An interview with Sophie Sugar — the leading lady of trance shows the boys how it’s done!
She has a sweet nature, a down to earth head, a loving heart and a passion for fun. But most importantly Sophie Sugar has an unrelentless love for trance music and a great dedication teamed with an unquestionable talent. Over the past few years Sophie’s reputation as a well-respected trance DJ has been growing continually, which has recently been confirmed by the support her track received from the trance A list, most notably Paul Van Dyk. A true musician, with her roots in classical music from a very young age, Sophie clearly has everything she needs to push her up to the top. I caught up with Sophie to find out a bit more about her past, her plans, her loves, dreams and influences…
How long have you been playing now?
Where does your DJ name come from?
It started off as my first email address years ago and became a nickname with friends. Over the years it stuck and was the natural choice when I started Djing. Now even my own family use it!
Do you have a musical background or just a natural talent there, or both!?
Why, thanks Alix! No, I do have a musical background which has probably helped, especially with the production side of things. I played the piano for 9 years until I was 15 and was also brought up with an eclectic range of music around me, which helped to shape my own taste.
What first got you into DJing?
Well, clubbing initially and the tunes I used to hear in clubs. In 98/99 there was so much amazing trance around and I was at ‘that’ stage of going out every weekend and loving it. Quite a few of my clubbing friends were DJs and at after parties etc. I would find the records I loved in their bags and put them on the decks. The natural progression was to mix them together!
How would you describe your music style and mixing style?
My music encompasses all kinds of trance — from warm, chunky progressive to uplifting melodic to massive middle of the night, in your face, full on, enormous trance!!! My mixing style is all about careful blending and EQing.
What is it that attracted you to trance and have you always played this kind of music?
I just love emotional melodies — as soon as I started hearing trance music in clubs, it appealed to me massively — I loved that sense of euphoria on the dance floor during every breakdown. I have experimented over the years, going through slightly tougher and more progressive phases which I think is all part of the journey in finding your own style but I’ve never veered too far from the trance path!
Do you find it easier or harder being a female DJ or has it not made a difference?
Overall, it hasn’t made a difference. Along the way there have been times where I have been given gigs because of being female and equally times where I have felt more under pressure to prove myself because of being female, but ultimately events like this haven’t shaped or changed my overall career in any way. It’s all about building up your own sound and once you’ve done that being female doesn’t come into it any more.
Do you remember your first gig — how did it feel and how was it?
Yes, I remember it clearly. I’ve never been so nervous in my life — I’d only been playing for 6 months and it wasn’t a small club. I think I’d been so wrapped up in the excitement of having a gig that the reality of what I was doing didn’t hit me until the night! The club was in Brighton and on the journey down from London I barely said a word. I had arranged to meet about 20 friends in a bar next door and I couldn’t even talk to anyone — I went and sat in the toilets for about half an hour just staring at the toilet door, thinking “what the hell am I doing?” As it turned out, it was amazing and I was on a high for about 2 weeks afterwards!
What would you say was your big break?
I wouldn’t say there’s been one ‘big break’ as such but there have been a series of turning points over the years, such as winning the Gallery competition and ‘Call of Tomorrow’ being signed to Galactive.
Have you travelled much through DJing as yet?
So far, I’ve played in South America, Russia and throughout Europe and also spent 4 seasons in Ibiza and had some amazing times.
You’ve had success with your recent production work — can you tell me a bit more about this?
I’ve been making tracks for a few years now but the recent success was ‘Call of Tomorrow’ being signed to Galactive earlier this year and being picked up very quickly by Mr. Paul Van Dyk himself. Obviously, PVD’s support helped the track immensely and it was played by pretty much most top trance DJs. John O’Callaghan did an amazing remix and this was featured on Armin’s ‘A State of Trance 2005’ which gave the track a lot of exposure.
My new track, which I’m releasing under ‘Sophie Sugar presents Saona’ is coming out on ATCR sister label ETCR next month. It’s called ‘Isis’ and is currently being remixed by Alex Morph — as you can imagine, I can’t wait to hear this. The original was recently reviewed in DJ Mag and received 5 out of 5 which was great.
What’s your style behind the decks — head down and concentrate on the mix or jumping around? And do you think it’s important to interact with the crowd — some of the biggest DJs in the world like PVD or Sasha often barely look up, and sometimes just about manage to stretch to one or two half smiles...
I interact with the crowd constantly throughout my sets — it would feel wrong not to — the crowd feed off of the DJ and need to know that you’re loving the music as much as they are - I can’t help but put my hands in the air during every breakdown anyway! Obviously, it’s important to concentrate on mixing but most trance tunes are about 8 minutes long so there’s no excuse!
Have you had to work hard at achieving your mixing style and ability or did it come naturally to you?
My mixing style has evolved naturally from always playing trance. I suppose I had some form of ability when I started — I didn’t ever find basic mixing difficult but I’ve learned a lot over the years and there’s been considerable ‘fine tuning’. I don’t think you ever stop learning/ progressing. I still practice a lot now.
Where do you get your music from?
A lot of my stuff is now sent on promo which I think is essential for keeping ahead with things, but I do also buy a lot of stuff from audiojelly and other digital download sites. When I played vinyl, I used Chemical Records and 4djsonly a lot — they’re both brilliant for trance.
Who do you respect most in the music scene?
Matt Hardwick who is flying for the trance flag for England in style at the moment and has been consistently great over the years, John Askew who is extremely talented and is now getting the recognition he deserves, PVD (say no more) and my boyfriend — Greg Downey — who is brilliant and is now starting to make waves.
Who are you star-struck by?
In the trance scene, no-one really. I interviewed PVD for Rapture TV a year or so ago and it was all very natural and normal. Whilst there are many people I respect in the scene, at the end of the day we’re all just humans mixing records together. Having said that, put Robert De Niro in front of me and it might be a different story!
Do you have any groupies and if so, how do you deal with them?
There are a few clubbers that send me messages via my website and turn up to quite a few gigs which is really flattering. I’ll always chat to them and keep in touch where possible.
What are your thoughts about the progression of music technology e.g. CD decks, Ableton live etc? (i.e. is it a good thing/bad thing, what do you like, what do you dislike, any other thoughts on this)
Well, this time a year ago, I was still playing a lot of vinyl and now it’s 100% cds. CD decks are brilliant — I love using them — the effects, the pitch control display, the whole package. I also love the fact that I can play my own tracks/other new tracks hours after they’re finished. I’m also a big fan of Final Scratch and can see myself starting to use this along with CD decks at some point in the next couple of years.
How would you feel if someone illegally downloaded one of your tunes? How severe a punishment would it deserve?!
If it was some young kid that wasn’t very ‘clued up’, I’d just want to get the message across about the damage they were doing. If it was a DJ that was doing the rounds, I wouldn’t be very happy. At the end of the day, when it’s only £1 to download a track, there really is no excuse for illegal downloading. Punishment — erm… make them eat the CD?!!
What is your opinion on so-called commercial 'trance' such as DJ Sammy and then the likes of ‘As the Rush Comes’ making it into the charts?
Well, I think there’s a big difference between those 2 examples. Formulated, commercial pop/trance with dodgy lyrics being in the charts really doesn’t help the reputation of the ‘real’ trance scene. However, credible tracks that can cross over and represent the real sound of the scene such as ‘As the Rush Comes’ are a great thing. Tracks like this being in the charts gives the real scene the exposure it needs and deserves.
When you’re not playing, what do you do?
When I have a spare minute, I try to see as much of my family and friends as possible. I also go to the gym a couple of times a week, read quite a bit and, at the moment, am sorting out my new flat which is taking forever! The bulk of my time is spent finding/listening to new tunes, putting mixes together, coming up with new ideas in the studio, keeping my website updated, emailing, talking on the phone and generally keeping things moving forward.
Do you still enjoy going clubbing or is it hard for you to switch off now?
I still love clubbing once in a while. If I have a weekend off from DJing, I do like to have a break sometimes but every few months or so, I’ll end up having a night out and it always turns into a mad one! I love hearing tunes/DJs from the other side of the decks and my boyfriend usually has to drag me off the dancefloor/stage/wherever he might find me!
