A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to sit down with Kate at the KDHX studio and talk with her about St. Louis’ amazing local DJs, her love for and vast knowledge of music and the critics of the electronic music genre.
Jessica Lackey: How did you become interested in music?
Kate: Pretty much from my family. We have a lot of music in our background, and actually where I went to college in the Quad Cities goes back to my great uncle playing in this Dixieland jazz festival -- the first ever Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Memorial Festival -- as a drummer, and so my family has always been very musical. Our big joke from growing up is my mom blasting whatever her favorite songs were from the radio at night, and we would be going home from dinner and then in the morning, her freaking herself out because she left the car on too loud because she was singing along to Wham! or whatever.
Is that what she kind of listened to, Wham!?
She liked pop music. My mom and my dad were divorced when I was younger, and they like pretty different styles of music. My dad really liked older stuff. He liked '60s and '70s rock a lot more than the '80s that I was growing up in, and my mom was more latched on to pop. Not necessarily dance or club music like we know it but sort of pop and dance music.
Some of the stuff I remember hearing around the house with her, we'd go from eight tracks of Barry Manilow and the Bee Gees to a little bit later stuff like Erasure and Pet Shop Boys and Wham!. I will listen to songs when I am getting ready for my show and I'm like, "Oh my God, that sounds just like, you know, early Wham!, like George Michael dance pop stuff." It definitely creeps back in to the music that I enjoy.
It sounds like it definitely influenced the music that you are interested in today.
Yeah, and we all liked different kinds of music. I played the piano from the second grade all the way through college. I was a music major in college and that was my main instrument. I played the flute from seventh grade into college as well. I sang in a few choirs and took voice lessons and stuff, so I really had, and still do have, an affinity for classical music and jazz. And some more regular genres like rock and indie rock and hip hop and stuff like that.
So it's far spanning.
Yeah, people will say, "So you must really just like techno," and I'm like, "Well, actually techno is a sub genre of electronic music, but I like all this other stuff too," and it's funny because I think people will say, "Oh that's what I have to talk to you about," and it's like, "No." [Laughs]
You are misunderstood in a way.
I understand though because what I present is electronic music. We are just in a bubble here at KDHX of so many people around us that know about all these different types of music and are sharing all these different types of music. It is hard to remember that there are people that don't care very much about music or only know a few artists. It's hard to see that sometimes when you are [at KDHX] all the time.
What CD do you have playing in the CD player of your car right now?
Well my car is old and doesn't have a CD player, so I have, you know, the radio and I have my little tape adapter for my iPod.
That's even better.
The one I was just literally playing before I got here was John Acquaviva "From Saturday to Sunday." It's a mix series he did. I was actually working out to that too before I got here. He is a long-time club DJ and has produced tracks too, but he's sort of known as a club DJ from Canada. He's also very popular in Spain. He is kind of a techno DJ, but it's actually kind of old. It's not super ground breaking.
Don't be ashamed. [Both laugh] Obviously electronic music has to be, I would assume, one of your more favorite types or genres.
So, how do you think that developed? Because I feel like a lot people don't start off really young and listening to techno and dubstep. So how did that develop? Was it just like a light bulb that went off?
I guess in high school I wasn't even that into it. I remember getting a tape in high school from a friend, just like a mixed tape that had some Orbital and Moby and Underworld on it, and I didn't know who they were.
One of my first CDs from the BMG music service CD club was Moby's "Everything Is Wrong" and I had never heard anything like it before. I had heard the song and the mix tape so when I got the 12 CDs for a cent or whatever it was, that was one of the CDs I got and I was like, what is this? Even for dance music, that CD in particular, that album, is kind of crazy for most people. It was all over the place.
But I also used to stay up on Friday nights, and some radio stations still do this, but they have the dance mix on the weekends. I remember in fifth and sixth grade I would stay up and just listen to the dance mix. I would just have my little tape recorder ready for the songs that I really liked that were the dance mixes of, you know, they were kind of pop dance, but that's also the only time you really heard them. I think I still have one tape. But I'll hear that stuff sampled in like newer music sometimes too.
