Known as the First Lady of Defected Records, Sam Divine has been making crowds dance for the last 20 years. Her love for the dance floor has carried over nicely onto the airwaves where she’s been presenting the label’s radio show for nearly 10 years. How did she go from a fan to one of Defected Records’ most recognizable faces? “You have to take risks, be knocking on doors, and have really really thick skin,” says the self-taught DJ. Sam Divine’s grit is a measure of success. Having unexpected time off the road, she shares how these disruptive times have helped her kick open the door to new habits. She also talks about the changing landscape of women behind DJ decks and the importance of forging your own path as an artist.
The love affair between Sam Divine and Defected Records first started at the weekly parties the label was known for hosting at the Ibiza club Pacha. Since then she set her sights on being as present with the label as much as possible making sure she got as much facetime wherever, whenever.Divine’s tenacity paid off big time. She’s been with Defected Records for almost 15 years and also runs a successful imprint of her own (DVINE Sounds), but that’s only the tip of the iceberg as with many success stories. Underneath it all lies dedication, determination and a hunger to keep pushing no matter what. “It takes time. 20 years [in] now, I can kind of look back and I’m pretty much at the top of my game, and I’m having so much fun doing. It hasn’t always been easy… […] build your community because you have to be in this for the long haul,” says Divine. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you put your mind to it and you’re really focused and determined, it’s the same in anything in life, you can achieve what you set out to achieve.”
Cut me open, and I bleed Defected.
You have to find what sparks a light. What’s that flame For Sam Divine? Defected Records.
Many artists pivoted when it became apparent that the pandemic’s grip around the world was tightening. COVID-19 has changed the way the world lives. People have found “silver linings” amid loss and isolation. Adversity can open doors to opportunity. “Most of my friends were drinking gin at 12 pm and having a lovely time….thank god I don’t like gin otherwise I would probably have been on the gin train as well,” laughs Divine. “I did 100 days sober and it was incredible.” The nightlife is breeding grounds for excessive drinking and substance abuse. Divine joins several other artists who are redefining and modifying their relationship with drinking.
It’s amazing, music sounds different when you’re sober
“I’m going back to the places that before I’d either be pretty much hungover or rolling through from the afters in Vegas getting on a plane. It wasn’t good for my body, but also mentally I took quite a battering because of it as well,” Divine explains. “I did 100 days [sober], and it was a complete game-changer for me. I noticed everything was a lot clearer and I was sleeping better…better relationships. My relationship with alcohol actually coming out of those 100 days [changed]. I took alcohol completely off my rider.” Through her strong will and with the support of those around her, she’s creating healthier habits to suit her current lifestyle. Surrounding yourself with people who champion good habits will help you in the long run.
Life is for living, but it’s about getting that balance—that’s the harder thing. It’s taken me 20 years of DJing and touring to actually now finally find a balance.
Being on the road takes a toll on the body and mind. So much so that it led Divine to a nervous breakdown prompting her to make some changes. She’s recognizing healing as a journey of its own and its slippery slope. The pandemic magnified the importance of self-care, and she plans on carrying her newfound healthier lifestyle and stronger mindset into life in a post-COVID-19 world. “Music is hitting differently as well, and I’m very, very vocal about [sobriety] because it’s too easy to get dragged back into it. Especially when we go back as well full-throttle everyone’s going to be going crazy, where the first three months I go back, I’m actually going to do it sober…try to do it sober,” she notes. “After you’ve not seen everyone for a year, right? ‘Let’s have a shot!’ I’m going to try my best anyway,” Divine says in a soft manner. “As I’m getting older, I’m kind of realizing that you can’t just do that forever, you can’t party forever. It’s so important to look after yourself…get your vitamins, eat your Wheaties…”
Everything is a strategy and that’s why a lot of DJs probably don’t make it as well.
Learn to crawl before you walk, maintain a steady pace during your journey
“There’s always been a strategy. […] It’s about making the right moves. You play the right parties, bring out the right music on record labels. […] It’s important to have a lot of strings to your bow,” explains Divine when it comes to building upon your wins. “I’ve got radio, a bit of presenting, production, DJing, my merchandise, my branding….All of these things when they come together and stars align that’s kind of when you hit the sweet spot. That definitely took well over 10 years.” Fresh-faced DJs are typically more eager and say yes to any gig that comes their way. They fail to realize (and accept) what’s feasible both on a professional and personal level. Many overlook logistics and ignore their well-being. The body needs rest and rolling into gigs won’t keep you in the game for long. Knowing when to say no is equally as important as saying yes.
It’s been an incredible journey. For me, now, it’s about traveling the world and meeting new people. I’ve made friends for life through DJing. […] There are so many amazing things that have happened in my life because of [it]. The most important thing that I probably would have told myself is to get that balance right. Probably not to party too hard—look out for myself a bit more.
Advice to her younger self, Sam Divine embraces her journey
Luck favors the relentless. From her early days as part of Defected Records’ street team and working at a record store, it would all be a matter of divine timing before crossing paths with Simon Dunmore. “I just connected with Simon. He took a huge gamble…Everyone was probably looking and saying, ‘What you’re signing a female DJ?’,” explains Divine. “It turned a lot of heads and people were talking about it because no other labels were championing female DJs at that point.” This positioned her well helping her build a presence within the club circuit and organizing events of her own. She hosted the first party featuring an all-female line-up of 27 DJs 12 years ago. “I don’t really think people knew it was a problem. We get used to seeing all-male lineups in festivals and clubs. We kind of got conditioned to that, to think that’s just normal,” Divine comments. “It’s having these conversations that puts it in the forefront of people’s minds. Over the next five years, we’re going to see a huge rush in the market of female DJs. I think it’s important for DJs like myself to be a good role model…prove that girls, you can do this. It is a slog. It hasn’t been easy because it is a male-dominated industry. I’ve come across a lot of sexism, but we’re stamping that out slowly.”
2021 is already looking brighter for Divine with some potential gigs on the calendar. She’s also hosting “House Music All Life Long,” Defected Records’ new U.S. radio show Diplo’s Revolution Channel 52 on SiriusXM. 23 million monthly listeners make up the label’s loyal online radio community. “On a two-hour show, we can take people on a journey,” Divine highlights. “It’s amazing we’re touching all four corners of the world. […] there’s just so much good music around. We could fill it every week with two hours” For her, it all comes full circle. She’s been listening to the Defected radio show for more than 10 years and presenting it for the last six years.
With the DJ market at its most competitive it’s ever been, how can an aspiring DJ breakthrough? “It comes down to how you carry yourself and the music you play. You have to stand out and be unique. […] It doesn’t come overnight. Everything comes through practice [just like] the best golfers and footballers. It takes years and years,” advises Divine. “It’s quite interesting in the music industry, everyone kind of sees this glamorous lifestyle and it looks all great but the background and the story…I started out in my mom’s shed in the garden. [….] It took 10 years to get to [here].” It’s not only about what you bring to the table (or decks), but also what people think of you. Make sure to treat everyone with kindness and respect because you’ll need their support one day.
For Sam Divine, it’s been a dream come true to sign with Defected Records. Together, they’ve been creating sparks on the dancefloor and show no sign of slowing down. Good thing Divine is always ready with a trusted pair of sneakers to keep her comfy while making crowds dance for hours on end.