Your fiancée is also a DJ and producer — is this a good thing or bad thing i.e. do you two ever talk about anything other than music?
We occasionally talk about other stuff!! Naturally, we do talk about music most of the time. Sometimes we have to stop ourselves and say “right, let’s talk about something else.” There’s been advantages and disadvantages of both being DJs. Because we got together when we had both just started out, we’ve had to go through some tough times together — holding down ‘normal’ jobs while Djing at weekends and still having to find time to push our careers forward and deal with normal life as well — buying flats/family stuff etc. There have been points where we’ve both been completely exhausted. On the positive side, we’ve always been there to give each other help and advice and it’s great to be able to discuss anything and everything music-related at any time of day or night and run ideas past each other.
Where are you going to be on NYE and what will you be doing?
My agency emailed me this week about a possible gig in China but I don’t know at this stage if it’s definitely going ahead. If not, I haven’t got a clue where I’ll be/what I’ll be doing but it will definitely involve a considerable amount of partying and definitely won’t be finishing early.
As Christmas is coming — what would be your dream present under the Christmas tree? (Greg: take note!)
How long have you got?!
Do you have any dreams that you’re yet to achieve and if so, can you share these with us?
Well, in terms of Djing/music — there’s loads that I am yet to achieve. Some main aims would be:
-the overall Djing aim of playing at the biggest events on the biggest line-ups worldwide constantly!
-to have my own radio show with a large regular listenership
-to continue with presenting dance music TV shows — I’ve presented for Rapture in the past and there are some possible future plans after their re-launch which is happening this month.
As a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
Singer, actress, dancer, presenter, radio DJ, journalist and barrister all featured in there at some point! I wanted to do everything!
What star sign are you?
The music industry is often criticized as being very political and fickle — any thoughts?
I think there’s definitely an element of favours for favours, backhanders, who you know not what you know etc. which is true of many industries. In the dance music industry, however, there’s no association/governing body keeping an eye on things so people can pretty much do whatever they like!
Do you manage your own bookings or are you with an agency — and what are the advantages or disadvantages of this?
I’m with an agency and there are loads of advantages, especially with foreign gigs — not having to negotiate fees, not having to worry about being paid on the night, not having to worry about flights/hotels etc. That said, I do deal with some of my own bookings if they come about through my own contacts and they are people I know and trust.
A question I always ask: what are your all time top three tunes?
It's SOO hard to pick 3 — there are about 20 tunes that I could place equally as my favourites of all time, but these 3 would definitely feature highly:
Agnelli & Nelson — ‘El Nino’
Armin Van Buuren — ‘Communication’
Super8 — ‘Alba’ (Anjunabeats)
What do you have in the pipeline for the coming year both production wise and DJing wise?
There’s going to be more Sophie Sugar and Sophie Sugar presents Saona tracks, probably 3 in total throughout the year. Sophie Sugar tracks are the full-on, bigger and slightly tougher edged side of trance and Sophie Sugar presents Saona the more melodic side. DJing wise, there are further gigs for many great UK nights such as Serious and the Gallery and some further afield in areas like Eastern Europe and Canada.
I will be also be presenting the Gallery show on Ministry radio on a more regular basis when Gavyn Mytchel is busy hopping from one country to the next so really looking forward to this!
The dance music industry in general — is it on its way up or down?
Well, speaking for the trance scene more so than dance music in general — up. It definitely suffered after it’s heyday in 99/2000, but over the last year or 2 it has started picking up again. The scene just needed a bit of a breather and the chance to revive itself with some fresh blood. Now, there’s a real buzz around again. I can think of at least 5 trance nights in London alone that have started up or moved to bigger clubs in the last year or so, not to mention the big nights that continue to pack out clubs week in, week out. Trance has a massive worldwide following and I can’t see this changing in the near future.
Do you have any words of wisdom for other aspiring female DJs out there?
Give yourself at least a couple of years to find your own style and feel comfortable and confident with it. Don’t try and push yourself as a ‘female’, push yourself on your own, individual style and what you have to offer musically. And, most importantly, enjoy it!