I was the music director at my college station my senior year and I just got more into it. I was obviously getting all of the music for the station. I would say the big turning point was when I graduated and I got a job in New York working for a booking agency for big club DJs. These were some of the biggest DJs in the world. Like Tiesto and Carl Cox, and now their roster is way bigger. I'm totally jealous of the roster that they have now!
But I was just really exposed to all these DJs like Ferry Corsten and DJ Dan and John Acquaviva who had been DJs for so long too. Some of them had just done it since they were young, and they would just play and play and play and just DJ all over the place. And that kind of got me more into it because I was just around it all the time.
And of course living there, I was able to go see some different types of electronic music. That's when I kind of realized that there are all these different sub genres of electronic music. I got more into it and also more refined towards the different types that I like, versus, you know, there are some crazy happy hard cores, that I don't like as much. I was able to think about that a little bit more, so that's where it kind of sunk in.
Then I started to have a show. I just wanted to have a show in it when I moved here because that's probably the genre that I feel I know the most about. But I love subbing for other people too because I get to play with other genres of music that I am not usually doing.
That's right. We talked about how you subbed for Memphis to Manchester. What other shows have you subbed for?
The Pop Life, Rocket 88. I've actually subbed for DJ Needles before when his show was on Friday nights. I actually used to play a little bit more hip hop in my show when I first started. I've subbed for Sherri Danger and a few other people too.
How did you go from college to essentially being at an agency to being here in St. Louis to getting involved with KDHX and being a DJ?
I moved to St. Louis and I didn't have a job. I was just looking at different ways to get involved. Music obviously was the first thing that I was interested in getting involved in, but I wrote a little bit for Playback Magazine when they still had the paper magazine, and I just started volunteering for KDHX. I told some of my friends that I had moved out here to St. Louis, and I think I had mentioned, "If you know anybody in St. Louis, I'm looking for a job. If you know anybody that might be interested and here are the types of things that I have done in the past, let me know." A guy from a promotion company that I knew said, "You should check out KDHX."
And I was starting to volunteer [at KDHX] and I said, "Do you know Nico [Leone]?" At the time he was the Music Director, now he is one of the Co-Executive Directors, and he said, "Yes, I do," and I said, "Can you put in a good word with him, you know, let him know I'm not crazy or whatever."
I started volunteering in the music department, essentially helping out with electronic and hip-hop music. So when I submitted to have a show, the idea was to just play mostly electronic but also to play a little bit of hip hop that maybe had some electronic aspects to it. I felt responsible to do that, because there is all this great music out there and at the time nobody was necessarily playing those artists.
And I like it, so I was incorporating it into my show. After a while I realized that it was pretty difficult to incorporate both genres into the show, because the tempo would change so much, but also because the styles would differ.
And now, with DJ Needles and Rawthentic after my show, I feel like he's got this covered. So I kind of faded from doing as much hip hop. Also I decided that I shouldn't feel responsible to put out a type of music just because I feel that this one artist isn't getting played on KDHX, because we are covering so many artists anyway. If it is a little easier for me and if I feel like I know a little bit more about electronic music anyway, why don't I just focus on that?
So you are not playing the same music?
Kind of! I know that it's so silly because who would really remember that exact show's worth of music?
That's important though, that means you are dedicated and concerned about showing some variety.
I just don't want to lean too hard on like Justice for every single membership drive or Daft Punk, but I'm sure that people don't think about it as much as I do. [Laughs]
I'm going to call in the next time I hear the same song played within the last couple of weeks. [Laughs]
I will actually play some of the same songs or artists multiple weeks in a row, but it took me a long time to accept that that was okay. I realized of course not everyone listens every week so I should play the same artists a few times in a row, if I really like that song or whatever, because most people don't listen every single week.
Yeah, so if I only played one song once ever, I would be doing it less service because it wouldn't get as much exposure that way. But it took me a while to come to that versus "no repeats and every single time should be totally different." Some consistency is okay.
It's got to be really hard to play new stuff every single show too.
