An interview with Sally C

It’s hard to think of a more exciting prospect in the dance world right now than Sally C. At the age of just 28, the artist has almost single handedly managed to revive the 80s Chicago sound of hip-house.  Now thanks to the launch of her own label – ‘Big Saldo’s Chunkers’ – she has the outlet to push her vision of the genre into the world. A vision the world got a taste of in her Boiler Room debut last year and cemented further with the release of the artist’s debut EP on the label, back in June, which became an instant success. Ahead of her next release on the label, we caught up with the artist to find out just how and why she’s got to where she is now, and how a chance move to Dundee laid the perfect foundations for such a career.  

Hailing from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sally grew up in a household that loved music. Constantly surrounded by records, her brother was to thank for her discovery of dance music. “He was a bit older than me; I would always steal his CDs and copy them. When he moved to London, he sent me over the Fabric Live CDs, I can’t remember which one exactly, but it was the first time I was exposed to electronic music. Before that I was listening to soul, hip hop and rock bands; Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Jurassic Five for example. Next thing I was walking around school listening to Roni Size and Andy C, thinking ‘What the fuck is this?’ But being very intrigued by it. I have my brother to thanks for his influence and my music taste.”

A touch of fate saw Sally study at Dundee, instead of Glasgow, a moment that allowed her to discover the bustling underground club scene of the city. “When I moved to Scotland I really fell into electronic music, house music, hip-house and disco. I was supposed to study in Glasgow, that fell through and I was so gutted. I ended up in Dundee, looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. A club there called The Reading Rooms had a massive impact on me. Hip-hop artists and DJs from Chicago and Detroit played there all the time. I heard those sounds and I was obsessed. I started to learn how to DJ a little while later, as part of a duo called ‘Sister Swedge’. We played at the club on a university night and by the end we ran our own night. I could have stayed there, and I was totally comfortable. But I knew I needed to move on, and I was 23, I thought if I was going to do this, now’s the time.” The effect of that move was paramount to Sally’s career. Without such an opportunity to hone her craft and the exposure to such an array of sounds in the process, she’d likely have veered down a totally different path.

This journey led to a monumental 2019 that saw the artist booked across the world. Topped off by a storming Boiler Room at AVA festival, suddenly the DJ’s talent was projected onto screens where it was impossible to ignore. Of course, 2020 was due to be bigger and better, then Covid struck. A year of bookings and plans wasted. Sally has, however, made the best out of a dire situation, in February she played the infamous Säule night at Berghain in her hometown of Berlin. Not only that, she also launched her own label – Big Saldo’s Chunkers – with the first release, her own, being a huge success. Proving she’s not only a force to be reckoned with behind the decks, but also on Ableton.

It’s not often an artist releases their first production on their own label. Let alone becoming an instant success. Perhaps, this comes down to the groundwork Sally has done in the industry; working her way up from the grassroots, she’s quickly become a recognisable and respected figure. “I think the label developed at a very slow and natural pace. It wasn’t a case of right, I’m going to do this, this and this. I think it also stemmed from the fact I didn’t want to send my music to a lot of people, and being a DJ in the industry without releases made me doubt myself a lot. I just didn’t have the confidence, or believed in myself enough, to put myself out there. So, I thought, fuck it I’ll do it myself. My gut was telling me not to wait around for other people’s approval and just do my own thing.”

With everything that’s happened this year, you’d be forgiven for thinking twice about making any monumental decisions. However, it was Sally’s self-believe and determination that have seen the label become a success and is certain to only grow in the future. “I wasn’t sure how people would react to a release during Corona. It’s a waiting game now, who knows if things will return to normal, or stay as the ‘new-normal’. I had planned to run a series of four of my own EP’s, but the reaction made me think I could do more with this. I definitely want to release other people’s music, somewhere down the line, I want to give other people platforms to release, whether that be on this label or on a different one in the future.”

At the heart of all this is the sound of hip-house. A sound she first discovered in Dundee; the Chicago born groove has followed her everywhere since. Inspired by early pioneers such as Fast Eddie, the label is pushing a modern version of the genre, focused on pure, club ready, bangers. “I used to be a little scared of playing hip-house, I thought some people wouldn’t get it. But the younger generation love it. It’s such fun music; it’s banging, it’s acid, it’s house and then you have the rapping. It all came from Fast Eddie, he’s one of my favourite artists ever. He was bored with the Chicago sound, he had this idea about having someone rap over the productions but all the MC’s refused, thinking it sounded like a terrible idea, so he did it himself. I’ve been in touch with him recently, the plan is to work together and do some stuff in the future. I want to amplify him, so people know who he is – he’s the king of hip-house.”

Over the summer, Sally remixed Fast Eddie’s hip-house classic “Let’s Do This” under her ‘Big Saldo’ moniker – released on Fast Eddie’s AOU Entertainment label. It’s the first time since the 90s that he’s officially released a remix of the track.

With such great feedback on her debut release, you’d think Sally would have been in a sense of euphoria during lockdown. Instead, the artist was deeply affected by the Black Lives Matter movement. That euphoria was quickly replaced by a sense of dismay, as the industry she devotes so much love and time to quickly appeared as one of the worst portrayers of such prejudice. “The industry needs to change. I’ve only been in it, professionally, for two years. Before I’d only be concerned about gender balance on the lineup. I’d always be thinking they need to get another woman on the lineup, not another black woman or a person of colour. I’ve learnt I need to know when to use my privilege, to turn down gigs that are too white. You have to make sacrifices now, to make sure there’s a change. There needs to be a power shift. You need to be actively involved for change to happen. I was so ignorant to it before; my white feminism had got in the way of the issue. My agency is really taking it seriously, they want to make a lot of changes, with a diversity agreement with other agencies. I’ve definitely been awakened to my white privilege during all this.” We’ve seen the world change during this crazy time, and we can only hope to see a positive step towards equality in the dance industry, something Sally thinks must happen now.

It’s been a whirlwind of a year for the artist. With parts of Europe opening again to clubbing, Sally also recently played the opening party for the new Griessmuehle venue: Revier Südost, in Berlin, showing us all that life does in fact carry on in places where this virus is under control. With her humble beginnings and courageous spirit, there’s no end to Sally’s potential. Not many can say they’ve created a sound as unique and defined as she has, now with a label to match, it’s exciting to see what comes next.