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Sara Landry: hard techno’s high-frequency priestess

If hard techno is energetic work, then Sara Landry is a divine healer. Driven by an innate desire to connect with and unite the crowd, the California-born DJ is often credited as the high priestess of the breakneck sound, but behind her signature cloak of organised chaos lies an unshakable force for good. We catch up with the international star to learn more about her spellbinding sets, and why the masses are craving a fierce new edge

There’s a curious birthmark near the top of Sara Landry’s shoulder blade. The origin story behind its scar-like shape is even stranger still. “This is literally from being dragged out of the house, dragged into the town square, lit on fire, and burned at the stake,” the American-born, Amsterdam-based DJ tells DJ Mag in a serious tone. “And I have a very vivid memory of it.”

The mood lighting in Landry’s bedroom casts an eerie glow against her face as she speaks, adding a sense of drama to our afternoon video call. Four minutes in, and it’s already getting wild. Can’t say we’re surprised: Chaos goes hand-in-hand with Landry, who describes her driving and darkly feminine sound as “witchy warehouse techno”. But judging by the graphic tale and the Batwoman-esque wardrobe in our subject’s background, which is as stark black as the creme eyeshadow that often covers her eyelids, this three-word phrase represents more than just a cheeky onstage brand — this is who she’s always been.

“There was something instinctive in me that was like, ‘I feel like I need to wring some stuff out. I want to open some room in my consciousness, so that I can make sure that I have space for whatever energies need to flow as I move into this new year of touring,’” the producer shares of feelings experienced ahead of her first European leg some years ago, and what ultimately led to an enlightening hypnosis session.

It started where things often do in our post-pandemic world — on Zoom — with a hypnotherapist logged in from Cairo. Thousands of miles away, Landry laid face up on the floor of her home studio ready to receive remote guidance. But within seconds, she unexpectedly hurtled through time, reliving moments across multiple existences. In one, she felt flames torch her flesh — the aforementioned punishment for crimes she was convicted of in 1600s Salem. During another, she served as a priestess in Sekhmet’s temple, a vision that gave context to her girlhood fascination with Egyptian culture, and specifically the referenced deity of war and healing.

Photo of Sara Landry wearing a black catsuit and eye make-up

“Yeah, she’s a badass — the lion goddess,” she adds, rolling off another name for her alleged former boss. “I walked through the temple — and I remember this — the statue of the Goddess comes to life and starts to speak through my mouth in a voice that is not mine,” she shares, her eyes wide open. “It was this really interesting, crazy thing where I didn’t intend for it to be a past life regression, but it ended up being that because there was a message that needed to come through as I was moving into this new phase of life.” She still has the stirring audio file somewhere. Presumably it’s saved alongside the library of spellbinding hard techno productions that have transformed Landry into her own sort of idol to fans across the world.

Even though it wasn’t the plan to revisit previous incarnations, their revelations shed new light on her goddess-given purpose. “Some people are going to read this however it comes into print and really connect with it, and then some are gonna be like, ‘she’s full of shit,’” Landry says between sips of Coke Zero. “They’re not ready for this type of call to action, or call to connection, which is fine with me,” she adds, unbothered. “I know that my intentions are pure and the people who are ready to connect find me, and keep coming back.”

Her widespread popularity proves this much to be true. Just last month, Landry packed out back-to-back nights at Knockdown Center, a 3,200-cap club in Ridgewood, Queens, where New York’s audiophiles flock for breakneck BPMs. But well before drawing massive crowds across Europe and at flagship music gatherings like Chicago’s ARC Festival, and Seismic Dance Event, which unfolds annually in the birthplace of her artistry, Landry threw renegade-style raves at undisclosed locations where she introduced Texans to the type of nosebleed-inducing beats that had yet to breach the North American mainstream. Now, she attests it’s all been in pursuit of a greater calling.

“It’s been made very clear to me that my highest purpose in this life path is to be a conduit for connection, for alignment, and for, I think, ascension,” she continues. “I’m supposed to be using my powers or whatever gifts I was given in this lifetime to create a space where people can come and feel safe, to let themselves go and open themselves spiritually and mentally and energetically to receive these higher frequencies.” Landry means this in quite the literal sense, repeatedly likening her performances to a type of energetic therapy that first originated in the East.

