Surusinghe’s thrilling club workouts are here to make you feel
It’s an early evening in April, and Suzanne Gurusinghe is a little tired.
“I’m first and foremost a clubgoer,” says the DJ, producer and Phenomena label co-founder better known as Surusinghe. She’s dialling in from Austria’s Snowbombing Festival, where she’s due to play in a few hours having spent the previous night catching sets by other DJs on the line-up. Her excitement is tangible as she recalls watching performances with Oslo-born producer, Suchi. “I’m genuinely addicted to going out and being around good music,” she says earnestly.
Her commitment to the dancefloor is evident: even though she’s only been releasing music since 2022, she’s been working behind the scenes in the industry for the past near-decade, first as a festival volunteer and eventually as an artist manager. “There’s never really been an option for anything else, I feel,” Gurusinghe says, sketching out her longstanding interest in music, from the piano, cello and oboe lessons throughout her childhood to her teenage years as a “punk rock girly”. A pre-university party holiday to Croatia turned her attention towards dance music. “It was one of those trips where you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life,” she says, poking fun at her 19-year-old self. “I thought: obviously I have to do something in this because it’s the only thing that makes me that excited.”
But with no connections in the field and only a small club scene in her hometown of Naarm, Melbourne at the time, Gurusinghe had to hustle; her first paid music job was in 2015, setting up karaoke machines for schools and work functions. “My music teacher said he knew a guy who worked with PAs and sound equipment that he could introduce me to so I was like, ‘Sick, hopefully I can get into venues and set up the decks,’” she says animatedly, before swinging her head back in laughter. “For six months, I would go around with this old dude and his huge PAs and karaoke machines thinking, ‘Maybe this will get me into dance music.’”
On the weekends, she’d go clubbing by herself and network. Being plugged into her local scene as a punter meant she eventually found an in and, in 2017, started to dabble in DJing under her former alias Suzuki Drift. “I remember, at that time, there were hardly any female DJs. It was really, really bad,” she reflects. Acts like Roza Terenzi, CC:Disco!, Andy Garvey and Nite Fleit were taking off – and became huge sources of inspiration for her – but Gurusinghe says there was no pipeline of women to fill the support slots, and even fewer pushing for change behind the scenes. “The guys I worked with were like, ‘Why don’t you just start DJing if you have such a big problem with it?’ I was like, ‘Fair enough, I probably should,’” she says. “I wanted to be doing more.”
For the next few years, Gurusinghe went on to play warm-up slots around the city before stopping altogether in 2019 due to nerves. “It wasn’t actually that fun for me because I would put so much pressure on myself and feel really uncomfortable, even though there were only like three people in the crowd,” she says, soberly. Instead, she turned to producing music at home, a way for her to engage with the subculture without being centre stage. These early tracks, which experimented with the proggy techno sounds bubbling from Australia at the time, never saw the light of day. “I’d hate for people to see those files!” she says, mock cringing.
Now based in London, she has since put out two EPs and returned to DJing to promote her music. While 2022’s Good Girls // Bad Girls flirted with the more atmospheric end of dance music, her latest record, Get Flutey, is a hard-hitting tribute to the “melting pot of sounds” she’s found in UK clubs. Lead single Likshot kicks things off with its dizzying fusion of steely percussion and deep, rattling bass, while Skit welds together big breaks and squelchy electro outbursts to create her most explosive dancefloor weapon yet. Slowing things down, the title track is a seductive yet weighty dembow-inspired cut that winds around syncopated rhythms. “There’s so much versatility in this city, I’m definitely inspired by that,” she smiles. “I love that I can go out to a reggaeton night, and the next will be a techno one. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else now.”
