KI/KI slashes forward

The Amsterdam rave revivalist is paving a sonic future on her own terms.

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If techno and trance had a baby in some far-out, queer universe, its name would likely be KI/KI. Having first utilized her production skills as a first-date excuse a few years ago (“he knew how to mix and I was able to use Ableton”), Kiki Wesselo found the joy of discovering music and the art of being a DJ. Digging deep into rave history and her own decade of birth, the ’90s, and their time-transcending energy ended up pulling on her the most.

Last year, KI/KI made her official DJ debut at Spielraum, Amsterdam’s already legendary queer techno night, with an unforgettable six-hour set that had the crowd shaking. Since then, she’s skyrocketed to become a familiar name on the underground scene, with a pounding sound that can switch from light to dark and back to light in a matter of minutes. Euphoria is key at all times, as well as KI/KI’s unremitting sense of 🙂.

Getting set for what is to be another iconic Spielraum night on April 27, we chat to the DJ about the ’90s, the sheer fun of music and the power of doing things your own way.

When did you first start DJing? And how did you find your sonic direction?

I grew up in an environment in which it wasn’t really obvious or encouraged to start DJing. I had never really thought that I’d ever have the possibility to learn how to play. When I was 17, I moved to Amsterdam, and because I was really passionate about music, I decided to start producing. By the age of 19, I met my (now ex) boyfriend, who had CDJs at home. As he knew how to mix and I was able to work with Ableton, we found a great excuse to have a first date; share our knowledge in a way. So cute!

After playing together for about a year, we decided to split up as a DJ duo as our taste in music was too different. From that moment on, I started digging into music, exploring what I wanted to sound like. I discovered all kinds of music, mostly from the ’90s. It was something I had never heard before. I was so impressed by the craziness and the amount of energy every track had. Rarely had I witnessed music dragging my emotions back and forth like that. I was wondering why I was hearing this for the first time? Why was nobody playing this? Every now and then I’d share my discoveries with my friends. It often didn’t take long before they were all dancing enthusiastically in the living room. I figured I wasn’t the only one who was really digging this and that this music had a vibe people were often missing in today’s music. I decided to look into this old school sound more and eventually started playing it myself.

There would be no KI/KI without the ’90s. What attracts you about this era and its big, hammering sound?

I was born in the ’90s, so there would indeed be no me without it! [Laughs] There are many different reasons why I love this sound so much: the craziness, the energy and it also somehow manages to keep surprising me over and over again. I’ve never lost my attention or interest in it, which is pretty unusual, as I normally get distracted quite quickly. It might also have to do with a different approach to music. I think productions back then were taken a little less seriously. Maybe there were fewer purists, and people were just trying to have fun. It was more about creating these euphoric moments together instead of striving for the perfect sound. The humour that tracks can contain, you can’t believe how ridiculous some tracks are; this always makes me smile. Isn’t that what it’s also about? Having a great time and sharing these moments with each other? I believe bringing back these euphoric moments can make us feel like there are fewer limits and bring us closer together.

Can you share a track that defines you most?

To be fair, I can’t think of a track that defines me the most. Though I do have a track, which has contributed a lot in deciding what I wanted to play:

For me, this is a good example of a track that really surprised me.  I think the sound in the break is so unexpected; as if it’s literally blowing you off your chair. Imagine what it will do with you when you’re on the dance floor. Though there was a big group of people who thought it was too ‘easy’.

People’s opinion about today’s music often is that it should be perfect, that it can’t contain humour, can’t be cheesy, etc. A lot of people recommended to me to not play this track, because I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to. Though I also had a group of friends, who thought about it the same way as I did—yes, it’s easy, funny, crazy and so on, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a great track. I’m really thankful for my friends. They have always been open-minded yet critical about the music I’m playing and have always stimulated me to just play what I believe in, reminding me that I shouldn’t be influenced by other people’s judgements. I don’t play this track often, but it did inspire me to play a lot of music I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to play before. It made me realize that partying is still about having fun and can sometimes be taken a little less seriously.

When does one of your sets/performances make you feel content? Is there a key to KI/KI success? 

One of the things I like so much about ’90s tracks is that they can drag you from one vibe into the other. These surprises can make it really interesting. This is something I’m also trying to do within my sets. Although I try to play quite eclectically, I think it’s really important to still have a continuous flow. Otherwise, it can become too random and you risk losing people’s attention.

