Self-Portrait: Sara Dziri

It’s clear Sara Dziri had an aptitude for music at a very early age. Despite a relatively unsupportive environment in her classes at school, the Belgian-Tunisian artist went on to ace her exams and discover she had a natural gift for all things music.

But it wasn’t until she went to university that she’d revisit these talents. Having tried her hand at DJing, she felt motivated to make her own productions to play in her sets. After self-releasing her first tracks in 2019, she went on to land a debut EP on US imprint Lurid Music last year and now she’s gearing up for her debut album, Close To Home, which has found a home on Optimo Music.

Her compositions blend inspirations like techno, progressive house and acid, at times paying homage to her Arabic heritage through her use of drums and percussion. It’s similar to the sounds you’d hear her playing in the club: at Brussels’ Fuse, where she holds a residency, or at her own Not Your Techno parties, which serve as a platform to encourage more diversity within the electronic music scene.

Ahead of the LP release next month, Sara shares a mix of unreleased demos and tracks that channel that hypnotic, driving quality that’s ever-present in her DJ sets and productions.

Close To Home is out on Optimo Music Digital Danceforce on 25 March. The single ‘Fille de Racaille’ is out now.

Let’s start with an ice breaker, what’s your earliest musical memory?

A vision of my Dad relentlessly digging in his huge cassette collection. He’d put on one cassette after the other and sit on the couch listening attentively. I remember how joyous this would make him, and I have fond memories of joining him in these musical adventures on Sundays and discovering soul, funk, reggae, French chanson and Arab classics like Oum kalthoum and Fayruz.

Did you have a particularly musical upbringing?

I only studied music at school for two years, and I remember the music teacher really disliking me for some reason (I still don’t know why even today). I really enjoyed playing the instruments, so despite the not-so-motivational environment I continued and even got an A+ on the day of my exam. I was so good at it that he couldn’t give me a bad grade!

What led you into music production and rapping?

When I was a teenager my brother had this music production program (I don’t remember the name, I don’t think it still exists) on his computer. When he was out I would play around with it, but then lose my patience because it was so complicated. Later on, when I started going to university, I got back into it shortly after I started DJing because I really wanted to make my own music and play it.

Are there any producers or artists who have inspired your production?

The Hacker, Paula Tape, Mathew Jonson, The Maghreban, just to name a few.

Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio?

Not really, I just need to feel inspired before going in, otherwise it usually isn’t a fruitful session. 

Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?

I kind of combine jamming with what I call ‘intentional production’, which means I try to think like an artistic director would: where do I want to go with this, what kind of genres am I using, what feeling do I want to convey, is there a specific message or do I just want to make a club banger? Only jamming would have me go in all types of directions, and I would spend so much time making stuff I won’t use in the end. So, for the sake of having a life outside of the studio I try to balance with thinking about where I want to take it before starting or when taking breaks.

Are you the type of artist to work on a track until it’s perfect, or are you more of an impulsive creator, happy with first takes and sketches?

I have loaaads of sketches, so for me an important lesson has been to really try to finish a project before moving on to something else. Or what I also do is visit my sketches for inspiration, instead of making something completely new. When I visit older work, I always get excited by certain ideas I had in the past and immediately get to work with it. It’s less time consuming somehow.

Can you talk us through how you might construct a track?

After the first creative ideas I try to decide on the length quite early on, then I make a first arrangement. This will serve as a basis to then add more elements to get to a more sophisticated or more finished sound. But it often happens that I make big changes to the arrangement at the end. The early arrangement is just a strategy for me to finish a track more smoothly and think more in terms of ‘the story I’m trying to tell’ and not just loops.

How much of your material is sample based and how much is original?

It really depends on the track and the sound I’m after. I see the decision between sample or not from a problem-solving point of view: what works best for me right now? Which sound quality is best? etc.

What’s the most important bits of kit that make a Sara Dziri track?

Fave drum kits are 707, 606, 505, 909 and linndrums.

This mix is comprised of 100% original Sara Dziri material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

I just tried to create a nice mix with all my unreleased stuff, which was a nice challenge because I usually don’t play a lot of my own tracks. I actually learned a lot about my own productions – making this mix helped me to look at them as a DJ and not a producer.

Anything on the horizon for you? Any releases we should know about?

On March 25th my debut album Close To Home is being released on Optimo Music!

Close To Home is out on Optimo Music Digital Danceforce on 25 March. The single ‘Fille de Racaille’ is out now.

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