Born in Amsterdam to English and Surinamese parents, Ruby Savage was raised on a mantra of “freedom, healing, peace and power in music”. From her mother she inherited an appreciation for the eclectic – from Fela to Miles to Chopin and The Supremes – and once she got into hip-hop in the 90s, it was her mother again who provided the education. “She would recognise the samples”, Ruby tells us, “and play the originals…such a babe!!”. Her spiritual connection to music, rhythm and dance came through her Surinamese father, a “wild musician” and Obiaman, centred around the Winti religion. These cultural and personal exchanges were, at first, difficult to digest, but has now become a key part of Ruby’s identity; so much so, she’s just swapped her first name as a DJ in favour of her middle name Kwasiba.
Since moving to London in 2007, Ruby has worked behind the counter at Honest Jon’s and managed Sounds Signature with Theo Parrish, where she also created the Wildheart sister label. Much of Brownwood’s recent success has been down to her stewardship as label manager since 2016, while solo exploits have taken her to the dance floor with her In Flames post-punk party, now also a monthly on NTS. Much of the last 10 years has seen her spearheading creative projects for others, but in 2018, Kwasiba Savage looks ready to push her own message to the fore.
As part of a series profiling the 2018 recruits for Dimensions Festival’s DJ Directory, we speak to Ruby about what’s moving and motivating her, alongside a first listen to a mix full of soul and emotion. Browse the DJ Directory archive for more interviews with the class of 2017 and 2018.
Rather than focussing on a specific sound, is there a key principle or philosophy that drives you as a DJ?
Yeah, for me it’s totally emotive. When music is from the heart it becomes a universal language that surpasses the barriers of genre. That’s where it gets interesting for me cause suddenly you can connect people from all types of backgrounds and unite them in the dance through rhythms and voices from just as many different types of cultures. It reminds us of humanity. Powerful stuff. Also it allows for more elements of surprise and those can just be magic.
Have there been any people or collectives who have empowered you or helped you find your feet as a DJ?
Yeah I’m incredibly lucky with the family and friends that surround me. They believed in me before I did! I’m eternally thankful for their support – tuning in and showing up at the dances means everything. Without them I am nothing. Honest Jon’s, Worldwide FM, Brownswood, NTS, Sound Signature, Sounds Familiar, have all supported from day, one way or another.
With this interview being the grand unveiling of your new name, it’s only right to speak about it. Could you tell us the background and what it means to your identity as a DJ?
Actually, I really like Ruby, but it’s my everyday. Kwasiba is special. According to a Surinamese tradition it’s given to girls born on a Sunday. It was given to me as a middle name and took me some time to grow into and part of that definitely has to do with identity. Being mixed race/mixed culture I got a bit lost trying to fit in but I’m finally starting to get the hang of this mad conundrum that I live, which is feeling like you fit in everywhere and nowhere at the same exact time. Bit mad. My journey though music has been similar. At first feeling like I needed to stick to a genre but later realising they can all live together has been relieving to say the least. Anyway whatever… what’s in a name. Is about the music at the end of the day innit…
Kwasiba Savage still sound badass tho.
With a name that’s lived with you all your life, why have you waited til now to use it publicly?
Life is funny like that innit. Sometimes you need to go on a longass journey to get to where you were all along.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a DJ?
Overcoming the fear of failing and dealing with the anxiety that comes with that. Sometimes it gets really bad and I’ll think of all types of terrible things that could get me out of doing a set. Like I’ll hope that maybe someone (not me!!) will accidentally set off the fire alarm and we have to evacuate the building or maybe I could think up some kind of infliction that gets me into hospital. Literally any excuse that could get me out starts running through my head. Lol. But not lol, trust. In the end I always end up getting out there and literally the second I start it’s all good. And ironically, those are usually my best sets. I trick myself and turn the fear into focus.
And what’s your biggest source of optimism or inner strength?
Pushing for harmony. Harmony creates good vibes. And good vibes are addictive and infectious. Works so good in a dance. Also, I like to have fun. A lot of it. And I’m fucking addicted to laughing. I swear it makes me high. Gets me through the day, every damn time.
What’s your greatest musical achievement to date?
Putting out 4 releases by incredible artists on Wildheart Recordings.
