“It’s really rewarding,” says drum & bass veteran Charissa Saverio, aka DJ Rap, of her recent involvement in a female-focused mentorship programme for aspiring DJs and producers, part of the Women of Dance NFT drop for RCRDSHP. Saverio — one of the few female faces of the original UK drum & bass scene — jumped at the chance to extend a hand to other women. “I can’t think of anything better than that, personally. I think we’re all doing this as a labour of love to start with. We believe in it”.
As a touring DJ — who recently toasted the return of iconic Manchester drum & bass night Squiggle Dee Mash — as well as a prolific producer, mix engineer and label owner, Saverio has found herself increasingly drawn to the Web3 space, recently launching her ‘Re:Imagined’ album as an NFT, also for RCRDSHP, and strengthening her relationship with her fans in the process.
“I think these models are starting to give us a little bit more control over what we’re doing, it’s just going to take some time,” she says. “For me, creatively, it gives me the chance to flex my producer wings and to do something far more exciting. To see it there visually, and be able to look at it, and to have people collect the cards, I think it creates that sense of FOMO that a lot of people have missed from back in the day.”
A classically trained pianist, Saverio got her start behind the decks in the late ’80s and early ’90s, cutting her teeth as a DJ for pirate station Rave FM and fully immersing herself in the rave scene where a fortuitous stand-in set for Fabio at the Astoria put her on the map. She began carving out a lane for herself as a uncompromising producer via tracks like 1990’s breakbeat breakout ‘The Adored’ (as Ambience), recorded with Jeff B, and 1994’s jungle chugger ‘Spiritual Aura’, which was given the remix treatment this year by a selection of artists for the ‘Spiritual Aura Collection!’ remix album. In 1993, she founded the record label, Propa Talent, which she still runs and A&Rs today. She later signed to Sony’s Higher Ground imprint in 1997 and in 1999 unleashed her major-label studio album, ‘Learning Curve’.
Over the past few decades, she has continued to put out a steady stream of drum & bass-adjacent releases, amassing a hefty body of singles, compilations, albums and collaborations, while simultaneously forging a career as an actor. During the pandemic, she lit up the livestreaming arena with a series of all-vinyl jungle and drum & bass sets.
We caught up with her to hear about her experiences of mentoring, Web3, and her love of NFTs…
What is the main appeal of NFTs as a DJ, producer, and label owner?
“They’re three-dimensional. When you go to a store and buy an MP3, WAV or a FLAC — whatever you’re buying — you’re just getting that music file. But with an NFT, you get so much more. You go to the store, you get this three-dimensional product, whatever the artists come up with. It’s visuals, it’s video, it could be physical merchandise, it could be anything digital that you can dream of; a three-part video series, a gaming solution, in this case, what I did was an hour-long visual trippy psychedelic adventure with all my music remixed, which is why I called it ‘Re:Imagined’, it takes you on a journey. I couldn’t do that on the digital platforms. I couldn’t make the kind of album that I’ve just made on the NFT store with anything else. I’ve got a lot of fans who call me and say ‘I missed the first one, I didn’t get the first one’. You know, there are people excited about collecting again.
“The other thing is the trading part of this. You know when people would trade baseball cards in America and in England, stamps, there are collectibles, right? So we don’t just make one little MP3 and stick it out there and that’s it, like a single. For example, I’ve got a single out there right now on every platform that there is, but that’s it, it’s just a single. But with the NFT, it’s a stack of cards they can collect and which they can choose to keep sealed or trade, there’s this active trading market. So, god forbid I die tomorrow, people who have not opened the cards and are trading them, they would become immensely valuable. Maybe I should fake my death… But what I’m saying is that there is this opportunity to do more with it than just own them as well. The other thing about them is that with the technology that’s encoded inside them… for example, if I make 50 of something there’s only one of the original. That is the first one and it’s got [a] code inside it that says it was the first one that was made. So it will say 001, for example, and no one else will get that one. It’s like having the original Picasso and then everybody making copies. So there’s a real sense of ownership, I think, from the fans when they realise that they’ve got the first copy, or there’s only ten of these around.”