Yeah and sometimes, you know, the prep work that it can take, you can spend hours getting a show ready so that all the transitions are just exactly the way you want them. So if I do a lot of prep work it ends up being more new music, and if I don't have enough time to do quite as much, you'll see that I will have a little bit older music. But then I look back at the playlist in the end and as far as what people enjoy and don't enjoy, they like hearing stuff that they know too, or an older artist, or whatever, so I have to remind myself that it's okay to do that too.
Now that you are completely enveloped in this music scene, it has to be a big part of your life. How do you stay current on new music?
We get a lot of cool stuff here at the station, so I would say that is half of where I'm finding some of the new artists that I haven't heard of before or if it is an artist that is coming out with something new and I just didn't realize it. But as probably expected, with electronic music, the Internet is where a lot of the music is just at.
People collect music and it has gotten to the point with electronic music that you really can collect it online, and that can be purchasing, for sure, and it can also be artists giving a lot of their music away.
I'll search for artists, like Million Young will have some songs to give away and that might be how I would get exposed to them first, but now I want all of their stuff. Or Crookers has a bunch of music on a really cool website called Record Label.com, and so they have a bunch of songs on there. But then I'll think, "Oh, they released that new single, what else is new?" I'll go and drop 20 or 30 bucks on the four new EPs that they just released.
A lot of it is just a rabbit hole of information. There are blogs that are great, but there are also cool websites. There are a lot of indie rock ones too that are like crossovers, like Pitchfork Forkcast and Gorilla vs. Bear.
I go to those every once in a while, but Record Label has a ton of dance and electronic stuff. That's just a great way to tap into somebody, you know. Somebody suggested an artist because they found them on Record Label and I just didn't see it, called Mr. Little Jeans. And it's a girl, but she just has these songs on Record Label, and I went to try and find out more about her. I wanted to find the rest of her music, and I think from what I can tell, so far what she's mostly put out is just what she gave away.
I feel like electronic artists are all about just getting their music out. And maybe it's because they know that people are going to be playing it out in clubs. Maybe they feel like there is less of a risk in making a single free or some remixes or they drop the remix for free and then the original plus more remixes are on this EP, you know, so people hear the one song and it directs them to the rest.
In college I used to go on, well maybe I shouldn't say, but I used to go on Napster all the time. But I had this rule that I would only get music that I couldn't find to purchase, because a lot of it was people doing homemade remixes and stuff like that anyway.
It is hard to find some stuff, though, for purchase. If you hear a remix or some cool version of some different song, it can be so hard to find it to purchase it.
Yeah, that's what I mean. I try to go to places that I feel are pretty reputable. Like Record Label, I know that the labels make agreements with Record Label. Or if you go to a place like the Fader website, you feel like they have probably done their job to make sure this is cleared versus some music blogs. Sometimes I'll enjoy reading the articles, but sometimes they just list off like, "Here's a bunch of songs by this artist," and if they do that consistently, I think, "I bet the artist wouldn't be happy with you just giving away most of their EP that I know is available to buy." So that's kind of how I look at gathering music from the Internet.
And I'll put links on my playlist if it was free, but I'll also put if I got it and I paid for it. Because however they make it available is the way that I want to say, "This is available." But I want to make sure that it's pretty trustworthy.
No stealing music.
I don't want to do that, and as far as electronic music, I think a lot of people understand that. There is so much free music out there now anyway and that culture is so intentionally free that it is like, "Do I really need to go and find some crazy site that might give me spam just to get the new Miike Snow album when it comes out?" No, I would just rather save the trouble and buy the album and give them the money because I really like them.
What new, up and coming artists should your listeners be on the lookout for?
Crookers is one that has a new project called "Dr. Gonzo" and it sounds like it's them with other people. And that seems pretty cool. I like some crossover stuff. There is a bunch of quieter electronic music that is kind of like indie pop too.
There's another artist that I was really excited to find, and he is doing all this production for all these different people called Star Slinger. He's out of the UK, somebody that put his own tunes up on Band Camp and people just found him that way, like on Pitchfork. He may have sent music out to people too, but he is now doing production for Toro Y Moi. You can totally hear his style in the production of it.
So Star Slinger, I'm really enjoying that. And I'm looking forward to some new music from our local talent Jay Fay who is going to be coming out with some new music soon. At least that is what he told me. So those are a few that I'm enjoying lately.
