Motion, one of Bristol’s largest venues, saw SICARIA take to the stage last Friday night at about 2:30am to much joy and anticipation. She revitalised the dancefloor with layered beats that stood out next to the classic stripped-back dubstep that had been played before her by old-school legends Mala and Coki. Nuanced and immersive her performance had arms waving and bodies bouncing into the early hours. Next, she does it all over again at the Drumsheds in North London.
As well as DJing she’s a fully-fledged music artist. Spiritual and highly connected to her Moroccan roots, SICARIA mined these references to create a complex, engaging EP Blood, Sweat & Self released last month. Dark, edgy and multifaceted the EP spans influences including but not limited to Chaabi, Nu Metal, Arab rap, Baile Funk, Grime and Drill. All sitting within 140BPM. Simply put, these are club and party bangers that you can’t help but move to. Grooving bass keeps, somewhat annoyingly, the songs being categorised algorithmically as dubstep but the layers of sound atop it disrupt stable genre labels that have been applied. For example, Still Swinging references Moroccan gnawa music, which holds a place of joy and celebration for SICARIA. Also Tout De sweet samples heavy rain and thunderstorms, making it have this gameplay feel to it as if part of the immersive world of Heavy Rain. Each track has its own unique spice, and we can’t help keep going back for more.
How did you start out DJing and making music? Please shed some light on your beginnings.
My journey into DJing and music creation began during my time studying Geography at UCL. While academia didn't fully captivate me, the allure of the club and festival scene became my escape from the university routine.
What struck me during these experiences was the noticeable absence of women on the dancefloor and, particularly, the absence of anyone who resembled me at the DJ decks. This ignited a spark within me to become a catalyst for change. With an initial foray into DJing using Pioneer CDJ 350s, I embarked on a journey, navigating the intricacies of mixing and music selection and a pivotal moment arrived when I secured a position at Radar Radio, a now-defunct radio station which opened my eyes to the vast potential within the music industry. It laid the groundwork for me to envision a full-time career in this industry.
Interestingly, despite my long relationship with DJing, I hadn't delved deeply into music production until the onset of lockdown. The unexpected pause granted me the time and space to explore this facet of creativity and it was during this period that I dedicated myself to honing my skills in music production.
Your recent EP is inspired by the photography of Cindy Sherman. Is it the uncanny eeriness of her self-portraiture which initially drew you in?
So this one has a bit of a backstory! My fascination with Sherman's work was actually a culmination of several influences, one of which is my connection with spiritual practices. This affinity has been a longstanding tradition in my Moroccan lineage, especially on my maternal side and my grandma would routinely practise palm reading when I was younger. While on tour in North America last year, I picked up a new set of oracle cards, adding to my collection. These cards, unexpectedly, became instrumental in shaping the trajectory of my music journey.
In the beginning of 2023, as I embarked on my musical venture under my new solo moniker SICARIA, I found myself repeatedly drawing the Cindy Sherman card during personal readings concerning the future of my musical career, which felt like an uncanny alignment of spiritual forces. And so it became obvious that integrating Cindy Sherman's work into my sonic palette was a sign from the universe; a pivotal element in the evolution of my creative expression.
It also probably helps that her aesthetic is a great visual representation of the eerie and enigmatic tones present in my music production!
It makes me think of AI. What are your opinions on AI and digital algorithms in music. Could they be interesting or is digital selection and curation homogenising?
Being an artist these days means juggling a whole bunch of roles – social media guru, networker extraordinaire, and even handling the financial side of our business. So, in that whirlwind of responsibilities, I'm all aboard the AI train if it can swoop in and lend a hand with the more mundane tasks we’re forced to adopt. Anything that frees up time for us to actually make music? I’m in.
Yet, when it comes to the nitty-gritty of using AI to create a live mix or curate a playlist, I'm not entirely convinced they've mastered the emotional intelligence that’s crucial in creating a compelling mix or a deeply resonant playlist. I feel like AI relies heavily on crunching data in big batches, and sometimes, its way of tagging or categorising music can miss the mark big time: it often lacks the nuanced understanding required to represent the intricate essence of a song. Let's take my EP, for instance. Across all these streaming platforms, every track got slapped with the dubstep label. But if you give it a spin, you'll realise not every tune fits snugly into that one-size-fits-all category. It's like trying to cram a square peg into a round hole, and some of my tunes might crop up in classical dubstep playlists or mixes and leave the listener feeling a little confused.
So here's to hoping us humans get to keep our gigs for the long haul! As much as AI has its perks, there's something about the human touch and understanding that adds that special sauce to the music experience.
There is an element of the video-gamey sound that Drill has to your music. Are you a gamer at all? What are your favourite games that may have influenced your production or artistic world?
It's really interesting that you've picked up on that vibe in my music! While I've not really been gaming too seriously nowadays, I was pretty immersed in it during my childhood years. Although I've stepped away from gaming, I guess the influence of those immersive worlds and the sonic environments within them still subconsciously find their way into my music.
Back in the day, my gaming preferences leaned heavily towards action-adventure, RPGs, and first-person shooters. Playstation was my go-to console (I’ll thank my brother for that) and there were a few standout games that left a mark on me – the entire Call of Duty series, Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed, just to scratch the surface.
