09.08.2019 | Words by: Benjamin Rogerson
Kate Miller will continue to pour curated naughtiness over summer dance-floors at De School this Friday. The far-reaching radio and club selector has been described as a ‘musical chameleon’; bringing her sets to life with colours more vibrant than Ari Aster’s Midsommar. How can we best capture and communicate musical experience? And what drives her to continue uncovering music after all these years? She opened up and leant us her thoughts in advance of her upcoming set this evening.Q: I read a lot of interviews trying to put words to your sets and style. For me words often don’t do justice or get close to how the music truly feels, and at times can even inhibit one’s perception of it. Particular for artists like yourself who are willing to play different kinds of music along many avenues. How do you feel by people trying to put your music into words?
A: Of course people always try to describe music with words, myself included when I’m writing promotional texts for the Oscillate parties I organise, but in the end you just have to hear the music if you want to understand it. Words can never encapsulate the breadth and depth and energy of the music. It’s also so subjective. One person may hear one thing, or focus on one aspect of the music, and write about that part, while another person hears something completely different! It’s necessary for journalism and promotion but almost useless in trying to gain a true understanding of the music one plays or creates. Q: With dance music writing, I also sometimes long for information about the spaces in which the music was played. Where the feedback between space, crowd and DJ is so important to the overall experience. How important is the space you’re playing in as to how you communicate through your music?
A: Yes, I find these aspects much more interesting to read about in music journalism. These are the things that can transport the reader to the party and the space and provide the context in which the music was heard and enjoyed. As a DJ the space, context, crowd, time of day, all of these things, have a huge impact on the way the music is received as well as which tracks are chosen. For example, I rarely enjoy “cheesy” music on the dance floor. Of course I love to listen to 80s disco in my kitchen but on the dance floor I prefer rough electro and deep dubstep (there I go trying to describe music with words), but last weekend I was at Nachtdigital, the last Nachtdigital after 22 years, and hearing Nelly Furtado - All Good Things Come To an End nearly brought me to tears. It was the context, the setting, the shared experience. Standing on the beach looking over the lake with my closest friends, tired from the weekend and feeling so grateful for the wonderful experience we’d just enjoyed but also sad that it would be the last time. This song was perfect for the moment. But of course I won’t play that song tonight at De School. It wouldn’t fit at all. The thing I love most about De School is the darkness. Nobody can see anything so they have nothing to focus on except for the music. This means I get to play subtle, rich textures. They have the room they need to be fully appreciated in that space. Q: I feel like you capture this somewhat through the photos of your Instagram. There was a photo of blue sky peaking through the green trees in the garden at About blank, and in true British style, a grey clouded sky above Latitude festival. It takes you back to the event without having to use words to do so. Do you feel like visuals (photos, videos etc.) can do a better job of capturing the mood of your music, or the events you play, than words can?
A: I think you can explain a lot with words that you can’t with pictures like the reason why people are throwing a party; are there political aspects? Is it the last edition of the festival? Where and why did the music they are playing develop? But the picture of the venue can take you right there to the feeling of the space. The openness of the festival forest, the brilliant stage design and lighting or the intimacy of the rave dungeon. Q: I like the titles of some of your mixes, because rather than offering a description of the music, it instead describes a place or journey in which the music could be placed. Such as ‘music for subaquatic travel’. Do you often envision a certain context to place your music? Particularly when you’re not out there DJing, making podcasts or radio shows?
A: Yes, I like to come up with a narrative for each mix. It helps me paint a common thread throughout the mix and also keep each mix different from the last. I don’t want to make another version of the same thing every time so it helps to give me a direction. The mix you mentioned was inspired by Organik Festival in Taiwan. Although I’ve never been there, friends always rave to me about it and I’m inspired by the artists who play there. People like Valentino Mora, Dorisburg and Martinou. I’ve seen photos of the stunning location, forested mountains leading down to the beach drenched in rain, and listened countless times to recordings from the festival. It seems like a magical place and a particular sound seems to suit it best. I like so many different styles of music so having a theme helps me to focus on one thing, at least for an hour anyway. Although that doesn’t always work out, so many of my other mixes are pretty frenzied and erratic, which I also like. Q: You’ve been co-curating and playing at the Oscillate parties at about:blank, your music feels right at home in the garden there. Is there something about this space in particular that feels special to you, that keeps calling you back to host your events and play there?
A: Oh yes, about:blank is our home. Especially the garden, it’s so beautiful. Out there on a Sunday in the summertime it feels like a small festival. I love that the dance floor is round with the speakers going all the way around, it creates a kind of bubble feeling on the dance floor. The garden expands out into a little jungle behind the dance floor and inside on the lobby floor is probably where I’ve played the most of anywhere in the world. I know that room so well now and feel so comfortable to explore anything and everything. I’m really grateful to have a residency in Berlin. It’s quite rare these days.Q: You built your DJ form up in Melbourne, and now based in Berlin, you play often across Europe and the world. After this jump and playing in a wider variety of places, do you feel that there are certain places in the music scene where you feel you belong more than others? Does this sense of belonging play a role in how much joy you take from being a DJ?
A: I do feel a sense of belonging at my own parties and that does create a very special sense of joy and satisfaction, but playing on unfamiliar territory is also very exciting to me and sometimes more satisfying because you really never know which way it’s going to go. I love to see how far I can push my style with new crowds and to connect with people from places I’ve never been before. Q: Is there a particular spot which feels most like home to you?
A: Playing in Melbourne feels very special. I left Melbourne 8 years ago to move to Berlin and I honestly miss it every day. So being able to go back and rejoin that community and connect with my home is very special. That being said when I think of my “DJ home” I also think of Stattbad, which is where I had my first residency in Berlin. It sadly shut down a few years ago but the bookers there gave me my first opportunities to play in a big nightclub alongside some idols of mine. The abandoned pool complex had so much character and they did such a great job with the lighting and sound. My parents even came to visit and heard me play there. I was there for 3 or 4 years and if I imagine being able to go back inside those walls with that crew, that would definitely feel like home. Q: If you could place your music somewhere totally new, where would you want it to be?
A: Anywhere and everywhere. I want to spread it like wildfire! Playing in Georgia was a wonderful experience, getting to see that beautiful country and eating their incredible food wasn’t bad either, hehe. I also loved playing at PLX Festival in Sweden last year. It’s just 800 people on a tiny island only reachable by boat. I guess I’m living the fantasy. I also can’t wait to play at De School tonight. It’s one of my favourite clubs. Ever since the last time I played there I always ask the lighting technicians at other clubs to turn the lights down. I love playing in the dark. No one is thinking about how they’re dancing or looking at anyone else. There’s no judgement or thinking, just listening and dancing. That sense of anonymity is great. I’ve heard rumours that it’s closing soon too so that adds a bittersweet touch. Maybe I will play Nelly Furtado after all, haha! I’m just so grateful for all of these opportunities and experiences that I wouldn’t want to ask for more.Q: You’ve been playing now for many years. You continue to find new gems and nurture your own style. What exactly is driving you to continue searching for new music? Or is there simply a natural spark which never seems to die out?
I’ve been playing for 10 years, but yes quite a while now! Honestly, sometimes the hunt for new music can feel routine and tedious! Some days I ask myself what the point of traveling around playing “doof doof” to people is. It feels like such a silly job! But then I have an experience on the dance floor and I remember. It’s life-affirming stuff. Music is a pure celebration of life. It’s connection. What more could anybody ever dream of achieving with their work? For me, music is the most direct way to connect with others. No words, just pure energy. When the sound comes out of the speaker, it goes right into your chest. You can’t avoid it. Everybody takes what they need from the dance floor. Whether it’s just a few hours away from work to release the tension and brush off responsibilities till the next day, or if it’s to challenge yourself musically. It could be going out despite your government telling you not to. Dancing in the face of adversity. Dancing to express your sexuality. Dancing to show the world you’re not afraid. Or just for the fun of it. It could be for any reason, but whatever it is, it’s beautiful, and beauty is the most important thing in life. Without it, it’s not worth living.
Kate Miller plays our basement tonight alongside Boris. Tickets are still available here