INTERVIEW: Rising Star Samantha Michelle Discusses Her Transatlantic Career Trajectory & Female Empowerment

Known around the world for her signature, sophisticated, feel-good sound, Samantha Michelle is regularly called upon to spin for major industry & music festivals, luxury fashion parties, media publications, art galleries, hotels, nightclubs, members clubs and private events. She’s opened for music legends, including the likes of Mark Ronson, LCD Soundsystem, Miley Cyrus, DJ Ruckus and Bachman Turner Overdrive, and headlined shows with audiences in the thousands. With her versatile sound taking her everywhere from Burning Man to Beverly Hills, the Toronto-born – and London-bred – artist now calls the US home.

Her recent career highlights include back-to-back bicoastal gigs for Dolce & Gabbana, performances at Soho Desert House Coachella, a series of Hamptons summer charity events and the launch of Lotus Cars’ new luxury model. She’s also DJ’d private events for Paramount, Rolling Stone Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Bulgari, Saks Fifth Avenue, Carolina Herrera and Christie’s. She’s headlined festivals in the UK and the US like Glastonbury, The Secret Garden Party, Red Rooster and MemphoFest and so, we caught up with her for an exclusive interview…

Samantha! Thanks for talking to us… How did you first become involved in this scene? I read that your first set (London, 2012) was actually an accident initially? 

“I first stumbled into nightlife when I was 17, fresh off the boat from Toronto. I fell fast for the underworld that is New York at night… I was always an irreverent kid so the scene was intoxicating. I’ve also always had a fondness for all things nostalgic and there was an impulse to share that passion. I have a poignant, albeit hazy, memory of nagging some DJ at a club in Paris to please play Phil Collins’ version of “You Can’t Hurry Love.” I don’t think he obliged! Despite my love of life on the dance floor, becoming a DJ myself was by no means something I had aspired towards. But a couple years on, I was living in London and one night at the Groucho, an iconic members club – where, to be fair, so much of my life as I now know it happened – I took over from the DJ and started playing tunes at a party, I hit ‘em with the unexpected… silly and sweet stuff, early naughties throwbacks and classics like “Hey Jude,” the crowd went nuts and as they say, the rest is history…”

Who were your biggest musical inspirations when growing up and how has that changed in the modern day? 

“My mom plays classical piano and my dad has always loved The Beatles, but I didn’t grow up in a wildly musical home. I was a competitive dancer as a kid, so movement and music was a part of my life for as long as I can remember but it wasn’t until I was 18, living in the city, sorta seeing this lead singer – he had this Iggy Pop meets Springsteen with a sprinkle of Dylan vibe – and it was around that time, I dove down the rabbit hole of rock & roll. Our affair was brief (hello freshman year romance) but impactful. It was then that I discovered that music could offer an antidote to the fundamental oneness of being… that it could save your soul… Back to present day – I play a lot of house and EDM remixes because I like to technically make the most out of the gear I’ve got in front of me. I love to layer songs and create live mashups, but all electronic elements aside, my sound is rooted in the spirit of a world that was.”

How would you describe your sound to somebody who has never seen you perform? 

“It’s always changing! Such is being an artist, and living a creative life. I’m constantly looking to explore new sonic landscapes. I play for a lot of brands and work open format, so my sound is versatile but my signature, my thing, if you will… I’m a lot of fun. I’m all about spreading the love – positivity, inclusion, happy vibes. My style blends the past and present – it’s soulful and funk-filled, I do love my throwbacks and I like to play a lot of remixes – fresh versions of the familiar. So the audience can hear something new, but still sing along. Disco is my go-to. I also like to toy with anticipation, ya know, slip in a little “It’s Tricky” or something like that, just when they least expect it.”

Your career has since seen you branch out towards the States, especially New York & Los Angeles… How did that occur? 

