Sara Dziri

Revolution on the Dancefloor

The Belgian-Tunisian DJ and techno producer Sara Dziri has become an integral part of the Brussels club scene. At the end of March her debut album ‘Close To Home’ will be released by the Scottish Optimo Music. An album that radiates a lot of personality and authenticity. ‘ The end of a personal search ‘, she says herself.

Sara Dziri’s music studio is located near Wiels, the Center for Contemporary Art in the Brussels municipality of Forest. The museum café – where it is wonderful to sit, especially when the sun is shining – has therefore become a regular base for Dziri. It is in this cultural temple that she gives us a glimpse into her quest and the eternal doubt that comes with it. ‘I think I had all kinds of things brewing in my subconscious and that came out musically. It wasn’t an easy process. Because it is also linked to my search for who I am as a DJ, as a producer. ‘


It has now been more than a month since we last talked to Sara Dziri. Since, not only has the single ‘Fille De Racaille’ been proclaimed by Bandcamp as the best electronic release of February, but she has also given two release shows at two Brussels locations, which are very important to her. In addition, there were plans with the collective Not Your Techno, to organize the first secret rave of 2022. It’s only the third month of the year. The album hasn’t even been released yet. After two years of wondering ‘Did I make the right choice ‘, Dziri seems to have started a fast flight forward. Here’s someone who clearly enjoys what she does and, despite all personal doubts, seems to have chosen the right job.

While Manpower of Optimo travelled to Fuse for one release party, she played, the night before, in the Beursschouwburg with the Italian Ney-musician Valentina Bellanova . It was an amazing performance. The way in which these two artists brought their two totally different musical worlds together and promptly opened new possibilities. Here’s a performer who not only delivered a more vicious version of her record, but the way the Ney’s contemplative sound was combined with the searing beats here gave a new glimpse into her immense versatility. ‘Fille De Racaille ‘, which she told us to be the most aggressive track on her release does indeed stand out as a ferocious pompous track which truly made it rightly as bandcamp- favourite.


At the beginning of 2020 she decides to go completely for music. With the brand-new self-employed status in her pocket, she is also financially more solid in the suddenly emerging Covid crisis than many other artists. During the Covid crisis, the Belgian government distributed a monthly aid to all self-employed persons who are unable to carry out their activity during the forced closure. It was just enough to keep all looking hopeful at what might come next.

As an artist in Belgium, there’s two options. You either become self-employed, or ask for an ‘artist status’. The latter gives you the same benefits as if you were a regular employee. The downside is that on days you don’t work, this is noted as unemployed. ‘ I have something against that principle. Because then you are seen as someone who contributes nothing to society. There are periods when it seems that you are not working, but which are important to create something afterwards. ‘ It is mainly actors or technicians at large theaters who can enjoy this system.

The Belgian nightlife remained closed for a long time. A not entirely frustrating period for Dziri. The optimism of ‘ this is only for a short while’ disappears after a few months. The thought ‘ maybe this is not the right choice, right now, in this world in which we now live ‘ arises. ‘ If this continues for years, I don’t know if it’s realistic to throw myself completely into music. Now it looks better again, so we’ll see. Still, the question I’m starting to ask myself is ‘do I really want to do everything in music?’.

“In a society that is becoming more and more diverse, to talk about exoticism, I find that a bit unworldly.

Sara Dziri

In the meantime, Dziri manages to keep herself busy with some unexpected projects. For example, she composes the soundtrack for two theater performances and the jingle for the new podcast series of the Ancienne Belgique (better known as AB, one of the larger concert venues in the capital , ks). When these are finished, there was also a request by the Goethe Institute, to provide music for a dance performance. It’s not entirely where her focus is. Her preference goes out to producing music for the dancefloor, to deejay with. To create the sounds she would like to play in her sets.

In the meantime, she is also working diligently on her debut album. Slowly it becomes clear to her what musical story she is going to tell on ‘Close To Home’. Working titles become actual titles. She decides to sing a few tracks herself. A not that obvious choice, she admits. ‘It’s something I doubted about: do I use it and how do I use it?‘ It is vital for her to make a record that sounds the way she wants it. ‘My music comes from me – I don’t do it to please the audience. There are Arabic influences in my record, but not in the way it is expected. Despite this, some journalists continue to use the words “exotic” when describing her music. ‘In a society that is becoming more and more diverse, and where more and more people have mixed backgrounds, to talk about exoticism, I find that a bit unworldly.


