IN CONVERSATION WITH GRACE DAHL
Grace Dahl is a 25-year-old techno DJ, born in Budapest. She is half Finnish and half Hungarian but, has lived in Amsterdam since she was 9 years old. Her deep-rooted love and passion for music have been inherited from her parents, that have been working in the music industry which eventually lead her decision to start a career as a DJ when she was 18.
Grace is currently at the forefront of the thriving local scene in The Netherlands and swiftly accelerating toward international recognition. Consistently delivering top-notch performances, she recently joined Vault Sessions as one of their resident DJs. Recent highlights include appearances at HÖR Berlin, Vault Sessions and Awakenings at Ziggodome ADE, Easter & Summer Festival. Her latest productions have been released on Voxnox Records and Amelie Lens’ imprint, EXHALE. With more impressive gigs and productions coming up combined with her undeniable drive and focus, Grace is on her way to making her vision become reality.
Interview by Mariana Malheiro
Photos Credit: Dion Bal
1. How would you describe your techno music to those who haven’t listened to you before?
I would describe my sound as a wide selection of styles, mostly consisting of powerful yet groovy techno with an abundance of old school and hard groove influences throughout. However, I’ve been really into the more deeper and hypnotic spectrum of Techno lately. I love that I can seamlessly layer the tracks on top of each other using 3 or 4 decks. Using the percussion of one track, the lead of an other and the low end of them together. Doing this has spiked my creativity a lot and has lead to swift developments within my technique and selection, while granting the access to way more possibilities to produce a set that is unique each time.
Eventually, the selections I prepare for a set depend on many different factors such as the type of concept, venue (large or intimate, warehouse, festival or club, indoor or outdoor etc.), who’s playing before/after me, which season we’re in and what kind of crowd I can possibly expect based on all of previous components. Most important to me is that the crowd is enjoying themselves, moving their body freely and that we expand our minds together.
2. Was it techno, something you always loved taking from your parents? When did this passion start for you? Can you tell us a bit more?
My true passion for Techno specifically started when I was about 17 years old. Of course I had heard it often while growing up, for example when my dad was playing his vinyl’s or CD’s, but I wasn’t all too interested in it then. In my young teen years I was mostly listening to either Hard Rock, Drum ‘n Bass or 90’s Hip Hop. Besides listening to music I also really enjoyed singing and playing guiter to anything within the realm of Neo Soul, R&B and Indie Pop. Fast forward a few years is when I met my current partner who introduced me to the more modern spectrum of Techno, believe it or not. We met at a Drum ‘n Bass event when I was 16, which is now almost 10 years ago. He often put on mixes by Joseph Capriati and Richie Hawtin in the car and we started going to some Techno events here and there. I definitely enjoyed it, but it somehow still didn’t fully click for me yet. Then one night in 2014, I attended a UK Techno Special by Awakenings in the Gashouder. That changed everything for me. Happa, Rebekah, Gary Beck b2b Mark Broom, Surgeon and Shifted (I’ll never forget that line-up). This was the moment that everything came together and where I discovered a style that truly resonated with me.
Shortly after that night, when I was 18, I made the decision I was going to start my journey towards this craft. I started practicing a bit on my partners Numark controller and eventually followed a mixing & production course at DJ School Amsterdam. Those classes were very helpful for me to learn mixing with a more mathematical approach, mainly focused on timing and beat matching. Finding and applying my personal style and flow came gradually with time and experience playing for crowds. That’s something you simply can not teach. After that I started building my profile slowly and started having my very first gigs in Amsterdam. Fast forward to 2019 is when I had a few big milestone moments, such as winning the talent contests for Reaktor Unpolished and Soenda Festival which granted me a spot on their line-ups and marked my name on the map. The following year in February, just before the pandemic started, I had my first gig for Vault Session. It was during their weekender at Warehouse Elementenstraat and actually was one of my last gigs before everything got put on hold for all of us.
