In The Middle with Kessie

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Kessie is one of the most exciting DJs in the Leeds scene, bringing a blend of techno, chug and sleaze to the city’s nightlife. Music and Clubs Editor Safi Bugel caught up with the Flesh in Tension and Love Muscle resident ahead of her New Year’s Day slot supporting Objekt to hear about diverse parties in Yorkshire, creating a space in the scene and her favourite releases of the year. 

You moved from York to Leeds – how do the music/club scenes compare?

They’re significantly different! As York is a really small student city (you can get around York in one day!), the main night life is full of student bars and clubs like Fibbers and Kuda. I got super bored of it by the end of second year if I’m being honest! However, like me, there were other people who weren’t satisfied by these club nights and just did their own thing at the Mansion venue — a few parties to name would be Blackbox, Animeaux and CLKWRK. When I came back from my year abroad I joined a collective called SKIN, which I’m still part of; they’re a really great bunch of people focusing on drilling lots of experimental stuff but also whatever you want to play. Big silly energy basically! Henry, the founder of it, allowed me to just start playing in front of people: I was so rubbish at the time but he believed in the tunes I was playing and the moods I was trying to deliver. I have a lot of negative things to say about the York scene but it’s also where I began DJing too. I would say there’s a small minority of us who want something different and better than the usual student nightlife, and I can also see the thirst for more so it’s promising!

And for Leeds… wow, I’ve found a massive community here and I owe so many people so much. If you have an interest in any type of music there’s a space for you. It’s super vibrant, there’s lots of venue spaces (although they need improvement with licensing) and core arts/radio stuff here too. I love Leeds for the DIY scene – something that wasn’t so big in York. But yeah, there’s a massive difference I think.

It’s nice that you still look back on York so fondly and found room for you and likeminded people to create your own scene — do you find that Leeds is as malleable? (For putting on nights/starting groups like SKIN etc.)

Yes! Some people would argue that because there’s already so many nights there is potential for competition, which could maybe be applicable for a city like Manchester, but I disagree. I look at Sable Radio and the types of people who come on the show and some of them are new or just starting out their new night. It’s not easy putting on nights, but what I’ve seen in Leeds is that people are willing to help, be it finding venues, lending technics/CDJs, DJing for starting nights, etc.. I do feel there is a support network here for sure.

Big up Sable Radio! What other Leeds-based groups/projects do you think stand out?

Big question! Honestly, there’s a lot of stuff in Leeds. I really, really love what Not Exotic (founded by plugkeisha) is about: I went to their first night at Wharf and it was amazing to see so many black and non-white people at the front doing their thing. The music slaps too; there’s a sick blend of electronic, reggaton and hip hop. I also reaaaally love Stretchy Dance Supply! I actually haven’t gone to one of their nights (yet), but I’ve been following the stuff they do on radio and the sounds are amazing! It’s all fast and techy, and I don’t think you’re going to get that elsewhere up North. I loved how they brought out four female DJs for their night at Sheaf Street not so long ago. Big stuff really! 

Some bias here since I am a resident of this party, but Flesh in Tension too! We recently put on our last party of the year and it was amazing to see so many queer people of colour present. People say black people don’t like techno, but techno is black! So bringing the roots to the forefront is so key for us. We focus highly on maintaining a safe space for people so they feel welcome to explore their freaky fetishes (we have a playroom at our parties). Kat & Gellar, the main co-founders are absolutely brilliant in everything they do; the Uber PayPal pool is one fave thing of the party that stands out to me: it finds people’s travel needs so they can get to and from the venue with no issue!

I honestly have so much to say about the DIY scene here, I could write a whole book.

Yep, it is bizarre seeing the pioneers of these genres and movements being underrepresented today! Have  you noticed a shift in this lack of representation since starting Flesh in Tension/ being involved with Love Muscle?

I think there’s definitely been an improvement. People are interested in listening to different types of music and styles and there’s a thirst for deeper forms of representation too. For Flesh in Tension, our aim is that we book queer people and queer people of colour and so far we’ve had Akua and SPFDJ. We have more plans to come! I’ve seen that when you do the outreach people do come. Love Muscle does a lot of outreach; Michael, the founder and my dear friend who I have so much respect for, has done a lot of work, and has more plans to continue doing so! I think I’ve noticed the shift when there’s effort in the outreach. If people are told “hey, this party is for you“, they’ll come along. Love Muscle recently had Shy One and Afrodeutsch, and they’ve also had many other queer DJs being booked too. The aim is to keep it interesting otherwise you’re not going to get the representation you need in party goers!

There’s definitely been a strong step in the right direction! What’s your favourite party to play and why?

Maybe SKIN because of how silly the crowd gets and you can be so random and people will still dig it. I love SKIN so much because everyone has their own weirdo style and there’s no restrictions on what you play. I have huge respect for all the members. I also have a lot of fond memories of SKIN as we throw a lot of our nights at the Crescent Community Centre in York – there’s been so many fun times there!

I also really enjoyed playing at Fifth Motif (a techno party) in October. I was doing the opening and since then, I have really grown in confidence and sharpened my approach to playing and being cohesive with moods and themes. I was also not in a good place mentally so I was sort of forced to dig a bit deeper and find moods that would help me express that. This changed my perception on being patient and building for a long time before you go heavy, too.

Speaking of strengthening your confidence and approach — you’ve landed yourself a support slot with Objekt in January (congrats!). How do you feel about that?

I have so many mixed feelings! I’m definitely a lot more confident since closing Love Muscle last weekend – I listened back to the recording and I just had to admit to myself that I can actually do this. However, I’ve been struggling a lot with ‘imposter syndrome’ and, for someone who’s been playing for just over 2 years, I sort of look at the rest of the scene and think ‘no way, someone else should have been asked instead!’. I think non-white people do put themselves down a lot more even when they’re sick. I’m pretty sure I have had people scorning or even going like “what??“ in response to being asked to play, loool! I am quite lowkey about playing though; I tend to not really make a fuss about things so it’s very much a “if you know about me you know, if not then you will maybe”. On a positive note though, I am very gassed I was asked, and I think it’s going to be okay! I have no gigs between now and then so there’s lots of time to prepare and mentally get myself ready for it, which is a key thing. I just need to not let my nerves get in the way!

If your past sets are anything to go by, I have every confidence you’ll smash it! Finally, what have been your favourite releases of this year?

Thank you! I hope I do too, hehe. In terms of my favourite releases, I think the latest EP by Blakaut is up there. I can’t actually spell it as it’s in the Greek language but if you’ve listened to any of my sets, you’ll notice that I rinse one or three tunes that have a synth/dark wave kinda vibe to it. It also has a late 80s rectro feel to it too. I love the EP so much and some of them sound so good slowed down too. Check them out on Bandcamp, their other stuff is amazing!!!