What has the response been like from your fans?
“It took a little bit of persuading. Initially the feedback I got was like, ‘Hmm, oh, NFTs, bitcoin, I don’t understand crypto’, and I was like, ‘Yeah, neither do I’, but it’s not like that, and it took me about six months to get my head around it. When I say six months, during that period of six months I had about three conversations with RCRDSHP who helped me understand the concept. There are still things I don’t understand, but what I do know is enough for me to understand that it’s fun, it’s cool, and there’s this whole community around that. But I think that it took a little convincing to show people. I spent a lot of time creating ads and videos to show people that these are the cards, this is the website you go to — just click this link and you can buy a card and own it and this is how it works, and this is the collection, and if you get all five etc… and, that’s the other thing — the more you collect, the more goodies you unlock. So every time someone collects, say, five cards, they get X, if they collect the whole collection they get X, Y, Z, and it just continues. So it’s never just like, ‘Here’s my release, it’s out, buy it’, that’s it, there’s communication between me and the fans. With this, there’s a chance to constantly keep the story going and the conversation going.”
Can you tell me a bit about the ‘Re:Imagined’ project?
“It’s an hour-long mix that we’ve chopped into cards, but inside the cards there’s a hidden track that’s never been released before. It’s like a golden egg. Tracks like myself and Roni Size. These aren’t like just tracks that I didn’t want to put out, these are proper rare tracks that have never seen the light of day. It’s like having baseball cards and then getting a Babe Ruth card, or a stamp and getting some rare Royal Mint version of that stamp. So we’ve been doing these drops every couple of weeks and people line up and there’s a sign-up page where they’re email-alerted to the next drop.”
What was your involvement in the Women of Dance NFT collection?
“Creating something unique was one thing, but the mentorship element was the real part of it for me, which I loved. I’m about to start a series of free discussions on all things music for people and I’m building courses and curriculums. So, for me, any chance I get to chat about questions that people have about the music industry and what they’re doing is a welcome opportunity. The mentorship part really was exciting, but at the same time, when you sit down with a bunch of other women and you hear their stories and what they’re talking about and the struggles and challenges that they’re having… but then you can help them with a little bit of advice because you’ve got the knowledge, even if it’s just an opinion. It’s really rewarding. I can’t think of anything better than that, personally. I think we’re all doing this as a labour of love to start with. We believe in it. Making money from music these days is hard, period, what with streaming the way it is. Really, it’s still touring and merchandise that pays the bills. But I think that these models are starting to give us a little bit more control over what we’re doing. It’s going to take some time. But I think if we can get more people to embrace these technologies and keep pushing things forward…”
How active are your labels?
“My labels are just me putting out music at the moment so the label is very active, in fact I have a number one record out right now which is lovely (it’s on Beatport). I used to put out a lot of artists and I’m still in touch with a lot of them; I’ve got a huge catalogue on my label, probably about 1,000 tracks. But the problem came when streaming happened; you’d have to do all of your accounting, and it’s not as streamlined as we’d like it. It’s still a very difficult and confusing process to ensure transparency with people. I take screenshots of the distribution of the actual figures and I send that to the artist. But that’s not how I get accounted to by anybody, it’s always a white piece of paper with a bunch of numbers on it that you just have to hope are truthful. You’ve got to have a record that’s in the charts for five to six weeks before it starts to really be making money. It doesn’t take a lot to make top ten on all these digital platforms. I’m talking less than 50 to get to the top ten. It’s when it stays there that you know you’re actually making money.”
What’s next for you?
“The next thing for me is working on my web subscription platform, the community within that, and building a mentorship programme… that’s the thing that I see myself doing forever. Because I’m always gonna make music, so why not share how I make music? The series is gonna be called Open the DAW, which is basically me showing people the process and putting together courses and curriculums. But it’s a slow, long process that can’t be rushed. I also want to continue with the NFTs, I just want to continue putting out great music digitally.”