Telekom Electronic Beats

Polish Up-and-Comer DJ Leo S Stage-Dives Into Diverse Sounds

Equally at home behind the decks and jumping into the crowd, Leo S exemplifies a new generation of borderless mixing.

Words by Zach Tippitt
Published on August 11, 2020 23:45 Berlin Time

Leo S isn’t down to be categorized. Working between production and DJing (both as the touring DJ for Polish rapper Żabson and as a performer in her own right)—not to mention being a leading figure in Poland’s up-and-coming trap scene—the 21-year-old performer has made waves in the last few years; and she has no intention of slowing down. 

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  • The Weekend – Alone Again 

  • Playboi Carti ft. Gunna – No Time 

  • Hoodrich Pablo Juan – We Don’t Luv Em 

  • Lil Keed – Nameless 

  • Brodinski Feat. Peewee Longway – Split 

  • Jamie xx ft. Young Thug, Popcaan – I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) 

  • The Plug feat. D Block Europe, Offset – Rich 

  • Kidd Peo ft. Dark Polo Gang – Loco 

  • Wizkid – Ojuelegba

  • Sean Paul – Give It Up To Me 

  • Aitch – Intro 

  • Rae Sremmurd – Guatemala

  • Jazz Cartier – Tempted 

  • Skepta & Wizkid – Energy 

  • Aaliyah – Try Again (D’Maduro Ting) 

  • Wiley, Stefflon Don & Sean Paul – Boasty 

  • DJ Capryy x Dj Astro – Bodicea 

  • Booba – Dkr 

  • Lil Baby & Gunna – Drip Too Hard

  • Giggs – Set It Off

  • MastersAtWork – Work (Emile Laurent ADE Remix) 

  • Yung Felix, Bizzey – Last Man Standing

  • Dave – Location ( Gafacci & Rolv. K Remix) 

  • Flacko (franchise Afro Baile Edit) 

  • Vida Loka (heavy Baile mix) 

  • Omar Duro & kLap – Anaconda

  • Soulely – Get ur Freak on (baile edit)  

  • Astro Capryy ft. Travis Scott – A Team

  • kLap – Like a G6

  • Pop Smoke ft. Fivio Foreign – Sweetheart

  • White 2115 ft. Żabson – John Travolta

Leo S’ ambition and multifaceted skill set definitely make her one to watch, and her transgressive, cross-genre style is the key takeaway from her Sounds of Gen Z mix. Highlighting the borderless tastes of a generation that has grown up online, her selections slam far-flung genres together, pushing the envelope while maintaining a level of catchy accessibility. In other words, she’s mixing well beyond her years. 

Leo S’ life has always been centered around music. At age 15, she finished her first degree in music while also dancing in hip hop and dancehall crews. By 18, she was DJing DIY parties and enrolled in music production school in Wroclaw, but breaking into the tight-knit Polish scene was still a struggle: “In Poland, you can’t just buy a controller and become a trap DJ. It’s not so easy,” she says. For her, and for most young Polish DJs, getting the attention of the scene’s gatekeepers is part proving oneself, part promotion. “I only had like 500 followers on Instagram,” she says, “So nobody at the beginning was booking me because of promotion. It all happened because of the FINESSE parties.” 

FINESSE is an event series Leo S and her brothers founded to, in part, give them a place to showcase their talents. The vibe at FINESSE is eclectic: the nights are focused on trap, but over the course of a set, the DJ may skew into reggaeton, dancehall, or Afro sounds, among others. In a scene that, until that point, had focused on the tastes of an older generation who favored electronic and dance music in the club, FINESSE embodied a new generation’s tastes: different song structures, more vocals, digital production, and a lot of rap music. Focused on tight mixing, hard cuts, and consistent peak time energy, Leo S’ sets for Finesse established her as a prominent up-and-comer in the scene and gave her the promotion and following she needed to start getting bookings across Poland. 

