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Karen Kalriess

DJ Kitty, the Disc Jockey

Karen Kalriess, or “Kitty” the Disc Jockey, is a vinyl DJ, radio show host, playlist curator, and musician from New York City. She has been an audio engineer and designer, a foley artist, a vocal coach, musician, and voiceover artist, and years ago began spinning soul 45s at a small bar near her home which led her to hosting "The She Pop Show", an award winning show on Maker Park Radio in NYC. The program features female-fronted and identifies-as-female-fronted music from around the world; any era, any language.

When not curating her next playlist, Kitty is scouring the internet for vintage jazz, pop, and psych music of the 60s and 70s to build them, but also: "I'm an overzealous gardener as well. Of late, I've been devouring memoirs by musicians and film makers. I'm a big film fan and love to get my pretentious on in art house theaters. I guess most of my time is spent fawning over our doggo, Comet, who requires loads of praise and love" she says.

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?

Age old story: unemployment leads to loads of time online. I became obsessed with Northern Soul dance videos; that fed my love for soul music. I started building a collection. Now, seeing that I had been an audio engineer as a young working person, I figured it would not be crazy for me to merge my skills and start DJing vinyl. My soul nights became pretty popular and I won the local paper's "best of" prize two years in a row- solid motivation.

At that time, I had no idea that loads of people in NYC were doing this as well; I was so busy building my own little club that I never ventured out. Now I have friends and followers and the 45s collectors are all supportive of each other (by constantly Shazam-ing other DJs sets) and it's a fun community to be part of. In 2017, I started a soul show on Makerparkradio. Now I am part of several shows. I just can't stop telling people what to listen to - but why stop now? I've been doing that my whole life.

What is a day in the life like?

I have a day job. I love this job. It has nothing to do with vinyl or nights behind the decks so I'll tell you about a typical weekend. I really love to watch movies first thing when I wake up - set the tone for the day. Something very French and adorable that I can cozy up to with my latte. Very long dog walk, return home and put on some jazz, or electronic noise, or psych. Or new wave.

To Do: practice vocal parts (sometimes I'm a singer, or a voice actor), make a playlist for Mixcloud, create sets for radio shows. Go put the 45s back in order after last night's gig (this will actually never happen). Grab the hubby and go see a band or have a chow-down or go see the NY Red Bulls. Scan collections for upcoming wedding gig, untangle cables that I did not put away properly, and then hit to sofa and tell my dog how pretty she is.

In your opinion what has been your favorite / the coolest thing you've worked on?

I was the opening DJ for NYC Summerstage on Staten Island last year; opening for Las Cafeteras was huge for me! I love love love them and acted like a child when I finally had the chance to say hi backstage. That was super duper. All of the guests that have appeared on The She Pop Show impress me. From the Ghetto Songbird to New Myths to Mambe & Danochilango, every conversation or co-hosting event leaves me so proud and amazed. I was asked to be part of the NYC Motown on Mondays crew, what a thrill! We have a show every month at Bierwax in Brooklyn and it's a great venue for sharing music.

The most fun and coolest thing to happen to me was winning the silver trophy at the New York Festivals Radio Awards for Best Digital Music Program. Shocking! I have the head honcho at Makerparkradio, Kris Wallace, to thank for that. She certainly drives me to reach for more.

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

Mansplaining, #1. Drunk people wanting to carry my PA. Old guys thinking I don't know the songs I'm playing. Young people using the word, "vinyls".

Controlling the spending, this is the hardest part and over the last year, I have really taken control of the vinyl buying. I've probably cut it back by half. My funds should certainly be allocated towards important things like haircuts and car maintenance and dog toys.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

You are enough. I know Barbie told you that a lot, but it's true. Here is how I know...

...I was gifted this big award and I flipped out. I began over-thinking shows, booking too many guests, and disliking what I heard. I talked to a life-long friend of mine who said, "what was the something special you did do to win the award?" I hadn't done anything special, I was just being myself. Oooh. Yes, I see. What I had been was enough to entertain and educate. Sometimes more is less and you should take your hands off the wheel and see where that crazy car takes you.

Are you a vinyl collector yourself? What drew you to it?

The first record I ever bought when I was a kid was the soundtrack to the musical, 'Gypsy'. Loved it. Still love musicals. Then came ABBA. Then I joined the record club and was sent 14 records for a penny! By the time I was in high school I was lugging a suitcase full of records to every party because you can't just listen to Van Halen all night. I was the kid next to the stereo, reminding you that your selection just isn't good enough. It's a fine line you walk, between having friends and being right about what they should fill their ears with. I have not changed. And I have a lot of records.

What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.

I'm excited about organizations like this that turn an eye to groups of people that collect and DJ and have things to say. It's a personal thing, the way we all spin - we all do it differently. It's a personal culture worth sharing, and it's art. I also love that I have been sharing decks at shows with DJs the likes of which I never thought I'd spend time with. There is room for everyone's interpretation! We learn from each other and feel a ton of love when we spin together; our sets are different, but the root of the art is the same.

I don't like that there are expensive re-releases that people think they have to have. Go buy that scratchy $3 copy until you find a better one. You don't need to shell out $35 for something that came out in '81.

Who has been influential to you and your growth as a professional in this industry? 

How long can this list be? I feel like that "end of speech Oscars music" will begin playing if I go too long. I'm proud that I took the initiative and launched myself into this. Then, Kris and Tom Ferrie and the gang at Makerparkradio fueled that and showed possibilities for improving and sharing music. Connie the Empress! This is the vinyl goddess you must learn more about- her history of spinning in NYC is long- it is the stuff that super cool legends are made of. Founder of Empire State Soul Club and host of Soulfinger! dance party, she is my DJ idol and provides me with a stream of encouragement that is above and beyond. We co-host a vinyl show on Makerparkradio now and each time I'm overcome with pride that she is in that little studio with me, sharing our stacks of wax with the world.

My partner, Tim, has an insightful and pure love of music. He hears what you and I don't. He is that music rebel who has a deep down understanding of how soul and punk are connected, how surf guitar requires a certain virtuosity.

Anything else you’d like to add; if not tell us what you're listening to: 

I listen to a lot of old music on the regular, so I will give you five names of (relatively) recent bands I have loved since their first releases: Iguana Death Cult, Dry Cleaning, Ducks LTD., Labasheeda, HighasaKite!


Photo credit for main feature photo in black and white to: Kristopher Johnson

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