I sometimes try to compare my sets to a storyline in a movie. After all, in both situations we’re trying to tell a story, right? By changing the vibe within my set, I’m trying to keep it interesting by creating a tension of sorts, that makes people want to stay during my entire set instead of being satisfied by only seeing the end. I think your experience of the set is way more intense this way. Only then can you work towards that moment when the crowd goes completely insane. You’re waiting for it to happen, but you just don’t know when it will. If you only watch the climax at the end without having seen the middle part, it won’t impress you as much as it will when you have watched the entire movie. My goal is to make it interesting enough so that the crowd doesn’t want to leave the room, even if they have to pee really bad. If I’m able to accomplish that, I’m content.

You’re part of the Spielraum crew, one of our favourite Amsterdam families and, of course, the party where we first got to know you. What do you appreciate most about Spielraum? And how has it fostered your first (public) steps as a DJ?

Definitely, their approach and mindset towards the queer club scene. I believe that their progressive and open-minded approach towards equality is setting a great example of what, I think, a party should look like. I’m really happy to be part of an environment like this. It’s a really warm, loving and supportive world, and you can feel it in everything. As I said earlier, you don’t hear the music I play in a club that often. Spielraum was the first professional environment, which completely accepted and stimulated me to keep on doing what I was doing. It’s quite a risk to let an emerging DJ play a 6-hour set. They let me play whatever felt right for me, supporting it no matter what. This made me so much more confident about what I was doing and about which direction I wanted to go in as an artist. I’m really thankful for that.

What do you consider a great—and healthy—club environment? 

An open environment where you feel safe, comfortable and accepted no matter what age, sexual preference, religion, gender and ethnical background you come from. A place, where we accept each other and treat each other equally. Not only as a crowd, but also the staff and organisations participating in creating that environment. A space for people to rave all night and have the best time, all the while looking out for each other.

Looking at Amsterdam’s current (underground) club scene, we love the rise of women including upsammy, LYZZA, mad miran, Afra, Carista and yourself. Do you think times are changing when it comes to line-up inclusivity and equality?

I think the environment we’re in is setting a great example for how I’d like every surrounding to be in the future. I think it’s heading in the right direction, but it still needs some time before it becomes thoroughly equal. Although I’m happy with the progress being made, we can’t expect an overnight change.

What’s your favourite gig to date? Or a moment from/during a gig that you will never forget?

The 6-hour set I mentioned before, which was actually the first time I played at Spielraum too. That’s definitely one of the most impressive experiences I’ve had so far! Because it was a ‘90s rave set, I could play everything I was hoping to play from the moment I started digging. There weren’t really any limitations, just 6 hours during which I could play my favourite music for a bigger crowd. As I hadn’t had a lot of ‘big’ gigs until then, it was my first experience seeing a crowd so happy as a direct result of something I was playing. During my set, there were a few moments in which I realized what was going on as I looked up and saw all those people jumping and smiling. Those moments are imprinted in my memory; I’ll never forget them.

You’re also featured in the pages of our latest NURTURE issue. When you hear the term ‘nurture’, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

I’m aware of my surroundings influencing me and forming me as a person. I’m really thankful for the people I have in my life and how they’ve pushed me into a certain direction. Apart from that, I’m learning a lot from them, they’ll always help and support me with the things I do. I think I’m really lucky to have that. Make sure you show people around you that you’re thankful for having them in your life. I hope I’m doing that enough, too.

What’s your best self-care remedy? How do you unwind and treat yourself after a crazy weekend?

As I work and go to school during the week, it’s quite important for me to recover quickly from a weekend. I take a lot of rest, eat (a lot of) vegetables and work out. After finishing my ‘routine’, it’s like nothing has even happened. I also kind of stopped smoking a while ago, or at least minimized the amount of cigarettes. This definitely speeds up my recovery after a long weekend!

Is there anything or anyone you’d like to nurture more? Why? 

Considering that your surroundings influence you and form you as a person, this also means that you can be a great influence on the people around you. Respect, accept and be happy for each other. Be an example for others or try to find other ways to support the people around you. Being negative isn’t helping anyone, yourself included!

Your launch onto the scene has taken place at the speed of light. What are your hopes/dreams for the coming year? Or something you’d really like to achieve?

Maybe a bit of a cliché, but I think my dream would be to play at Berghain. This might not be a realistic goal for this year, though… But it’s good to keep on dreaming! I also hope I’m able to contribute to the progression towards equality within the scene. Spielraum is already a huge contributor when it comes to that. I think it’s important that club and party line-ups are as diverse as possible, because it really resonates with the crowd those spaces attract. At last, I’d like to develop more as a DJ; I still have a lot to learn! There are many people around me whose skills, experience and motivation inspire me to keep on working hard. For instance, Afra told me she still practices almost every day. I really admire that.

Words by Leendert Sonnevelt

Photography by RURU PHOTOGRAPHY

Follow KI/KI on Instagram and Soundcloud

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