It’s this same level of selection and energy that makes her Sounds of Gen Z mix so unique. Kicking off with a cut off of The Weeknd’s new album, After Hours, Leo S’s mix is laced with forward-thinking pop and trap sensibilities, showcasing artists pushing contemporary popular music forward. It plays like a who’s who in modern hip-hop, weaving the diverse influences that have come to define the genre’s many arms—from more straightforward ATL-style trap to crossover hits like “Good Time”, Jamie XX’s dancehall-influenced, Young Thug-featuring anthem from 2015.  

Seemingly-disparate atmospheres coalesce, especially toward the middle of the mix, where dembow and Afro influences (hip-hop’s current obsession) become more prominent. Swae Lee’s “Guatemala,” arguably this intersection’s most crucial track, bleeds into selections from Sean Paul and rising French star Booba before moving into higher-BPM territory. While, like many artists from her generation, Leo S’s selections are driven by current trap trends, she rounds out the mix with a diverse palette that shows an  interest in the world’s underground scenes. Having grown up, like most of her peers, digging for music on the internet, she seems unbiased toward any genre or geographical region. Her skill as a DJ shows in making space for all of these elements, stringing them together while letting their singular textures shine through.  

Having skill, however, doesn’t mean it was easy for Leo S to gain traction. As we speak briefly about Poland’s increasingly-conservative socio-political system, she says she is one of “only a few female DJs [playing this music] who play all over Poland.” “It’s harder for girls to get a chance,” she says. This fact, combined with her bringing a newer, younger taste to the dancefloor, would lead to resistance toward her sets. “If I was booked in a bigger club, I would hear a lot of stuff like, ‘Your set was very nice. But you can’t play a trap set in the club. It’s just not club music,’” she says, “But I just kept playing what I wanted.” 

One of Leo S’ greatest strengths, which would eventually lead to her true breakthrough, is her adaptability. At age 19, right as Polish trap was starting to hit its stride, she met Żabson. A member of Chillwagon, one of Poland’s premier trap crews, Żabson’s sound is hard-hitting, with a mix of sharp, icy beats and brutal, cleverly-delivered lyrics. As one might guess, though, backing a rising trap star is quite a different gig than being behind the decks at a club. When asked about how she maneuvers between two completely different kinds of DJing, however, Leo S lights up: “I have to be a solid base so he can do his work. I have to know when to pull the fader, when to let the audience interact. And I know when to leave the decks and dive into the crowd with him.” 

Stage diving isn’t usually a prerequisite for club DJs, but Leo S seems to have taken to the challenges of traveling with a touring rapper. “We have a great vibe, me and the guys,” she says, continuing, “Every concert something new happens. One show, there was a balcony over the audience that we were diving off of onto people. At another, there were these really big speakers at the front of the stage we jumped on top of. We’re just trying to have fun. [With Żabson], we’re really trying to make it a performance.” 

Being unafraid to step outside of her comfort zone has made the DJ an increasingly vital figure in Poland’s musical landscape, but as she continues to grow, her sights are set beyond her home country’s borders. “I was never a political person,” she says, but low performance fees and government corruption—which has led to revoked women’s rights, failing healthcare during COVID-19, and little to no help for the country’s young creative community—has made it hard for her to see a future there. She sighs, “I think these are the times, again, that we’re moving backwards.” 

Despite the struggle in her country, Leo S maintains a positive attitude. While she’s made a name for herself as a DJ and performer, she holds that production remains her greatest goal. “I was producing music even before I started DJing. That’s why I even started DJing,” she says. While she’s produced a handful of trap beats, her ambition, unsurprisingly, is to push past the boundaries of her current scene, with most of her productions now skewing towards Afro-influenced club remixes: “I’m really vibing with different genres, more than just trap. And I’m still searching, but I think that, when I look into my future, I’d actually rather be an electronic music producer.” Eager to push herself as a DJ and, when all of this is over, start to play shows outside of Poland under her own name, Leo S’ future looks bright. While we talk about her ambitions to play headlining sets at festivals across Europe, she pauses, takes a breath, and reminds me, “But I’ll always love trap music. It’s always in my heart.”