A few weeks ago, I had no earthly idea who DJ Kwe was. I stumbled upon her music because of an assignment for the Rifflandia festival here in Victoria, at which DJ Kwe will be performing twice (!), but I’m here tell you, this half-breed beat maker (Representing her Indigenous and Irish roots) is someone you should be watching out for. Her audio story telling is unlike anything you’ve ever heard, full of foraged nature sounds and original ideas with a nod to the past, and from what I’ve heard, her DJ sets are not to be missed. I can’t officially verify that because I won’t be able to catch her until Rifflandia (Sept. 15-18) but egads, I’m ready for this! Until then, enjoy this wonderful installment of the 5 Questions in which we discuss the glory of double cassette collections, the struggles that face female DJs and the premier of the new question about ghosts!
1. Do you remember the first album you bought with your own money?
It was in grade 4, I bought a double cassette, album…with my yellow Sony walkman back then with the snap-over part so everyone knew you had a real walkman…So I bought an 80’s greatest hits. It had “Electric Avenue” and “Jenny.” For the money that I had and to buy a double cassette, which was pretty big news back then, that was my first music investment. I actually had to take the time to remember because buying my first music vs. buying my first record vs. buying my first CD, they’re all times in my life that I have to revisit because music represents memories for anyone.
Do you remember the first record you bought specifically for DJing?
Masters at Work – Love and Happiness. That song, I can’t get over it. It should be a world anthem.
2. If you could spend the day with anyone living or dead, who would it be and what would you do?
I want to of course acknowledge my ancestors. I always say if I could meet my ancestors I would have tea with them, tea talk. But if it was someone living it would be Buffy Sainte-Marie and I would love to teach her how to DJ.
Wow, I would love to experience a Buffy Sainte-Marie DJ set. Someone needs to make that happen, for sure.
Right? It would be amazing. I have vinyl Buffy, so I’m down.
3. There you go. I think we need to work at making this happen. Can you think of a movie or book that had a genuine effect on the way you saw the world?
Do you remember the movie Kids, about the rave scene? Oh my gosh, that moved me. I would have to say that movie because they were really able to get into the politics of partying and the free love aspect. The way it covered the party scene, it didn’t stop short of the issues that we faced back then. Not only with AIDS and sexual protection but also drug use and why the raves were created. It was to bring people together. It just took one person to damper and start the addiction and the violence, and then the alcohol came. Then the modern world said, “We love electronica!” It’s the evolution of EDM but it started with the underground. That film had a huge impact and really moved me.
And you’re still doing it. It must have been hugely impactful.
I know. Can you imagine, 17 years, especially for a female, and I’m still going strong. I’ve hit many bottoms in my time but I’m still going strong. I’m a lifer, a DJ for life.
This isn’t one of the questions but I don’t get a chance to talk with many female DJs. Do you find a lot of roadblocks that come that you can identify as existing strictly because you’re female?
Absolutely. They always say, “You’ll get hired for the way you look and you’ll get hired twice if you’re any good.” That’s the truth. You walk up and you’re going to give someone a demo and if you don’t look the part, they’re probably not going to listen to your music unless you know them and they know you. You kind of need street cred first and a crew to get in there. One of the major things it that there are so many cliques. “I know this person and this is their territory, so I’m only going to hire them.” That’s the biggest problem. You kind of have to find the right scene for you and then build from there. Also, another roadblock is definitely the sexual aspect. I’ve been sexually assaulted, I’ll put that out there. I’ve been pushed off turntables. You check your woman card at the door when you walk in and you better make sure you’re as strong as these people. And it’s always a good idea to bring someone to watch your back. It’s just being street-safe and bringing that to the DJ booth so you can focus on your music.
I’m glad you have a solution but that’s really fucked up you even need a solution. So fucked up.
It is. Oh my god I could tell you stories but in the end, the good music keeps the good people around.
4. On to better things…When is the last time you did something for the first time?
That would to be in February when Atomique Productions hired me to spin a 4-hour, all vinyl DJ set at the Royal British Columbia Museum. Not only did I do 4 hours of vinyl that night, it was the first time I’d played my own music production out loud in front of other people.
Wooooow. And what was that experience like?
They loved it! They were like, “We’ve never heard this music before! Why haven’t we heard it?” I said, “Well, I’m just finally making music I like.” My first album wasn’t great but it was a springboard. Because I played my music and people liked it, I’m sure that’s why I got hired for Rifflandia. And that will by my first DJ gig where I’m playing all original music of mine.
5. Have you ever seen a ghost or felt a ghost-like presence?
Absolutely. I truly – this is kind of weird – my ancestors I know are around me because if something doesn’t go right during a performance or when I’m making music I struggle and power through. But it isn’t until I step back, it’s kind of weird, it kind of gives me the chills, I just know my ancestors are speaking to me, trying to teach me a lesson. I didn’t grow up with parents, with a nuclear family, so I’ve had to rely heavily on not only my extended family but a lot of aunties in the community that support me. We don’t share the same blood but we share the same vision.
6. The guest question this round comes from Michael Goldwasser, founder of Easy Star Records…When was the last time you sat and listened to an album from start to finish and what was that experience like? The caveat here is that you had to have just been listening to the album and not have been doing something else while listening…
Easy! It was the Janis Joplin North American Tour. It’s red vinyl. She visits each province and address the crowd. It’s just her, her voice, her stories and her music. I recently just sat and listened to the whole thing. Not for a purpose but I just had to get it out.
Keep up with DJ Kwe on Twitter @CrystalDJKwe
Check out her production company, Urban Indian Productions.