Age || 26
Job Title || DJ / Fashion & Lifestyle Blogger
Years living in New York || 8
Social handles || @samantharekas
Media || soundcloud
What did you want to be growing up?
Famous. I wish I was kidding, I know that sounds ridiculous — but I did a lot of modeling and acting growing up and I loved music and fashion... I loved performing but mostly because I think I just love connecting with people and I always wanted a career that would allow me to share what I loved with other people that loved it too. When I was younger I said to my dad once, "I don't even belong to you, I belong to the world." Very ridiculous, but I really thought being a pop star or someone who could act, sing, have a clothing line and whatever else was the only option to do everything I loved without choosing.
What’s the best piece of advice you were given when you were starting out?
Ok, so funny story... I asked someone that I look up to, whom I was learning a little from at the time, what his advice to me was now that I had decided to really go for it... & he literally deadpanned, "Don't." He was half-kidding. It's complicated because nightlife can be a toxic environment, and he knew my passion for music could potentially get lost along the way, as it had for him over the years. But we talked a lot right before my first set and he just reiterated to me how important it is to stick to playing what I love and to define who I am as an artist right out of the gate. I’ve been able to do that so far.
How do you define success?
I guess I feel successful as long as I can remain as autonomous as I am now and have really always been. I’ve technically been self-employed since I was 15... and I really value being able to make my own schedule, work for who I want, when I want — juggle different projects, move at my own pace (which is usually so fast it’s honestly verging on unhealthy). I have a great deal of freedom in my day to day life and my happiness (or lack thereof) really comes down to me. I think that’s scary for some people who are looking for a little more security or consistency, but as long as I have that insane control in my life, I’m really happy.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned since starting out?
Probably not to take myself so seriously and to just trust my instincts. I was really in my head at first, knowing that no one outwardly loves/hates DJs more than I do and I wanted to be able to put my money where my mouth was. But after my first set, I was really like, “Wow, there's a reason people have been telling me to DJ for years and there's a reason why not one single person that I told when I decided to start was even slightly surprised.”
What is your go-to motivational quote?
The time will pass anyway. Either start today, tomorrow, in a year, or never. But the time will pass anyway — whether you're making progress or whether you’re making excuses.
What made you interested in starting to DJ?
It had been suggested to me a zillion times over the years, by friends and strangers alike... anyone who heard me guess the next song a full 20 seconds before it started. I love music more than anything. I knew I could do it. But I was also more than content with my place on the couch jumping around, pretending I was a pop star while someone else did the hard work and dealt with the actual logistics. But at the end of last year, I was in a pretty bad place mentally and emotionally, had so many life changes happen all at once and the opportunity literally seemed to fall out of the sky. The excuses I made before and the opinions I worried about had no ground to stand on anymore because I literally had nothing left to lose. It was timing, for sure.
Do you have a personal motto?
It's probably my Instagram bio, which I don't even remember the origin of anymore... "you can either rock out with me, or I’ll rock out without you and you'll look lame." I have the absolute best time when my favorite songs come on and I'm completely uninhibited. I don’t care about anyone (except for maybe the DJ and that’s on a good day). I get death glares every single night from girls who'd rather sit still and sip their drink. I don’t understand! You can do that at home! Whatever. I jump on the furniture, they blend right in with the furniture. But maybe just get up, embrace your surroundings - twirl in a circle by yourself for all I care. Chances are, you’ll have a better time than if you sit still and worry about me all night.
Which women inspire you?
In music? Grimes. She's incredibly hands-on when it comes to the production and engineering of her own music - she even does the artwork for her albums and has directed a lot of her own videos. I could spend hours watching videos of her live mixing. And she's a Pisces, like me. She’s this alien fairy princess kind of being - fluid between genres, a jack of many trades who doesn’t really stick to conventional industry standards. Just as frustrating to describe as I hope I am. I’d also very much like to go to space.
How do you decide what venues to play?
I have the luxury right now of not having this be my primary source of income. So I don't have to play just anywhere. Before I committed to my first gig, I visited the venue with a friend of mine on the night that I was slotted to play and also the night after... we did that for a few weeks leading up to my first party. I just took note of what the crowd was like, what the other DJ played, and tried to envision my music there. It made sense, so I went for it. I’ve been to nearly every club in the city at least once (unfortunately) and I’m always paying attention to the music. That’s all I really care about. So I know where my music would work and where it would completely tank.
