The dancefloor is a place to be weird, says DJ Worko

Finding great music isn't about genres but about sharing energies and enthusiasm with people, as Worko's club night Happy Survival wants to show

The dancefloor is a place to be weird, says DJ Worko

Worko is a producer, DJ, and music journalist. They have released music on Sherelle's compilation, Beautiful Vol. 1, alongside artists like Roska and Karen Nyame KG. They’ve played Balamii radio and Hoer and they have an EP out named hodgepodge.

Worko is also Sage Olufemi, younger sibling of my good friend in primary school. We’ve been working together on our project Close Quarters, a music, design and art project for Edmonton County secondary pupils. I really don’t remember ever talking to Sage when I was a kid in Edmonton, but as twenty-something queers we’ve got on like a house on fire.

Worko and AUM at Balamii

Rather than our school project I thought I would ask Sage about why they started their club night, Happy Survival, which is seeking to encourage open ears and curiosity (its tagline is ‘no requests. just dance’). They tell me about ‘weirdness’ being used euphemistically, and music being about sharing enthusiasm with people you like, rather than about genres.

The first installment of Happy Survival will be at The Glove That Fits on Thursday 20th April. DJs include AUM (@aapostropheisha) Fat-lip (@fat_lip_____) and Sharari (@sophiaharari). Tickets here.

How did you get the idea of starting a night?

It started with a couple of my friends who I wanted to run a club night with a few years ago. We always sent each other music, our tastes weren’t genre specific but we just really liked music, from gospel, to post-punk, to Dean Blunt. But due to various university commitments and differences we never made it happen.

But I found myself still thinking about it. Over the course of last summer-ish, I was kind of emailing venues and being like, Hey, I wanna do a club night. what do I need to do? And getting mixed responses and ignored sometimes.

Eventually I heard the song Happy Survival, which is a song by Eddy Okwedy. It's on this compilation of old like jazz and high life called Nigeria 70 - Lagos Jump. I just really liked the song, and the sentiment, “happy survival”.

It was really a snap decision. I was like, I'm gonna call it this. I have plans for it. I think it will be bigger than a club night, I hope. I was thinking that I want it to be a label as well for like people to release their music. For this event I’ve invited AUM, Fat-lip and Sharari to play. I primarily wanted to spotlight black DJs and black artists who are weird.

I just think that it would be nice to have a space where you feel like you can just play what you want and not feel like you need to be briefed. I'm trying to like build a network of like black DJs. I did a call out, and I was like, Hey, if you're a DJ, I know Black, please email me.

I'm trying to build up that network and have people that, play all kinds of music and not have genre specific nights, where I hate the, I hate the word, the ‘vibe’, but the, the atmosphere, is different. It might be faster, it might be slower, it might be, music from other countries.

It might be we're focusing on UK bass today. It might be like, you know, it's, it's just a bunch of different stuff. I think those are the nights that I enjoy the most. The nights were kind of where I go and I don't know what's gonna happen.

What made you focus initially on the club night rather than anything else?

I like DJing and I don't get booked, that's basically it. And I don't get booked probably cuz of poor self-marketing more than anything. I'm a digital native that maybe hates the internet a little bit. I don’t like the idea of having to  go on Instagram and be like, hi, I'm a dj, please pay attention.

I struggle with the idea of doing that so much and I think it stifles me. I wanted room to play what I enjoy playing and I think the other times I've been booked, I've enjoyed them,but  they've had a brief so I have to play these specific things or make sure that these songs and these genres are incorporated.

Then I was like, I don't know, I just wanna do a club night where I turn up on the day and I play whatever the fuck I wanna play at, any given time and people enjoy.
I think it's important to listen to things that you don't like sometimes, like, I don't know. I think that sometimes people will just love the shelter of listening only to things that they enjoy but I think that it's important to challenge yourself.

I've been thinking about this cuz with food, I have a thing where I wanna try every food there is in the world. And I've been wondering as is it the same with music?

So take aubergines. I never used to like them as a kid, but now that my tastebuds have matured and I've eaten more, I'm like, oh, I fucking love aubergines. Is it the same thing do you think with music where if you listen to something enough, you'll be able to understand or appreciate, what's good about this type of genre.

Yeah, no, that's actually a really good analogy. There's music that I used to listen to when I was, younger that as I've gone older, I've been like, in retrospect, I actually didn't like that very much.

Or my tastes have changed and  here are the reasons why I don't like it anymore.

What's an artist that you don't like in retrospect?

I used to be a really, annoying Brockhampton fan.

I so see that for you.

My god, I loved Brockhampton so much. Like, “Brockhampton are literally innovators”. Then when I listened to more music and I was like, no, they are actually aren’t at all.

What do you think that they do that appeals to people young people?

I dunno. It's like they arrived at the the right place, right time.

The pinnacle of Gen Z, checkered vans, ripped jeans, dyed hair, they, they arrived pretty much at the pinnacle of that in 2017 is when they really blew up and got quite popular.

The music itself is not so terrible, I just think I view it differently from how I used to view it when I was younger. And even with dance music now, which is the, the main thing that I enjoy when I was in school, everyone used to be like, ‘dance music is so shit, why would you listen to this? This is for white people, blah, blah, blah.’