Outside of being a KDHX DJ, you spin as well, correct?
Yeah, I play some music out at the Royale once a month. The first Tuesday of every month. But it always feels funny, because people are always like, "Well you're not really DJing, you are just playing music on your laptop," and I'm like, "Would you say that I was 'just playing music' if I was playing music on two CD players?"
To me, DJing would be -- I mean spinning is obviously spinning records -- but if I really felt like I could say that I was DJing out, I would be mixing. But I would be embarrassed to really say that I'm out and I'm officially DJing because I am no mix master.
Do you do some mixing?
I mean it's more of a trick of just knowing some songs that have similar tempos or good transitions but I really don't know how to mix with any software or any programs very well.
I would really like to do that more but so far I feel like I'm just out playing music. When I used to work for these big club DJs my thought was, I'll make a DJ pseudonym for myself when I feel like I'm good like that. But otherwise I'm just going to be Kate, because I can't be like, "I'm a DJ with a DJ name," and then I'm really just playing music. [Laughs]
If you could have a DJ name do you know what it would be?
I've thought about that. Luckily I have a fun show name. I thought that it could be DJ K-Woo, except to me it induces thoughts or visions of something that I might not want. It's just more of a nickname that I've had in the past with some family and some friends. But other than that I don't really know. I should say that I'm up for suggestions for something in the future. 2012. [Laughs]
Who in the St. Louis area is your favorite true local DJ?
I've really enjoyed some of Jay Fay's DJ sets. I just like DJs that aren't going to play stuff where I know every song. And he does a good job with that. And Johnny Orr, who has the Love Mix show here on KDHX, is a wonderful, awesome DJ. He does beat match for his show, it's like a continuous mix. It's so good. So he's great.
There are some crews of people that are doing fun parties, like DJ Coreography and Billy Brown and another girl, DJ Super Conductor.
Where would you say is the best place to hear local DJs or visiting DJs? The best clubs and venues in this area?
I think as far as touring DJs right now, the best place that is open and is doing it is probably club Europe for the bigger club DJs. I think the last person I saw was one of the guys from Swedish House Mafia playing there. And the sound is good and the bartenders are nice and fast and aren't just going to serve the girls with, the, you know ...
[Laughs] You know what I mean? In dance club scenes, that is hard to find. Also, there is not necessarily a dress code and I think for St. Louis city, it's nice to know that you're not going to be dressed up. I'm not going to dance in some high heel shoes either. Maybe every once in a while on some super special occasion that would happen. But most of the time, if I want to enjoy myself, I want to be comfortable.
I used to really like the vibe at Soul Lounge because they had the main room downstairs and they had a few floors upstairs, but I don't know that they are doing stuff there anymore. For other local stuff there are a few different spots. But sound is always tricky.
At the Firebird, actually, we did a benefit for KDHX, and also sort of in celebration of the Tron movie, last fall. It was me and DJ Coreography and Johnny Orr, and we all DJed, well I just played music, but they DJed.
And the Firebird has an amazing sound system for DJs. Sometimes they will throw some parties or have DJs, and I'm like, "You gotta go!" because their sound system can take it. They usually have bands there so it's like an extra special treat when they get more dancey DJ stuff in there because their sound system can handle it really well. Because that's hard.
Electronic music seems to be something that, I don't want to use the word "underground," but it's not so much on the top 40. But now you've got people like Britney Spears and J-Lo who are using electronic and dubstep and techno, and so it's becoming more mainstream and more poppy artists are incorporating it into their music. What are your feelings on that?
I think it's really cool, to be honest. Because you can say that people would sell out or whatever, but to me it's just exposing more people to another genre of music that will maybe get them into some of the more underground artists.
Like Major Lazer, which is Diplo and Switch, did the music behind Beyonce's "Girls Who Run the World" and it's like "Pon De Floor" instrumental and then it's just her vocals on top, basically. There are some big game changer type of people, and I think Diplo is easily one of them who has kind of brought it out, and David Guetta is producing stuff with all these huge artists.
