We are Europe sat down with Saint-Denis based French artist and dj Sentimental Rave while she was invited to perform at TodaysArt festival. Here she shares her vision on the role of the arts and artists in today’s society, as well as the political dimension of club culture.
Author: Laura Cabiscol
Photo credit: Laurence Heintz
Sentimental Rave is the DJ-ing persona of Soraya Daubron, a twenty-something from “a tiny city in the middle of France”. During our brief email exchange to arrange a video call for this article, she gives me a heads-up on the fact that expressing herself through words is not her forte and that she is not sure a video call is all that good of an idea. Nonetheless, she is willing to give it a go. She seems to be someone with very clear ideas and values, a feeling I get merely through the previous online stalking I conducted as research for this feature. Maybe partly due to her being not so fond of speaking, she found a way to charge everything she does with meaning and a strong political message very early on. Asides from her career as a DJ, which she never really intended, Soraya is also a photographer, used to run a queer night and is now part of the organization of ‘Comme Nous Brûlons’, a feminist festival in Paris. Once we are past the mandatory technical difficulties, the brief initial awkwardness is quickly resolved as we move on to topics she feels really strongly about.
Soraya has a deep sense of appreciation for the hidden – or not so obvious – beauty that there is to be found in the world, the beauty of that which is different and therefore marginalized and too often forgotten. That feeds her photography and ventures in music and nightlife. Techno clubs are home to a very particular, raw type of beauty, which is maybe one of the things that drew Soraya in so much. Her story will be familiar to many: coming from a rather small place, she first started exploring the club scene upon moving to Paris to attend university, aged 17. “I was very shy when I started going out. Then I started speaking some more, meeting more people… and in a way became more comfortable with myself.”
Recent years have seen the proliferation of independent party-collectives that present an alternative to the traditional club institutions and the still very much male-dominated music industry. For many, including Soraya, the queer scene is where the real subversion in club culture is happening; “I think that right now, the club scene is most interesting in the real queer, political nights. It’s where I find the most interesting people. When I talk with them, I feel like they are there for more than just looking at some DJ play techno with dark visuals in the background and taking lots of drugs.”
She is all about real, meaningful human connections, a sometimes-rare phenomenon nowadays as we inhabit virtual spaces ruled by invisible and opaque algorithms and where a non-existing perfection is venerated. “I’m so lucky and so privileged to have this life. But it’s not always all good. I’m not asking people to necessarily share their anxiety, but to be fair, this stuff is not always easy, there’s always the feeling of so much competition. If you open your Instagram, there are so many DJs, and society forces you to see them all as competitors. They want you to feel like there is no space for everyone, but there is space for so many artists today.”
She feels strongly about what role the arts and artists should play in society, and she carries it with her in her DJ name. “Rave is a way to be, a way to be political. I don’t believe that you can make music and make art without having a political mind. I mean, if you do that, please explain to me how, because I want to know. There are so many people dying, so many people suffering from discriminatory violence, so many refugees, so many people in deep crisis. Years ago, it used to be awful and we’ve come a long way in some aspects, but it is still awful nowadays. So, if you don’t see that, I also don’t see the point of making something.” Today, in the hyper-connected reality we exist in, everything you do and put out as an artist is political, as it will be seen by other people, and she understands that symbolic acts can have real power. “You don’t have to talk about these things every time, it’s more like as a queer woman, making techno is already something political for me, standing in front of the people is already something political, taking my place is already something. I think it’s not about talking, it’s the way you make music, the way you find your place in this society, the way you think about it.”
“At my level, I can make people come together, create a community and give them the chance to try new things. And I don’t know that much, but if I can share what I know, I think it’s a good thing. At this year’s Comme Nous Brûlons festival, for example, I will host a free workshop for girls that want to learn to produce and to make music with hardware.” A common mistake many people and so-called activists make is getting stuck complaining about the dimensions of the problem, or get overwhelmed by only looking at the grand scheme of things and become unable to tackle things little by little, therefore not engaging in any action at all.
Soraya might not be much of a preacher, but instead, she leads by example. Things like carefully selecting the parties she plays at and associates herself with, even cancelling gigs when something that she can’t agree with or support happens, show her level of awareness and commitment. This already denotes a certain amount of privilege, starting with the economical factor; not everyone is in a position to select where their paychecks come from, especially at the start of their careers. But it’s important that once one is there, one makes use of that privilege sensibly.
When talking about the future, she says she doesn’t really think about it, as “it’s scary”. “I think there is a lot of good and interesting stuff going on in club culture and the music scene but I can’t imagine how it will evolve. I think when people were creating techno in the 90s, they never imagined it was going to be this huge. I think we just don’t know what we are creating, but something is happening for sure. We are just there now, so it’s complicated to see it with perspective.” There are a certain beauty and excitement to be found in uncertainty; it means you, alone or together with other people (maybe those with whom you shared the dance floor last time) have a real chance at influencing the outcomes.
When I ask her if there is something she finds on every dancefloor she plays, she smiles as she replies: “The feeling I get is that everywhere you go, there is always someone almost like you and who you can relate to. Everywhere I go, there is always at least one person with whom I can share something nice.” At moments like these, expressing herself through meaningful words, just like in this interview, becomes a forte in the end.