San Francisco is many things from small to thriving to very crazy. Most importantly though, in this unique city, there are some very colorful, deep characters. Echoing out into the night around the city are deep vibrations from major new talents on the cusp of blowing up from the hip clubs to underground venues alike. It’s simple really, as the world’s gaze is drawn closer to San Francisco thanks to its strong growth in electronic dance music over the years, some of the young up and coming DJs are really starting to hit their stride in this city. One of these notably impressive talents is Kirin Rider.
A Bay Area native and an experienced active member of the San Francisco music scene for around twelve years, Kirin Rider is known for her fun, bass focused and often educational sets. With releases on Anabatic and Laser Native, Kirin knows how to produce and DJ to great effect, and she’s only getting better. I only recently discovered the magic of a Kirin Rider set, but when I did, my evening’s intentions were irrevocably changed to crushing it on the dancefloor. The vibe is great whenever she takes the decks, and the crowd loves every second of it.
Now, not only have I had the opportunity to become a recent enthusiastic supporter of Kirin, I also was able to sit down and dive deeper into who this producer really is.
How would you succinctly, simply and essentially describe the Kirin Rider sound?
The best way I can describe it is, where I came from as a DJ started with drum n’ bass. Drums and percussion are extremely important in any music I put out. The bass usually drives the track and the percussion usually helps it along, but there’s really no major melodies or crazy synths or anything, so you know calling it bass or booty bass or anything with attitude is generally what I go for.
I’m fairly influenced by the hip hop culture. The eighties electro like Grandmaster Flash, Herbie Hancock era, that’s all big influences for me as well.
As you are Bay Area native, how would you assess the current state of the Bay Area electronic dance music scene?
I’ve been involved in the scene for the last twelve years now, so maybe starting around 2002. It’s changed very quickly at a crazy rate, I’d say it’s completely different than what it used to be, as of now I would say the scene is very small. It’s always been very small.
San Francisco being a 7 by 7 city, very small, there’s still a huge amount of people living in it which means there’s a lot of young emerging artists coming out all the time because of that I’ve noticed there’s a very specific style, even over multiple genres, I’ve seen specific styles constantly growing and changing in San Francisco just because it’s so heavily saturated with different subcultures, scenes, and tons of promoters. At the same time, having said that, there is sort of a get in where you fit in mentality where you really have to work hard to find your place, and that’s the best I can say about it!
What are a few words you would use to explain the essence of the San Francisco scene?
Saturated. I’d say innovative and down to earth. Not pretentious whatsoever, compared to lots of other scenes or cities I’ve seen in multiple cities. You know I like that you can go to a nightclub wearing a tshirt and jeans and you don’t get judged for it, compared to other major cities.
When you go to produce a tune, do you have a guiding production philosophy or does it just come to you in the studio?
Producing tracks in the studio can go both ways for me, it either starts with an idea - I’m hearing a song I listen to on the radio or I hear a vocal I really like or I am just hearing another track in my genre that is super inspiring, I’m hearing a technique I might want to try, that’s usually how my ideas spawn for tracks. It is fun to get in the studio with a friend and just sort of go back and forth and kind of see what happens. For me it usually takes some smidgen of inspiration that I have seen or heard outside of myself.
What are your many inspirations?
J Phlip has been an inspiration to me since I can remember hearing about her. Since before she moved to San Francisco, I followed her as a young house DJ, and watched her transformation happen over the course of years and seen her style change. It’s been inspiring to see her role with the changes but keep her own sound and I really respect that; Also not to mention that she is a girl, so that also helps! All of Dirtybird has been inspiring to me.
The more mainstream people that have inspired me like Michael Jackson, growing up people like TLC really inspired me, Prince. Then currently, the record labels that I can say I really follow that have been very influential are like Night Slugs, Sounds of Sumo, Hot and Heavy Records (local SF based label).
My number one favorite producer, who is also a good friend of mine is Mark Starr. I would say he is probably my number one inspiration when it comes to production solely.
Does genre play any part when you are producing? Any consideration towards or do you just make the music as you feel it and hear it in your head?
Genres to me are a clutch or in a way training wheels. I don’t really believe in genres at the end of the day because every single track is a combination of genres and you unique to its own. I feel when people stick to one genre, they limit themselves from expanding their minds or learning, hearing new styles that could influence their current style and visa versa.
So no, to answer your question, I do not stick to genres. I usually start writing a track and decide how I feel about it when I am done with it. I can label it from there. Usually I kind of look at it as to what record label they align with, opposed to genre. I think every record label has their own style that is really interesting and unique to itself.
Recently I experienced one of your sets firsthand (I was wowed!), when did you pick up that live set talents? Or were you just naturally gifted?
The actual technical ability of DJing and mixing live has just been years, 12 plus years of practice. It’s just practice and it comes secondary, second nature. I get nervous every time I am about to play, but once I am there, it’s like I never left. It’s very comfortable for me. You just have to be present for the crowd and have fun and that’s the only way you can be successful at DJing.
How much do you read the crowd and let that influence your selection choices? Or do you go in with a set game plan and people better deal with it!
The hardest thing about being a DJ is balancing those exact two things. It’s always important to read the crowd and see where they are at energetically, at the same time, it’s your job as a DJ to not just play absolutely anything. That is the balancing act.
Obviously if the dancefloor is not dancing to anything, you do need to switch it up. Once you get them on the dancefloor, then you can do what I like to call “Education time!” Sneak in something a little different, different genre, something with a little bit more bass, something they might not be used and see how they react. Generally, they are always excited to hear something new, is my experience. I think DJs don’t give the crowd enough credit. I think people are like, “They need to hear this!” or “You need to play something hype!” No! They’re smart people, they’re educated, they can be open to listening to new things as well!
What have you been listening to lately?
I listen to a lot of gangster rap. Old school, Andre Nickatina, Mac Dre, like Bay Area rap. My favorite I also listen to, I have been listening to Ballast, Marx Starr, Pete Graham.
What genres or sounds do you think are going to blow up in the next year or two?
Breaks and drum and bass are going to come back in a different way. I think people are getting a little ear exhausted from dubstep and people are going to want to go back to the core of where that came from, what I believe is drum and bass. Breaks as well is going to become a lot bigger than everyone expects in the next couple of years, but at a very slow rate, I feel. And I think trap is going to be here for a long time! But I actually like trap so I’m okay with it!
Trap bridged dubstep and hip hop together, bridged two totally different two demographics. It’s really interesting to see that because it’s bringing wicked more people into it, and I personally think it’s a good thing.
When is the next Kirin Rider release? Any hints as to what it might sound like?
One is going to be released on Laser Native, a local label based out of SF. I recommend everyone checking that out! The other one I haven’t signed just yet. They are both very different. One is going to be very electro breaks, heavy, a little dark, a little weird, interesting. I am curious to see what everyone thinks about it. The second release is a little bit more minimal, mature, sort of edgy, almost more sound design kind of sound and that’s the only way I can describe it.
What are your favorite venues in San Francisco?
Monarch is number one. I just played Audio, and it was the first time I played there, love that place. I really love Mighty, those are my three favs!
And feel free to follow me on twitter @kirkthewilliams.