Hey, You’re Cool! KITTENS
The DJ and producer has created a ladies-only DJ workshop
Any woman who spins records will inevitably have a moment when someone incredulously asks, “Were you really DJing up there??” For KITTENS, that moment came after a SXSW gig when she was touring with Kid Cudi. The person who asked? Usher.
That kind of doubt is just one of the many pitfalls that female DJs encounter on the regular. To combat that, KITTENS (née Lauren Abedini) has created PWR, a ladies only DJ class where women will learn the basics of turntablism and tips to navigate the tricky stuff. The class will also raise money for local women’s shelters.
We talked to KITTENS about Intersectional Feminism, cat videos, and how Usher went on to become her mentor.
How did you get your start as a DJ?
I bought a pair of turntables after a few years of being too nervous to try and I had some friends teach me and I kind of figured out a bunch of things myself. I started playing at local bars and I was doing marketing for a nightclub in Hollywood. From there I was able to start opening at the nightclub and working closely with agents and managers and other DJs for booking at the club. I was playing one of the parties there and somebody who works for Kid Cudi happened to be there and he was looking for a DJ at the time so I just kind of got lucky. I played one of his local small parties and he ended up picking me to be his tour DJ.
Usher has been a mentor to you. How so?
When I was working with Cudi we did a SXSW party with Diplo and Usher happened to be there. I didn’t know who he was because it was really dark in there and someone grabbed me when I got off stage and was like, “Were you really DJing up there?” And I was like. “Well, I wasn’t knitting a fucking sweater.” And then I realized who it was and I was like, “Oh, sorry!” He ended up being fascinated by me for some reason or another and he flew me out to Atlanta a week later to DJ literally for him, Jermaine Dupri, and Michael Cox and a couple of his other studio friends just on some “show me what you can do, this is your chance” type shit. I was like, cool no pressure! And it ended up being really, really fun. I was playing really old stuff, kind of flexing my music knowledge, and new stuff to be like, this is something you haven’t heard before. He ended up being like, I want to do whatever I can do to help you. He ended up connecting me with some great people who have been a huge support including my current manager. My first attempt at remixing, I would send him little demos and he would give me feedback or he would come to my gigs. He was always just really, really helpful.
Your style has been described as “aggressive.” What does that mean?
I guess it’s like my track selection and mixing. I don’t play fluffy pretty cute music. Whether it’s hip-hop or electronic stuff, everything is pretty heavy. Things that are a little bit darker, a little bit edgier, a little bit more gritty as far as sound goes. It’s not really like pretty happy fun sparkly music like “kittens” would suggest.
Like any Future record, Metro Boomin type rap stuff, in that realm. Older hip hop like Lady of Rage “Afro Puffs” type stuff, and then electronic-wise, like Mr. Carmack or anything that’s come out of the Low End Theory beat scene type of situation. Or like electronic trap stuff.
You’ve also started something called LA Club. What is that?
Me and my friend started a little collective because we all kind of play stuff in the same vein and most clubs are open format, like the big clubs, are open format on the East and West coasts. Generally that ends up being mainstream Club Music which is just sort of all over the place, super super Top 40. LA Club is open format but on a more music nerdy level so we can play anything from rap stuff to reggaeton to any kind of weird electronic music to club stuff, like East Coast club music or whatever. It’s just more club music for a more music savvy well-rounded SoundCloud type of person. If that makes any sort of sense.
Tell me about PWR WITH KITTENS.
I was teaching some classes and I realized, man, there really needs to be one that’s just for girls because these guys coming in get all like ego trippin’ and want to flex on these girls. The girls are uncomfortable, they’re insecure, because they’re learning something new and that’s a weird dynamic that I don’t think is helpful for learning. So I started doing all-girls classes because I felt like it was really important to have a safe space to experiment and learn and fuck up, and have an instructor that you can identify with. And I could talk about the struggles of being a woman in the industry and how to navigate that effectively while still building your professional brand. So now I’m doing these workshops, which are one day. We’re going to be doing them in a bunch of different cities. It’s basically the same thing, like an intro, basics of DJing, and girls can come in and see – is this is something that I’m into, am I comfortable with this, to have enough knowledge, to have the confidence to maybe pursue it more if they want to. Also it’s about really having a safe learning space. You’re surrounded by people you can identify with and feel comfortable with and get some good insight. The bonus is it’s free, except people will donate $20 which will go to a local women’s shelter.
