Samantha Togni is a London-based DJ, producer and teacher at London Sound Academy, a core member of the INFERNO collective and founder of Boudica - a platform promoting womxn and non-binary artists. Formerly an event with a residency at The Pickle Factory, Boudica branched out and became a radio show, a podcast, an online conference and next year will even start releasing music as a record label.
In December 2020, Samantha and I spoke about the topics of the Boudica conference, the importance of maintaining local music communities and how 2020 didn’t stop the artist from fulfilling her plans, even if being forced to look for new creative solutions.
Formerly from a remote area of Italy, Samantha Togni can remember feeling the passion for music at a young age which later motivated her to travel around the country just to see live shows. She eventually became a part of a hardcore punk band in Florence before moving to London. The change of environment resulted in a shift in her music direction: inspired by the vibrant club scene, Samantha took on DJing and started producing her own tracks. With a growing number of listeners and touring gigs around the world, this led to opening for the likes of Miss Kittin and drawing the attention of brands such as Dazed and Adidas Originals. She also became one of the core members of INFERNO - a techno rave platform promoting trans, non-binary and queer artists and performers ran by her current flatmate Lewis G. Burton.
Her experience of being a woman DJ and producer as well as being part of the local nonconformist and non-heteronormative community helped to shape Boudica and its focus. Samantha started Boudica in 2019 as a club night promoting DJs of underrepresented genders, revolving around the darker side of techno. When I asked her about the motivation for starting her own project, Samantha immediately names other platforms supporting women and LGBTQ* – and this trait of not putting her own work in the forefront without giving space to others turns out to be typical of her: “There are amazing organisations doing what we do who have been doing it for a much longer time: Pussy Palace, BBZ in London and organisations like Women in Control, She Said So and more… But I thought that there weren’t many similar platforms in London focusing on the darker, harder side of electronic music.”
The artists Samantha picks for Boudica’s outlets make music which mirrors her own taste and production: fast-paced, dark and energetic techno incorporating influences such as hypnotic beams of acid, abrasive synths of EBM and smashing kick drums and snares - massaging your ears and making your feet stomp. And according to my brief impression, her music only mirrors her character: progressive, vigorous and motivated to move forward without slowing down. It's an attitude that proved itself to be vital not only for Samantha’s own music career in 2020, but also for the new founded project. “I started Boudica in October last year, so the events were going for only 6 months. But I decided that it’s not going to stop me, because I feel that what we (*Boudica) have to say, is really important.”
Instead of connecting with listeners in physical spaces, the project transitioned into the online world. Before the pandemic, the Boudica show on Threads Radio would often host a headliner of the event alongside Samantha before they headed to the party. The show continued regardless of the lack of events, showcasing artists on air. This year, Boudica also started a podcast series supporting emerging artists who would otherwise play opening DJ slots in order to provide them with an alternative form of visibility.
This year’s highlight for Boudica certainly remains the conference which took place in November at London’s Freemasons Hall and was broadcasted online for free. The invited panelists came from organisations and brands such as Keychange, London Sound Academy, Warner Records and The Musicians Union and Association of Independent Music. Their professions were as varied as their backgrounds, which was something Samantha put a lot of emphasis on: “My main mission was for everyone to look at the conference and feel represented. I wanted to stand for what I preach.”
Even though putting together an online conference was a challenge because of covid-related rules and safety measures, Togni didn’t step back. “The conversation had to keep on moving, so I wanted to do my part as well as reflect the ethos of the platform and what we stand for. It was very important to make a statement and shout out loud that we’re still here, we’re not going anywhere and we’re still trying to make the music world a better place.” The result was not only insightful, but also unique in terms of the intimate and open atmosphere created by panelists being in one room, instead of each of them joining separately from their homes via Zoom.
The conference was divided into four panel discussions which tackled topics resonating within the electronic music industry recently: mental health and well-being, PR and online promotion, the disparity of gender in music and how music communities adapted to the pandemic; followed by DJ sets by object blue, Tasha, Proteus and Samantha Togni herself.
The community issue was the closest to my heart because being an event organizer myself, I find the lack of the social aspect of music events and the absence of open and safe spaces for local music communities very difficult. “What I wanted to accentuate with the panel is how did the communities, labels and parties which existed prior to the pandemic make it through the year, because their plans were shifted. I’m a DJ, but I’m also a promoter, so financially, this year has been very hard because my main source of income has gone.” Another important issue in regard to music communities is that the unifying and liberating power which club spaces provide often isn’t recognized by the authorities, which has been even more evident in this year’s discourse on culture’s economic merit (also painfully underestimated) while disregarding its societal contribution and social value.
“Our government fails to understand that many spaces are sanctuaries for people to be themselves. What really breaks my heart is that culture has been left behind, as if it’s completely meaningless, as if nightlife’s completely meaningless to the government in almost every country. A lot of people come to our night and it’s the only time they’re allowed to feel like themselves; to be themselves,” Togni explains, admitting that even though she’s tried meeting with her community online, meeting people in person is truly irreplaceable.
Another conversation closely related to the outcomes of the pandemic was an exchange about caring for mental health, which included therapists as well as members of the The Musicians Union. “It was such an honest conversation,” Samantha brightens up. “A lot of issues were brought up, such as the negative effect of comparison as a result of using social media, endless work hours and financial instability.”
|Given the ethos of the conference and the composition of the speakers, the precarious position of artists in particular couldn’t be discussed without looking into the systematic reasons for the lack of financial means, including racism and sexism in the music industry and their direct effects on people’s careers, such as lower fees for non-white, non-male DJs. This topic was talked over during the discussion about the disparity of genders throughout the music industry, hosted by Keychange, a movement empowering talented underrepresented genders. The speakers shared challenges they had to overcome working in male-dominated fields as well as methods which help them navigate the industry. “It was a really amazing and open-hearted conversation. The guests were a variety of people from different backgrounds, experiences and job vacations such as artists, managers, publishers,” adds Togni.
The last talk was hosted by the Association of Independent Music, a non-profit trade body grouping record labels, self-releasing artists and distributors to represent the independent record sector. The topic was focused on the potential of online promotion in a year afflicted by the pandemic and the conversation offered a useful and inspirational insights from press officers, PR entrepreneurs as well as a BMG rights manager. They shared their perspectives on the current possibilities of being seen as an artist while using digital tools and social media platforms in a new, creative way, as listeners spend much more of their free time online, and explored the potential of expanding the artist fan base by reaching new audiences.
The Boudica conference gained attention from the media as well as positive feedback from the community, which proved to Togni that the discourse has to be kept alive and that holding such events is as meaningful as ever. That’s why there are more long term plans in place, including a record label releasing music on vinyl. “It’s a risk, but it’s always been my dream, so I thought: Fuck it, let’s just do it,” laughs Samantha. The label naturally follows Boudica’s ethos, but puts music to the foreground. “With the label, I focus on artists that really excite me right now,” she adds, revealing that there are two Various-Artist albums lined up, plus a surprise release.
Despite all the challenges the pandemic has brought for the music community, Samantha Togni and her Boudica project are moving forward, growing and giving space to more and more like-minded artists. Supporting the very music scene which Togni emerged from, she is leading by example, deliberately and admirably distributing her resources between her own career and giving back to the scene. Let’s see what’s next!
You can also re-watch all the panels & DJ sets from the conference here: www.boudicamusic.com
We're very excited to have an EP dropping from Samantha on our Loose Lips label, with a Torn Relics remix, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for that coming out soon!