And then I got older and I was like, that's actually really dumb. it doesn't make any sense. And it's also historically inaccurate to say that. and it's now well basically one of my favourite genres, if not my favourite genre of music, especially footwork, I like footwork a lot and I like dubstep.

Do you see the club as political?

It is, it is a hundred percent I think it is. Happy Survival is. Given that I'm the person who founded it, it’s an obviously queer-friendly space, but I feel like even when I've been doing the marketing, I haven't necessarily marketed it as a night for queer people. Not necessarily because it's not a night for queer people, but I guess because I didn't wanna market it that way.

My friend  called me the other day and was like, the marketing you're doing is trash. You need to describe what music you’ll hear on the night, and say please come if you enjoy these genres. I wanted to say, okay, everyone pertains to care about black people and care about black spaces, blah, blah, blah. Okay. So here are four black DJs who you probably don't know and your money is going to them and their careers. Primarily we want you to come and just kind of enjoy whatever they're playing or at least try and connect to it.

Marketing that doesn't take risks or marketing, that's very driven not just by the people running the night, but by the venues who need people to buy drinks. And it kind of puts people in a box as well. Maybe you don't know if you're gonna be an Afrobeats DJ or House DJ or a Techno DJ, especially if you’re just starting out.

I'm like, the point is that you're supposed to come and find out, rather than it be like, oh, here's exactly the songs that we're gonna play. I guess I wanted to attract a community of people who I felt are like me and my friends who are people who have open ears and like to listen to anything.

What's your identification with weirdness?

I've always been a bit weird, or at least perceived that way. when I was younger, when I was in school, I was kind of always just weird and I don't know why I, when I look back at it, maybe it was the Mohawk I had when I was in primary school. I don't know. I've just always been a bit weird and I never, never really known how to place it, but like, even in secondary school, people always used to like, make jokes about me just being alternative. Weird, strange. A liker of weird things, you know?

I think my perspectives on things have always just been a bit left of center and then just drifted and drifted and drifted as I got older.

I don’t know man, by weird I also mean gay. It’s a thing that my mom always says. She's always like, oh, you know, You are just a bit weird, you know, you're just a bit, you're just a bit strange. You are still a ‘boy’ and you still love women, but you are just a little bit weird with it, you know?

And I'm just like, the word that you're looking for is… on the tip of your tongue. But it's like, you don't wanna, you don't wanna access that.

I don't even necessarily think I'm weird. I think that there's a perception or an undercurrent of what is weird, and I think that that weirdness is maybe determined a bit by my blackness as well. When you are white, you can kind of just like things and no one's like, it's really strange that you like this, but like, I feel like sometimes when you're black it's like, oh wow, you like this thing.

I've always just felt, that was funny. Cause a lot of the time when something is called weird, if we take the example of dance, music and techno specifically, and how that's spoken about by a lot of black people who are not techno listeners. Techno is a white people thing and it's weird. And why would you like that? Because it just all sounds the same and blah, blah, blah, blah. Which I've always thought was kind of hilarious because yeah, I mean, as I mentioned earlier, it's historically inaccurate because black people literally invented it.

It's kind of funny to pit that against other genres of dance music that black people enjoy. Amapiano - that also sounds the same, in the same way that techno does. Cause when you have a genre of music, there are common themes in the genre of music, which means that it sounds the same! Amapiano is heavily influenced by other genres of dance music, i.e. house, i.e., all of that stuff.

That's why I'm like, it's not necessarily that I'm weird, it's that people could be a bit more open. To things that they don't usually explore and like, that's not me saying that you have to like something, but it's like. It's good to understand the world around you and to understand like media that you consume in a critical way, right?

Well, some people might be using it as like, you know, a therapy blanket? I mean, you can consume something therapeutic in a creative way but not everyone uses it like that. If your main purpose is to help you to create art, then sure, as you're saying, it makes sense that you wanna taste everything.

Yeah, taste everything. Rather than being like, oh, you know, being so specific as to what you, you will taste and what you will not taste by any means.

Mostly my attitude to music is like, I wanna know and I wanna understand, but I think a lot of the time my attitude to music is like, if I'm opening up Spotify, then I'm going to it as my safety blanket. It's like when I'm at home, when I feel like shit. I'm gonna listen to the same two albums or repeat. It seems like music can be what you are getting out of it, if that makes sense?

And that's the thing, I think there's also still room for art and media in a way that's just comfort. I think that that's also important. Hey, look, as someone who listens to, primarily James Blake all the time when I'm emotional, I get the, the uses of music as comfort.

I have listened to his album so many times that I get my friends to do the thing where they play one second of the song and I can tell you exactly which song it is for pretty much his entire discography. Special interest of sorts, I guess. Any point in the track. I could probably go on Mastermind and sit in the chair and answer 30 questions about his career, which is just quite hilarious.

Damn. But hey, it happens, James Blake, also an Enfield guy.

I feel like, I also feel like if he wasn't from Enfield, maybe I would feel less connected. That guy went to school 10 minutes away from my house. It's like, that's crazy.

How’s production going?

I'm just kind of like, I dunno, I'm in a limbo phase where I'm trying to decide what type of music I wanna make and then realizing I don't really have to decide.

I can just make whatever the hell I want, so I'm just making whatever the hell I want.

Tickets to Happy Survival are on RA here