Bright and cheerful tunes from the irrepressible London DJ.
Some DJs are just really good at that whole taking you on a journey thing. The kind who tell a story even when they're just playing another night at a packed club. Serena Passion, who made waves as a DJ well before she had any productions out, is one of them. Since moving to London from Toronto around four years ago, she's become not only an in-demand club DJ but a consummate radio host, with a non-dance-focused NTS Show that reveals her talent for picking music in any settings. Or for an even clearer example, watch our recording of her live at Giant Steps in London, where she brings a crowd from a sit-down to a rapturous dance with only a few kick drums here and there. She barely even mixes in that set, and she doesn't need to: something in her touch makes the tracks sing all by themselves.
"I feel like I don't do a great job of staying in one lane in terms of genres," she tells us in the interview below, and that’s one of her strengths. While she’s not exactly dropping musique concréte or polka on the dance floor, her style is more of a feel than a sound or a genre: melodic, bouncy, usually uplifting, with an emphasis on glossy synths and springy percussion, along with a certain understatedness. Listen to how her two-hour RA Podcast smoulders, working itself into a peak-time stretch of bangers before you even realize it got there, burning through electro, acid, trance and more. It’s loaded with her own exclusive tracks—she might not be known as a producer yet, though she’s got the goods—along with unreleased material from friends like Saoirse, D. Tiffany and Elissa Suckdog.
What have you been up to recently?
Bubbling with my pals, staying at home, cooking, trying to be productive in the studio and making this mix.
How and where was the mix recorded?
It was recorded at my house, with two Pioneer-CDJ2000NXS2s, one Technics 1200 and a Xone:92 mixer. I did the first half or so of the mix before the new year, and spent a few days listening to it and making sure that it was the direction I wanted to go in before I recorded the whole thing. I haven't recorded a mix in this format before and it was nice to listen back and get excited to finish it. I felt a bit out of practice too, so I thought it would help me gain some confidence back.
Can you tell us the idea behind the mix?
It's been almost a year since I've been able to really get into it on a dancefloor, so I wanted to channel all that missing energy into this. I really wanted to play a bunch of tracks my friends have been making, some of my own music which will be out this year and a lot of old favourites which have good memories attached to them.
I feel like I don't do a great job of staying in one lane in terms of genres. Usually in sets I'm trying to weave between many different sound palettes, and I think that has really informed the music I'm attracted to. There's different aspects about different genres that I like, and I hope that this translates in all the music that I choose, and that the array of tracks sound interesting and different, but also cohesive together—something every DJ wants, I imagine? Overall, I wanted this mix to be a testament to my progress by flying through all the sounds and feelings that resonate with me. I'm hoping this mix shows people my journey so far and gets me a step closer to my musical identity.
There are also some vocal samples from my best friend that are encouraging at the beginning because, at the risk of sounding super corny, I really do feel like more than ever in 2020 I leaned on my friends for support and they really helped me get through a tough year. I also included some Peep Show samples because when I was telling another best friend about how I envisioned the mix going, she sent me a link to this clip which made me laugh.
We're entering another year of Covid-19 with a fresh, stricter lockdown in England (where you live). How are you feeling about this coming year?
Last year was difficult for everyone for a myriad of reasons, and I really struggled with my relationship with dance music at the start of everything. I actually put off doing this mix for all of 2020 because I didn't feel like it was the right time, and at the start of the pandemic I wasn't connecting with dance music at all.
This year, I'm feeling a lot more motivated and in the routine of things. I've started producing music regularly and I'm feeling excited about what I'm writing. I generally feel hopeful for what is to come and I really hope that we can get back to dance floors soon because while streaming has risen to fill a void during a time of need (for which I'm thankful for), I'm sure everyone can agree that nothing can stand in place for real life interaction on the dance floor.
Generally, I am thankful for my health and that my friends and family are healthy, which is a privileged position to be in—and for that I'm super grateful.
How have you kept busy during the pandemic? Has your DJing style, or approach to DJing (or the records you like) changed at all since the world first shut down last March?
To be entirely honest with you, it took me a lot of last year to come back around and get into digging and enjoying it again after everything happened in March—all of the tracks I was playing reminded me of specific dancefloor moments and it made me really sad for many months. I wish I could say I was being super productive like producing music and digging my little heart out, but I wasn't. I think at first I was just holding onto whatever made me happy, and I reconnected with other genres of music I neglected in many years of being obsessed with dance music—mainly hip-hop and R&B—and I started getting really into trap and drill too. This inspired the Marcixs R&B mix I did, which was so much fun. It was the first time I'd actually tried to DJ that style of music since listening to it on repeat when I was younger.
For my monthly NTS show, I like exploring non-dance floor sounds, and I really took to that at the start of 2020. I was also trying to focus on artists that were newer instead of just playing a lot of older, ‘90s-era music to try and support everyone where I could. I found it really difficult to do radio at first since my internet wasn't good enough to stream live. I really missed the live aspect of it, and talking on the mic. I'm now in the process of getting better internet so I can do it live, though, and I've slowly come back to playing higher energy stuff again on my show.
Some of my favourite mixes I listened to this year were by Francesco Del Garda, Sugar Free, Christian AB and Hamish & Toby… to name a few. These mixes are a part of dance music I had explored before, but really connected with over lockdown since I found it was the perfect vibe to dance around the house to, bike around, anything really. This definitely inspired a lot of the music I was playing throughout the lockdown in mixes and streams, and helped me rebuild the relationship with dance music that I had felt saddened by when gigs stopped in March.
What are you up to next?
Bubbling some more, sending off the masters for my first 12-inch, writing more music, cooking more and trying to borrow people’s dogs on borrowmydoggy.