During the pandemic I was lucky enough to have a full-time job as a manager at Coffee Company, which gave me some security so I could spend all of my free time on production. All that free time spent on productions eventually lead to many releases that year, including my track “Vermilion Empire” being released on Amelie Lens’ imprint EXHALE in October 2020. This was another huge milestone moment for me, and I can’t thank Amelie Lens enough for the trust and support from the early days of my career up until now. After a few lockdowns, re-openings and more lockdowns, another milestone moment happened in September 2021 during the Unmute Us Demonstration in Amsterdam. Almost all nightlife collectives came together and had their own trucks with blasting music driving through the city. Vault Sessions asked me if I wanted to play on the truck they had together with Awakenings and Reaktor, and obviously my answer was a hell yes!
What happened during that demonstration was something I could have never imagined. I was playing after Stranger b2b Speedy J and Talismann (which was nerve-racking enough), but the amount of people that came out was just totally insane. When it was my time to start the adrenaline rush was so intense that I could barely control my fingers and hands while adjusting the EQ’s. It’s safe to say it was a huge success and further solidified my name due to the sheer amount of people that attended and that heard my set. If this wasn’t already exciting enough, this special moment eventually lead to my first booking at Awakenings in October 2021 during their ADE show at Ziggodome. I’m not afraid to admit I totally ugly cried when that booking came in. Besides the specific milestones mentioned, there have been two unconditional support systems that hold a special place in my heart; Vault Sessions and RADION. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again, but both have had an immense, if not the biggest impact on my development as an artist. To be able to call myself a Vault Sessions resident now is just incredible and such a huge honour. Playing for their events with their absolutely stellar line-ups keeps on pushing me every time to deliver the best that I possibly can, even more so as a resident.
All of that being said, I’ve been continously amazed by the beautiful journey I’ve been allowed to experience through music, all the collectives and venues that contributed, all the lovely people I’ve been able to meet… I simply can’t wait for all that’s yet to come. This is just the start!
3. With your parents musical influence, do you think that formed your perspective of the music scene? And if so, how was it for you to find your own style and voice, or do you have similar styles?
I’ve always been quite independent (maybe even a bit stubborn), and I’d like to think I’ve applied the same independence within my taste in music, finding my own style and voice has been something that comes naturally to me. However it would be naïve to think I haven’t been influenced greatly by my parents and my surroundings in general of course! I’ve definitely noticed the influence through out the many genres I enjoy listening to. Even when it comes to 90’s Hip Hop, my father and I share similaraties which is no coincidence. I’ll be blasting “A Tribe Called Quest” and he’ll opt for “Public Enemy”. The same way I like Drum ‘n Bass, he likes Jungle. So there is definitely a red thread through out. My mother enjoys many genres too, I’ll always remember watching her record parts of the radio to make her own mixtapes with songs like “King Of My Castle” by Wamdue Project or “Don’t Mess With The Messer” by Grace Jones.
All in all — My strong desire to find and express my own style and voice also has a lot to do with the open minded upbringing I’ve been so lucky to have, so I’d say another thank you to my parents for always giving me the space to grow and develop my identity in it’s own merits.
4. What is your creative process while composing a track or dj-ing?
If anyone reading this has figured out their creative process while composing a track, please let me know! Jokes aside; my process is honestly still kind of all over the place, sometimes I’m working on a track for weeks and never become satisfied (are we ever?). Other times I finish 3 tracks in a week and feel ready to release them on the spot, which is also not recommended. This in combination with a gradual shift in style and musical direction has resulted in not having released much in the past year now sadly. But I feel determined for this upcoming year to work towards an efficient workflow and to seriously start planning some releases, or even just finishing tracks to keep as secret gems for my sets only.
5. Who are your musical inspirations and key influences? If you could choose an artist or DJ to work with, who would that be?
One person I must give a personal shout-out is the super talented Alarico, who’s tracks I’m certain many DJ’s have in there library at the moment. Insane producer, very skilled DJ and and just an overall genuine and kind person. I would love to work with him sometime to have an insight into his creative process. I’m actually not sure I’ve told him this directly but after hearing his productions and hearing him perform a few times, it inspired me to dig deeper and be more confident in the sound I truly love to play. In the short time we’ve been acquainted he has definitely been a big inspirer and I am 100% sure he will achieve everything and more. You deserve it brother!
