Interview with Kristin Malossi, aka DJ Voices

  Photo by Austin Phelps

Photo by Austin Phelps

I met Kristin, a fellow Florida sun-child, many years ago through our mutual and beloved friend, Abigail. In all the times I've been around her, whether on a beach, in a bar late at night, at home, on a dance floor, at a sweltering backyard barbecue, or in a cozy house in the middle of the woods, she has always exhibited a quiet and enchanting strength. She is smart, she is confident, she is genuine. And she is one of the best people to dance with - it's no wonder she lives a life connected to and intertwined with music. Read on to learn more about all the ways she incorporates music into her life and work.   

You are DJ Voices, a founding and active member of the DJ collective Working Women, a resident DJ on The Lot Radio, and the head of booking at Sisters in Brooklyn - can you share with us some details about each of these roles (your goals, responsibilities, self-identified or otherwise) and how they intersect or don't with one another? 

Hello and thanks for having me! 

Sure, sometimes I even have a hard time figuring out where one project ends and the other begins, so I guess I'll describe my relationship to each chronologically and go from there. I started booking music pretty much right after the doors opened at Sisters in 2014. I began by taking on one or two nights a week and then transitioned pretty easily to handling the entire calendar shortly after that. At that point I wasn't a DJ, but I was deeply immersed in the house/techno world of Brooklyn and also came from a music background. I'd never done anything like that before, but luckily Damon (the owner) is a good friend and trusted me. My goal at Sisters is to showcase a variety of sounds across the musical spectrum without having to think about traditional stressors of the club world: ticket sales, keeping a dance floor moving, staying up super late, etc. Food, drink, conversation & music all share center stage. It's a nice place to listen to music in a different context.  

  Poster by Mariah Mariah Mariah

Poster by Mariah Mariah Mariah

Sometime shortly after The Lot Radio started I became a resident DJ. That was before the station really took off and before the DJ Voices project was around, funny enough. I was lucky to get in there early. My partner and I started "Go Cool with Kristin and Brandon" in February or April of 2016 and never looked back. Although now we do use our DJ names on the show, our object there is to showcase the range of our musical interests. 

DJ Voices is my solo work and my top creative priority. It's a method of self-healing and way to feel alive in this ridiculously mind-numbing world. I like to think that my responsibilities here are to myself, the music & its creators, and to the dancers in the room when I'm playing. I try (unsuccessfully sometimes) to not get too caught up in answering to anyone else with my work, meaning sometimes you have to shut out the noise of other DJs, your haters, music websites & reviews, year-end lists, the algorithm, etc. That's the only way to remain on your own path, I'd say.

Working Women came about very naturally after the four of us got together to jam at my place one night. As the story goes, we ended up spending most of the time in conversation about our relationship to the music "scene," mostly airing untold frustrations for the first time in confidence and found that despite our very different relationships to this vast & diverse world, we all felt pretty similarly. This unity brought us out of the shadow of our peers (mostly men), or at least allowed us to feel that way. The idea of Working Women is to elevate the collective beyond the individual performance, and work together to make something beautiful. It's difficult and rewarding work! It has made me both a better person and DJ.

How did you first get into the DJ world? What makes you want to DJ?

I moved to New York right after graduating college in the summer of 2011. Pretty immediately I was exposed to a bunch of great clubs & parties through a special group of friends at a restaurant where I worked. We almost never missed a Bunker party, and that's a major site of musical becoming for me. The most memorable early experiences happened at Public Assembly or the loft just above it. Relatively small, intimate affairs. It's where I met so many people and solidified some very important bonds. At the time, none of us were really DJs, but music was/is our lifeline. The decision to try DJing myself wasn't a super considered move, at the time. I lived with a friend named Timothy, who had two Technics turntables and a seemingly infinite record collection. I had started collecting records, but my collection was nothing in comparison. Having these incredibly ecstatic, life-affirming dance experiences coupled with a real personal musical renaissance in digging deep into the history of house and techno made me want to try and figure this DJ thing out. So I watched some youtube videos and gave it a try! It took a few years and some decidedly more formal "training" to call myself a DJ, and I had no idea all those years ago that DJing would mean what it does to me now. Although perhaps in a deeply intuitive sense, I could have seen this coming! As someone who has struggled with depression & anxiety since a young age, I've really started believe that over these past few years my DJ journey has been something of a convalescence. There's a lot of reasons why I say that, but for now I'd just like to simply highlight this feature and emphasize the emotional & spiritual empowerment I receive (& hopefully give back) via playing music. 

