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Our Journal

DJ and producer Karistocat talks Sound Arts

Russell Cleave, Technical Demonstrator for BA (Hons) Sound Arts, sat down with Karistocat to find out more about her career and influences, as well as why she'd study Sound Arts.

Born and bred Londoner, DJ and producer, Karistocat has been spinning on London’s DJ circuit since 2011. Her live sets are a kinetic combination of dark and pulsing electronica, centred around drum and bass, breaks and acid. Karistocat has a distinct style of bringing an alternative flair to her performances, showcasing an unconventional sensibility to the drum and bass community with a punk influence.

Russell Cleave, Technical Demonstrator for BA (Hons) Sound Arts, sat down with Karis to find out more about her career and influences, as well as why she believes that studying Sound Arts at university could help aspiring music supervisors, DJs, producers, songwriters, sound designers for apps and more.

What is your personal history with music?

I’ve been a DJ for 11 years, turning full time in 2012. I’ve always been a lover of music, my parents were musicians, playing jazz and acid jazz. Considering I grew up around jazz as a genre, it never interested me. I loved the Spice Girls and The Prodigy.

My earliest memory of music, aside from my dad playing the saxophone and being fascinated with this ‘machine’ with buttons on, is being perched watching my grandmother making scrambled eggs with the radio on and hearing ‘Waiting for A Star To Fall’ by Boy Meets Girl. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for reverb and synths. I felt absorbed by the sounds around me.

The first time I heard dance music was when I heard Snap!’s ‘The Power’ being blasted out of a boy racer’s car when I was about four years old. It was around that time that I did my first ever DJ set - at my reception christmas party, playing a rock n roll compilation full of 1950’s hits. It was a hoot!

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That started the bug of playing ‘radio stations’ with my siblings, recording songs off the radio and being radio presenters, before learning to play bass guitar amongst other instruments.

When I was 14, I attended a rave and the music playing was UK garage. Despite not knowing the genre, I loved the energy of the music, especially hearing it on a sound system, and soon started listening to pirate radio. I was fascinated with the culture that surrounds a music movement, whether it’s punk or grime. Back then, I never saw any female DJs, but I wrote that I wanted to be one in my diary at the time.

How did you start your career, working with sound and music?

Years later, I was involved in the punk scene, booking bands and playing in bands myself. It was around then that I saw the French DJ duo Justice play, and I decided DJing was something I truly wanted to pursue. During this time, I started collecting records and I became a music supervisor. I loved to perform but also loved to curate soundtracks.

Working as a music supervisor, I worked with brands and films, not only curating sound, but also encouraging both artists and brands to have a dialogue with the sound that didn’t take away from the artist’s integrity. How can we tell a story and give a platform to incredible music and artists?

It was after I started a blog that a friend suggested I come and DJ with him at a small event for Vice. I just kept going after that, djing in pubs and then clubs before I became a full time DJ. I have DJ’ed across the world, and have now turned my hand to producing my own music which has been played on Radio 1. I still curate radio shows, I still have such a thirst for finding new sounds!

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Our history with sound, chanting and more is as old as humanity itself and the songs tell stories of our history.
Karistocat

Based on your personal experience, do you think a course like Sound Arts would have been beneficial to your own career?

I wish I’d been in an environment that allowed me to explore ideas, share interests and think beyond radio, recording music and the very basic label structure. I never got the chance to attend university for economic reasons, but would have loved to be on a course such as Sound Arts.

To be able to explore sonics, experiment with peers, bounce ideas and just being in an environment where you’ll be challenged, forming groups and interacting with sound differently, it would have been such a great experience. It wouldn’t just be beneficial to those wanting to be producers or DJs, but I think it would have helped my experience as a music supervisor, learning how to integrate sounds in interesting ways to tell stories and experiences.

By bringing science and mathematics into sound, creating new genres and exploring composition, you can connect to people through the universal language of music.

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Can you see any ways that the skills we plan to teach Sound Arts students will help in the industries you work or create in?

I would have loved to explore ideas with sonics within any setting. As a music supervisor, your job is to explore how sound interacts with environments from your phone to a cinema space and beyond. How can we interact with artists within brands, marketing and film? Can there be spaces for unexplored art within music?

Production wise, how do you tell a story through a club’s sound system and live light show? You can take all of the skills learnt on Sound Arts and apply it to being a music supervisor, DJ, producer, songwriter, sound designer for apps, radio and so much more.

If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.
Nikola Tesla

What advice would you give to somebody who has an interest in using sound creatively but doesn’t know where to start?

Look beyond the formal structures, labels, radio, space and deconstruct, then put it back together again. Like any artist, you should challenge what comes before, explore and remix your influences. Use your own experiences and what memories arise from your surroundings, such as the mundane sounds of the home like a kettle or a hairdryer. Even explore your guilty pleasures in music too!

Delia Derbyshire took influence from the air raid sirens of World War 2 to create the haunting sounds that later become the Doctor Who theme tune. Justice sampled and reworked Michael Jackson’s Thriller to create new sounds that were unrecognisable from the source.

Sound frequencies and vibrations can affect the human body in different ways. Buddhists believed for over 2500 years that a frequency of 432Hz works with the heart chakra, where compassion, love, warmth and joy are believed to reside. Our history with sound, chanting and more is as old as humanity itself and the songs tell stories of our history.

Find out more about exploring experimental instruments with BA (Hons) Sound Arts or read an in-depth interview with sonic artist Neil Rose here.

Find out more about our expansive, future-facing BA (Hons) Creative Technologies or read an in-depth interview with creative technologist Thomas Milnes here.

Apply now to BA (Hons) Sound Arts or take the next step towards your creative future at Plymouth College of Art by visiting our next on campus Open Day on Saturday 15 January 2022 or email Neil Rose on nrose@pca.ac.uk for more information about the course.