DJ Kiti on the Melbourne rave scene and being a female DJ pioneer

We delve into the storied career of the celebrated Melbourne DJ ahead of her return to the Club 77 decks for Cubby Bears Clubby House.
Henry Johnstone
DJ Kiti on the Melbourne rave scene and being a female DJ pioneer

We delve into the storied career of the celebrated Melbourne DJ ahead of her return to the Club 77 decks for Cubby Bears Clubby House.

I read that you learned the flute as a kid. Was that your first experience of music?

No, it actually was from my mum. She was a young mother who got me into record collecting really early. We’d go to the Northcote Plaza and I was able to pick out a 7-inch almost every Saturday, which were like 99 cents back then. So that was when I was about 3 years-old. That was very young, I know, but that's just how it was. Later I started getting into taping off the radio, collecting records, cassettes, and then eventually CDs. The flute came during primary school. We had a really good music program there in Thornbury. We learned the awful recorder first. Then I moved onto the flute and was in orchestras and stuff.

That's a cool memory. What kind of 7-inches do you remember buying?

One of the first ones I think was Duran Duran and I remember a Kraftwerk one too. Basically whatever they had that I liked at the plaza, which was kind of limited, as you’d expect. It was more on the popular end of things. I still have some of them. The rest, I don't know where they are now.

What was the first sort of dance/electronic music that caught your attention?

More that pop sort of stuff, some electro too. Then when the rave scene started I got into acid house, which got me into going out and dancing. I started clubbing really early.

How old were you?

I was 13 when I started going to raves and clubs. I was out almost every night. It was a very different time back then.

"When I first started there weren't many female DJs. It wasn't really something that was encouraged or even thought of as possible that a girl could do it."

What were some of the raves you remember?

The ones I remember the most were Hardware and Every Picture Tells A Story. And there were events that would be the offshoots that they would hold at other places. They were the two that really stand out to me. But there was just heaps of them. There's so many of the legal ones and illegal ones. I don't remember the names of the illegal ones, but I still have a shitload of flyers.

Any particular memory that stands out from those early days of the rave scene?

All my memories kind of blur together and are mostly of Shed 14. It was by the docks in Port Melbourne and there were lots of raves held there. I just remember there being so many people and massive lasers and being able to run through a crowd without touching a single person. Even if it was crazy busy, you still found a way to get through and people were just really respectful. Everyone was so friendly and nice and it was just a really different, happy vibe. I really love those days. They're so nostalgic and they just make you feel so good. I'm sure people experience that at some places now, but it was just a very different thing back then.

Electronic Artist DJ Kiti at the Decks

When did you decide you wanted to be a DJ?

Well, I was always a collector. I went to record stores when I was in high school, so I was always obsessed with music, which has never changed! I thought maybe at one stage I’d like to be on the radio, but when I started clubbing it was like, no, DJing is actually something I would like to do. When I first started there weren't many female DJs - it wasn't really something that was encouraged or even thought of as possible that a girl could do it. Even though I probably had more records than most DJs at the time, it didn't cross anybody's mind, or my own either, because it wasn't really encouraged. I always felt a bit insecure and uncomfortable in record stores - I wouldn't really last very long and I'd go at certain times when it wasn't busy so that it wasn't such a thing. I remember being able to actually beatmatch took me about a year of practising every day. It didn't come easy, but I didn't give up. I was like, ‘No, it's got to happen! If other people can do it, I can do this!’ Then one of my friends asked me to DJ at something, I can’t remember what. I knew I had all these records and I was really interested. So I played the gig and have never stopped. It kind of snowballed from there.

Where were some of your first gigs?

My first gig was at a club called Horse Bizarre, which closed probably 10 years ago I think. Or maybe they changed the name. Anyway, it was there. And then I had a residency with Sunshine on a Friday at a place called Alia.

When was this?

The Sunshine residency started around 2002/2003 and was every Friday. That was me kinda learning on the job, which not many people do, but that's how my career started and I just went with it. And then I got asked to play at Honkytonks, which was a really awesome place where I really honed my skills alongside Michael Delaney. And then there was a club night I played called Roxy. I met my partner there and then we basically just ran it together for about five to six years.

Honkytonks held quite a reputation in the Melbourne club scene. Has there been a club since that has come close to matching its vibe?

Honkytonks for sure had a special vibe. But there are some great places to play out in Melbourne that have come up since then. I play Revolver all the time on a Friday, at Mike Callander’s night that he's had for ages. It's a really good night of upfront techno, electro, acid, whatever-you-can-think-of type of music. And not something that most people would associate with Revs. And there are lots of other great venues where I get to play regularly.

You’re known for being an eclectic DJ. Do you think your approach to DJing has changed over the years?

I would say it's kind of been consistently the same. The only thing that's changed is the medium from records to CDs to the dreaded USB. Which I'm still not a fan of, just because of my memory. I know a lot of people do a lot of work on Rekordbox where they'll have colour coding and add a ratings system to their music library to remind them what tracks are what. But that doesn’t really work for me given I come from a vinyl and CD background. My brain doesn’t work that way.

"[DJing] shouldn’t be about fame...I don't understand that aspect of it."

But I'd say the vibe of DJing in general has kind of changed. I guess a lot of DJs that've been doing it for a while always say that, so it might sound like I’m being bitter, but it's just the facts. There's a throwaway aspect to DJing now and it's not necessarily taken as seriously as people should maybe take it. It shouldn’t be about fame is what I'm saying. I don't understand that aspect of it. Yes, you want people to book you for gigs, so I do understand the social media side of it. But at the end of the day we're only playing other people's music - we're just a vessel for that. And some of us are better at it than others.

What advice would you give to someone looking to become a DJ?

I think if you're a newer DJ, you should maybe try out a few different mediums, just to better hone your ear in a different way so you're not only subject to this digital realm. It will give you a better ear for playing in clubs because sometimes that digital stuff is not always accurate. It will definitely help to keep you sharp!

Close up shot of DJ Kiti

It appears much faster BPMs have swung back into popularity. Is that something that's infiltrated your sets at all? Have you found yourself playing faster?

I've definitely noticed that. When I first started playing out again after Covid, a lot of the DJs' last tracks before I started would be at something crazy like 178bpm . And I was like, whoah, because it wasn't even a peak time set! It’s just that people were really excited. And I was waiting for that excitement to kind of die down a little. But you know what? If it's a good set then it’s a good set, it doesn't really matter what he BPM is. But have I gotten faster? For sure. Though I would rarely get up to 178bpm!

You've got the Clubby Bears Cubby House party coming up at 77. You’ve played at the club a few times before right?

I have played at 77 quite a lot actually. I've played a few times with Barney and in the past for Pavlovabar. I used to love doing the 7-hour sets, that was great. And I've played there a few times for other parties, so it's always been a favourite. And I used to go there in the early days to see Bang Gang play when my husband played with them up there. That’s back when the club looked a lot different!

What's coming up for you that you're excited about?

I have a remix coming out on Nite Fleit's label. It’s my first official remix, which is nice, so I'm looking forward to that. It should be out at the end of March. It’s a remix of an amazing electro artist. The original is electro sounding, but I’ve made it a bit more techno sounding.

Final question: If you could have dinner with three people, alive or dead, who would they be?

Wow. I'd have to say Jesus, Marilyn Monroe and my mother.

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