The first in our series meeting women doing their thing behind the decks.
The first in our series meeting those women doing their thing behind the decks. Kicking things off, turntablist extraordinaire DJ Kayper.
Getting props from legendary turnable-tinkerers like DJ Premier and Jazzy Jeff is a pretty hefty endorsement of your skills, and DJ Kayper has got ’em by the crate load. She’s gained great popularity and acclaim with her sets, mashing up hip hop, electro, dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass and even rock, and frantically darting between decks and mixers – tapping and scratching, flicking and twisting – showing that the art of deejaying isn’t just pressing play every few minutes.
Hailing from Croydon, South London, the deejay also known as Kaajal Bakrania first introduced the needle to the wax on her older brother’s discarded decks at the age of eleven. By fifteen, she was playing her first gig at a local club. Now, nearly fifteen years later, she’s shared stages with the likes of Pete Rock, Common and the aforementioned Premier and Jazzy Jeff. She currently holds a residency at the prestigious Liv nightclub in Miami, and is set to tour Europe with US rapper Angel Haze in May.
HUCK caught up with her between studio and gigs to talk rocking a party for a living.
As a professional deejay, how much of your day is spent searching for new music?
I get up and spend three or four hours going through stuff. I might just hear something randomly and Shazam it, then go and look for it and then find other stuff. I used to buy records, obviously, but it’s a whole different thing now. Everyone’s got access to the same music now, unlike when you had to go to a record shop. I dig a bit deeper online now if I have to and try and find new edits. All of this takes time and it’s not a matter of going to Beatport and downloading the top ten tracks. It’s researching blogs and finding out what people are talking about.
How do you piece together what you discover into a set?
I don’t really plan out my sets like that. If I have an idea, I might hear something on the internet, and think that might go well with something else, like this sample may go well over the beginning of that. That’s how I create it in my head but I don’t actually know exactly. Sometimes I’ll forget what I downloaded but during the night, I’ll just play and see if it works.
When you play a set you seem to be very busy, like you are creating everything on the spot…
Exactly. Back in the day, I used to get time to practise everyday but I don’t anymore so now a lot of the time when I deejay, I’m discovering a new routine on the spot. It’s kinda fun that way and you can see instantly if it works or not. If I’m practising at home, I still don’t know if it will really work live.
Has it ever not worked?
Yeah, sometimes like if the key is wrong but I know how to mix quick and scratch so I can get out of it quickly. You can’t do something risky and then not have a back-up plan. It’s always good to have a really big tune ready to throw in after just in case…
If you don’t get creative with your sets, you might as well just put on an iPod.
Would you say deejaying is quite instinctive then?
Yeah, I guess. I don’t really think too deep into what I do, I just do things…
How do you establish an identity as a deejay when you’re playing other people’s music?
I guess it’s just your style. People say that you shouldn’t play the same set twice but every deejay should have their signature routine. I know if I do a certain mash-up, or play two tracks together, where I loop something a certain way, people who have heard me before know I’m gonna do it. But around that you improvise. You’ve got to be learn to be quite creative nowadays as everyone has access to the same music, so you hear a lot of the same old, same old played everywhere. If you don’t get creative with your sets, you might as well just put on an iPod.
On your website, there’s some very complimentary quotes about yourself from Jazzy Jeff and DJ Premier. How strong an influence has hip hop played on you as a deejay?
That’s where it all started. By watching these guys do what they do. I grew up listening to DJ Premier and Jazzy Jeff. It was this one album called ‘Live at Union Square’, that [Jazzy Jeff] did with Fresh Prince back in the day. It was recorded live and spontaneously, there was a bit where Fresh Prince tells him to do a scratch and a cut. That’s how I learned to do it, from listening to that one bit over and over again. I still watch Jazzy Jeff’s videos today and am influenced by him.
Is branching out beyond the genre inevitable?
Yeah, because I can’t imagine just playing hip hop. Even when I started deejaying, I wasn’t just listening to hip hop. I was listening to Daft Punk and French disco, reggae and even rock. The thing with hip hop, if people know you deejay hip hop, you get boxed into that category, and then you’ll only get booked to do hip hop which did actually happen to me. It took a while to get out of that. I couldn’t just play hip hop because I’d get really bored.
Turntablism can be a bit nerdy. How do you balance crowd pleasing appeal with technical ability on the decks?
You have to remember that you have to crowd please. When people do the turntablist stuff, they forget how to rock a party. But I was a deejay before I could do any of that stuff so I think you have to bear it in your mind otherwise it becomes boring for the audience.
What’s your attitude to new technology?
I used to be a real snob towards Serrato and Traktor [deejaying software] but then I realised how much it saved my back from breaking under records, and so I changed my mind. I started with Traktor and sometimes it wouldn’t work. But then I discovered Serato through Jazzy Jeff – he introduced it to me – there were two circles representing turntables which made more sense. I felt a bit weird about it but eventually the records faded out. I still use turntables instead of CDs though, they look better and people tend to pay attention more if you use them. But no one looks after [turntables] anymore. Sometimes I’ve had to fix them myself and rewire them before I play at a club.
How about AV sets?
I’ve always been a massive fan of DJ Yoda and DJ Kofi, he did the visuals for the Gorillaz and has been trying to get me into it. But it’s a big step in how to begin with it so I need to do it properly. Deejays these days have to do a little bit more than just play music to impress people.
How do you rate the lifestyle of a deejay?
I hate the travelling part but I do enjoy playing in other countries. When it gets a bit too much but I just remind myself that I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t think I will ever be sick of it.
DJ Kayper wears Skullcandy Navigator Supreme Sound headphones.