It is and it isn't more complicated than that. Watching other DJs, dancing to the music I love, hearing a song and truly needing to share it with others...it all just clicks. I don't think I could live a life without DJing this music anymore. So really that's what makes me want to DJ!

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What is the meaning for you behind the name DJ Voices? 

  Image by Mauricio Vargas

Image by Mauricio Vargas

The name DJ Voices came about as a direct result of discussions about my work at Sisters. It was always important for me to book a multitude of "DJ voices" in the space, or for people to let their "DJ voice" shine. Brandon (Unscented DJ) and I were discussing this one day in Central Park, and he said it would make a good DJ name, a thought that struck me in the way things do when they feel meant to be, and I've been using it ever since. 

A funny thing happens once we give a name to things, as we know. I like to say I had a "false start" with DJing a few years before this. I had no concept of DJ identity. I used my first name on billings and was pretty clueless about what I was doing. But even during this false start I knew I was onto something really personally significant, a serious creative and emotional discovery in DJing, even if I had no idea that it would end up being how I spent most of my time, as it is at this point. So for a few years I let my DJ ambitions simmer. It took a lot of practice and the persistent nudging & support of a few key players in my life - Brandon, Andrew of the Level Party, and Jennifer (The Duchess), to get me to a point where I was confident enough to press play in public. This was synchronous with taking on the name DJ Voices. 

On Resident Advisor, Working Women's bio explains, "We believe that all who identify as women are working women. This music is for them." Can you elaborate on this concept and talk about the many forms work can come in for women? Most people initially think of physical work, which plenty of women perform in a variety of ways, of course, but there is emotional labor, psychic labor, spiritual labor, invisible labor, right? What types of labor have you personally performed as a woman? What have woman close to you shared about their work as women?

Yes, our "bio" is very much in reference to emotional labor. Sometimes I think people take emotional labor to mean a thing we shouldn't do. I don't feel that way at all. The discussion is about how often this burden falls on women, when it's really everyone's burden to bear. I suppose we're trying to highlight this in the name & bio.

To think of an example relevant to this conversation, I think of the movement to include more women on lineups and in leadership positions in the scene. Not only was this spearheaded by women, but it's taken a lot of emotional labor for women to explain why things should be this way, and to clean up everyone's mess when a situation develops in an undesirable way. The same pattern occurs for poc regarding white folks and racism. Hopefully the more that people familiarize themselves with the concept of emotional labor, the less this will occur?

  Image by Neil Aline & Jerome Viger-Kohler

Image by Neil Aline & Jerome Viger-Kohler

Can you tell us how you conceive of, create your mixes? What types of music, artists do you lean towards and why?

  Photo by Kristin Malossi

Photo by Kristin Malossi

I love making mixes. It's a different experience every time and each mix has its own goal. Sometimes it's to showcase what I've been playing recently. Sometimes a threaded story line is the impetus. Some mixes revolve around a single record. The music should span decades and origins. Each one must sound & feel intentional, and for me that requires a few takes. The songs have to matter to one another, the transitions need to be deliberate, clean, and meaningfully timed, and I almost always want to make it better. I try to consider different audiences during each mix - music aficionados, listeners/dancers, other DJs, my mom haha. 

My preference is for party mixes, but I also don't want to make the same kind of mix every time. Can't let people think they've got you figured out! The one I'm working on now is more of a downtempo vibe.

Who are some of your favorite DJs? Who's been influential for you?

Currently the DJ sets of Avalon Emerson and Noncompliant are inspiring me in monumental ways. The sounds that they make happen get me downright giddy. K-Hand and Eris Drew are two DJs the world is really only beginning to give the credit they deserve, and they both hold fundamental places in history of US dance music. Unscented DJ has phenomenal research skills and a real respect for the craft. Everyone could learn a thing or two about professionalism from The DuchessTurtle Bugg is better than most and also tells it like it is. Shawn Dub should be king of Brooklyn. Will Dimaggio should be prince. Sold is someone I have yet to meet in person, but I can already understand the heart & tenderness with which they select, and I feel a real affinity with them there. All of DJ Swingsett's catalogue should get a repress, and people should be flying him all around the country and the world to play. Dee Diggs from Boston is also immensely inspiring. Not only is she a great DJ, she's also wise beyond her years and every time we have a conversation I feel charged in the best way. She speaks it right, she lives it right, she is accountable and thoughtful as fuck. She's the future. The same could be said for my DJ partners in Working Women (AshlynNina, and Tanya) who are some of the most brilliant, smart, and empathetic individuals I know. 