I feel like now what we are seeing, and I should do research on this because it is very interesting to me, but what we are seeing in America, this has already been going on in Europe. Like this is how it is in Europe already. This is how it's been since at least when I was in college, probably since like whenever, you know, and here, it's just finally bubbling up and including dance music in pop music. I love it.
I'll go and see those artists perform. I went to the Katy Perry show and I thought there was some cool dance elements going on in the music. Some of it gets a little dumbed down and you get the auto tune and there is obviously crap music no matter what. Especially if it is commercial radio or commercial music, there is going to be crap. But there is some good music in there too that is making it's way commercially that is a dance type of music, I think, or at least it's fun. Maybe the lyrics aren't the most sophisticated, but so what.
I think if it's fun and it's maybe going to expose people to some more music like that, then it's just another morph into what is popular right now. Who knows how long it will last.
What do you say to those individuals who say that DJs and electronic artists are not musicians because they are not playing instruments?
[Uproarious laughter and claps] I love it! I love it! This is like the philosophical question and I love it because I get it [at KDHX]. To me, it's like who cares if they are playing instruments? We could boil instruments down even, if you wanted to take instruments and say, "Is an electronic instrument not an instrument then?" Because in that case, an electronic keyboard wouldn't count. Or some effects stuff would be out the window. Or like an electronic drum kit. No? Only real drums? You know, so it turns into what is an instrument, to me.
I come from somewhere where I love real instruments and I love going to the orchestra or the symphony. I love real instruments too, and I understand lots of different kinds of music and different kinds of instruments, so to me it's, what is really an instrument and what is really a tool to have people enjoy music? Does it matter that it is a live instrument? Or if it is a bunch of sounds sampled together, is it still a song? Well, yeah it's still a song. I mean, this is just what I think, but I think, "Yeah it's still a song because you can use those to make new songs."
If someone does a cover of an original song and then someone does a remix of an original song, they are both new versions of the original song. And adding some different elements. They are adding some changes in the tempo or adding a few more layers or speeding it up or slowing it down, but either way you take a song and you change it and you morph it. I just think it's funny because to me it's just all music and you can do a lot of different things to it, if that means you are sitting in your room with your headphones and your laptop and you are making the sounds that way. Or whether it means you are sitting in your living room with a piano and you are finding some chords to make a song that way, you are still being creative. I could probably go on a long time about that too. That's just sort of a short version.
You knew it was coming.
I love it! No, I didn't know it was coming. I didn't think anything was coming. [Laughs] But I'm so glad you asked because it is an interesting thing to think about. I would hate to think that anyone would think that I only like dance music with non-traditional music too. Or that people who like dance music and like to go out and dance would only like that.
What is the best show that you have seen lately?
Janelle Monáe opened for Katy Perry and I think I might say that her performance was the most recent show that I saw that was just crazy awesome. And I saw her when she opened for Of Montreal at the Pageant maybe a year ago, and she was great there too, but this performance, she had this huge band, like strings, drummer, percussionist and some electronic elements, keyboards and stuff. She was, as a performer, just amazing and her voice was amazing. So that was probably the last one that I saw where I was blown away. That was pretty recent.
I didn't think Katy Perry was too bad either. I enjoyed it, but I don't see that stuff very often, like costume changes and fanfare and all that. I don't go to shows that are that big very often so it was kind of a treat for me.
I feel like for DJs, there is a little more of a challenge to have a live show because you might not have somebody playing physical live instruments there on the stage. What do you think DJs bring to the performance versus other artists who are playing guitar on stage or playing a drum set?
I like that question too because it kind of goes back into that question of what is an instrument and what is not. To me, that is where it really does make a difference, when you, especially in watching DJs, go to potentially less and less equipment, it seems like it becomes harder.
Girl Talk has his laptop, but he's making this really fun and danceable and energetic music for the most part. Well, how do you make it fun? Obviously he tapes his laptop down and he goes crazy, and now he has enough support to make it a bigger show. I think it is harder though, for sure.
There are some DJs that adapt or will add a live drummer to a DJ set. I think it can work really well, but it still kind of depends on the type of music, if the type of music can pull it off. Especially in a smaller setting, with a small room where maybe not a lot of people are going to be there anyway, it's not like the Pageant or something.