Unfortunately, it’s no surprise when she says: ‘I’ve never felt completely Flemish. At the same time, I’ve never felt completely Tunisian either. It is an often-heard statement and feeling for people of mixed backgrounds. In early 2022 , Vice published the article , “Racial Imposter Syndrome Makes You Feel Like Your Identity Isn’t Yours.” ‘That was a very interesting article. I think I suffered from that myself.

This feeling of not feeling quite at home somewhere, because a part of you is being expelled, also seeps through in the title. In addition, Dziri is not only discriminated against because of her Belgian-Tunisian identity, she also still faces discrimination as a queer and woman. ‘I’ve recently come to realize that despite the fact that I may not be a super hard and very direct victim of racism, I ended up having to deal with it a lot. Either because I was viewed in an exotic way, or because of a confrontation with incomprehension, I have always felt like an outsider. So even if it’s not that in your face, it doesn’t mean my story shouldn’t be told.


Dziri spent a lot of time in search for her identity in recent years. In 2016 she ends up in Toronto, to recharge her batteries and, above all, to get away from Belgium. That also heralds the beginning of her quest. The choice for a musical career had already been made. But coming from a completely different background, she needs time and space to work on that career change, away from the familiar environment. ‘It seemed difficult to me to continue this in Belgium.’ In Canada she decides she wants to let her Arabic and North African influences seep into her music. ‘I grew up with those North African and Arabic sounds. My father had a very large box of cassettes. There was mainly a lot of Arabic music in it. As a musician and deejay, I bring a part of who I am. So, it’s been a logical step for me to have those influences in my music.

As a musician and deejay, I bring a part of who I am.”

Sara Dziri

Once back in Belgium she organizes parties under the name Souk Sessions. This soon becomes too restrictive: not only does the concept seem a bit too obvious, it also limits her as an artist and person. She eventually founded Not Your Techno together with Yasmine Dammak at the end of 2019. ‘I really click with Yasmine, because we have a very similar story. Although she is from Tunisia and I was born in Belgium.‘ With Not Your Techno, the two want to offer an answer to the white men’s bastion that is techno. ‘Not Your Techno is about claiming space in the electronic scene. It would of course be easier to say ‘we are a queer collective, a feminist collective or a POC collective’, but it is precisely this intersectionality that is important to us.’ During the lockdown, they also felt the urgency to organize some online talks in collaboration with the Brussels organization Missfitte. The first was about women in the Belgian club scene, following the documentary ‘ Platendraaiers ‘, which was broadcasted by the Belgian TV-channel VRT at the time. The documentary pretended to be a historical overview of the Belgian club scene but succeeded in completely ignoring the few women who were part of it, at least in their promo material. When many negative reactions arose, by mainly women, the director reacted rather childishly, which fueled the outrage even more. ‘I remember how angry I was then. And I wasn’t the only one. I think there are many women in the history of electronic music, but they are always pushed aside.

The promo-image for the VRT tv-documentary 'Platendraaiers'.
The promo-image for the VRT tv-documentary ‘Platendraaiers’.

The second talk was about, amongst others, the political and economic difficulties that artists from the WANA region (West Asia, North Africa , ks) face. ‘It is still difficult to get a visa when you live there. The artists from that region who are really booming often no longer live there. Because otherwise it is not feasible to travel and live as an artist. Even though there are initiatives to strengthen that region, it remains a political problem.

In addition, music software such as Ableton is not only unaffordable for many artists from non-Western countries. The way in which music software deals with rhythms, for example, is also programmed from a strict Western way of thinking. More and more artists are speaking out for a ‘decolonization of music software’. One way to deal with this, as Dziri does, is compose by ear. ‘There are limitations to Ableton. Because I work by ear, the final rhythm may not be exactly the original rhythm. But that’s how I found my way around.

