SUAT: behind the DJ who walks for miles carrying and mixing on an XDJ-RX
Take your livestream outside, on the move with the UK’s top-trending artist.
When the UK introduced lockdown measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19, it immediately brought an end to the country’s nightlife and entertainment industry. It also forced people to limit the amount of time they could spend outdoors. For most DJs and musicians, this immediately put a hold on everything they were doing. For UK DJ and livestreamer SUAT, who regularly performs to his online followers out in the open, it was an opportunity for him to step into the limelight, while many of his peers were forced into the shadows.
The UK DJ, real name Zach Sabri, has been DJing out in the public, hosting live streams and uploading videos to his YouTube channel for just over two years now. His YouTube has become a home for recorded live performances, renegade DJ shows, ASMR skits (which generally involve him sticking various objects in his mouth), and workouts.
And while everyone else has been livestreaming from their bedrooms, SUAT has been out and about in supermarkets, restaurants, outside famous locations — including Buckingham Palace, The British Library and even Wimbledon — or wandering throughout the woods, all the time broadcasting live on his channel. With a Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX2 strapped around his shoulders, a microphone in his hand, SUAT is entertaining his online listeners on a multitude of levels, while still managing to DJ at a professional level.
Behind the Decks
Tired of his Bioengineering course at Imperial College London, SUAT fell into DJing soon after dropping out of his course. “I decided it was too much,” he says about the period. “Literally a week later I was round my mate’s house, he had his decks out and I was like, OK this looks good, and he taught me how to do it. I bought my own decks and the rest is history.” It’s a career trajectory that happened super fast. After a few livestreamed broadcasts, the minimal, techy-styled DJ soon had his own residency in Brighton, on the UK’s south coast.
His outdoor, impromptu sets all started when he found out that he could DJ from the back of his car. “I had just bought these decks, but I didn’t have any speakers or a sound system to play them through,” he says about the early days. “I did, however, have my car soundsystem, and I worked out that I could use the battery to power my decks and then put the output from my decks into my sound system, and that’s how it started.”
Although the first attempt (which is still on his YouTube channel) had mixed responses, it didn’t take long for SUAT to build up a greater deal of positive feedback by changing up his livestream settings. With the addition of an extension cable, he realized he wasn’t just restricted to his car. “I was dragging my extension cable across parks just to DJ,” he explains. Suddenly he had 5,000 views on his streams, which was a big indication that he was on the right track. “5,000’s not really a lot of views, but at that time it was like being famous,” he jokes. Today, his livestreams clock up half a million views.
In January of 2018, he even made it on national news when DJing outside the UK Houses of Parliament during a Brexit rally. “We hired this white van, and in the van was a petrol generator, two huge speakers, two flood lights, my decks, the stand and everything we needed. The diver stopped literally in front of Parliament, me and my mate hopped out the van, slipped the doors open, and rushed our speakers to the green. [There were] policemen everywhere, and they didn’t even notice.” In the end he was asked to turn the music off, even with Channel 4 presenter Cathy Newman fighting his corner. “She put it in her story, and she loved it.”
Steppin’ with SUAT: Inside his setup
Setup-wise, SUAT is a big fan of Pioneer DJ’s XDJ-RX2. “It’s standalone, I don’t need to connect an ethernet cable between the players, LCD screen. It’s got a top soundcard, all of the effects… I swear by them, the mixes sound good, and you can record straight off them.”
The filming is done with an iPhone 11 Pro, which sits on a tripod and is attached to the controller unit. From the controller, one cable goes to a Bose Soundlink speaker, another output through a Focusrite audio interface, and that is run through an adapter into the iPhone. “That’s because you can stage the gain, so if you have the booth output going at zero, I can crank it up without it distorting,” he explains. “If there’s one important tip, it’s that you should do gain staging when setting up audio for live streaming. If you just a cable into the phone, it requires the gain to be very low, which doesn’t sound very good at all.”
Along with a generator that runs off solar and is stored in his rucksack, and a mic in his hand, you can see the DJ throughout the Steppin’ with SUAT series lugging the controllers throughout the woods, down roads, and into parking lots. The question is, though, why doesn’t he just use a smaller controller – or even a mobile DJ app? “People think there’s no way I’m carrying a full controller,” he explains. “They know how heavy these are and can see it’s physically exerting me, and that’s way better to watch. It’s entertaining.”
In some videos, you can see the DJ running through the parks or playing in a supermarket, pushing the controller around using a trolley. It’s not all gone smoothly, though, as there have been some occasions where he’s been kicked out of supermarkets when using speakers.
Steppin’ with SUAT 3.0 is perhaps the most daring of all the outdoor sets filmed by the DJ thus far. Recorded on the streets of his hometown in typical-style UK rain, the RX2 is waterproofed using vacuum-sealed bags with an umbrella attached to the decks in order to shield the iPhone from the rain. He put it simply: “Sometimes I’ll think, am I really doing this?”
“When the lockdown came, I was actually DJing at the time,” as he explains his thoughts on his videos’ recent upturn in popularity. “I was like right, capitalize now, this is your moment.”
With the future of our nightlife scene uncertain, SUAT remains one of the few DJs consistently out and about performing. Post-COVID, he hopes to see himself playing across the world, creating pop-up events as well as taking on the more established DJs on the club circuit. “ I don’t see why I can’t – I back myself to do it,” he explains. The walk-about DJing he endeavours is just an entry point into the scene to him. “I’m already getting respect from other DJs, and noticed from top brands.”
For him, though, one of the greatest pleasures from the consistent livestreaming comes through the relationship he builds with his followers. Along with Q&As, there are behind the scenes videos, and a constant reporte with the audience. “My stuff is about togetherness and equality,” he concludes. “And if you’ve got good music, send it to me, because I’m going to play it out.”