Samantha Duenas, AKA SOSUPERSAM, is having the best start to the year. Her R&B club night is expanding way beyond the bounds of its LA birthplace, she released her own EP last year, and she’s just finished touring Australia and New Zealand with the world-famous Soulection crew. Sam has journeyed through multiple ‘lives’ – from dancer to fashion PR – before fully immersing herself in the music industry but even this chapter is starting to evolve. It’s all part of her high risk, high reward approach to life. Someone who understands the juggle all too well is Melbourne’s own JADE ZOE – DJ, presenter, and co-founder of CRXZY SXXY CXXL. The pair sat down during Sam’s visit to Melbourne to bond over performance anxiety and balancing multiple professional commitments.
Jade Zoe: This is your first time in Australia. Do you love it?
SOSUPERSAM: I love it. Australia was on my travel bucket list for this year. 2017 just started so it’s really nice to be able to check this off. I can’t believe I get to come here and make music.
J: I feel like Soulection in LA and The Operatives, who are touring you here in Melbourne, are quite similar in what they’re doing in their respective cities. The Operatives are really good at finding new artists, educating the city on new tunes and putting on dope shows. Would you say that Soulection has similarly done a lot for the LA scene?
S: Yes, absolutely. It’s been really incredible to see everyone flourish and grow and not just make an imprint in LA but be able to make a global imprint. I think largely in part from the tenacity of Joe Kay doing Soulection radio, week in and week out for six years, and growing the platform from a college radio station to Apple is phenomenal. Being a part of that, I think that’s how we can connect with people like The Operatives in Australia and really build communities around the world with people who are doing similar things in their local community. And I think that’s what so fun about travelling – I flew 25 hours to find that music is permeating every corner of the earth.
J: You joined Soulection in 2014. How important do you think it is to be part of a collective?
S: It’s super important. What I’ve learnt over the past few years is collaboration and doing things as a group and getting people involved is really rewarding. At the same time I think it’s also important to keep in mind, what makes you special and kind of navigate your own personal brand and have it grow in parallel with the people who support you. It’s a very symbiotic relationship but I think a lot of individuality needs to happen alongside a collective spirit too. So I think they’re both equally important.
J: I can relate to that. I DJ and also run my own party, CRXZY SXXY CXXL, and finding that balance can be hard. To give an even amount of attention to both because they’re both just as important.
S: It’s just about keeping that balance and doing it in such a way that both things foster each other, which I’ve found is the case for myself. Being a part of Soulection and then I also throw my party in LA, called 143, so balancing those two things and being able to book things on my own and having a very distinct personality as myself versus who I am as a part of these entities.
J: Yeah that’s true. I was going to ask about your night 143, starting out as a DJ then creating your own night, how did that come about? What was the inspiration to start your own party?
S: Completely organic as well. So very similar in the way I joined Soulection, it was a complete accident. I think a lot of people focus on, “I need to start something, I need to do something”. And really it’s just like do what feels really right to you at the moment with your friends and make it a happy accident, if it goes well. Do you know what I mean?
J: Yeah, totally.
S: So with 143, I was in LA just sort of bouncing around trying to get residencies and have some sort of regularity with my schedule and my income. This new bar opened up and they approached me and asked if I wanted to do a monthly. I’d come in and I’d play what I’d usually play which is a mix of rap, classic hip-hop, boogie, R&B, and a little bit of house. And after that night they were like,”We love you. We want you to keep coming back but we don’t want you to play anything that has heavy low-end, we don’t want you to play rap, we don’t want you to play house.”
J: So they were kind of dictating what they wanted you to play?
S: They were like “This a speakeasy, we want you to keep it mellow”. I think limitations push you to think outside the box. They told me what I can’t do, but what’s left that I feel good about that will make them happy? SLOW JAMS! Me and my two friends, we would always joke “What if we had a slow jam night? That would be the worst idea ever! That would be the worst party of all time”. We called it 143 because it’s the old pager code for “I love you”. I was just being a teenage hoodrat doing hoodrat things – sending mixtapes to my crush, singing Mariah Carey, all of that. So using that sentiment we created a night, and it’s called 143. We had no expectations other than free drinks, we’ll play K-Ci & JoJo, no one will like it and we will have the best time.
J: But everybody liked it and now it’s huge.
S: It grew pretty fast. We had no idea but it just blew up instantly. We started to realise there is no other party like this, especially in LA. I can’t speak for other parts of the world but in LA at the time there was nothing like that. Everyone was going for the turn up, the big drops, and we were doing exactly the opposite. We want to play old songs that no one’s heard in 20 years and that no one even hears as a group. It’s something that’s very personal experience, maybe between you and a loved one, but certainly you don’t play it at a party. We had no idea what we had in our hands. It’s been almost four years. It’s been amazing to have our own night.
J: What is the best thing about having your own night?