What goals have you set yourself this year?
Learn more music, put out more mix tapes and play more gigs. And I want to do more Music Supervision.
What’s your favourite party to dance at?
For a solid rave that would be Chapter 10. It’s the safest, freest and most energetic dance floor in London. And for pure good vibes and the most beautiful music palette it would have to be Touching Bass. I religiously go for spiritual healing session on Sunday evening with Channel One at Village Underground and I also dance a lot at my own In Flames party.
What’s your perfect party to play at?
Low ceiling, low light, solid subs and sweaty peoples that come to dance, have fun times and shake off any or all bad vibrations to get back in sync with themselves and each other. All starts with promoters that care. The other day I played at Jamuary’s 5th anniversary party and the wife of one of the organisers had made two trays of Brownies for the dance…I mean…WOW…that’s bless. Small things like that make all the difference and that really reflected on the night.
Where do you get your inspiration from outside of music?
Sci-fi movies and books (RIP Ursula K. LeGuin).
You spent some years working alongside Theo Parrish as the Sound Signature label manager and creator of sister label Wildheart Recordings. What did you take away from your time there that still guides you now?
Even though we’re really different in the way we operate I’m extremely inspired by the way Theo built Sound Signature. I’ve kept some of his methods as mantras to balance my style of doing things. Here it goes: fuck the rules – don’t let anything hold you back. Leg it if a contract has the words ‘in perpetuity’ in it. Ignore your emails much as possible. Do what you love and work relentlessly at your art. Claim it. Believe in it. Protect it and and make sure to Present it.
You currently spend most of your time as Brownswood label manager, which has enjoyed a buoyant couple years since you arrived. Working for such a broad and hands on label must put a lot of responsibility into your hands. How have you approached the role and are there any projects you’re most proud of spearheading?
Yes! It’s been mad and quite a switch up from Sound Signature. I had to hit the ground running with Shabaka’s release which went straight into Yussef Kamaal. It’s pretty much hands-on and get on with it type stuff. Super varied but by far my favourite part is working with the artists. Helping them set their intentions and translate their visual vision of the album into reality. Enhancing their ideas (if needed) and then seeing it come to life. Best sensation.
Since May last year, you’ve been running a party and NTS show called In Flames with visual artist Josephine Chime. What’s that all about then?
Post Punk baby! We love the sounds that were coming out of early 80s DIY scenes. Crossing so many genres with purest energy and creativity. Biggest thanks to NTS for giving us a monthly slot and mega shout out to Josephine for taking the journey with me, she a sick DJ too. Off the back of the radio show we started a small club night. Contortion is our portion.
You’ve just come back from a trip to Australia, where your gigs included warm-ups for Larry Heard and Leroy Burgess, no less. How was that whole experience?
It still feels kind of surreal. Gotta say one love to the Crown Ruler family out there. Endless thank yous for making my dream come true. And such dons for this most creative line-up (you missed Johnny Osbourne up there in your question ps). He was there too. These three musical legends. Their contributions over decades have shaped so many musical landscapes across the board. They made music that will forever stay fresh. Super inspiring seeing them still killing it after decades in the music industry and still being so positive. Me…I was just happy to stand by and witness their greatness. I still have so much to learn so that’s what I did out there.
What’s coming up this year you’re excited about? Any new releases in the offing, or parties you’ve marked in big red pen?
Plenty plenty. We got Joe Armon-Jones’ album coming up which is incredible – all round badass talent that. Live music scene in London is buzzing so hard. If you know you know kinda thing. If not – get on it! For clubbing there’s the next In Flames party on 10th of March and seems like heaps of one off nights. I’d keep an eye on TRC, they’re doing great sessions there. And maybe it’s time I get my ass to Dimensions this year. That would be dope.
And finally, turning back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self before you started persuing music properly?
I’d say: Babes, don’t worry so much about what other people think. Life is short don’t waste any of it tryna impress other people. Impress yourself. Allow for mistakes. Allow yourself to be free. That and this quote from Joni Mitchell: “Don’t make it a point to pay the rent. Make it a point to make your art. The rest will follow.” I’ve spent a lot of my twenties working for other artists rather than honing my own craft. Although I learnt a lot, I sometimes regret that. Alas never too late to start. On it now J x