Now that the album’s finished, the desire to start producing more analog grows. ‘There is two reasons for this: first, the sound quality is different. Second, I want to limit myself in what I use. In a software like Ableton, the world is infinite. You can look for a certain sound for a long time and you may not need it to achieve what you want to achieve.’ In her studio there is currently a Roland TR-8S and the KORG Monologue.

I’ve always been very DIY. I learned almost everything on my own, without much guidance. What is different today for women who want to start deejaying or producing is that there is much more of an opportunity to ask a peer ‘Can you help me with this?‘ In addition, there are also many initiatives in Brussels that specifically target women and /or lgbtqia +-persons with for instance initiation afternoons to learn how to deejay or produce.


A thought that often comes up in our conversation is: ‘Things are not always given to you. You often have to do it yourself.’ This applies both to arranging residencies at online radios such as Kiosk Radio and Tsugi, and to finding a suitable label. For example, while she was putting the last hand to ‘Close To Home’, Dziri wrote to about twenty labels. Optimo Music turned out to be one of the interested parties. ‘It’s quite an honor, because it’s not just any label.‘ As a DJ and also as a producer, Dziri sticks to a dark techno sound, laced with melancholy, flirting with electro and trance, melodic yet mostly dark. ‘I think I have found my own style more and more. My music is eclectic, but for me there is a common thread.‘ That sound not only fits perfectly with Optimo Music, but also made her stand out at the legendary Brussels techno club Fuse. While techno beats blast through the speakers at 170bpm downstairs, Dziri is regularly upstairs. First as a partygoer, and since autumn 2021 also as a resident DJ. ‘The Motion Room has always been my favourite room, so it’s a nice experience to be able to tell my story there. I think it also influenced my style in a short time.

Sara Dziri clearly brings more to the dance floor than just rousing beats.

Sara Dziri on SoundCloud

Not Your Techno

Optimo Music

Moody portrait of the musician, in red ambient light.

FRKTL – Displaying emotions on a digital playground

Her visual and digital art is immensely intertwined with her work as producer. The British-Egyptian FRKTL (Sarah Badr) moves between Cairo, London and Riga. Ever since she set foot in the Latvian capital however, she found time to finish ‘Excision After Love Collapses’. A record that strangely and totally unexpectedly seems to translate the zeitgeist and absorbs the listener completely.

2020 turned into a rather prolific year for FRKTL. Apart from releasing the new album at the end of July, she also contributed a track to ‘Nisf Madeena’ and began a radio residency at HKCR (Hong Kong Community Radio).

While for most people 2020 has come to a standstill, FRKTL is as productive as ever. There’s no stopping her curating her personal SoundCloud page, where she reposts the songs and sounds she listens to and loves. Her Bandcamp finds are posted on her Instagram and selected tracks end up in her radio mixes. She seems to be producing those on a more regular basis then before. It all began with the release of ‘Excision After Love Collapses’ and hasn’t stopped yet. On the contrary. This record, albeit not that sonically hugely different from what she did before, somehow is 2020’s perfect hit. 

I didn’t intend for my music-making to reach the stage where I was actually releasing music.’ It’s been ten years since she first started putting her sounds on the web. In the beginning, she uploaded what she calls ‘sketches for the sake of practising my newfound hobby’, which evolved into compiling these uploads into an album, ‘Atom’. ‘That’s when I started using Bandcamp’. Without any PR-companies and journals pushing her work, she debuted in 2011 and dropped the compilation ‘B-Sides’ at about the same time. 2016 sees the release of ‘Qualia’, which is followed with ‘Prose Edda’.

But it is her 2020 release that totally seems to push her to the limelight. It’s a stunning release where you hear an artist crafting a sonic palette that sounds like a trip in electric wonderland. As one Bandcamp user puts it: ‘This is an uncompromising masterpiece of electro-acoustic music from the most consistently innovative artist in my collection.’ Indeed, she’s been doing this for years. 

Her sound touches on the entire electronic spectrum. It absorbs elements from ambient and indulges in overwhelming experimentation and gritty beats. ‘Excision’ (Sarah Badr abbreviates the title of the release to ‘Excision’ in our email-correspondence, ks) is a wonder of danceable, crackling and atonal electronics.