Those smaller spaces are the harder places for me, like somebody who has just a few things and the audience can't necessarily see what's going on. Now if you had two records and a mixer and you are twiddling on the mixer, scratching the records, they see you moving so they feel like, "I see what he is doing a little more, so I can move too."
I think it is harder and I think the DJ just has to kind of show that they are enjoying themselves. I think it's easy for a DJ to get wrapped up in doing their work because they are working, you know, but if they are not going to be moving as much in the work, it probably has to be even more front of mind for them to be head nodding and maybe getting on the mic and doing a little crowd interaction. But I do think it can be more work than a band, for sure.
I mean, I've seen so many bands that are great bands, but they suck at talking and it's like do you know how easy it would be for you to just say, "How's it going St. Louis?" or thank the opening act, or anything. You don't have to say something witty. But just to show us that you are with us. I've seen bands just epically fail at being energetic too. They've got five people, and if nobody is moving then you are stuck watching the person who moves the most, which is usually the drummer. But even then it's kind of like, "Can you move around a little bit people?"
Do you think it would be possible for you to give me your top 5 artists?
I will try to narrow this down to more electronic officially because this is about the show, essentially. I would think the people that would read this would kind of want to know that.
I think Cut Copy's last two albums have been really good. I've revisited the newer album after the dust settled on the excitement and kind got back into it. So I really like what they have been doing. I've seen them before and their live show is really great.
Miike Snow is coming out, apparently, with some new music some time soon. I could listen to that over and over and over again, and they are also amazing live.
I also like Chad Valley. He put an EP out, I guess it was last year. Then he put a full length out this year and his style is considered, at least by the BBC, Nu Balearica. Balearic would be kind of like the true original sound of Ibiza. His music really got me into that style. That's why I think I really like his album. The first EP got me into this much more mellow electronic, even with a little bit more of an R&B tempo and influence. That whole style is really everywhere right now. Some of the other artists I've already mentioned like Star Slinger and Toro Y Moi, even artists like Washed Out and Air France and all these people kind of have that sound.
Okay that's three, [laughs] I think. What else have I really been listening to? I love the latest Bag Raiders album but I think that's their only full length album they have ever put out and they have just put out EPs and singles before that. And that's been a little while too. That's not hot essay writing service off the press or anything. I think I've played almost every song off of that album at this point by now.
I was listening to the Naked and Famous, and I think they have a lot of potential. That album kind of came out of nowhere. I heard they played a really good show here, but I missed their performance. But they played that Foals show at the Firebird that sounded like it was a little notoriously awesome. The Firebird staff said they thought it was one of the best shows too. Foals and Freelance Whales and the Naked and Famous, which is a strange lineup. I missed the Naked and Famous. But I was listening to that album the other day and I was reminded that I really liked that album. So we can say that. [Laughs] The on the spot top five.
And of course I'm like, "Everyone knows who all those people are!" and it's so generic of me to say. But I've stopped worrying about needing to only play stuff that is really unheard of or only like stuff that is really unheard of -- with the Internet it's been heard of somewhere.
I think as someone who appreciates music, you always want the word to be spread about a cool artist, but there is also something really cool about having that one artist that not really anyone knows anything about and you know everything about them. Like you heard them first.
Yeah, there is. And I do kind of feel like that is the only thing that makes me sad about the Internet, I guess, that it kind of took it away. It makes it harder to have that, and also the sort of mystery that radio kind of had that it doesn't really have anymore with things like Shazam where you can just hold your phone up to the radio. Somebody told me that they did that the other day and my instant thought was, "Why didn't you just call me and ask me?" But that was more immediate to them. They didn't have to dial a number. All they had to do was press one button and hold it up and they got the song. There is good and bad to that.
It's not your own secret thing, but it's just that much easier to share the music. It's cheesy, but it's like a religion, when you are a big music fan and you just want to share music that you love and that you feel is great with other people. You just want them to experience it and to enjoy it too, and to hope that maybe somebody didn't know that this existed or that this artist was out there before.
That's always what I wanted to do for my job or whatever in my life. I just wanted to be an ambassador of music. I'm not a composer or anything, but just to share it, and so I get to do that. And that's pretty fun.