The Melbourne DJ using her platform to highlight the issues facing First Nations people
By Rachael Morrow on August 12, 2020
Soju Gang has been a prominent figure in the Melbourne club scene for years, but now she’s making a name for herself as the DJ instigating the party. With rhythms imitating classic 80’s/90’s hip hop and R&B, she emits this fearless exuberance. Her pre Covid-19 residencies, at Ferdydurke and Laundry Bar, are where she is renowned for creating this vibrant, nonstop party atmosphere. Her iconic style has played a large part in shaping her public persona, which she has recently harnessed in the vision of SAWFT; a clothing label focused on “highlighting the importance and beauty of an individual.”
In light of the current BLM movement, Soju has been using her platforms to discuss the issues facing First Nations people in Australia. Her clear and to-the-point conversation style, has created the space for honest and open dialogues. She may be seen as one of the more public figures tackling these problems, but she has always stood firm in her position as a community member. We spoke to Soju about her experiences as an Indigenous woman within the music scene, and how we can all further support First Nations people.
Tell us why you love music?
Music was a big part of my life growing up. My father is a musician and regularly played guitar; where family events usually turned into a space where musicians would jam along with each other.
Who was your biggest musical inspiration as a kid?
As corny as it is – Michael Jackson. My family are huge MJ fans. He was always playing in the background. When I was five I received an electronic diary for my birthday that opens with your voice. It was faulty, so I went to the store to replace it. Mum asked me if I wanted it replaced or if we just wanted to get the money back and buy something else – I wanted the latter. Walked straight into Sony and bought a MJ greatest hits DVD. Watched it every single day learning dance routines and songs. I think his involvement in my life was really important. Learning how back in the day he came and visited local Indigenous community in my area to learn more about mob, seeing him change skin colour over the year’s kind of made me feel a little more secure about myself (as Indigenous mob come in all colours and shapes – as a kid I saw that as, yep, blackness isn’t colour, it’s just who you are). He was a constant, so when he died I cried for two weeks. I mean, I didn’t know him at all. But I think his death represented how limited time is here on this earth. My family faces many many deaths. But up until then, I didn’t have anyone directly close to me pass yet. It was like a reality check to say – people won’t be around forever.
Talk us through your creative process?
I’ll admit I don’t really have one. I mean, I’ve always wanted to be someone who does stuff as personal to me as possible when it comes to creative outlets. But I’ve never really had any formal process.
How do you feel our concept of the musical genre has changed over the years?
I have no idea. I think just having a space that now allows more people from different walks of life really has given the opportunity for parts of oneself to be explored more. Like seeing the line between masculine and feminine be blurred. Understanding others more and accepting the people they are. It’s really opened up the kind of music that can be made.
What is your go to artist/genre when dealing with heartbreak?
I never really have anyone in mind. It usually depends on the situation. Artists I find to be amazing right now to listen to when it comes to heartbreak (not necessarily being heartbreak to do with love) is Philly The Aboriginal and Lady Lash, and also Mahalia. The genres of course being soul and R&B.
Who do you think is currently changing the music industry?
WOC/QPOC have been making huge waves recently that I think have been both important and monumental in the music industry. Exploring the diversity of our narratives rather than adopting the binary of what is already available to adopt, but also the array of expression both through the music, and the art of visuals accompanying.
What has been the biggest struggle in pursuing your dreams in the music industry?
I will say there’s never really been any major issue that I face. There’s still, in large part, a boy’s club when it comes to the music scene. Bigger opportunities are given to men rather than women/queer artists. I guess the struggle is within myself. Navigating whether I’m just feeding into certain positions as a token artist, or understanding that I have a right to be there. But also learning to pick and choose opportunities that come my way – whether realising that there’s tokenism at hand, or there’s a genuine want to be more inclusive.
What are some of the challenges you’re facing during Covid-19?
Learning to be alone. I’ve dealt with a continuously depleting mental health over the years and a way I’ve always deflected some parts of that is the distraction I get when surrounding myself with others in spaces that take over my attention and senses. Having that option as an escape. During self isolation I haven’t had that – and it’s been real hard. But I’m learning to manage my inner thoughts and feelings better to now properly work towards a healthier mind.
How do you personally navigate the creative industries as a POC?
Understanding exactly what I bring. As an Indigenous woman I ensure I do my best to give my time and space to those who are genuine about inclusion, rather than being happy with every opportunity that comes my way. As a woman of colour I must be aware that at times organisations or people can use POC as devices to make whatever they’re doing look “diverse” or “inclusive”. At times it’s realising that they’re performative and walk away – or using that time and space to create more pathways. It’s not something I will say I’m perfected in; but it’s something I want to actively work towards achieving.
What prompted you to become so vocal with the BLM movement, in Australia?
I never really had the opportunity to be silent. At least I don’t see it that way. My family have always been vocal (in their own ways of course). Whether it’s rallying, making changes amongst the community, or making changes in their workplaces. My mother and father ensured I was raised in community – by community. Above all, the most genuine thing you can do in your lifetime is work towards the betterment of them. Of course they also have raised me to be my own person; to pursue my passions, work on the person I am as an Individual – but it doesn’t mean that the person I grow into cannot be someone who conducts positive change amongst my mob. At the end of the day, being vocal about issues that directly affect my community hasn’t really been about being a part of a movement, it’s about the protection and wellbeing of the ones I love. Fighting for your loved ones. The way that this government treats Indigenous people and people of colour, has directly impacted me and my family. We’ve lost family members, friends. We watch as those around us suffer. I don’t get to be silent about that, I won’t.
How do you manage being a kind of spokesperson for your community on issues surrounding race and injustice?
I don’t see myself as a spokesperson at all and I would never call myself that. I’ve always said I see myself first and foremost as a community member. I was privileged enough to grow up with a mother who taught me how to develop a strong, concise voice and I use that to do what I can as a community member. My mother has a long history with working with local and state government organisations, and gave me the tools to communicate not only with people who work in that field, but being able to translate what I have to say amongst a diverse range of audiences so it is direct and understood. I stay true to that, and use my skill of communication whenever I can.
How do you think other POC can help support (not take away from) the problems facing First Nations People?
Just being present and doing what you can. I think there’s always been the fear of what being in solidarity can do to someone’s reputation/position. There’s always been some type of stigma around the kind of people who support First Nations mob. That needs to be broken down not only in the working systems that exist in society here in Australia, but also within ourselves. So just working through that, and being ready to do the work mob asks of you.