There’s no denying 2020 has been an odd year, with lots of artists postponing their releases or quickly dropping a soulless ambient record. It was relatively quiet the first four months of global confinement. Mid-summer in comes ‘Excision After Love Collapses’, a bombardment of emotions and feelings, which pretty much sounds like the ultimate soundtrack for life in lockdown, the silence, the anger. It’s a release that immediately sticks. ‘It’s a very personal work. It’s rooted in grief and heartbreak, coping with sudden change and loss, grappling or coming to terms with facing new realities of self and surroundings.’ 

‘I didn’t intend for my music-making to reach the stage where I was actually releasing music.’

Who would’ve thought that someone’s personal upheaval could soundtrack many’s unrest. ‘Excision’ sounds as if it is the ultimate culmination of sounds and FRKTL’s research into the sounds she has been exploring these past ten years. ‘Some of the most moving, meaningful feedback I’ve received has been about the album’s sound being “of the moment”, and I can see now how the foreboding or emotional complexity of these tracks might resonate in the current context. It would’ve been difficult to imagine a year ago that this summer would turn out the way it has, being so fraught and precarious as a period in human history.’ 

Better still, if she had gone ahead as originally planned, this record would’ve been released November last year. But her moving to Riga slowed down her schedule. ‘I was hoping to release ‘Excision’ last November, on the anniversary of ‘Qualia’, but I’d just moved the month before and it was still nowhere near where I’d wanted it to be as a body of work.’ 

‘Cairo, London, Riga’, says her Twitter-bio. A globetrotter with the urge of not settling anywhere permanently, which she undoubtedly inherited from her parents. They moved from Egypt to London, where Sarah Badr was born. She grew up kind of everywhere: London, Cairo, Manama, New York,… ‘The list is endless.’ She herself traded Berlin for Riga last year. Cairo for Berlin. London for Cairo. And in between, briefly stopped in places like Beirut, Montreal and San Luis Obispo.

But it’s in London that she attends college. Before she ended up studying Computing and Interaction Design at Goldsmiths, she studied International Relations and Law.  She eventually transferred to the Creative Computing programme. ‘It was while I was at Goldsmiths that I began to explore using software for composing and producing music.

Her visual work closely intertwines with her music. She creates her own artwork not just for her releases, but also her online radio shows are given appropriate art. Her artistic work overflows with personality and is ‘primarily digital renders and type work, with certain elements derived from photo compositing or drawing by hand. Everything associated with FRKTL as a project, including visual work, I’ve done myself since the beginning. It’s been a very solitary endeavour and I remain ambivalent about involving labels and others more generally in my work.

At the moment she is in the process of developing a live show for ‘Excision’. It’s still too early for her to describe how she might approach it. But it doesn’t seem wrong to assume she could be turning it into a visual spectacle that wouldn’t go wrong at Atonal or Unsound festival. ‘I’m currently in the process of developing a live show for ‘Excision’. Too early to tell how this will turn out, as it depends on some presently unknowable factors. As much as I love music that stands on its own, I’m also obsessed with sounds that go along with visual elements or choreography and so on… So perhaps this is where I’d ultimately like to fit: composing music for imagined worlds.’ 

She adds that to her it seems quite common to be both a digital artist and musician. ‘I’ve noticed many visual creatives also working with sound and vice versa, or artists generally being interdisciplinary or operating “at the intersection of” several fields.’ It is, according to her, the result of the digital economy. ‘It seems it’s no longer sufficient to focus on one thing when that thing is in such abundance and people’s time is very scarce.’ Though for an artist who’s so present online and made the digital world her own, she might be laying down a path for future musicians. 

A freelance designer by trade, Badr oozes digital wizardry. Though, she also enjoys regular walks in Latvian forests. ‘I do love nature and especially mountainous or forested regions. I’ve long had an affinity towards cooler, northern climates—in many ways antithetical to the Southern Mediterranean, but similarly rich in flora and fauna.

