Sarz kicked of Ballantine’s True Music 10 with bang in London, simultaneously launching his solo career alongside his Boiler Room set. VIPER caught up with the Nigerian DJ, record producer, mixing engineer and musician.

What made you initially want to produce music?

I was just curious. Growing up, I listened to a lot of Hip Hop and I was fascinated by producers more than artists. Where people are moved by lyrics and other things, I was just moved by beats. I would listen to a song and it was produced by Timberland or Pharrell and that piqued my interest.

How did you know this was what you wanted to do? 

I guess you just know. I started it, I really enjoyed it and I was like, I think I can be really good at this. I just pursued it, I’m very intuitive. So, you just know this is it.

What made you want to get into DJing and was it a hard transition for you? 

Yeah, because somewhere down the line in my music producing journey, I loved the influence of electronic music. I also noticed that most of the people I work with always tell me, “your beats don’t even need [lyrics] on them. I just want to have a good time, I don’t even need to record vocals on that. So what other way can I share with the world? You know, things I make without vocals? Obviously by DJing. So people come to my studio and I just play beats for hours and everyone’s having a good time. I was doing sets in my studio so it was a natural move for me.

You previously said that when you first started, no one really gave you a chance. What was that period like for you and what kept you going? 

When I started, I was already established in the Afrobeats space as a producer. So when people see me, it’s like everyone’s kind of scared of change. They want you to stay the same. They want to put you in a box. So they’re always like, “so and so is DJing now. Just stick to productions or being a studio producer, you shouldn’t be a DJ!” Also because of the things I’m doing as a producer, people put me on the same pedestal as far as DJing goes and not actually give me a chance to grow. So imagine I DJ’d yesterday and I’m like, “okay, you know what? I’m going to play tomorrow.” And everyone thinks I should be playing like the best DJ in the world. So that was a bit challenging to start.

If you weren’t doing music, what would you be doing?

If not music, I would be in tech, doing software development and video games. Or sports, basketball, I guess that’s still all quite technical. Once I find something I like, I get obsessed with it and I just want to be great at it; I just keep going. 

If you were to describe your sound to someone in three words, what would you say?

Inclusive. Innovative. Amazing. 

Talk us through your creative process.

Unlike most people, I actually don’t like being in the studio. I love to work at home in the comfort of my home. That’s where I feel the most comfortable to try ideas that people might think are stupid or crazy. It’s a very safe space. Except when I’m working with friends, or people that really know that I don’t feel judged around them. Because sometimes what matters when you’re working is that people have expectations, especially if they know you from the work you’ve done. So they expect that or higher and if you don’t meet the expectations they’re like, ahhh. So, I work from home most of the time, not saying I don’t go to studios. I do go to studios, I work in studios but if I can choose, I’d probably work at home.

Where do you get your inspiration from? 

It could be anything; other people’s music, conversations, ideas, movies. It literally could be anything. Or someone could just talk about an idea of fusing this genre with that genre of music and I just find that very interesting. My brain starts to tick and I get inspired, I don’t need any substances or anything like that. 

Who would be a dream collab for you?

Calvin Harris is definitely one of them. Maybe Charlie Puth because he’s just an amazing songwriter and his understanding of music theory is phenomenal. I want to see what we can create together, what value and dynamics I can add to that.

You recently performed with Boiler Room and Ballantine’s True Music 10, what made you want to do it?

I’ve always wanted to have my own Boiler Room set, what other perfect way to get that done than Boiler Room and Ballantine’s? Because they’ve been very instrumental to the DJs scene and they’re very inclusive of different parts of the world, different genres, different skin colours, different sounds. That’s something I’m also very passionate about, bringing the world together with music. 

How did you feel you could fit into this line-up?

There’s an obvious intersection between the kind of music I make and the others, so I guess that’s what it is.

Was that your first time performing in front of a London crowd? 

No, I did one [show] in 2020 or 2021; I’m not sure. It wasn’t my first time but it was quite an intimate crowd. 

What was the reception like for you?

It was really good, high energy, but that’s also something we’re known for and it was high energy. I expected that. It was great but I wasn’t surprised, I thought it was going to be good, so I’m happy. Looking at it, it was obviously a big performance.

What do you do to prepare for your sets?

Sometimes I make new edits. I really go to have a good time and I think that there are people like me who share the same energy as me and that’s going to resonate. If I’m having a good time, I know a number of people are going to have a good time. They came here to see what I do.

What do you think of True Music 10?

[It represents] longevity and also being a part of culture authentically; making sure that every race, every tribe is included and represented properly. 

In regards to Afrobeats and the culture, what do you think of the current state of the music scene?

It’s growing in such a rapid state that I see other genres of music taking influence from Afrobeats, from arrangements or elements that make Afrobeats and putting that in their own musical genres and creating even newer subgenres. It’s getting to that state of popular music, which is amazing. Every day there’s a new artist bubbling from Nigeria, it’s crazy! What a time to be alive.

In five to 10 years, where do you think it will be? 

That’s a very difficult question for me because personally I do my best to live in the moment; I just do one day at a time. If you ask me, what will I be doing in five years? I won’t be able to answer you, I know what I’m doing today though. So that’s difficult, but I do hope that in five to 10 years – apart from the globalization of Afrobeats – that locally an artist from Nigeria or any country in Africa that, decides to make Afrobeats has a chance to not only become a global sensation, but also be original to who they are and where they’re from. 

What is it that stands out to you? 

An artist being themself because they can be, there can be only one you. You always see the pioneers or the people that stay original in those spaces are usually better than the ones that just follow suit. Being original and bringing something different to the table, everyone wants to see something new and authentic.

Do you ever get moments where you feel “I’ve reached a point of success” or do you feel like there’s still more to aspire to?

For me, I just keep going. But at the same time, I’m very grateful for how far I’ve come. I’m eager to see where my drive and determination and my discipline takes me. I don’t necessarily have goals like, “I want to achieve this in five years” or “I want to achieve that in ten years,” I just keep going.

What advice would you give someone starting out that wants to do something similar?

Be very honest with yourself. You definitely know within yourself if you’re actually cut for this or not. I think because a lot of people get into music, not for the art of music, because they feel like they can just make a quick buck from it. Eventually it shows, so don’t have Yes Men around you. You might make something within yourself like, ‘okay, this is not that great, but your friends are like, “yo, it’s crazy, it’s crazy! Put it out, do it! You’re the best.” Really listen to yourself, always tell yourself the truth. Be hardworking because the people doing it at a really high level work so hard. So why would you at the bottom, at the start of your career, just do it as a hobby? You have to work harder than anyone else on top to stand a chance. 

In regards to 2024, what else can we expect from Sarz?

My album!

Great! Who can we expect to hear featured on there? 

There will be a number of usual suspects on the album and a few are wildcards.

Watch the Sarz Boiler Room set, and learn more about True Music.

Interview by Jose Mugisha.

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