When you stop for a moment and consider how many female producers and DJs there are in electronic dance music, it can prove difficult to tally up more than 20. Plain and simple, it’s a male dominated industry and like most areas of life, female DJs have to work twice as hard to be recognized for their talent and not their appearance. Well, Sandra Collins has been “crushing” expectations since she started DJing in the 90’s. But let’s take it back to when she was a mere 11 years old…
Sandra started going to the teen clubs in Arizona to assist her sister who was a DJ. Without the availability of instantaneous music via Spotify and Soundcloud, DJs had helpers who gave them newly discovered tracks and contributed to arranging their sets. Where most parents wouldn’t allow their kids to be out late (let alone at a teen club), Sandra’s mother was supportive of her dreams. In 1987 Sandra was dating a DJ with a day job, so when he was at work, she was throwing down on his turntables and making mixtapes. She started out playing acid house and a bit of techno, but her heart was always into the melodic sounds of trance. As the scene began to grow, Sandra made her way to LA where she worked in A&R for a record label.
She added producer to her list of accomplishments with her 1997 track “Lost in Time” and won Best Trance DJ – Global DJ Awards in 1998. Just a year later, she was one of the only women to perform at the inaugural Coachella, and performed in front of an estimated 80,000 people on the first night of Woodstock ‘99. As if it wasn’t enough to be different because she was a woman, Sandra further set herself apart by using primarily American-produced tracks in her sets when most used European-produced tracks.
All this was before I was introduced to Sandra’s brand of luscious trance and it didn’t hurt that we share the same first name. Her 2000 Tranceport 3 and 2001 Cream CDs traveled between my college room and car so many times that they required a moist breath and a gentle wipe to ensure they’d play without skipping. The first couple times I saw her in a dark and dingy warehouse in Seattle, I was stunned by her smooth transitions and how well planned out her sets were. They flowed and broke over me like ocean waves.
Sandra’s career was taking off at the same time as those of Moby, Sasha & Digweed, and Paul Oakenfold. The scene was much smaller in those days, and it was highly reviled by the general public, so these legends were committed to supporting one another. Since then, Sandra hasn’t shied away from being a role model to women DJs. Oakenfold loved her sound and asked her to do a Perfecto Presents, the first of which came out in 2003. The double disc mix featured tracks by Junkie XL, Gabriel & Dresden, and BT, and is every bit as amazing now as it was then.
As Sandra herself confesses, she used to be a party girl, and a couple of the many times I saw her play, she appeared drunk. One night at the Showbox Seattle, I gasped as she stumbled and almost fell backwards over her record cases. Thankfully, she didn’t fall, nor did her inebriation ever affect her sets; evidenced by her UK Dancestar Best DJ award in 2003. Because I admired her, it was easy to forget that she was still quite young. Reflecting back on those years in a 2013 interview with MagneticMag.com, she said:
“Who I am today and who I was then is two completely different people. If anything, I want to tell the truth about who I am. The next person might see it and say “Wow, I can learn from that.” We’re not perfect, and if you can learn off of something real, and not off an object like Barbie then it’s an accomplishment.”
Sandra’s next Perfecto Presents came out in 2006 and over the years since she’s remixed Nine Inch Nails, Fleet Foxes, and released many of her own tracks with her production partner Micke. I went far too long without seeing Sandra Collins perform, and in that time, she added deep, tech, melodic and progressive house to her repertoire. ‘Girl’, the DJ documentary directed by Kandeyce Jorden and focused on Sandra Collins was released in 2013. It provides an intimate look at the lives of Sandra, DJ Irene, DJ Rap, Colette, and more, and discusses the difficulties women face in the male dominated EDM industry.
The original title of the documentary was ‘Girl You Can’t Spin Forever’, but as Sandra has said she’ll DJ until she’s in a wheelchair, the name was simplified to ‘Girl’. When I had the opportunity to see her last year at No Vacancy, an upscale, intimate club in downtown Portland, I had that same fear I always get when seeing one of my favorites again after many years. Will she be as good as the last time I saw her? YES. She was even better than when I saw her over a decade ago. Her energy, passion, and dedication lead me to believe that like me, she’s also going to rave to the grave. Sandra Collins has spent 30 years in electronic dance music, and it’s no wonder Resident Advisor calls her “One of the most beloved DJs in the world regardless of gender.”
*Featured Image Via Sandra Collins FB Page*