“It is Reiki,” she explains of her exchange with the crowd, “where people are taking in my energy and releasing what does not serve them.” In a world that sure feels more doomed by the day, Landry had made it her business to lift the mood. “This is really the first time publicly where I’ve talked about that being my intention, I think partially because I'm afraid that people are gonna think I’m nuts,” she says, before taking a hit from her jet-black vape. “And partially just because I think it’s kind of hard to feel that intention if you’re not there to physically experience it.”

Landry’s shows are a blast. Always quick to deliver an entrancing blend of resolute kicks, peak-time progression, and surprising samples, she’s created an entry-point for newcomers to explore a genre that’s long aimed to serve only the most discerning ears (perhaps too long.) Whether one subscribes to the belief that her live experience is a full-blown transcendental ceremony is somewhat beside the point — those who like it hard, hot, and playful are bound to love it. But if her menacing grooves get you caught in a hex, the former fallen sorceress insists there’s a method to achieve such madness.

Photo of Sara Landry wearing a black catsuit and eye make-up under strobing lights

“I’m supposed to be using my powers or whatever gifts I was given in this lifetime to create a space where people can come and feel safe, to let themselves go and open themselves spiritually and mentally and energetically...”

“I’ll play some industrial, more masculine type tracks, and then I’ll squeeze that out like the juice of a lemon — all of that chaos energy or rage or whatever feelings are existing toward the beginning,” Landry explains of her standard setlist, miming as though the sour fruit is in the palm of her hand. “And then I’ll refill it with the high vibrational divine feminine energy at the end.” She refers to her single ‘Legacy’ as a track that possesses the heightened frequencies she describes — the kind that are meant to leave attendees feeling lighter by the end of the rave.

Marked with stunning soprano vocals, cyclical chants, and crisp, driving percussion, the 2023 hit boasts a decidedly different feel from the slammers she cues up to get the party started. “That’s how I like to structure my sets, just because I think that leaves everybody feeling nourished and filled up, and in a state where I’ve maybe moved the emotional vortex in a way that I think is beneficial or helpful,” she says, before summing up her results in one word: “Positive.”

Landry is not the first artist to extrapolate on music’s healing powers, nor will she be the last. What makes her perspective ring unique, however, is that her signature sound challenges most traditional standards of sparkle and effervescence. Often pushing well beyond the 150BPM threshold, it is unforgiving. It is relentless. It is unapologetically hard as fuck. But maybe that’s what it takes to soothe listeners living in an era that could be described in those same exact words.

The daughter of a classically-trained concert pianist, Landry attributes her musical talents to her mother’s side of the family. “She tried to train me as a pianist when I was a kid, but I wouldn’t physically sit down, and that’s one of my bigger regrets — not being classically-trained,” she explains. “That’s actually something I want to work on.”

After being treated for ADHD at four years old, Landry learned to channel her hyper energy through other outlets that stretched her body and mind — activities like competitive swimming, drawing, and puzzles. “I’m SUPER into jigsaw puzzles! I’ve actually got a couple right here,” she says, pulling a box from a nearby shelf with 636 solid black pieces inside. “If that’s not part of the diagnostic criteria, it should be,” she chides, calling out the types of tests used by medical professionals to differentiate neurodivergent brains from neurotypical ones.

Around age 15, Landry received additional diagnoses for obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, and depression. She explains of how she came to understand more about herself in her teenage years, and how those discoveries eventually led her to uncover new strengths. “It’s a superpower if you’re one of the people who’s able to harness it and embrace it,” she says of her own experience. “If anybody’s reading this and they’re neurodivergent and they’re worried that you can’t live a normal or successful life with it, you can,” she insists. “You have to build structures and practices and processes in your life that work for you, and it doesn’t matter if they don’t work for anybody else.”

Black and white photo of Sara Landry DJing

For Landry, that meant moving to New York City after high school to enroll in NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, or as our subject calls it: “the school of do whatever you want.” She took courses in subject areas like fashion, derivative assets, and psychology, and prepared her final thesis on The Psychology of Capitalism. “I remember writing a social analysis on how the perception of the Kardashians on social media fundamentally altered which female body types were considered attractive, and I was right,” she says, throwing her finger in the air. It wasn’t until the tail-end of her studies that she dipped her toes into music courses. Eventually, a visit to Amsterdam Dance Event, a music conference held annually in the Dutch city where she currently resides, would cement her love for techno’s rougher, wilder shades.

