing in Melbourne where I was used to playing around four times a week. It was a big change for me and everyone was like ‘it will take a long time to develop and click in with the scene here, it is pretty saturated, just be happy you can do NTS.’ I was really happy that I could do that and those guys were really nice and embracing.

How compatible are Europe’s and Melbourne’s scenes, what can be done to bring them closer together? 

I think that Europe could really open its eyes a little more to Melbourne, there is a lot of music coming out of there. However, people are paying attention, Melbourne people might not feel it in a tangible way yet. I was just at my old flat mates house and he was playing CS + Kreme which is a friends band from Melbourne, people are paying attention to music there, they just don’t want to go there because it is so far away. It is a real shame because Melbourne is a super special place for music – especially live music. I don’t know what is compatible, I don’t know about compatibility. I grapple with making a comparable kind of statement. I think things that come from Melbourne are well received here and there just needs to be more of an exchange happening, if we could foster that somehow, but I’m not sure how that would happen. Basic things like logistics, flights would need to be cheaper, they would need to be a stronger link with Asia and the hierarchy needs to change a bit more. I think that is changing, there just needs to be more of an exchange for the two to meet a bit better. There is a lot in common, there is a lot of music coming from Melbourne that is so impressive and produced by some of my closest friends. It is being noticed here but my friends from Melbourne, in a similar way are not so into touring and going to London as it is too far away and too expensive, they know it is going to be really hard and challenging to visit/tour. They don’t have the resources to do it always, the government could be a little bit more friendly with funding, they used to be really good but I felt like something has changed there. I think they are compatible; I just think that they are just far away and the distance might provide for some mystery but also some misery too, ha.

What is in the works in regards to your own production? 

I’m sitting on a whole bunch of material that I will make announcements about soon. 2020. I have been working with a few artists and composers here and in Australia. That is always a slow process, collaboration – I do not hold my breath. I work on my solo stuff most days and then it’s about finding homes for it, which is a little bit outside of my remit. That has more to do with connections and marketing. I am always happier when I’m making music but when it gets to this stage it’s like ‘ooh I have to write to people, talk about business, ooh great’. Someone said to me the ‘oh it’s finished, that’s the hard part over you have finished the music’ and it’s not, that’s the best bit. I don’t think about a label or anything when I write, I just make it.

Purchase Laila Sakini’s latest mixtape Your Day Is My Night ‘via Purely Physical / Teeny Tapes here 

 Keep an ear and an eye out for Laila Sakini’s movements across the world and check out her latest ep here

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