In Conversation With: Fatima Osman
“This won’t ever become my career but I’m glad it’s going so well”
Fatima Osman is busy. Not just law student-busy. Not just DJ-busy. Her weekdays consist of studying, going to class and working at a local prosecutor’s office. Her weekends are spent solidifying her place in Stockholm’s club scene. As an atypical law student, she’s more enamoured by legal philosophy than investment and competition. As an atypical DJ, she’s rejected marketing herself on social media. By embracing the outsider mentality, the pressure to conform is quashed and her singular style emerges. Her mixes honour pioneers of house like Omar S and Mike Dunn, but when displayed alongside modern, left-field electronica, those classics are given a new lease of life. We recently caught up to try decipher the apparent contradiction between the club and the courtroom, and the wide range of genres she deftly navigates.
College Tribune: Do you go to clubs as a normal patron often or you’re pretty much just playing these days?
Fatima Osman: I used to. So the first two years of law school were so hard for me because I used to play and then party after, then be hungover during the day. I had to make a decision to stop. Now when I go out, it’s like a job. I get there 15 mins before, I play and only drink water and leave right after. It sounds so boring but it’s the only way I can manage to do all these things.
CT: Do you see DJing as more of a part-time job or do you have greater ambitions there as well?
FO: I study law because there was always that expectation- my parents always told me ‘we came to this country so you could get a good job and a good education, so you can have a choice’. And I’ve always had artistic ambitions so this has been perfect, being able to honor my parents but then also getting the chance to explore the artistic side of myself as well. The thought has crossed my mind- ‘when I apply for jobs later, what will an employer find when they google me?’.
CT: Is it [being a DJ] on your CV?
FO: No, no- my boss at the prosecutor’s office, he asked if I wanted to DJ the yearly conference. I would never get a job later if I’m classified now as a ‘DJ’, I need to be taken seriously. I wouldn’t want to make myself dependent on this either.
CT: Because it’s not very stable?
FO: I also think that when things become more serious and more of a business, you lose the freedom. [Also] becoming a ‘brand’- that’s such a product of our age, that you should be a product yourself. That sells. And not just your music. That’s been such a burden for me because I was really active on instagram. It didn’t feel like time well spent; social media gives me a lot of anxiety so I decided to take it away. But then it felt like I was taking away job opportunities by not being this ‘brand’. I would actually post videos of myself djing and that would generate more gigs.
CT: Is there a way you can offset that by being proactive in other areas? Or is it just about who you know?
FO: That’s the thing, DJing here [in Stockholm] is 50% skill, 50% networking and knowing the right people. And Instagram has obviously been a very important channel for that, so I guess there’s not really a replacement.
CT: Your style is very hard to pin down, is there a conscious reason for that or is that just your personal taste coming through?
FO: It’s partly because I grew up with a lot of music, a lot of hip hop. I used to be a hip hop DJ and some people have said you can hear that in how I mix. But then I also listen to so much different stuff myself. It was a stressing factor in the beginning, having to be able to define [my style] in plain language.
CT: It kinda comes back to being marketable, so you can tell a booker ‘I play this, this and this’ but in reality, you just turn up see what happens.
FO: Exactly, so I’ve also decided when people ask me what I play, I just say ‘what I like’ and try to keep some type of thread [throughout a set].
CT: DJs and law students are both very stereotyped areas- this is coming from a law student and someone who loves electronic music- is there some truth in either? Is there anything that frustrates you or parts you agree with?
FO: I’m a really chaotic person- I’m very good at procrastinating, I’m very disoriented, but also I’m analytical and critical- but I’m not this ‘squared law type’. And also, it’s quite a homogenous group of people that study law here in Sweden. I remember when I came to my first law class, there were these guys in the front row with their briefcases. There’s 200 people here and I’m one of two black students, which really isn’t representative of Swedish society. There’s a gap between people who are in these spheres, minority groups are underrepresented.
CT: And who grows up to be the decision makers in a society? It’s people involved in these more lucrative areas.
FO: Exactly, yeah. But I also have friends studying art or music, and they say ‘you’re so fancy studying law, you’ve really got it together’. No, I didn’t have a choice, this is because I come from a family where it’s important to ensure you have a job that gives you security. I’ve never had parents that have been like ‘oh you are free to become a musician or whatever’- that’s a privilege.
CT: And then what about DJ stereotypes? That maybe some do it for the wrong reasons?
FO: I think a lot of people everywhere do things for the wrong reasons. It’s in law as well, a lot of people can get diverted by the status that come with it. I think there’s a misconception with DJs that they can be elitist, especially when it comes to their music. I’m not like that, if people come up to see the song or try Shazam something, I try to be helpful because I know what it’s like. But I know that there are people that really hate that.
CT: Yeah, they say ‘I managed to find this on Discogs, it’s mine’. There’s a weird sense of ownership there.
FO: Exactly and I’m also a mixtape editor at Radar Collective. Some of the DJs don’t want to give us track-lists and I get why but…
CT: And how do you feel about that personally?
FO: This feeling of ownership over songs, I just find it weird. The club scene is so much better the more it can be a loving, open place. [A place] that’s inclusive, accessible, democratised and not this elitist space with lists and entry cards. I feel like that’s just driven by our insecurities and our ego.
CT: And it’s the opposite to how this music started, from the gay scenes of Detroit and New York that needed a place where they could go and be themselves.
FO: Exactly, there is that [elitist] side to the scene and I don’t think that’s just a stereotype. And also for a long time women have been underrepresented- I think there is one other black girl who’s a techno DJ here in Stockholm. In the beginning, it was hard to break in but I think things are starting to change now.
You won’t find Fatima Osman on Instagram but check out her mixes on Soundcloud and, if you’re ever around Stockholm for a weekend, chances are you’ll catch her then.
By Niall O’Shaughnessy – Music Editor