Recently, at a gym in New York, a music video from DJ Rap's 1999 major-label debut, Learning Curve (Columbia), popped up on eight big-screen televisions, flanked by remixed Whitney Houston and No Doubt chart hits. Apparently, DJ Rap is something of a pop-music presence, a fact taken with incredulous disbelief by followers of her underground productions that stem as far back as 1988. Yet, somehow, it's not surprising that Charissa Saverio, the former topless model and legal secretary who muscled her way into the UK's DJ elite before most folks even knew it existed, forged a career as long-lasting as hers and with as much breadth.
Currently plugging Bulletproof (System, 2005), a hybrid solo album and drum 'n' bass compilation (to be followed early next year with a full-length artist album), Saverio promotes each of her diverse musical endeavors with the same unabashed self-confidence. She is, after all, someone who can talk that talk: Saverio learned to DJ at the pirate radio stations she frequented to promote her tunes; she runs her own Proper Talent record label; and to this day, she's a regular in DJ booths across the U.S. and abroad. “I've been learning my skills for a long, long time, so now I'm proficient in the studio,” she says. “There's always something new to learn, so you're constantly stimulated, which I love. I'm not scared by my technology anymore.”
With Bulletproof, Saverio returns to the hardcore jungle sound that made her famous but tempers it with flourishes of trance, house and rock. The DJ's instrument of choice is her well-equipped Apple Mac G4 laptop, and she's also a big fan of Apple Logic Pro 7. A veritable software junkie, she's used everything from Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo to Digidesign Pro Tools, and there's practically no plug-in she hasn't tried. “Everything I have is in-board, and I use the M-Audio keyboard for when I want to play strings,” she explains. “I did most of it in the air, on the way to gigs. It's great because you can be totally mobile now.”
When constructing drum loops, Saverio uses sample CDs and avoids lifting sounds from vinyl, which to her ear are often flat, overcompressed and of poor quality. But for her, a good set of speakers is key to determining whether her tunes are up to snuff. And believe it or not, her favorite system isn't the $6,000 custom-built set that mimics the big sound of clubs and raves. “The best system I have is my car stereo!” she says. “If it sounds good on my car stereo, it's a good fucking mix. I know that sounds weird, but it's the truth! I judge everything by my car stereo.”
Saverio has sold all of her outboard equipment save for some sentimental relics, a Yamaha Motif and several guitars (though a grand piano is on her wish list). “I want to be able to take my laptop in my bag and do music wherever I am,” she explains. “You can't lug all that equipment with you.” Similarly, Saverio leaves her record bags at home when she sets out for DJ gigs, toting spine-friendly CD cases instead. There are, of course, the purists who denounce CD DJs, but she has a ready defense: “I have to buy the record to transfer it to CD. It just means my records don't get battered, my CDs sound great all the time, it's easier, and I'm not getting battered. How am I not supporting vinyl if I'm buying it? I'm not downloading it for free! That's one of the things that makes me laugh when people see me using CDs — people who just don't know. They'll just come up to you and say you're selling out!”
Really, what has worked in Saverio's favor all these years is her willingness to take risks and learn her craft inside and out. “I think that a lot of girls don't apply themselves in the studio, and that's a shame,” she muses. “A lot of women don't realize the joy of what you can do when you get lost in the computer. I've never been daunted by it. I'm living proof that it's not just a guy's thing. It's about being bothered; it's about being obsessed; it's about living, breathing music. This is my obsession.”