Following graduation, Landry returned to Austin where she took a synth class and private lessons with a sound designer and local professor named Francis Preve. “He was a very, very early mentor for me, and I kind of learned the fundamentals of synthesis from spending some time with him,” Landry explains. “And then from there, my Ableton journey was really just a lot of me fucking around in my childhood bedroom in my mom’s house.” That’s where she shaped the first eight years of her career, logging the proverbial 10,000 hours on the software on her way to becoming a self-taught master, and eventually a beta tester for Ableton Live 11. “Some of my most iconic tracks were made while I was doing that and experimenting with their new features,” she shares of working behind the scenes on the leading DAW.

Landry emerged a technical beast, with her breakout ‘Queen of the Banshees’ EP on RAW a testament to that fact. Its thumping, hypnotic structure quickly turned heads across the pond, including that of French acid techno producer Nico Moreno who dropped a thunderous take on the title track. Yet far away in Austin, the then-limited nightlife scene posed challenges for the eager producer. “At the time, I was playing way harder techno than anybody else was in the city,” she reveals. “I was wanting to do these events and wanting to connect with people, but there wasn't a venue or promoter that really could book me. And so I was like, ‘well, I got a spreadsheet. I can figure this out.’”

Soon, Landry’s Klubhaus party series filled a brave new niche. Typically capped at 200 attendees, ATX’s newest promoter by default cut her teeth in true DIY fashion at undisclosed locations stocked with a free bar of Kirkland-brand booze purchased personally by Landry (because nothing’s more techno than a Costco membership.) These off-label offerings were gritty around the edges, but they were all about the music. “For some of the events, I was running the door from my phone while DJing,” she shares with a laugh. Eventually, though, Landry brought on openers and someone to help with front of house so she could focus on setting up the party, before tearing it down with the only hard techno in town at the time, often playing until 6AM — well after last call at the public clubs. They sold out time after time. 

“That’s how I knew that I was capable of running events,” she shares of the series and the confidence it instilled. Now her intention is to start producing parties and takeovers again that she describes as entirely “Sara-driven, label-focused.” And this time, someone else can deal with the bar. “I’m very excited to move back into that space,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of power in curating an event where you are aware and in control of every single aspect of what the experience will be, and you can really share a complete vision with the crowd that’s untainted.” June 28th and 29th, she’ll unveil that vision at The Caverns in Pelham, Tennessee — a venue set deep inside a cave.

Futuristic photo of Sara Landry in a black catsuit

“I think there’s a lot of power in curating an event where you are aware and in control of every single aspect of what the experience will be, and you can really share a complete vision with the crowd that’s untainted.”

Landry’s return to event production couldn’t come at a better time. As “high priestess” for her sonic vertical, HEKATE Records, Landry is supercharging a sub-genre that’s teeming with fresh, international talent. Launched in 2021, the imprint has come to play a central role in propelling harder, industrial textures to the forefront of dance music. A good place to become acquainted with the scene’s rising artists is via HEKATE’s V/A compilation, aptly dubbed ‘COVEN’ in honor of the imprint’s namesake — the Greek goddess of nighttime, magic, and witchcraft.

February marked the arrival of ‘COVEN, Vol. 4’, and there’s definitely some sorcery in its selections, which feature lightning fast scorchers from names like North American producer Spencer Dunning of Toronto, the UK’s Danielle Ciuro and NineTed, The Devil Dwarf from Italy, and many more. The collection also spotlights some returning signees like Veseli, who teamed up with Landry on ‘The Morrigan’, another 160BPM goddess-inspired homage packed with blood-pumping bass and squelching, acidic toplines.

Lineups in the US and Canada have more recently begun to place increased emphasis on this sweltering style of techno. It’s fair to credit some of its proliferation to Landry, who has found a way to connect with audiences in a manner that peels away preconceived notions about pretentiousness, and at the same time opens the door for sonic exploration.

When we comment on the DJ’s uncanny ability to weave in unexpected pop samples — her 2020 remix of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s slick wet summer single ‘WAP’ is one example — Landry serves up a quick explanation. “That wakes up the girls and the gays, and the girls and the gays, as we know, are the life of the party,” she says, acknowledging she identifies as queer herself. “It’s never intended to be like, ‘Oh, look at this moment of high art: my Ice Spice flip.’ It’s my version of trolling or making a joke.” Plus, a little on-the-fly whimsicality tends to keep things interesting, especially when gigs occupy most nights on the calendar. 

