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30.12.2019 | Words by: Luc Mastenbroek

Back in fall 2015, when everything about De School was still a secret, I already wanted to invite one DJ to show the space to that would become the club. I gave a tour to Sandrien and asked if she wanted to play the opening night, as she was one of the first people we thought of before we started working on the program. In the two weeks before the first night we built a bar in the restaurant, brought the booth to the club and got the final license. A few days before opening Sandrien let us know she wouldn't be able to play the night because of a burn-out that had been taking a heavier and heavier toll on her.

Two months ago, when Elisa and me did the final few bookings for 2019, we made a balance for the resident DJs to see who had played when and count the number of their shows. Only then we realized no other DJ had played more for De School in 2019 than Sandrien, which immediately brought back memories of the struggles at the start.

When I realized she had turned into the indispensable resident DJ I had hoped her to be, I approached her for an interview, to look back a little bit, but forward mostly. I knew Sandrien never liked interviews, but it felt wrong to end this year without some sort of reflection on her role this year - trying to convince her I promised to keep the tone light.

Q: Over the years you seem to have found a few DJ homes around the world, can you tell us a bit about places you keep coming back to?

A: Yes, it is imporant to be able to feel at home while travelling. Tbilisi is the first that comes to mind. Here I met Zitto, a DJ who told me about the state of their country, and the troubles the LGBTQ+ community is facing there. He also introduced me to Bassiani, where I felt at home from the start. The club functions as a space for people to be who they want to be, a person they often cannot be outside the venue. You can feel its urgency, the people inside fighting for their freedom.

Since Peter Van Hoesen invited me to Tokyo in 2014, I have been coming back there nearly every year, always playing for the same crew. On my first trip to Japan I met DJ Nobu, and on later trips I got to know Wata Igarashi and SO, they were my first connections. When it comes to the club scene, everything is so perfectly executed - Labyrinth festival is really the best example here, a few months ago I played there for the first time, and the sound there is just from another world.

The third club I should mention here is Berghain, where I have been coming back to since Marcel Fengler invited me in 2011. When I have a weekend off this is the club where I go dancing myself. And the Machine crew, Ben Sims and Kirk Degirgio, deserves a shoutout here, they always made me feel very much at home too.

Q: In Trouw you hosted your weekly techno night Imprint, but in the final stretch of the club you also set up Is Burning with Carlos Valdes. Especially looking back the Is Burning nights really stand out in the programming of Trouw, as one of the very few it was explicit in the community it reached out to: the queer people of Amsterdam.

A: Carlos and I wanted to start a night where gay, trans, bi, queer people would feel at home, because we didn't see them on the dancefloor often in Amsterdam nightlife. We wanted to create something where they would feel at home, and combine it with the music we loved and that we were missing. The first night was with Virginia and it was incredibly beautiful to see girls kissing girls, boys kissing boys.

Q: I cannot think of any other DJ who feels so comfortable at both booths of De School: in the basement and upstairs. Also your approach to both rooms seems completely different, can you tell something about that?

A: I like both, the basement really connected to more abstract techno I like to play, but the first time I saw Het Muzieklokaal I found the place where I could play the music that would not work for me downstairs. Upstairs it's easier to connect with the crowd and the sounds that fit that feeling for me are power house, Chicago house, acid, electro, disco sometimes. I love the contrast, it keeps it fresh.

Q: While you have been playing now for two decades, your sets never have a retro feel. What new music have you been excited about lately? I can imagine that working at Rush Hour's shop for the last two years also introduced you to new people and new labels.

A: There is two Dutch producers I really like: Deniro and Nathan Surreal, in particular their tracks Monsoon 3 and A Feeling of Ikigai, and I really like this Hypomania release by Dust-e-1, an artist from Canada.

Q: Before this interview I had a look at Partyflock to see how far back I could trace your gigs, I found shows in 2004 but I think you were already playing before that. What was it like to starting deejaying in the early 2000s? Which people were supportive of your first steps? And how did you organize it for yourself, especially as a woman I can imagine the world of record shops and house clubs was not always welcoming or accessible.

A: In 1998 my sister took me to my first party in Amsterdam, Chemistry, here I also met Carlos Valdes first for the first time. A year later I borrowed a record player from a friend and started buying records. In the beginning I only had one player, so what I would do is, I would play music from the stereo, and in the room next door, I would try to mix a record into the music coming from the stereo.

Carlos and I basically followed the same path. We'd go to the record shop together, and slowly started to get invited to play at small bars. I would practice every day, and after a while I got a residency at a bar called Blitz. I got invited to play there every Thursday. Around that time I would go to the record store every Thursday and Saturday, always trying to be the first in, before the best new records were gone already. I was a student back then, so sometimes I had to choose between a good meal or a new record, often I would eat mac and cheese for days.

Q: I told you before you were the first DJ that come to our mind when we were planning the opening of this club. I remember how sad you sounded when you realized you could not come and play, and how much of a struggle that time was. Can you say something about those days, and what helped you out?

A: Around the opening of the club I was in the middle of a burn out, I literally could not do anything anymore. Zero energy. Right after that I got a hernia, which pushed me back again for many months. Talking with others and trying to connect to what I was feeling helped me out, and it showed me that I was not alone in these feelings. There were moments I got scared I had lost momentum, that nobody would be interested in me or my music anymore. But the opposite was true, I got all the support I needed from my family, fans and friends. I would say 2019 was my best year as a DJ so far - you could say I am on my way back.

Sandrien plays De Nieuw this Wednesday.
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