What’s the first thing you teach someone at a workshop?
I teach them to identify the beat so basically I just have them bounce to the music and scratch along with it so that way they know what they’re trying to mix into. One of the first things I’ve noticed actually is people don’t trust their body. They don’t trust their body with the music. They try to listen for something or try to dissect it or look at the screen or figure something out and I’m like, you just need to not think about anything and just let your body naturally bounce to the rhythm and that way you can identify what you’re mixing into.
I teach them what the beats are, basic song structure, so they know like, that you can’t mix a verse into another verse in the middle of it. You want to wait until this part or you want to start on this part. I teach them about BPM and how to adjust that, what tempos go with each other. I feel like those are the most important things. We just kind of go over the real fundamentals of DJing.
You’re also going to sponsor a KITTENS scholar to go through the whole DJ training at Scratch Academy?
We also wanted it to be not just a “one and done” type of thing. A big part of this is about making resources accessible to people who maybe don’t have opportunities. In every class I’m going to try to identify somebody who wants to continue and maybe doesn’t have the resources to and then they’ll be able to go through a full training course at Scratch Academy which is a multi-day type thing and the whole nine.
What are the challenges that women face in DJing?
People thinking you’re not DJing, that you’re faking it. Even for the biggest girl DJs who are headlining festivals and have been at this for 10 years and have cameras on them 24/7 filming live what they’re doing, people will still be like, “Oh no, this is pre-mixed or she’s not actually doing anything.” There’s club and venue staff not respecting you, thinking you’re just a groupie trying to get on stage instead of allowing you to go up and actually perform. People being shady with money, people just trying to lowball you with money. People assuming the only reason you are succeeding is because you must have done something for somebody that’s inappropriate who’s a guy. There’s so much annoying stuff. And that’s something I feel like it’s important to go over in these classes because it happens and it’s going to happen to every single one of them which sucks but I’d rather give them a heads up and be like, “Hey, this is how you can navigate the situation so you don’t get flustered, you don’t get fucked over, and you don’t burn any bridges.”
Do you feel like there’s a lot of competition among female DJs or is it more of a sisterhood?
I feel like it can be both. It depends on the people and the situation. I think at times there can be that sort of like, there’s only room for so many of us and I want to protect my spot so I’m not going to go out of my way to support other women. There’s that and I think it stems from a fear of getting kicked out of your place because there aren’t that many girls. So some people want to solidify their space while they have it. Others are super open and positive and helpful and into mentoring and into supporting each other and lifting each other up. I totally understand both sides of it. I think the competitive part is more of a survival thing.
Who are some of your favorite female DJs or people you like to play parties with?
There are so many. Obviously the bigger girls like Alison Wonderland and Mija, Vashtie, Venus X. And then there are some underground local types like there’s this girl Bianca Oblivion who’s great, Jubilee, Nino Brown in Toronto.
You have the words Intersectional Feminism in your bio on your socials. What is that?
Intersectional Feminism is basically expanding the idea of feminism and acknowledging the multiple levels of oppression. It’s not just like, “Hey, life’s hard, I’m a girl. Here are the struggles and how do we fix them?” It’s more like, okay a woman of color who doesn’t have access to education and grew up in poverty and is queer, she’s going to have way more struggles than a white woman who has a lot of money, right? So identifying those multiple levels and how to address them and acknowledge them and work through them. Also, just identifying struggles that men have. It’s really just a big blanket of how to lift oppression and how all these different things that oppress people and minorities and men and women how they all intersect, how they all work together and how to sort of ease the burden of oppression. It’s complicated but simple.
What is your cat army? Is that like your fans or legion of female DJs?
No. I literally have three cats. It’s a literal army of cats.
Did you make that cats on turntables video?
I did not. But I wish I had because I cannot tell you how often people send me that and they think it’s the first time I’m seeing it. That’s actually kind of where my name came from. I used to go buy something else and I was trying to come up with a new name and I couldn’t figure out a cool name, which like, it’s really hard to do that. So for weeks I was sitting and going back and forth with my friends, should I be this, should I be that, and I was so frustrated because everything sounded lame. People were sending me that video all the fucking time and all different cat memes and I was like, “Oh my God can I just call myself KITTENS and be done with this?” And my friend was like, “Wait. That’s actually brilliant.” So, thanks to that cat video.