There's a lot of other special DJs I could mention. But I pull influence from all sorts of places. The words of Anne Carson will forever rule my life. And I was at a party not too long ago and saw a friend's outfit that really inspired me, and I said out loud that the outfit communicated how I'd like to DJ. Which maybe doesn't even make sense, but it did to me in the moment.

It's clear that misogyny and gender-based aggression and violence are rampant in pop culture, the music and film industry, and media - I'm sadly assuming there are no creative sectors where this isn't true - if you are willing to share - have you seen iterations of hostility towards or dominance over women in your journey as a creator? How do you think we all can take steps to interrupt and stop these instances, to create safe spaces and foster inclusivity?

Although I do think the question of inclusivity is still an issue in most parts of the DJ/dance music world, and contrary to asinine articles such as this, I no longer think of inclusion as the biggest issue. Yes, there are still tons of festivals and clubs dominated entirely by men, however those are not the places I usually end up wanting to be, and I think largely, due to the work of women (!), we're pretty good on where women stand in terms of bookings and visibility. As your questions points to, there's still a sense of hostility and dominance, because of course there's still plenty of men in positions of power. So now I'm more interested in the nature of inclusivity. Are women other than straight white women getting booked? Are bookers putting women in decent time-slots or just having them open each night for an hour? Are black women prioritized? Are trans women prioritized? Are people reaching out beyond their immediate social group? Are men patting themselves on the back publicly by booking women? Are people using that as a "selling" point? Are women being tokenized?

I also take issue with the idea of a safe space. We should work towards safer spaces. The minute a space claims itself as safe, a lot of what makes a space unsafe can be ignored, unaddressed, or devalued. Considering this and the nature of so-called diversity initiatives seems to me to be the more sustainable way of fostering inclusivity. 

Who are three women who inspire you creatively and otherwise and why?

My friends Abigail, Lindsey & Leyla, all day every day. Wendy Cole & Adjua Greaves because they seem to create the worlds they want to live in every day. My mom and my aunt. All of my friends. 

  Photo by Jeanne Gariépy

Photo by Jeanne Gariépy

Can you share with us some of your favorite places in NYC? Places that inspire you when you're feeling worn? Places where you find community? Places you like to shop at, eat at, drink at?

The busier I get, the smaller my footprint in free time becomes. For that reason my answers don't feel very adventurous or terribly interesting, but they are from the heart =) 

Sisters - bar in Clinton Hill where I also happen to work & book music. I can go in there and find a friend any time of any day, have a comforting meal, get drunk & commiserate, or silently sip & read. I'm there a few times a week, usually.

A1 records - my favorite record store that can always pull me out of a funk, not to mention is somewhere I always feel comfortable & welcome.

Prospect Park - closest thing to nature in NYC.

A long walk in my neighborhood - my preferred way to listen to music is in movement. I'm much more focused and find that I can get lost in the sounds and hear the details better this way. Mixes I work on receive approval only after they've been listened to during one of these walks. 

McNally Jackson - no explanation needed.

My bedroom - I've worked very hard to make my bedroom a personal oasis. It's pretty large and filled with most of the things I love, and has a few different spots to lounge around in. I require a ton of alone/downtime, so it's really important for my bedroom to be an inspiring sanctuary. 

Finally, what can we look forward to from DJ Voices, Sisters, and Working Women?! 

At Sisters you'll continue to find a host of great DJs and supremely fun staff. Cocktail names will still be the best in town. Working Women are planning a little European tour. From me, you can expect a lot more mixes this year! I'm also starting a monthly Thursday night party at Jupiter Disco. 2017 was such a whirlwind, unexpected year. I'm going to be way more intentional this year, and I'm excited to see what that brings!