There's this one game, Heavy Rain, that etched itself into my memory. It was like stepping into a cinematic universe, and oddly enough, looking back, I can definitely see my track Tout De Sweet seamlessly fitting into the sonic landscape of that game. The atmospheric vibes and storytelling in Heavy Rain seem to resonate with the essence of that particular piece. I mean I’ve even got heavy rain and thunderstorm samples in that track!
Would you say you have a rich imagination or is your music based very much on what’s around you?
You know what? Although I’ve never really thought about it I'd say I definitely fall into the camp of having a rich imagination. I'm a bit of a daydreamer and I feel like I’m constantly distracting myself from my own work by brewing up new ideas and chasing after creative sparks. But sometimes, I feel like I can get overwhelmed by a flood of ideas rushing in: almost like a thought shower on overdrive. It's a bit of a struggle because I want to dive into all these concepts and inspirations, but time and energy tend to play catch-up.
That's where my surroundings come into play. I've learned to lean on my environment to ground myself, to provide that context and direction. It's like the anchor that helps me sift through the whirlwind of ideas and focus on what needs attention. So, yeah, it's that delicate dance between the world of my imagination and the reality check that my surroundings offer. They both play a crucial role in shaping my creative process, balancing the boundless ideas with the practicality needed to bring them to life.
Freak 2 Freak is one of the standout tracks on your EP for me. It has a dark, confident edge. Does it reflect that side of your personality?
Thank you! I definitely had a lot of fun making that one as well and I feel like it came about quite easily. I feel like it’s a pretty authentic fusion of my personality with the space I occupy in dance music and I want to say that the dark, confident edge is quite possibly a reflection of me?
On one hand, it mirrors my affinity for a genre that often gets labelled as outdated or unconventional. I guess you could say I'm a bit of a freak in that sense, revelling in something that doesn't fit the current mould or isn’t really in line with current dance music trends.
But there's another layer to it. I'm also a bit of a freak in the industry landscape itself: being a North African woman making waves and carving out my space in a scene predominantly dominated by white men - that's its own kind of edge. So yes, Freak 2 Freak embodies this amalgamation of my musical tastes and my place in this vibrant, sometimes challenging, dance music universe. It's a little slice of who I am and the journey I've carved out for myself.
Did exploring different elements of your psyche for the EP come with any realisations?
Oh absolutely! It was a real eye-opener. It might sound a tad clichéd or maybe it's something a lot of people feel, but diving deep into this creative process made me realise how multifaceted I am beyond the persona I project through my brand. There's this complexity bubbling under the surface that's far richer than what meets the eye either on social media or in the rave.
Figuring out my sound has been a bit of a puzzle. It's not like there's this singular thing I resonate with. I'm all about embracing various sounds across the 140BPM spectrum. It's like my musical soul doesn't limit itself to one box, and that's been both exciting and a touch challenging. Honestly, it's a bit of a journey to find that perfect sonic representation of my nature as I’m trying to pinpoint what truly encapsulates both my musical palette and my personality. It’s funny because it’s probably making me come across as a little uncertain or lacking self-assurance, but I think a chunk of that stems from spending seven years operating as a duo. Going solo has been this whole reawakening, almost like hitting the reset button on self-discovery. It's like starting from scratch, piecing together my new musical identity.
Still Swinging references Moroccan gnawa music, it’s a spiritual tradition that uses repeated phrases to produce trance-like states. Tell us about your experience with gnawa music.
I’ve always said that I’m a dual blend - London-bred, Moroccan-led - because although I was born in London and carry a British citizenship, culturally I had a very Moroccan upbringing. This also means that my childhood was soundtracked by a lot of Moroccan and Middle Eastern musical traditions.
When you read up on gnawa, the descriptions often paint it as this meditative, serious, even intense genre. But let me tell you, the reality is far from that picture. Gnawa, in its essence, is actually quite the opposite. It's this vibrant, uplifting genre that's a staple at pretty much every type of Moroccan celebration, especially weddings and it’s pretty custom to have a gnawa band perform at your wedding.
So while gnawa might be portrayed as this deep, introspective sound, my experience with it has been all about joy, fun, and setting the tone for some unforgettable moments in my life. It's this wonderful mix of tradition and celebration that's been ingrained in me since childhood.
You’ve played on the same line-up as Skrillex and Peekaboo. What next? Who are you rubbing shoulders with?
That’s a difficult one to answer as I guess in the scenes and genres I navigate in, it doesn’t get much bigger than Skrillex! Honestly it’s been a big blessing being able to tick off a huge bucket list artist in my first year operating solo and hopefully we’ll be able to get some time in the studio together. I’ve played some more shows with Peekaboo as well and maybe they’ll be more in the bag for next year too.
But if we’re talking ultimate dreams? I’d love to work with some of my favourite UK or US vocalists in the next few years - fingers crossed I can manifest that into my journey.
What can we expect from your 8 December show Bicep curates The Hydra in London?
I can’t wait for this show! I’ve literally been looking forward to it since I initially received the booking, not just because it’s Bicep-curated but also because it’ll be my first time attending the already-iconic new Drumsheds space - and to perform as well!
You can expect a whirlwind of energetic dubstep and other high-octane, fun sounds, all clocking in around that lively 140 BPM mark. I’ve got my own tunes in there and I've got a few curveball tracks up my sleeve, fresh ones that I haven’t road-tested yet that might just slide seamlessly into the vibe of this audience. I guess you’ll have to come down and witness it yourself.