Introducing: The Umami CollectiveA small Melbourne DJ collective - bringing the community together and putting on grassroots events and sets on the regular. Their mantra is ‘celebrating all of the flavours’ and what they serve up effortlessly packs a punch.
Hello Umami! Now we are lucky enough to know the beautiful Carolyn quite well (and maybe many of our Sük community do too) because she is part of our shop team and often jumps into our customer service inboxes - but please introduce us to each of you, and what you bring to the collective.
Carolyn: I’m Carolyn! Samoan gal, SÜK crew member, part-time DJ, and I help curate events alongside the crew. I have known Sev and Tawana for years (even heading back into primary school for Sev) so we’re definitely a close bunch.
Sevara: My Name’s Sevara, I come from Romany ancestry and I’m a full-time DJ. I also work in admin casually during the week. Tawana and Lyn are day ones for me, we each play a different role in the collective but mine is doing the booking/admin and hosting.
Tawana: Hi! I’m Tawana. I’m from Zimbabwe. Like the others, I’m also a DJ and an MC but I also work in Community Development. I first met Lyn and Sev, when I first moved to Melbourne in 2014/2015, at a club night my then-boyfriend was running.
Tell us why you started Umami Collective - what started the initial idea? Were there exciting first conversations?
Carolyn: Umami started off as a conversation in Sev’s car one night before heading into a club! We were offered the opportunity to hold an event that prioritized queer, BIPOC, and Trans WOC focussing on creating a safe space after attending countless nights and realizing the stereotypical narrative of who and what someone should, look, dress, present themselves in order to just have a good night out. I think we started Umami as a stamp on the Naarm nightlife scene solidifying that we should never make anyone feel excluded or alienated for expressing themselves and the importance of community in the dance/night scene.
Sevara: We had a plan for how it was going to look, the theme of each night, who were going to book. But we kept it pretty chill and we’re blasé about it. I think that’s what drew people to Umami, punters get sick of going to ‘serious’ nights with ‘serious’ music. We wanted to keep it lighthearted and fun.
Tawana: Realising quickly - between ourselves - that what we were looking for - in terms of music and community- had to come from us. When we were provided the opportunity to create Umami, having those initial conversations about who we were, the ethos of Umami and what we could do with the platform was integral. Those same conversations came to start the foundations of each event as we move forward.
How did you get started? And how did that feel?
Carolyn: We got started a few years ago running monthly events as club kids entering into the nightlife space. Every night we were learning about what worked, what didn’t work and how to maintain a safe space as best as we could. Having our foot in as DJs was also a big plus in keeping an eye out on local talent that we wanted to showcase and making sure that with each lineup we made sure to highlight an array of people, sounds and culture. It was stressful (and still is!) and nerve-wracking but we’ve learned a lot along the way.
Sevara: Spilled the T Lyn. We made a lot of mistakes early on, we quickly learned we needed full agency of our night and how we present it. Operating an event in a space where alcohol and possibly drugs are involved, there are many variables to look out for. But thankfully we always had each other’s backs.
Tawana: Lyn answered amazingly! It was hard- I won’t lie. There was so much we didn’t know that we’d learned along the way. But it didn’t feel like there were any expectations or goals to meet friends who’ve been there from the start are so important to our story cause they’ve been repping us since the start. We tapped in hard with the community around us, and we still do, and it’s exciting to know that the same crew at the start is the same crew now.
We imagine there can be a bit of juggling with daytime life, being night creatures & creating beautiful events for your community - what keeps you going?
Carolyn: Seeing those who attend have the best time tbh! There is always fresh local talent and new ideas that we love to bring forward. Sounds cliche but knowing that we hold this space for our community, we wouldn’t want to not offer the opportunity for those who’d like to experience a night where they are free to be who they are.
Sevara: Purpose. We all knew we liked doing this more than our (at the time) casual retail jobs. So it is extremely rewarding to see smiling faces in something we curated. As opposed to dealing with angry customers every day.
Tawana: Knowing that I have a creative outlet where I can turn to. Also, a deep appreciation for club culture and global music.
What has been a highlight/s of your Umami career?
Carolyn: Every night has been great but our Boiler Room was crazy (good). Massive accomplishment.
Sevara: This is a personal one, but our LeFag x Umami X Vapor Nein night at Angel Music Bar. It was the squishiest and sweatiest night with an 80-ish-capacity venue. But it was so much fun. That was also the last time I saw Bridget from the VN crew before she passed away.
Tawana: 5th birthday. It came around so quickly, that I didn’t realize until Sev mentioned it! It was pretty cool to see the amalgamation of the years gone by into one night, where we got to celebrate with our club family. Also, seeing new faces and coming together with the day one who has been attending since the start.
What big events are you planning/looking forward to?
Carolyn: We may or may not be having an event soon… but looking forward to collaborating with local talent for future nights ahead.
Sevara: The great thing about Umami is that we go with the wind, we do events when we feel like it or an idea pops up. Sorry!
Tawana: Maybe! Going interstate? Big Maybe though!
Being out and about at night - tell us what draws you into the night - what is the magic that makes the scene and the night feel like home?
Carolyn: I think navigating daily life, we have our “day” selves that operate in a social construct that may not necessarily align with our personal views or where we may have to deal with obstacles as marginalized women - the night is where we really get to be who we are. Whether that's the music we play/listen to or how we express ourselves.
Sevara: It’s the excitement of unleashing your club persona. You wear different clothes! Say/do what you want to say! Kiss pretty people! I’ve never really been a morning person, even though my name means ‘morning’ in Hindi.
Tawana: Honestly, knowing that the girls and I are going to have a time! Like, the ritual of planning a night out is exciting. Planning, on where to go, what events will attend, the music we’ll listen to etc. I think as you go through that ritual, it’s a moment in time where you're prioritizing yourself - your enjoyment, having fun etc.
Talk to us about how you create safely for yourselves, especially at night.
Carolyn: We try our best to do as much as we can to create a safe space, but we know that there may be/ are outside factors that we can’t control. Ensuring that we are working with like-minded people when it comes to the actual space for our events is so important to us. Our team is always transparent with the ‘safety policy’ for our night, ensuring we make our faces known so those who attend know who to check in with if they ever need help or feel uncomfortable is paramount. Being attentive throughout the whole night between the three of us (sometimes including more of our Umami extended family) to try and cover as many areas is the goal! Being very clear on this on other platforms such as our social media is important to get that message across.
Sevara: Safe spaces are kind of a myth, we learned this very early on. You can present your event a certain way to promote a code of ethics to prioritize marginalized people, but you can’t control the random punter that rocks up and ruins it for everybody. But there is safety in numbers. Just like if we were getting harassed by somebody in our club days, we band together to mitigate the situation.
Tawana: I also think our ability to communicate openly and effectively with each other on event nights and again leaning into the extended Umami crew to support us.
Umami Collective works on the unceded land of the Boon Wurrung and Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri) peoples of the Kulin Nation. Always was, and always will be Aboriginal land.