Gurusinghe’s encounters with collectives and platforms like Daytimers and Dialled In have also been formative for her. Though she doesn’t directly sample Sri Lankan instrumentation, she says reconnecting with memories of her late father, a trained musician who hosted gatherings with chanting and drums in her childhood home, has sharpened her ear for percussion. “I’ve learned a lot from these artists exploring their culture through music, which is something I hadn’t done a heap of in the past,” she admits. “I didn’t really give my dad, or my heritage, the time of day they deserved and, you know, I’m a bit embarrassed about that. When I saw others doing it, it allowed me to reflect; now I think music has played a big part in feeling proud of who I am and where I come from. It’s a cool feeling,” she says, warmly.
Reclaiming her heritage also shaped Gurusinghe’s decision to ditch her Suzuki Drift alias and adopt a new one, a spin on her birth name. “It was always such a hard thing for people to pronounce,” she says, casting her mind back to her school years. “People would always repeat it three times or say, ‘Oh, that’s an interesting name.’ I’d be like, ‘Why is it so fucking interesting? It’s just a name!’” she says playfully. After years of embarrassment, she wants to normalise seeing South Asian names in the underground dance music scene and hopes that their inclusion on posters will inspire other emerging Brown DJs. “For a long time, line-ups were always just made up of white man names, like Ben Jones or some shit,” she laughs, before quickly adding: “Hopefully that’s not an actual DJ, I’m not coming for anyone!”
“I’ve learned a lot from artists exploring their culture through music. I think music has played a big part in feeling proud of who I am and where I come from. It’s a cool feeling”
While her heritage has informed strands of her work, it is by no means a defining factor and she is resistant to the external impulse to be pigeonholed by it. “Sometimes it’s just not that deep,” she says of the tendency of PR teams to overcomplicate her artistic identity. Ultimately, she makes music she wants to dance to. “I wish I could say something profound but it’s just sounds that I like hearing, you know?” she says, smiling. “Yes, it’s something you feel inside, it gives you a feeling, but it’s not telling any narrative or solving any world problems.”
Gurusinghe’s lack of pretension is refreshing but you get the feeling she’s underselling herself. Within a year of her “venturing back into the world”, she’s already established herself as one to watch worldwide; she’s played at venues on many DJs’ check lists, from Panorama Bar to Sub Club, and will make her Glastonbury debut later this year. Last month, she stepped further into the mainstream with her BBC Radio 1 takeover. With her previous anxieties around performing in mind, I ask how she’s found returning to the craft in the age of livestreams and TikTok. “Oh, it’s terrifying,” she says, matter-of-factly. “The culture of everything looking so hype is such bullshit.”
She believes the pressure for artists and punters to churn out ‘content’ is negatively impacting club culture. “I think it’s fucking with the way sets are put together now,” she asserts. “BPMs are getting faster and faster and the art of a good warm-up has been lost. At some shows, the crowds are just holding their phones up waiting for the drop… but a lot of my music isn’t like that. I guess it’s that weird mix of social media being the biggest blessing but biggest curse ever.”
As someone who still works part-time and writes music in the week, Gurusinghe finds she sometimes struggles to get into the right headspace by the time the weekend gigs roll around. Though she feels bad complaining if a set doesn’t go her way (“it is such a privilege to be able to do what we do,” she stresses), she thinks it’s important to be transparent about her experiences. “I hate that there is such a culture of always seeming like everything’s great and perfect because that’s just not reality,” she says. “I want to keep talking about my anxieties because, you know, we’re all human. I think it’s OK to be scared and uncomfortable.”
“The culture of everything looking so hype is such bullshit”
By planning the direction of her sets in advance and resisting the urge to play to the crowd, Gurusinghe has found herself getting more and more confident with each performance. “I’ve learned now that whenever I do play exactly what I wanna play, I leave happy. Before, I felt like I was just trying to be someone I’m not, but now I’m just doin’ me,” she says with a quiet air of assurance.
Perspective also helps. “I’ve just realised that the worst thing that could happen is to go on the decks and [literally] die,” she concludes, giggling. “You can clang a mix but you can live to tell the tale.”
Get Flutey is out on 18 May via Steel City Dance Discs