This Utrecht-based, genre-busting DJ is well on her way to becoming one of her hometown’s brightest stars. First thrown into the spotlight with a winning mixtape recorded for BIRD, Rotterdam, Carista has confirmed her standing through sets at De School, Warehouse and Lowlands Festival, to name just a few. However, it’s not purely through her DJ appearances that this remarkable woman is making an impact; her platform United Identities is committed to bringing people together in a beautiful way, promoting inclusivity and diversity in the electronic music and club scene. Moving from strength to strength, we can’t wait to see what this talented individual will smash next. In anticipation of her set at Lente Kabinet Festival on 26 May, we sat down with Carista for a proper chat.
I’ve noticed you’ve spoken a lot about the fact that there are a lot more female DJs in the spotlight than there have been in the past. Especially in the light of last night at Boiler Room Amsterdam, how do the energies compare between an all-girl night and a male-dominated one?
Yeah, basically in the crowd from the beginning there were lots and lots of women, even young girls, and I think it’s like… they see themselves represented and that’s very important. I also think that the energy is definitely different. How the ladies were playing and how they were dancing behind the booth, the DJs were really feeling it! The energy was amazing; it was really great to see how people are reacting to them and the other way around, you know? I think that’s really important: to see yourself as another, as a woman, see the line-up and be like ‘wow, that’s something I know!’
You know, if it’s gonna be an all-male line-up, then you know what the energy is going to be like and…
It’s what we’ve kinda grown used to.
Yeah, what we’re used to! The energy last night was really great and I’ve heard a lot of other people being enthusiastic about it, and even the organisers—Nachtburgemeester Amsterdam and She Said So—and the production/tech crew of Boiler Room were all female… sick! It helps a lot and to see that it’s not only men doing this so-called heavy job. It’s supposed to be that way.
It seems inevitable to have gender as the centre of conversation when speaking to female musicians, but the rise of the female DJ and producers has been so monumental lately. What is your view on this? Are things like the Time’s Up movement and this push for empowerment having a beneficial impact?
Difficult. I mean, of course I’m a woman. But it’s really interesting to see, as you said, the last couple of years. I think it’s a good thing to stand strong together; we need to make clear that women are not to mess with. I mean, we gave birth to the world… everybody comes from a woman so it’s strange to not even think about that part of society. I had a similar conversation with The Black Madonna, whom I recently interviewed and asked how she feels about all-male bookers only booking male DJs and cutting their own hands—oh, that’s a Dutch phrase! It’s as if you’re cutting out a part of society. Like, why don’t you book a female DJ or lots of them? People say there are many of them, and there are! So it doesn’t make any sense.
Kamma, Josey Rebelle, The Black Madonna—all of those big names and really sweet people are not really focused on the fact that they are women. They just want to play good music and make people dance. That’s something that should matter only and it should be in the centre of attention but you see in different genres also that you have to be pretty, you know, good-looking, and it’s very exhausting…. We should be inclusive and do things together. That’s the only way to banish the negative stuff and come together as one—ahh, that’s a nice bridge to my end! [Laughs] That’s the thing I want to do with United Identities.
Yeah, what are your aims with United Identities?
Basically, what I always have in mind is that with the United Identities club night there are black DJs, white DJs, women, men… a good balance. That’s what I’m trying to do and the response so far is kinda great. And it’s amazing to see me, as a black woman, booking people like that within the electronic music scene.
United Identities brings people together in a beautiful way. Can you tell us more about what sparked it?
It actually started after my first Lowlands gig two years ago, and I saw all these amazing people together enjoying my set. Afterwards my manager, my booker, said to me ‘Look what you’re doing right here! It’s so sick to see you there standing there on top of the platform doing your own thing, and you’re enjoying it so much’—and he was right. That’s when I thought I could do this in an offline kinda way by building my own platform. I’m a bit of a critic on everything so why not do it myself? [Laughs] It’s not that easy to do it all by yourself so I have lots of help from from a great team of people around me, but I’m the creative brain. I want, or better said, I need to be involved in every part of United Identities as it is my baby.
Where do you see it going next?
