Sally C joins our Zoom call from a cloudy, stereotypically grey Berlin, as the outro from a 90s House record casts radiant soundwaves across the room courtesy of her 1210 in the background as she adjusts her sitting position. She had been busy putting together her very first show as a BBC Radio 1 resident; a mix dedicated to the sounds and listening experiences in Dundee that introduced her to an alternative world of underground music and culture.
“There’s a lot of people who won’t know that I’ve been DJing for 10+ years and where that came from, so I felt it was fitting to dedicate the first show to The Readings Rooms, where it all began”, she tells me, speaking of the venue where it all began.
“The first record I ever bought is in there, Terrence Parker – ‘Your Love’. Putting together the first show has been really emotional for me. I went back into the music that got me into everything. Playing these songs again is such a reminder of where I was at the time, it was so monumental. I didn’t even realise it at the time, but I was in such an underground bubble. That was my education. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by fucking class people.”
To say Sally has come a long way since The Reading Rooms is an understatement. Now one of the most in demand underground DJs in the world – playing at electronic music institutions such as Panorama Bar and Robert Johnson to international festivals like Love International, Awakenings and Pitch Music & Arts – the Irish selector has taken the dance circuit by storm.
Her Big Saldo’s Chunkers records are regularly in high demand – the third instalment of which has just been released – and a debut outing on Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section label highlight Sally’s skill in the studio as well as the booth.
The beauty of dance music is within the cultural community that it generates. Sally’s dance music education at The Reading Rooms (catching DJs such as DJ Pierre, DJ Sneak, ESA, Mungo’s Hi-Fi and Mr Scruff) was made all the more spirited by the characters that populated this sonic ecosystem.
“I started DJing with a girl called Becci Butler, who I had a collaborative moniker with called Sister Swedge”, she says. “We lived together and were basically twins. We would wake up the next day after a big night and discuss all the tunes that were played. Sharing that with someone was so nice, we just decided one day to give DJing a go because we were so obsessed with collecting music.
“Becky played a lot of Disco sounds, whereas I was more House focused, so when it came together, we already had so much music to choose from. When we played gigs for the first time we already had a solid collection of music that we loved. I think that’s so important for people starting to DJ, you need to find what you love before you project it.”
As Sally rhymes off the list of people that made her time in Dundee so special, it’s clear to see where her musical influence has come from.
“My biggest influence was probably a guy called Ken Swift. He taught me how to DJ, we had such a good friendship. There was also Mallet and Jono too. They were a little older than me but very accepting. Mallet was really into disco, Swaft loved the old school house shit that I play a lot of now and Jono would have been a little more techy.
“I also can’t forget to mention one of my best friends, Sara Farnan. She was also a DJ back in the day and moved back to Dundee from Manchester, which is when we met, and the club owners – Jimmy and Grant – who were brothers. Jimmy was a character. They were very supportive of us being there.”
Sadly as is the case for creative hubs, The Reading Rooms was forced to close its doors in 2019 following a sustained police campaign.
“It was a really sad case of gentrification”, she says. “The Reading Rooms was a listed building, for me it was one of the most beautiful buildings in Dundee. In the ‘60s a lot of the buildings were knocked down in order to build high rise buildings, so a lot of the old architecture of the city was lost.
“Unfortunately there was a hotel built beside it after I left Dundee. They kept getting pushed by the council and the police, and eventually they pushed them out. It was a classic case of creative people being pushed out of spaces for corporate and economic benefit. I feel for the young people there now. I’m sure there are parties that are going on that are good, but it’s such a shame that young people who want to start DJing don’t have the opportunity for that kind of education.”
If Dundee was the intro, then Berlin is very much the chorus. Sally moved to the German capital when she was 23, and her next BBC Radio 1 resident mix will be dedicated to it.
“I’m going to do a Berlin special; I spent a lot of time on my own in clubs and record stores in Berlin, they were safe spaces for me. The mix will be dedicated to the tunes and sounds I was discovering at that time.
“There will also be a Chunkers special, because that’s what I’m all about! And for the last one I’m going to focus on newer music that is inspiring me today; from friends and colleagues that I really look up to. I feel like I’m a little stuck in the 90s, I don’t go digging for enough newer music, so I want to put a spotlight on some under the radar artists.”
From the sweaty clubs of Dundee to Vogue Italia, Sally C is one of the real ones. It’s refreshing to see such a welcoming, warm and deserving artist get their flowers. Never once forgetting where she has come from, Sally has captivated audiences and listeners around the world not just because of her music, but because of the energy that she puts out into the world, reflective of that in Dundee.
“I found my people in Dundee”, she says. “I started going to the Reading Rooms and that’s when I was catapulted into this whole new world. I was obsessed from the beginning. I resonated with house music so much because it made me feel something, it made me feel good. The people there were so accepting, it was a proper community.”
Words: Andrew Moore