Name: Kissy Sell Out / Thomas Bisdee
Occupation: DJ, Producer
Recommendations: Well I spend so much time on music and working on my physics work part-time that I’m not a massive reader really! I think everyone would find Stephen Hawking’s “The Grand Design” a good read though, as it’s not too complicated and isn’t a door-stop book in length either.
My favourite painter has always been Howard Hodgkin, who recently passed away, but I think his works are just absolutely wonderful.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Kissy Sell Out, you can check out more of his music on his soundcloud profile. Further information is available from his facebook page.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I heard a DJ Hype album when I was about 12 or 13 and was immediately fascinated by the concept of creating a continuous musical performance by mixing other people’s music together – using those record player things that my mum had! I caught the bug straight away and started saving up for my own decks, spending pocket money on second hand vinyls to play with.
It wasn’t until I was about 21 that I actually spun tunes in a night club.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Well I think you’re talking about being inspired to create your own things. Something that I now know is that a big reason why I ended up entering the music industry with fresh ideas is that I wasn’t part of any “scene” whatsoever, and I had literally no friends that were even vaguely interested in dance music either.
Having said that, you could argue that type of environment is a great test of someone’s talent and potential, because the drive you feel to really do something and achieve your ambitions can only come from within.
Of course, I think it’s important to study and learn about something before you try it yourself, because anything you create will only ever be better and more informed by researching what has come before.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
Well first of all, I guess just being able to mix was a challenge! Since I was worshipping so many mix CDs at the time, I had already figured out some of the technical elements (mixing in key, counting to 32 before the next arrangement of bars started, etc), so it only took a couple of days to be able to do it.
Mastering DJing however, takes in the biggest difference from producing, and that is the performance element. After all, DJing is about entertaining people.
For many DJs I guess that just means putting your hands in the air and making the crowd clap along, but since I was incredibly shy when I was younger, I found that the crowd interaction in my sets comes from sharing the experience of trying to pull off something very technically difficult on stage. That then gives two sides to the performance because you’re keeping the crowd dancing but also hopefully sharing something special with them.
How would you define the job and describe the influence of the DJ? How are the experience and the music transformed through your work?
Well it’s not like a DJ is gonna be much use in a global crisis situation, so I hesitate to be too earnest answering questions like that. Mind you, music means a lot to millions of people, so the role of being a taste-maker and increasing the exposure of new creative ideas does make DJs important in the evolution of music and that does conjure up a certain amount of responsibility depending on how seriously a DJ wants to take it.
People become DJs for different reasons. For me, the music innovation is something I’m hugely passionate about, for others it’s just a way to look cool and meet people.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
Having worked with Pioneer CDJs so much over the years, I get asked this question all the time, but truly, I think there’s a limit to how useful new equipment can be in my performance style. Despite having consulted on pieces of kit like Pioneer’s RMX-100, I think there’s something magical that can happen when someone does something amazing using a piece of equipment that anyone can use.
It can be hard to match up the visual aspect with the music when DJs perform using a dozen computer gadgets. I can’t understand where the music is actually coming from.
Having been DJing professionally long enough to have started-out on Technics 1210 turntables, it’s amazing that you can do all that and so very much more with the CDJ technology. I need at least 3 CDJs to do a proper set these days, although my life is made a lot easier if I use 4 of them.
I am also a big proponent of the DJM-900 NXS mixer, which is a very clever and intuitively designed piece of kit. But after the decks and mixer that’s basically it!
Two other big influences of mine are Fatboy Slim and DJ EZ, both of whom I would see with just 2 decks and mixer back in the day. Getting so much out of a small amount of technology has always been inspiring for me.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Blimey, sounds like a question from one of my astrophysics papers! Well, simple answer is that it is great ideas that actually make the music, the best pieces of technology are those which can accommodate your creativity and nurture ideas into the final product.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Getting up early has become really important in my life, if not simply because when you are essentially working for yourself, as a full-time professional producer/DJ, it is very easy to waste time and daylight.
The second bedroom in my apartment has been converted into a sound-proofed studio, so I tend to spend a few hours each morning engineering music regardless of what I’m doing later. Listening to music that I love is the best type of motivation for me.
Running my record label Stepper Man involves daily tasks, most of which is mastering the tunes, designing the cover artwork and listening to new submissions, but there’s also a lot of admin work such as relaying release details to the distributors that is very important.
I definitely live “in the music” each day, so there’s a seamless transition most days, but when I need to prepare a new DJ video set or finish a new album track it is very hard to snap in-and-out of it.
My latest KSO single “Dub For Ya Speaker” with Wideboys, Dread MC, and Tengu took about 3 straight days to consolidate and finish-off, for example. That meant that I basically didn’t eat or shower for those 3 days, which isn’t the healthiest way to get things done, but I guess the blessing and the curse of my career is that there’s no 9-to-5 work schedule for developing ideas.
It’s hard to break yourself away from something when you know you can still add a bit more all the time before it’s finished.