DJ Erika Kayne’s Zone
The DJ on close listening, her album collection, and on not pleasing club promoters.
Text: Hugo Cervantes
Photography: Penelope Uribe-Abee
Listening to a DJ Erika Kayne mix is to dial into her world. Kayne’s mixes are hyper-focused, encyclopedic by nature veering through deep R&B album cuts to rougher raunchier club edits. It is her deep commitment to listening to music and her style and sensibility is then a tribute to the world’s those albums, mixes, songs posses. Fitting she shares a name with Aalyiah’s song, Erika Kane, a portrait of a sultry vixen bent on maximizing fun in all its forms. Now the DJ is working on her debut Dublab show Club Delirium, yet another loop in Kayne’s zone.
DJ Erika Kayne
What was the first club you played?
It was the LASH. (laughs) My friend was throwing a night and wanted a retro-pop, R&B night so I pulled up 5 CDRs with 18 songs on each one. I didn’t know what I was doing but I played for two or three hours. I was like ok this isn’t half bad, you know. My first official gig was at the Lexington Bar and it was for a party called Trade Thursday’s or Trade Friday’s thrown by Rudeness and her team. I prepared a set and when I felt the crowd’s reaction I was like ok! I want to do this a lot more.
What made you want to DJ?
I met Asmara at a Mustache Monday and I told her I liked how she mixed Janet Jackson’s Feel It Boy with Beenie Man’s Girls Dem Sugar and she was like, “You should DJ.” I went home and downloaded Virtual DJ and I practiced until a year ago when I felt I was ready for the clubs.
You’ve mentioned Nguzunguzu’s Perfect Lullaby mixes being formative to you as an artist. What does Nguzunguzu mean to you? They are my direct portal to abstract electronic music. I heard the Mirage EP in 2011 and I was like, “What is this?” It sounded like nothing else I had ever listened to. They were a step ahead musically, hearing pop and R&B standards mixed over duro and all these overseas styles. It was just something I never heard before, it really inspired me. They are just the beginning to me in a lot of ways.
Dropping a slower song like Beyonce’s Signs in a set is one of your signatures. What is it about slowing down the tempo that attracts you? There are just a lot of songs that I like that are in 3 / 4ths like Lions, Tigers, and Bears by Jazmin Sullivan. I would never get the chance to play that song because what else could I play that could be mixed into it. Tempo and knowing where you are going in the set dictates everything. When I DJ I organize my music by BPM so if I am going to change from 90 to 140, I fade out the song entirely.
When you play are you in your head or do you feel more embodied?
It definitely gets mental. Something that I like to do before playing is to drink one of the huge Monsters. It’s the only time I have them! (laughs) I just want the cogs to turn a little faster. It’s very mental how this song connects to this song, what’s going to make people dance, I don’t really read the room that much because I feel like I am there to give people what I want to give them.
No pleasing the promoters!!
No!! A lot of people hate that I play album cuts and old R&B and I am like, “Oh, okay girl, that’s fine cuz there are other people that like it.” DJing is very mental and really is in my head the whole time, just making sure I am keeping time having the effects together. The whole thing is very mental.
In your DUBLAB interview with BAE BAE you mentioned Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope was an album you listened to front to back at 25. It made me wonder if there are certain albums you feel like you have to wait to listen to or when you do finally listen to that album defines that age. Do you listen to albums like this too?
I am a huge album fan. I used to have a CD collection of over 400 CDs. I love listening to an album from front to back. I have never been a singles person, I’d much rather buy the record and listen to it from beginning to end. I just feel it is more of a deliberate thing you are giving your energy and time to the artist and hearing their entire message of what they had to say.
A feeling to be ready for more experimental music like Gang Gang Dance and their Eye Contact album. It mostly happens with genres that I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy or listen to, that is just when I have “AH!” moments.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was an album that changed a lot for me. That was huge. I remember when I went to Best Buy and stuffed it in my purse. (laughs) I had just moved to Ontario in the I.E. We lived next to a freeway overpass. I was in an apartment and I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have any friends, no job, you know it was a really weird time in my life and I remember hearing that album for the first time. It blew me away. It was one of those albums, a pillar for me.
In that same interview BAE BAE describes you as radical and punk for your sensibilities and the general refusal to not play Brandy or something deemed uncool or too feminine. Do you see yourself in this way too?
I do agree with that! And I don’t agree that Brandy is uncool. I do see that standpoint where white cis-het dudes are very much like “Full Moon???” Like, what do you mean? She’s the one! I love that because I refer to my DJ style as schizophrenic. I do think it is punk and radical. The chances I take and my stylistic choices can be very out there. Coming from my standpoint of being trans, black, and femme I have to make a declaration everytime I play because I could never be some DJ that plays one genre.
Your mixes are vocal heavy, often deep R&B cuts is another one of your signatures. What do the vocals mean to you and your mixes?
I have always been attracted to femme R&B music. It’s been my mainstay since day one. Songs tell stories and so when you intertwine two different stories or songs and create something new, a new story. I like to let both vocals play at the same time which is something BAE BAE brought to my attention, she was like, “You know they told me not to do that” and I really love doing that — I think it is fun. Vocals can either add or take away from the track. The human voice is the most powerful instrument we have.