“When you’re somebody who’s playing... shit, last year I played, like, 117 sets,” she says, sounding almost shocked by her own stamina. “When you’re doing that many, the big tracks are the big tracks, so I’m playing them frequently, and I like these moments where I can surprise the crowd.” To get a sense of these stunners, pop on her self-released ‘Bad Bitch Flips Vol. 1’, which includes blistering unofficial treatments for Doja Cat, Azealia Banks, and a booming take on American rapper Ashnikko’s ‘Daisy’. “My personality type is one where, when things feel too safe, I get bored. I go straight into autopilot,” she expresses, before adding, “I think it’s an ADHD thing.”

Futuristic photo of Sara Landry in a black catsuit

Yes, purists might scoff at Landry’s mischievous ways, but broader audiences are resonating with her approach to techno in a big way. “I’m a very playful and fun individual. I like chaos. I like chaos energy. I like to fuck around,” she says, admitting that she’s just come to accept she’ll never be able to please everyone. “I gave up on trying to make the techno bro's happy,” she says, pointing to one segment where she still feels like an outsider. “There’s this level of seriousness that exists there, they don’t want any elements that are appealing on a larger or wider scale, and it’s supposed to be this super underground, exclusive sound. I’ve never really felt connected to it.”

Not unlike the witches that challenged the social order some four centuries ago, Landry is stirring the techno cauldron. On one hand, her unyielding art has spawned a coven of fierce new admirers. But as many powerful women can attest, that kind of attention can breed misogyny and lead to rejection, too. “When I first moved to Europe, there was a part of me that was really determined to be accepted, and there was a moment when I became acutely aware that I’m never ever going to be one of the guys in that sense — never,” she describes of the closed nature of the hard techno scene that prevails overseas. “Instead of trying to fit in, I was finally like, ‘Alright, if y’all don’t want me to be one of y’all, then I’m going to go be the one,’ and I feel like that’s what I’ve done.”

So far this attitude seems to be serving her well. This month, Landry’s got shows in Paris and Istanbul, and once summer kicks off she’ll play festivals including Kappa Futur Festival in Torino, Italy and Sound Waves near Porto in Portugal, just to name a couple. And while she’s stoked for everything on the calendar, she says coming home fuels a special kind of passion.  

“One of my favourite things, especially about coming to tour in the States, is that there’s more room for playfulness, because people aren’t taking things so seriously. I understand why people take things seriously, and I understand wanting to have a high level of respect for the genre of music and the pioneers who pioneered it, and the history and the culture. And I think all of that is very, very important.” She takes a moment, before letting her true feelings rip. “But also, it’s a fucking party — it’s supposed to be fun.”

And as for why the US is finally waking up to a heavier sound, Landry has her theories. “If you’re 18 or 19 years old, the world looks very scary right now,” she says. “Like on a geopolitical level, like is the planet dying?” The people in that age group, she believes, are the ones who are now a key audience for the electronic dance music events. And frankly, they’re the ones that could benefit most from a strong blast of Landry’s high energy.

Black and white photo of Sara Landry DJing

“Instead of trying to fit in, I was finally like, ‘Alright, if y’all don’t want me to be one of y’all, then I’m going to go be THE ONE,’ and I feel like that’s what I’ve done”

“In times of political and economic struggle and strife, people tend to gravitate toward these harder, faster, more intense genres and music, I think as a way of energetic work, because it allows them to feel and release these feelings, almost like ecstatic dance,” Landry elaborates. “It creates a pocket for that chaos to be expressed outside of normal life, to release all of this angst and fear and anxiety and uncertainty that I think plagues us at every waking hour.”

No, hard techno (probably) won’t end inflation, or reverse the effects of climate change, but if it makes those realities even just a little more bearable, then Landry is fulfilling her purpose. When we ask the witchy woman why the continent seemed to fall under her spell specifically, she answers without pause, circling back to insights gleaned from a supernatural Zoom session way back when.

“It’s my intention to be performing reiki at a high level for anyone who is open to receiving it,”  she reasserts. “My divine purpose in this life is to be a conductor of that energy, and a radio tower to channel those healing frequencies.”