How do you overcome moments of self-doubt?
Well I’m really, really, really... painfully... self-aware. I know what I’m capable of and what I need work on. So if I ever “doubt” myself, I think it’s actually uncertainty about the outcome of a situation or uncertainty about what others may do or say - things I can’t really control anyway. When it came to this (starting to DJ), I really didn’t doubt myself at all... or if I did, it was actually worry about how others would react or feel, disguised as self-doubt. There were a few people I was concerned about disappointing or upsetting - my dad, for example. Like I know he didn’t send me to university to be a DJ, that’s for sure. But ultimately I had to shift my mindset and remind myself that any regret for not at least trying would be mine to bear and mine alone. (For the record, my dad ended up being surprisingly supportive and constantly texts me songs that he thinks I should add to my set. It’s cute).
What is the hardest part about breaking into this industry?
My situation is so bizarre, in that I was offered my first gig before I had even downloaded Serato (the program used for DJing) or so much as touched a mixer. I had absolutely zero credentials other than my reputation as that blonde girl who dances on the furniture at every venue south of Houston and obnoxiously guesses all the songs before they play. I think I was really lucky in how I got started. I already had a community willing to teach me and eager to support me. It was wild.
How do you handle situations where you feel overwhelmed?
Actually, that’s where I thrive. If you give me two things to do in a day, I’ll probably justify postponing them both. But if you give me 10 things to do in a day, I’ll actually do 24. My life has always been overly scheduled and that’s actually more comfortable for me. I tend to freak out when I feel like nothing is going on. That being said, as with anything, I can obviously overdo it, and the only way I realize is that I start to get sick. My body lets me know that it’s time to slow down. I usually take a day or two to disconnect: stay at home, leave my phone in the other room, reorganize my apartment, make to-do lists, go to bed when the normal humans do for a change.
What advice would you give to other women trying to enter your field?
Weirdly, I think this is a field where being a woman is better right now. It's a very male-dominated industry (at least in New York City) but in my experience that's due to supply, not demand. So, go for it. Every club owner/manager that heard I was learning was thrilled. They all said, "Good! We need more women." Male DJs have bad reputations and stereotypes attached to them. Females really don’t have that, so I see that as an advantage.
What is your process for your sets for varying crowds?
Well, the crowd is precisely what kept me from trying to DJ for so long... why I kept saying no when it was suggested to me. I am such a brat when it comes to the music that I hear in clubs and what the mainstream crowd wants to hear is the exact opposite of what I want to play. However, another mentor of mine put it perfectly: the people who make requests just want to participate. I have a core sound that I try to stick to - because it's what I want to play. But people come up and make requests and I try to keep in mind that they just want to be apart of the experience and so I see if I can make them feel included within the realm of what I'm willing to play.
How has your background helped you with this venture?
I was a competitive figure skater growing up and I would get so frustrated when music for our shows and competitions wasn't edited smoothly, like it drove me insane. Because I think it completely takes you out of the moment when the cut is sloppy or doesn't make sense. So I learned how to do it myself, when I was like 13 or so. I edited music for my own programs, other girls at my rink, made playlists for the daily practice sessions. Then in high school I was also captain of our varsity poms squad and edited all of that music too. I played four instruments growing up, sang in talent shows and did musical theatre. I was in a band in high school, I used to do covers on YouTube. I have a varied and deep understanding for music and how to edit it, so that made mixing so easy it was kind of ridiculous.
I also think that being friends with DJs made this a lot easier. I've been going out to clubs/lounges for as long as I've lived here and while a lot of clubs sucked & a lot of the music was complete garbage, when I was like 21, I developed a really good friendship with a DJ whose music I actually loved... I followed him all over the city and he introduced me to DJs that he worked with, they introduced me to others. They were always more than willing to chat music with me and I got to pick their brains and see the process firsthand. Meanwhile, I was there as a patron of the venues, figuring out what I liked and didn't, observing the crowd, my friends, hearing their feedback. Never ever in a million years with the intention of doing it myself but somehow, here we are.
What are some of your goals moving forward?
I'm really just hungry to learn right now. I got thrown into this and didn't have a whole lot of time to practice, but now that I've kind of been shoved into the deep end I want to play around with different techniques, ask more questions, keep defining what I want my sound to be... keep pushing back against all the mainstream garbage that I heard and complained about for years. The day I start playing Bruno Mars and Katy Perry is the day I quit.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.