On Instagram she blends curating the latest sounds with images of all the beauty she encounters on her walks. Not only does she have a soft-spot for Northern Europa, it’s more exactly Scandinavia she really adores. For ‘Prose Edda’, Badr took her inspiration from 13th century Icelandic poetry. Iceland, however, is still one of the few countries she hasn’t been to yet, though she wrote ‘see the puffins in spring’ on her bucket list. Because of her fascination for the North, she began learning Swedish as a 19-year old and spent hours digging through Nordic mythology and sagas.

It seems a huge contradiction; her love for nature and how she, in her work, be it music or visual art, distorts reality. Just as her images are digital manipulations, as such are her songs, digital manipulations. At the core of her sound are the usual instruments like guitar, violin and voice. But once turned into songs, sounds can hardly be traced back to their origin. ‘I record and arrange most of my music using Ableton Live with the Max bridge and a variety of MIDI devices and VSTs, as well as my own live recordings and custom-built instruments. A significant part of it is classical instrumentation or vocalisation which has been digitally processed or triggered, sometimes manipulated beyond the point of recognisability. With this album, I focused a lot on building instruments based on my voice and instrumental recordings, as well as field recordings.

I’ve taken to controlling digital instruments in much the same way I would if sitting at the piano without a set piece to play, only in this case I use MIDI controllers while recording for extended periods. I leave a fair amount unaltered, whether it’s that or a single take of my singing or playing electric violin or guitar with pedal, or a recording from a walk someplace…  I love the spontaneity of improvisation and random overlaps that carry with them surprising moments of resolution that never cease to amaze me. This is what I’d like to continue building on in my next project.

In response to the Beirut August 4 explosion, Ma3azef, amongst others, published ‘Nisf Madeena’ on Bandcamp, featuring a plethora of artists from the MENA-region or its diaspora. One of them is FRKTL. ‘I don’t think there’s a single person with ties to Egypt who doesn’t also have ties to Lebanon through friends and family. It was a heartbreaking, gutwrenching event with lasting repercussions—near unimaginable still in its aftermath.‘ 

Badr herself also used to live in Beirut, while working at a music technology startup. ‘Having friends in and from Lebanon whom I’ve met while living there and elsewhere, it really was the least I could do.’ Having lived in Cairo for more than a third of her life and being from Egyptian descent, she of course follows whatever happens in the region on a daily basis. ‘I still am very much linked to Egypt and will forever be, regardless of whether or not I’m living there.’

At the risk of sounding naive, the situation is such that I love listening to music and—by extension—I love making music as well.

Besides her work as a freelance designer and producer, she’s also an avid listener, constantly reposting her musical findings on Soundcloud, Instagram or Twitter. As a curator she delves through the immense amount of music on offer. At the same time, she gives her fans a nice insight in the musical background of FRKTL. 

I do listen to a lot of music, especially when I’m working. I regularly check the weekly Bandcamp newsletter, and I occasionally listen through the stream on SoundCloud. I’m often attracted by cover artwork or interesting release titles, besides there being many musicians and labels that I adore and follow. I regularly repost on SoundCloud and post my favourites to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Inevitably, I’ll buy anything I find myself listening to more than a few times through on Bandcamp—often it’s these purchases that wind up in my mixes for different radio shows and on my Currents playlists.

One of this year’s biggest trends is everyone’s slow move to revenue sites such as Patreon, Medium or the newsletter-platform Substack, in order to gain money with their curating and or writing. There hasn’t really been much discussion about this trend yet, but maybe there should be. As this trend makes content less available and maybe even more exclusive where people who can’t afford it, are missing out. As such, it’s really amazing Badr hasn’t fallen for Patreon yet. ‘It sometimes seems like a tall order in hoping that people will spend money on music nowadays, much less the curation of music.’ While with her endlessly plugging songs and online mixes, it almost comes across as if it could be her dayjob.

At the risk of sounding naive, the situation is such that I love listening to music and—by extension—I love making music as well. My curatorial activity is a natural compulsion, one which I honestly do out of my enjoyment of these artforms. It’s been really nice to receive messages from people saying they’ve found something they’ve enjoyed through my posts, things they might not have otherwise had the immediacy or access to.’