“I have this aversion to titles,” says Amrit Sidhu, better known as DJ Amrit. “People ask you what you do, and for me it’s such a double-edged sword because: one, it assumes what I’m doing has been done and the title exists, and two, I feel like naming or defining something puts a ceiling on what they can do,” the pint-sized Australian creative continues over coffee on a rooftop café near her Lower East Side apartment.
Before you dismiss her as another millennial making the case for the multi-hyphenate, she’s got good reason to eschew old-school professional designations. Successfully balancing several passions and callings—including DJing, talent casting, and brand consulting—Sidhu’s career has always been about making her own opportunities on her own terms. She helped build the Starworks Talent & Engagement department from the ground up, starting out at the lauded creative agency as an assistant in 2013.
She’s been bobbing and weaving since she arrived in New York from the beach town of Perth, becoming a fixture on the nightlife scenes in New York and L.A. Warm, in the know, and passionate, Sidhu is that girl who is always hugging folks from her perch in the DJ booth, because she knows everyone. It’s kind of her job to, and since going freelance last year, it’s led to varied gigs like touring internationally with Tommy Genesis or opening for Jorja Smith at the Guggenheim—plus, she’s always scoping out new talent.
This summer, she took it a step further and launched her own creative agency, One Stop Away, with partner Anaa Saber. The company was devised after a long conversation between the friends over the lack of real inclusion and rampant tokenism in advertising. They were determined to connect brands more authentically with influential POC creatives. “With One Stop Away we have the opportunity to be the connectors and create a place that bolsters talent, gives them a platform, and creates paid opportunities,” she explains. “I think that’s the most important thing, because if you can take inspiration from these people, you should actually give them jobs and directly give back to the community.”
Sidhu is also using her platform to get vocal about the environment and environmental racism, two other issues close to her heart. And while this all may appear disparate for a nightlife darling, it’s not. Rather, her career is an example of how so many creatives are choosing to intervene and move beyond the influencer title. “Whatever I end up doing, I keep the intention of being truly who I am. I always want to create positive change, and that’s in everything that I do.”
Here, Sidhu, a classically trained musician, discusses how she hustled her way through New York to the top of the music and advertising world, why she avoids competition in the female DJ scene, and what she wears while spinning.
A GIRL FROM DOWN UNDER
“I’m from Perth, Australia, which is geographically the furthest place you can possibly be from New York. It’s a great place to visit, but there was a ceiling for me. I jumped around through Asia and Europe, and I also did my rounds in America. I didn’t have a visa until my second year here, and I was leaving every three months. At one point, I actually couldn’t come back [to the States]. I had a place here that I was paying rent on, but there was a hiccup with immigration. I was in Perth waking up every morning crying and trying to find a way to get back. This was six years ago. Now I’m a pro, and I don’t use a lawyer. I can blitz through the paperwork.”
CLASSICALLY TRAINED DJ
“I auditioned for this music school, the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, when I was frustrated with my finance degree, and I got in. The intake from the school was really small, with 20 people in each class, so you literally live and breathe music and rehearse all day. You learn everything, so I was studying film music, composition arrangements, big band. I also took a lot of jazz units. It wasn’t intentional. I was just there to study music for voice and piano. But it’s an amazing school. A lot of really talented people went there, including Hugh Jackman.”
AMERICA’S GOT TALENT
“I didn’t intentionally get into talent at Starworks, but in hindsight, there is a connectivity to everything that I do, which is elevating people who advocate for positive change. Whether that’s an aspiring rapper from Atlanta and I’m playing their music, or I’m casting an artist from Brooklyn, it’s essentially the same thing: creating this platform for people to be authentic and exhibit their work. I fell into my role, and I created the department within. I was looking for white space where things weren’t happening, and to be like, ‘I can do this. This is a way you can make money. This is how you connect brand to talent.’ I was called to create this vertical of interesting partnerships between brand and talent.”
TALENT OR BOSS?
“It’s funny because people ask if I booked myself for campaigns, but I was behind the scenes. I’d manage the entire creative team, liaise with the art director, and be the direct contact to the brand. I did once book a Gap job I was casting, but I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t make the flight to get back to L.A. to shoot it on time. It was this big TV campaign, and I never did it in the end. But things really do come full circle. So many times I’d been the assistant in the room and not said a word, and then fast forward two years later, and I was either the project director or the talent.”
TALENT AGENT BY DAY, DJ BY NIGHT
“I was in a fortunate situation because I didn’t directly report to anyone, so it allowed me to tour as a DJ. During my last year at Starworks, I was traveling and working remotely, taking conference calls in Jakarta from hotel hallways in the middle of the night. When you’re in talent world, it’s a little different. I feel it’s important to be doing lots of things; otherwise, I lose the point of view I have. It’s an asset to have someone who’s actually really well connected and contributing to what’s happening and has access. Otherwise, you’re just watching this world all from the outside.”
STAFFING UP AND MOVING ON
“It just felt like it was time to leave Starworks last year, a decision that I didn’t make quickly. I had my team half in place before I left, because I was DJing professionally. Now I’m expanding—bringing in a business manager, creative director, and a business partner to help me with consulting. And the thing is, the bigger the team, the more work you can take on. I think that there is a trap of being like, ‘Oh, I need to make a certain amount of money before I can bring staff up,’ but the reality is that you need to be staffed up to take on the work and be able to execute and not get bogged down in the minutia.”
DEALING WITH COMPETITION
“Working from all sides in this industry has mellowed me out because in this line of work I have to book other talent who are similar to me. I consider them more my allies than competition. I hate to put myself in a category of ‘female DJ’ because I think of myself as an artist and a musician, but all of those girls are my friends, and I book them for things. There’s a kind of camaraderie where we go to each other’s gigs. I mean, there’s definitely healthy competition, but I also like to eliminate any type of toxic competition. I think it’s normal to say, ‘I have to be the best,’ but I think you should set out to be the best you. To consider somebody competition, you have to look at one another and think that we are interchangeable. And I don’t think that I’m interchangeable.”
“My One Stop Away partner, Anaa Saber, and I both had very similar backgrounds at creative agencies, being one of the few people of color in leadership roles, and we were talking about how exhausting it was having to police and say, ‘You can’t do this. That’s not acceptable.’ That responsibility is exhausting. When we worked with brands we are often used as a box to tick off diversity. We’d be the one person of color on a press trip or the one person in the campaign, and the brand would be like, ‘We did it! We’re diverse!’ We both strongly shared the same thought that diversity without inclusion is nothing. We wanted to translate that into all the creative work that we were taking on. So that’s how it was born.”
PUTTING A SPIN ON MEN’S SUITING
“I think because I get to hide behind a DJ booth a lot of the time, I’m usually in sneakers. I’m just going to be comfy, as long as the top is cute. I usually wear a mix of Balenciaga, Proenza Schouler, and Prada. Lately, I’ve also been excited by Area and Sacai. My style is so erratic, though. One day I’m polished, the other day I want to look like Cher in head-to-toe rhinestones and feathers, and the next day I want to do oversized men’s suits. I think that it’s an easy way to feel a little more dressed up when I’m in sneakers or track pants. If I put a blazer over it, I feel a little more legitimate.”
Breaking The Dress Code is a monthly series that profiles female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation.