A classically trained flautist with an insatiable love for clubbing, it seemed destined that Tamara Kiti would end up behind the decks at some of Australia’s biggest club nights. Melbourne born and raised, Kiti has not only DJ’ed at major festivals, club nights and parties, but she’s started some of Melbourne’s cult club nights, including Roxy (going strong for seven years now) and LOUD (now in its fourth year) at laneway club Honkytonks. For Melburnians with a penchant for doing the Melbourne Shuffle, a signature dance style that emerged in the city in the 1980s and ’90s, into the early hours of the morning, it’s likely they have pulled dancefloor shapes to a soundtrack Kiti has curated.
Though COVID19 measures have confined her to her home, DJ Kiti is keeping Melburnians (and an international audience) nourished with murky, melodic techno feasts via YouTube, Instagram and Facebook streams.
“I was exposed to music from the minute I arrived,” confesses Kiti, who purchased her first 7-inch record at the age of four. “My mother was young and single and we would collect 99-cent 7-inch records from Kmart in Melbourne’s suburban Northcote Plaza every Saturday. I also had a record player with a tape deck. I would record pirate radio stations and listen to [community radio stations] PBS, RRR and 3CR all the time.”
Indeed, Kiti’s immersion in radio and records lead her to believe she’d be a radio DJ, encouraged by her primary school principal. “My first experience with DJing was playing one song before the lunch recess bell every day in primary school, thanks to my Principal, who knew I was an avid record collector and obsessed with music,” she recalls. ” DJs as we know them now were not around when I was a child, so I thought I’d be a radio DJ.”
As a teenager, Kiti was immersed in the formative years of rave culture that embraced strobe lights in pitch black warehouses, loud techno and neon fashion in the 1980s.
Kiti’s peroxide bob, perfectly angular cat’s eye makeup and cut-glass cheekbones might suggest slinky vocal house, but there’s a gothic essence to the techno she spins. Her sets are dark, old-school electro, techno and house that hark back to the times of illicit warehouse parties, glow in the dark wristbands and an audience of acid ravers, punks, goths, club kids and record geeks drawn to the mathematical genius and the repetitive nature of techno beats. Kim Moyes of The Presets, one of Australia’s foremost electro duos, recalled that it was one of Kiti’s legendary DJ sets during the early days of Sydney’s party crew The House of Mince that influenced the Presets’ track, “Fast Seconds.”
Kiti is adamant that DJing can be taught to a point, but the ability to read a crowd and respond, to adapt and instinctively know what to do to get a dancefloor pumping is all down to experience.
“DJing is all about practice, practice, practice, so that’s what I did for a whole year,” she says. “I would break records over my knee and sometimes bite them out of frustration! When it comes to track selection and being able to read a crowd, that cannot be taught in my opinion. My advice to those just starting out is to try and find your own sound and not someone else’s. Yes, you can play all the tracks you Shazam’d, but you’re not going to transform into your favourite DJ and you will always know that. Be yourself and find your thing. Be genuine.”
Equally enamoured of music and fashion, it was inevitable that Kiti’s striking looks would attract attention from brands and businesses seeking to appeal to Melbourne’s design and clubbing elite. In 2011 and 2012, Kiti curated the musical soundtrack for L’Oreal Fashion Week where she plied her signature sound: pure techno, energetic and fuss-free. Her set for Arteq Only is up on Half Wild.
Kiti is currently signed with 123 Agency, a Melbourne-based independent music company that’s grown from a staff of three to nearly five times that of late. Founder Damian Costin has said gender parity is at the core of 123 Agency: “We are passionate about gender and cultural diversity, we are conscious of the role our organisation plays in the wider industry we strive for greatness in every respect.” Over more than 12 years she’s been professionally DJing, Kiti has also established residencies at LGBTQ club nights including John, Poof Doof, Crass and Trough X.
Right now though, the clubbing atmosphere where sweaty bodies writhe under strobe lights – breathing on one another, brushing skin on skin, laughing, crying and moving in unity – is a distant memory. Even when the restrictions ease (presently at Stage 4 in Melbourne), it is likely that clubbers both young and old will feel loathe to crowd small dancefloors, or gather in huge numbers, without the seed of fear and doubt embittering the experience. As Melburnians face another four weeks of wearing mandatory masks, being allowed out of their homes for merely an hour a day and unable to go anywhere other than the supermarket, baker or chemist, dressing up and partying is something we can’t do, nor conceive of enjoying, for a long time.
But DJ Kiti provides a light in that darkness. “I’ve been making music with my partner, which has been an enriching experience because we’ve usually fought when we’ve tried before. But, we have been a success this time!” she says. “Also, I’ve done a few live streams of Instagram and YouTube sets, including Lost Basement in July.”
“I truly miss DJing, so much that it really hurts. It’s who I am, so to be without it has been very hard,” admits Kiti. “I’ve been riding the Rona Coaster and its ups and downs in this state of Utopia Dystopia.”
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