S: We have just been trying to make our silly ideas come true. Whether it’s like “Hey, we should get Sisqo to come and sing ‘Thong Song’ and why not, and he should surprise everyone. First it sounds like a joke and then we’re like “We can really do this”, so we did it. Another thing I really like about having my own night is I get to book my homies from all over the world. It’s been really great to have all my friends come and play and take care of them in that way and show them a good time. Also we’ve had some of my absolute DJ heroes come and play like A-Trak, Questlove, Ta-ku, and Ryan Hemsworth. Then just to be able to book acts like Ginuwine and Mya and just the ceiling for this party has been almost non-existent. So this year, it’s been about expanding. We’ve done this party all over the country in the US and Canada and this year is about Asia.
J: I follow your party and it’s literally like a ‘90s R&B baby’s dream come true with the music you play and the guests that you have. Are there any future guests you’d like to book?
S: Definitely love to have Syd the Kid come and play, Kelela, and Monica, I just saw her perform, she did such a great job. We have our anniversary coming up, and it would be pretty awesome to get one of those artists to play our anniversary show. I don’t know, we will see. But yeah, we are doing Asia this year which is a big goal. I’m Filipino, so I’ve been wanting to do 143 in Manila and it’s going to happen this year. We’re going to do Jakarta as well. I would love to bring it down to Australia.
J: So what’s your all time favourite slow jam?
S: SWV, ‘Weak’. I mean it’s kind of the best song ever.
J: So two of my friends and I always drive around and play Aaliyah ‘One in a Million’ and AZ YET ‘Last Night’ and sing it really loud in my car.
S: Oh my gosh. The lyrics are so bad too.
J: So bad! It reminds us of high school. And like you said before, we’ll just start laughing because it’s so ridiculous
S: It’s so ridiculous because back then like all the different ad-libs in the songs. They’re so memorable too and so weird. We were singing to Toni Braxton ‘He Wasn’t Man Enough for Me’, the other day and I was just like wow her ad-libs are out of control. What is she even saying?
J: Yeah, theres one where she’s like “I’ve already had your man”.
S: Yeah and she’s like screaming it. Who even says that?
J: I love it. That era. Everyone just said whatever they wanted to say.
S: And people were just feeling so hard. We just try not to pigeonhole us as a decade party, which is great. I think we kind of though should it be a decade party or a genre party? Lets just do R&B because I think it’s important to bridge old R&B with new R&B. Then you can keep evolving and understand like where Tory Lanez got a lot of his samples and things like that. And I think it’s sick to be able to play Sade against Bryson Tiller and play D’Angelo but also play New Jack Swing and New Edition stuff. It’s a really nice tie-in.
S: So what’s been a struggle or a challenge of having your own night?
J: I think the main challenge was really formalising it into a business. We have two partners and we all have different jobs and 143 is just our fun thing and it was kind of weird getting to that point where you have to accept like, “I know we are all having fun but we have to organise this and I think we are a business.”
J: Yeah, we had to do that too. We were like let’s register CRXZY SXXY CXXL. Like, what?
S: Yeah, “143 worldwide” [laughs] So just formalising that and building a good team around that. It was just the three of us when we started and now we have a core team of about 12 people. From our door guy to our cashier to our social media person, person who designs the merch. We all have a really solid squad and I think building that was definitely a learning curve. But yeah, you kind of learn a lot of different skills along the way about running a business.
J: Like how to be a boss?
S: Yeah, am I a boss of R&B parties? I don’t know. It’s very strange.
J: Do you ever get nervous before a gig?
S: Yes. I don’t know if it will ever go away. Crippling anxiety before everything, every show.
J: Same. I actually get so nervous. I don’t think it does. How long have you been DJing for?
S: Oh too long, like 8 years.
J: I’m on like 6 and still always nervous. So let’s talk about your EP. Usually DJs move into producing but you bypassed that and went to singing. What lead you there?
S: Well, I was trying to produce because the usual trajectory is to head into a production space and start making your own music. And I was like, “Ok let’s make some beats fam and I would sit down and have all the sound packs and a folder of exclusive snares and I was like I don’t like this. But then I was like you know what, I haven’t sang in a long time. I started to really analyse, why haven’t I sang in so long? Singing used to bring me so much joy. The last time I sang, I was in a band and we had a horrible break up. I didn’t want to go back to a band but I didn’t realise in leaving, I’d subconsciously silenced myself. I just kind of turned that part of my memory, of my brain, off. I guess it was a coping mechanism and I was like, “Man, fuck that. I gotta try again.” You know, like really tap into that place where it did bring me so much pain and confront it once and for all and really start to try to write because that was so fun.
J: Did you forget that it was fun?
S: I forgot that it was fun. It turned into scar tissue. I was writing alone and wasn’t having the best time and full of self doubt. Stressing about everything I was writing and eventually I linked up with two friends who became my writing partners and we wrote a song together in three hours. So I was like, “Well, what else can we do?” I was just rinsing and repeating this fun process with these amazing girls and we came up with my EP.
J:So who would be your dream collaboration? On one of your future tracks?
J: Do you have other goals?
S: I’ve hit a lot of my goals for this year. I want to play on every continent possible. I want to put on 143 in Manila. I want to have my own radio show. I want to be a mum – that’s a big goal. And I really want to sing at a festival.
‘Link Up’ is a space for artists to interview one another about things that only artists would understand. You can follow the series here.