One of Australia’s leading ladies has returned home for the summer, and we couldn’t be prouder to have her back, even if only for a brief moment. Bella Sarris, the metaphorical trophy we keep on the mantelpiece all year round, is the Sydney born DJ whose career saw her jump from playing house and electronic at underground warehouse parties in Sydney to playing residencies in Ibiza, and now calling Berlin, a source of constant inspiration, her home.
The last few years have seen her play hundreds of sets, travelling to at least 20 different countries per year, and playing alongside some of the biggest names in the industry. She seems to have it all worked out. Bella has returned to Australia for the summer to showcase what these past few years have taught her (also to escape the brutal Berlin winters feat. -15 degrees) and how she turned the world of dance music into her very own playground. We sat down with Bella for a wide ranging chat.
First of all, how is the jet lag treating you?
B: Not sure if I have jet lag or rave lag or both. Either way, I have just been sleeping and sleeping since I arrived.
So Bella, your initial love for DJing stemmed from your first trip to Ibiza at 18. What was your first step into the industry when you got back home?
B: I bought some CDJs, and started searching for music on Beatport and other platforms. I didn’t start buying records until a lot later because I didn’t have any turntables. I was a CDJ kid. Some of my friend’s older brothers were DJing and throwing parties like ‘House Inspection’ at The Civic, and eventually, when they thought I was good enough they let me play warm up for them, that’s how things kind of started. Then from there, Paul gave me a residency in the Cave at Chinese Laundry.
And growing up, your dad owned a jazz club, correct?
B: Yeah he had a jazz club called ‘Wine Banc’ in Martin Place. Did you ever happen to go to ‘Spice’ when it was in the Spice Cellar?
Can’t say I have!
B: Well the cellar that ‘Wine Banc’ was, became ‘Spice’ like 10 years later or something, and it’s funny because I was hanging around there when I was like 8 or 10 years old listening to jazz music with my dad, and then 10 years later I was raving there.
That’s fantastic! Is that style of music what you were exposed to most and what ignited your love for music?
B: Yeah well growing up I listened to a lot of jazz and classical with my parents, and also old rock and basically, all the CD’s my parents owned that I could get my hands on. I did also study classical music at school, which was a huge part of my life. I think my foray into club music started when my dad used to play ‘Buddha Bar’ and ‘St Germain’ and that kind of lounge style, that’s where I first discovered different sounds, which then led me to dance music.
Oh you studied classically, so you are pretty comfortable with your music theory then?
B: Haha, let’s just say I haven’t picked up my sax in almost 10 years.
Do you think it is important to know music theory as a DJ?
B: Yes and no. I think its more important to train your ears to recognise the sounds you like and to practise combining and layering them.
During your emergence as a DJ around a decade ago, the most common genres you’d hear on Sydney and Melbourne dance floors were electronic and progressive house, do you think we are seeing more of a shift to genres dominated by the European market such as techno and minimal house in Australia?
B: Definitely. I remember when I was growing up it was mainly electro, when I started going out at 15, and a lot of progressive house with artists like ‘Sasha’ and ‘Digweed’. Now that I’ve come back 10 years later, people are a lot more open to minimal house and techno which is really nice to see. People are definitely getting into those genres, and are more open-minded.
How is your own music production going, do you play any of your original stuff in your sets?
B: I haven’t released anything yet. My schedule up until now has been very intense with travel, so it wasn’t really something I had time for. And to be honest, I didn’t have the discipline either. As many hours as I have put into learning how to DJ I need to put into learning production, otherwise, I can’t do anything that I think will be good enough. Now I am much more interested in spending more time in the studio with friends and also setting up my own in Berlin.
How did moving from Sydney to Berlin play out for you both in a career and a personal sense?
B: It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made; it’s my home now. Berlin is a different world; you’re in the centre of dance music in Europe. The city influences me so much and I’ve been exploring so many different avenues of music purely because of variety that is available around me. I think that’s really nice when you start to take in your environment and you can hear that in your own sound.
What’s the most enjoyable set you have played to date?
B: Probably at the The Block, Tel Aviv and at Suma Beach in Istanbul.
What does your immediate future look like, what’s the focus?
B: I definitely want to focus more on production. I am going to try to tour less but smarter. I want to spend a lot of time in Berlin in my studio, and I’ll be taking care of myself this year, and finding a happy balance that works for me.