“I’d been living in London for about 6 or 7 years and as much as I loved it there, I felt like I had just sort of done it, ya know? I’d played heaps of venues from Soho to Shoreditch, and festivals all round the UK. I’d lived east, west, north, south, I was ready to conquer something new, and I wanted to be closer to Toronto – where I grew up and where my family is. It’s nice to get to see them more often and be a present part of their lives. And New York City… it is tightly tethered to my heart. The US is filled with magical playgrounds – from LA to Miami – and I count my lucky, glitter ball stars I get to call it home.”

Of all the gigs you’ve played so far, including the likes of Glastonbury and Burning Man, do you have a favourite, or a particular career highlight? If so, why? 

“Actually, my last gig was really one for the books. I spent a week in the south of France DJ’g on Paramount’s yacht during Cannes Lions. One night, they took the boat out to sea, and I have to tell you, DJ’g on a moving yacht… twas a mighty special experience. Blasting everything from Stevie Nicks to Jai Wolf to Biggie out to the Mediterranean, with no land in sight, was completely surreal. MemphoFest was another absolute career highlight. Memphis is an amazing place with the most exquisitely-souled people. I got to close out the festival after Brandi Carlile in the “Incendia Dome,” which literally breathed fire, spinning in a booth barricaded by fire… I like to play with fire. Earlier this year, I also DJ’d at the Canadian Consulate in LA for their Oscars event – a brilliant convergence of worlds and experiences for me, and a dream come true to get to do my thing for my native land like that. As was DJ’g for Dolce & Gabbana – a brand I’ve loved since I was a leopard-print-obsessed little girl. Needless to say, I count my blessings and I love when life comes full circle.”

You’ve even opened for artists such as Mark Ronson. How do your sets on nights like that change, musically, compared to the type of sets you would organically perform yourself?

“Not all that much to be honest. I read the vibe, heed the brief (if there is one), trust my instincts and that’s my approach in a nutshell. In the case of Mark, it works pretty well because we like to play a lot of the same stuff. He is, of course, a legend and crowds love it when he plays dance remixes of the tunes he’s produced – Amy’s records, “Uptown Funk,” “Shallow” what have you, but he’s a funk master, with an expert appreciation for the greats and an eclectic approach to blending genre. He’ll move seamlessly from Stevie Wonder to the Eurythmics to Destiny’s Child. When I opened for him for the Wall Street Journal in Cannes and Davos in 2019 and 2020, my sets were loaded with the 1960s & 70s bangers – soul, funk, ska – so it all worked pretty harmoniously.” 

We’ve seen an increasing number of female artists in the dance industry in recent years, but it took a long time to get to that point. Why do you think that was, and which other females do you look up to? 

“Well, female DJs incarnate female empowerment, and the world has taken its sweet time to get on board with that conceptually. And the fight for independence, autonomy and freedom for women, as we know all too well in this moment… continues. My work is part of it. As a DJ, you’re like a demigod or demigoddess – master of your audience, playing ‘em like an instrument, elevating spirits with sound and creating community. The DJ has ultimate authority, and it’s taken a long time for women to be entrusted (by men, and, by each other) with power like that. As is the case in many other many male-dominated industries. Plus, with DJs, there’s a certain degree of music knowledge that is really a prerequisite and many have long believed that women couldn’t possibly access that kind of deep understanding. I’m a music historian and proud to be part of imploding this mythology. Women can and should control the crowd. We can and should make the magic and shift the molecules of the room. There are some amazing female DJs I look up to like Nora Van Elken and Kayper – her set at Neon Carnival this year was incendiary. I also seek out opportunities to support other badass lady DJs – shout outs and love to my friends Lara Gerin, Iraina Mancini, Daisy O’Dell, Hesta Prynn.. rock on ladies.”

What are your plans heading into the months of this Summer and beyond? Any highlights we should be made aware of?

“There’s some more fun bouncing around coming up. I chat to you from an airport lounge actually, where I spent much of my time these days. I’m en route to New York and from there to Miami, with a couple back-to-back gigs for Soho House. Then I head back to the Hamptons and back to Europe for more private events. Looks like I should be catching some nice time on the west coast as well, a little Cali summer love. Let’s see… watch this space, follow me on Instagram, and find me for a boogie. See you on the floor” .. xx