I hope to see it move abroad, definitely with this concept, with this platform. To get more people to Holland but also to get more out there, to make it more visible. The name is amazing and the message is clear. It stands for itself and you don’t have to think what the whole idea is about because the two words explain themselves. Especially in society right now, it’s perfect.
Your mixtape for BIRD in Rotterdam played a fundamental part in sparking your career. How much does the mixtape still play a part in your musical career and life?
I listen to lots of mixtapes, for instance when I’m travelling. I live in Utrecht, so when I take the train to Amsterdam that’s the moment I listen to music a lot, back and forth. But making them myself? Well, at the moment I’m really busy so I’m focussing on both of my radio shows on NTS and Red Light Radio, and I want to focus on that properly and develop my skills a little bit more. And of course there’s the Modern Intimacy Mixtapes, a yearly thing. I wanted to do them every six months but I was going a bit crazy and I want them to be perfect. I want to do a full hour with my full attention to it, so it’s gonna be a yearly thing.
Regarding BIRD, the mixtape for that first gig, it’s a mess! I mean, I thought it was a really good mixtape and I sent it up beat. I thought I’d never hear from BIRD. But yeah, then I won their mixtape contest and I had to be there and do a couple of hours… Stress levels were through the roof! That really sparked my DJ career, in a way. Every time I have an interview or someone asks me about it, I’ll tell it with lots of energy and enthusiasm because, really, it’s been the start of my career. It’s important to not forget the people who supported you from the start. Never forget where you come from!
Thinking about the present, you mentioned the Red Light Radio. Is that helping you develop as an artist?
Well, Red Light Radio gave me freedom from the start to do whatever I want in that particularly hour I have. Okay, so the first time was really awkward because I didn’t have any radio experience at all. [Laughs] But every time, I ask for feedback and how to do better. And what I try to do in my shows, mixtapes and radio shows is give them some kind of story. It’s helped me because I have to search for new music or new music that’s old. I love to do radio shows, also doing NTS since September. What I’m trying to do with that too is get into the UK/London community a bit more, and at the moment there’s a great reaction to it. Right now I’m one of the only Dutch DJs who has a regular show over there and it feels special! So every radio show is like pushing myself to get deeper and more into the music.
Do you find the constant practice beneficial?
Yeah! Every time, every time. I basically have to do it and I really love to do it so both things come together as one, and that’s the best.
What mood do you project through your sets?
I always say with my DJ sets, it depends on my personal mood. Of course, I take a look at the line-up. Next week I’m playing De School with Makam and PLO Man in Het Muzieklokaal (upstairs) and the next night I’m playing in Utrecht with Tom Trago, Elias Mazian and Young Marco! I think people are booking me because I do my own thing and that’s the most important. I want to do my own thing and I want to play whatever I want to, whether it’s a reggae song, a jazz record, house or techno—it really depends on my mood and how the people are reacting to it too. You have to read the crowd, it’s like a sixth sense that you develop over time. I’m not really trying to do something really deep or prove something to somebody. I’m just trying to stay true to myself, always.
Your all-time favourite track?
Oh my god. I can’t choose! I really can’t choose. Because my music taste is so broad.
Okay, so one song you would have play every time you walk into a room?
Okay! Larry Heard and Mr White… The Sun Can’t Compare. Every time! I played it on New Year’s Day and everybody was at that particular point where they didn’t know what to do. The energy was so high and I wanted to have a bit more emotion in the set, so it was the perfect one. And then later I had to play at De School and I put that record on too. Everyone was coming down and it was so full of emotion. That’s now… three months ago? In the last three or four months, that record is always in my set. Or at least I try.
Finally, what are you most looking forward to as the festival season approaches?
Lente Kabinet! Well, all the times I’m playing actually; lots of things are happening this year. I’m looking forward to Dekmantel, Selectors, and there are lots of things I can’t talk about. United Identities will have a club night every three months at Claire all through the year. Also, seeing the world and meeting new people—I’m really looking forward to this summer, actually. I mean, playing clubs is cool but I think at festivals, it’s a bigger crowd so you really see the reaction. At Lowlands and other festivals, it’s a different kind of crowd and the line-up is totally different. And I’m really looking forward to that.
Exciting things are coming up.
Oh man, yeah, and I can’t even tell you everything…