Other key inspirations and influences in no particular order have been: Paula Temple, DJ Rush, and Daria Kolosova for many years and more recently Quelza, Nørbak, VIL, and Mathys Lenne. I must also add that all the people in my direct surroundings inspire me daily in many different ways. My partner initially inspired me with the interest in this specific genre (among numerous other reasons), all my friends that are on their own creative path and greatly succeeding in fashion, photography, music, and/or (graphic) design, and of course my parents for all that was mentioned earlier. They are definitely the biggest inspirations for me in general!
6. Nowadays there are some big female names in the techno industry, but it is still a male predominant field. How difficult is that for you and what do you do to overcome this?
To be honest I’ve never felt it as being difficult. I am very secure in my identity and what I bring to the table so it would take a lot for that to be shaken up by any type of comment or opinion thrown my way. Though that doesn’t change the fact that it is indeed a male predominant field and that it is important to highlight this through conversations and events that focus on inclusivity and diversity. I will always stand behind that and would want to protect any woman or minority in general who possibly feels uncomfortable in any way.
However if I seclude this question solely to my own experience, it has never felt as if my gender has played a role in my career, neither have I felt the need to fight harder to prove something. Of course I’ve received odd comments from peers sometimes such as being “surprised” by my set, selection or technique (thank you, I guess). But people so easily showing their true colours and personal insecurities without even realising it most of the time is quite comedic to me more than anything else. I make a little mental note of it and just continue focussing on my own path and goals.
Stand behind your message, identity and what ever sound you like and be confident in your skill and abilities. No one else will do that for you. — Most importantly, don’t let anyone bring you down with some mediocre comments that hold no weight. You got this!
7. Can you tell us a bit about any future projects? Any collabs?
I will be playing at Awakenings on NYE this year which I am incredibly excited about. It will be my first time playing in the Gashouder which will always be the ultimate Awakenings location! Can’t think of a better way to enter the new year than in the place where I’ve been inspired so many times as a visitor in the past. Besides that, my father and I have been practicing mixing together these past months, and the main goal was to be able to play a b2b set sometime in the near future. I’m super proud to announce that this goal will come to fruition very soon!
I will be playing all night long at BASIS in Utrecht on the 20th of January and I have invited my father to play b2b for a few of those hours. We’ve recorded a special video interview with BASIS where we go a little deeper into how this came about, which will be coming out early December when the ticket sales go live for the event. Both my parents have been heavily involved in (electronic) music, and during their journey of organizing events my dad played a cheeky set or two in his younger days. So it is an absolute dream to share a memory like this together. We can’t wait!
8. What would be your piece of advice to those who want to become and pursue a career as a DJ?
I remember receiving one certain piece of advice constantly when I just started about 6 years ago: “You have to go out as much as possible to network if you want to achieve your goals” — In one way I agree with this advice, it certainly will help you along the way if you become a familiar face in your local “scene” but on the other hand I questioned it. Was it utterly vital to do as told even if it didn’t fit my true nature?
Don’t get me wrong — I love visiting events, enjoying the loud and crisp sound systems, learning what works on a dance floor, and being inspired by the many talented artists out there. However, it was not something I was planning on doing just because my peers said it was crucial. I still 100% stand by the belief that I can achieve all of my goals and more without doing the “usual” 101. I can now confidently say that going out to “network” every weekend was not a vital necessity. I have gained so many beautiful connections by visiting and supporting collectives at my own slower but steady pace. Thinking back to how I started as an eighteen-year-old knowing absolutely no one in the community, to where I find myself today, is something I am so thankful for. It’s okay for some things to take time and for connections to build gradually.
The main advice I hope to encourage with this anecdote is to truly believe in your unique skill first and foremost and to fulfill your passion and ambition with integrity — in a manner you would feel most comfortable doing so. All else will most definitely follow.