Most DJs start out playing small venues before breaking into larger clubs. Vancouver artist Kasey Riot chose to do the opposite.
The daughter of a piano teacher, the performer—born Kasey Krystecki—first got into electronic music in high school. After discovering the rave scene at 18 by frequenting warehouse and forest parties—all-nighters in Stanley Park included—she pictured herself behind the decks. Quickly figuring out how to tackle big-room electro sets, she caught the first break of her 11-year career when she landed a regular gig at an established venue.
“When I started out, I played at a lesbian bar called Lick,” she tells the Straight, on the line from her Mount Pleasant home. “It doesn’t exist anymore, unfortunately, but I got a lot of my DJ practice and education there from the other artists. It was amazing to get that experience in front of a consistent crowd, and I started performing a lot there. As I got better, I started getting higher-quality gigs, and travelling a lot more to play shows.
“Halfway into my career, I began listening increasingly to underground house and techno music,” she continues. “I immersed myself in that scene, and started playing those events. It was strange to move from the mainstream to underground, but I’m happier when I’m throwing under-the-radar parties and performing in warehouses.”
Krystecki’s choice to tackle smaller shows has no bearing on her talent. Ambitious to grow her career, the 29-year-old recently moved to London, England, for a year to make a name for herself in the European underground community. Having returned last November, she considers the experience to have been instrumental in changing her perspective on Vancouver’s electronic-music ecosystem, and a huge boost to her brand.
“The scene in London is absolutely insane,” she says. “As well as the giant clubs, there’s a great under-the-radar queer techno community bubbling up right now, and I got to play some cool events. I got a job at the London Sound Academy teaching DJing and music production, and through them I booked a lot of gigs at huge venues like Ministry of Sound and Egg. I also managed to play great shows in Berlin and Amsterdam, and got a whole different education that I could take back to Vancouver.”
Despite that professional success, moving to a different continent was not without its struggles. Attempting to crack the saturated London scene without any previous connections, Krystecki often found herself on the outside of the city’s tight-knit cliques.
“I’m proud of what I accomplished, but in terms of my quality of life, I actually struggled quite a bit there,” she recalls. “When you relocate after building your career for so long, it’s quite a shock to be a nobody—it’s almost like starting your career over again. I knew it would be tough, but it was harder than I expected. I tried to use those emotions as motivation to get out there and make those connections faster.”
Drawing positives from her isolation in the huge city, Krystecki credits her loneliness as a big inspiration for her new music. The artist spent hours in the studio laying down tracks influenced by the European scene, and created a number of songs currently slated for release on labels around the world. The first, the double A-side of groove-fuelled and gritty “Don’t Stop” and bouncy and minimal “Secret Location”, came out late last year on local label East Van Digital.
“I used to escape to the studio and lose myself in that,” she says. “The track ‘Don’t Stop’ was based on a mantra to myself that I used to say over and over in London. I found the vocal sample, and I thought, ‘Yes. I’m really feeling this.’ It was a message to myself to keep doing what I was doing. I told myself that if I kept going I was going to make those connections, and things were going to get better. Eventually, they did.”
Since returning to Vancouver, the DJ has focused on reviving her own party series, named Hotline. It was created to have an air of mystique; house and techno fans follow the event’s social-media channels to find out when the next show will be happening, and then call the hotline—604-367-1794—to find out the location. Focusing on female and queer DJs, the event offers a platform to those often marginalized within the electronic-music community, and aims to connect individuals in the underground scene.
“As soon as I got back, I started Hotline up again,” she says. “It’s blown up bigger than ever. There was a lot of controversy around the male DJs in the scene with the #MeToo movement when I got back, and that was crazy. In a way, though, it’s encouraged people to support events run or played by women, and that’s been really cool. I feel like it’s brought a lot of people together, and that’s great—I’m discovering new female DJs every day now that I never knew before. Being able to book and support them is really exciting.
“When I first started out, the rave scene was pretty big,” she continues. “Then I started noticing a lot of venues shutting down, like Richard’s on Richards, Lick, and Lotus. I definitely saw lots of people either going into mainstream clubs or the underground, and doing their own thing because there was nowhere left to play. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Kasey Riot plays the Waldorf Hotel on Saturday (April 7).
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays