Britain's Cassy on Singing, Parenting, DJing, and Staying True To Yourself

Cassy, born Catherine Britton, is a British DJ and producer, affiliated with tastemaking German record label Perlon. She's known for her sleek, long-form DJ sets made up of the world's finest minimal techno and deep house. It's been some time since her last appearance in San Francisco — she's DJing at Public Works this Friday, Oct. 30, the night before Halloween. We caught up with her to pick her brain and learn a bit more about the art of DJing, as she sees it. Read on, and catch her live on Friday.

[jump] I thought it was interesting to learn that you have a young son — I've always been intrigued by how people manage the DJ and family lifestyle. Is that something you've figured out? Is it a challenge for you?

It's a challenge, definitely, because he's now turning one year old. It's been really challenging being away from him for two, three, four days. I don't feel too good about it, but I have to do it, you know. Last week I took him with me, which means a lot of travel, a lot of different places for him, which is very exhausting. It's difficult and challenging, but it's absolutely doable. And I'm sure that in the end, it's going to be very good for our relationship and very good for him, too. He'll have great exposure to many different cultures and people.

He'll have some amazing stories to tell when he's a little older.

Amazing stories, yes, but more like — an ability to connect with people quickly, and hopefully speak a few different languages, and gain some perspective that will be valuable in life for him.

What have you been up to the past couple of years? You had a record out last year, right?

I've done a couple of remixes, and yes, I put a single out last year. Right now, I just finished my album. We finally now have a label, the one we wanted to release it on. As soon as everything is finalized, I can talk about it officially — but it's just been finished being mastered, and I'm extremely proud of it, and the people I worked with. I worked with King Britt, and Lad Agabekov from Caduceus Records — he's a mastering engineer. It took us more than a year to finish. That's as much as I can say now, but I'm very excited about it.

Are you singing on it?

Singing on every track, apart from one.

Is there anything you find especially interesting about vocals in electronic music? I feel like not many people utilize vocals in electronic music well, but I've always enjoyed the way you use your voice in your tracks. In my opinion, you use your voice almost like a synthesizer, or an instrument.

Absolutely, yes. I've obviously been interested in singing [for a very long time,] and have sang a lot, but I've never been interested in having a career as a singer. It's very challenging. Having to perform, and being a performer as a singer, is extremely difficult — your voice shows everything. I'm a neurotic person anyway, so becoming a professional singer would have turned me into a complete neurotic bitch. [laughs] But this way, [using my vocals in my tracks,] I can sing and still be myself. And, you know, maybe I also just didn't dare [to become a professional singer] and go all the way because I'm a chickenshit. [laughs]

What about performing as a DJ really works for you? Does it allow you to get into a zone?

You get into a zone, and you do something with people, for people. You're doing something yourself, but it's a more subtle kind of performance in the end. Perhaps less artistic, and more applied. Almost like an applied craft, I would say.

What kind of music have you been really enjoying lately?

It's interesting, anytime anyone asks me that I can't think of anything. [laughs]

It's like when you walk into a record store, and you immediately forget what you're looking for.

It's a different way of listening when I'm listening to music that I want to play in clubs. It's not the same way of listening when I listen to music for listening, as such. Not that I don't enjoy picking the tracks — I love picking the tracks, and listening for certain elements I think are going to work. But it happens fast — it's like shopping.

What do you think about the latest trends in house and techno? For instance, in the past couple years, there has been a resurgence of very melodic sounds. Have you noticed this?

I don't even know what the trends are anymore. Obviously, I hear tracks, I hear things that are being played over and over again, and some of them are really good, and some of them I don't think are so good. Just like everyone else, we all have different tastes. But trends…. trends are very fastidious, they're a nuisance. They take away attention from the “actual thing.” Trends can be helpful for people's careers, to get something started, to get a movement or style started, and that always leads to something else. Fashions are just part of our society, a part of humanity, in the end. So I'm not saying they shouldn't exist, but… I find them extremely fickle.

How do you feel about minimal techno these days? Do you think it's still an important sound?

Absolutely. Obviously, it depends on what people understand to be “minimal techno.” For me, Robert Hood is minimal techno — well, for some people, maybe not. But for me, Robert Hood is certainly minimal techno, and his music will never lose relevance for me. If you play a DJ set, and you're lucky enough to play two hours, or more, three, four, or five, you can play anything you like. People might not even notice that it's minimal techno, you know. They'll just notice that the tracks are very hypnotic, or groovy. That's why I think it's important, when DJing, to do what you can to dissolve labels and make the music as intoxicating as possible.

I think that's a key part of DJing that some people can lose track of. Your mission, as a DJ, is to expose the audience to new sounds.

Sure, new sounds, and old sounds, too. Just sounds in general. To expose the crowd to vibes, to a pleasurable experience. Obviously, the DJ is an extremely central and important figure nowadays. The DJ has become more and more of a star. I just read some fashion magazine, some article — or I just stumbled across a picture, a fashion ad — and this young lady, some kind of star, listed her profession as “DJ and musician.” And it's very interesting, people want to be musicians and DJs these days. It sounds cool. But the profession, actually, is not about being looked at. People shouldn't be looking at the DJ, they should be dancing on the dancefloor.

When was the last time you came to the States? Have you played here recently?

Yeah, quite recently. I spend a lot of time in the States, I go back and forth [between the U.S. and Europe] a lot. I spend a lot of time in New York now, too. I just played Denver, I was in Montreal, stopped by New York… so I'm traveling here regularly.

Is there anything you notice about American crowds respond to your sets versus how European crowds respond, perhaps?

In the U.S., in my experience, with the gigs I play — you can call them “underground gigs” — people are honestly very responsive to music, to the tracks I'm playing, and are very appreciative of what I do. The parties I really enjoy playing are places where people who come to listen to my DJ sets, because they want to hear me — and that doesn't mean I'm cool or trendy, just that they know that I've come to the club to play good music, and people know that they're there to enjoy the music. And I'm there to enjoy the music, too. And these are most of the experiences I've had in the U.S., and it's extremely refreshing. There's no connotation of “this is the place to be.” It's the place to be because people want to hear good music.

I think in the past few years there's been a real resurgence of dance music culture here in the U.S. And I'm not talking about the EDM scene — which I think is an entirely different scene altogether — but a lot of new people are becoming aware of the power of good dance music, and how powerful it can be.

Absolutely. Dance music doesn't need any missionaries. It speaks for itself.

There's been a lot of discussion lately about how electronic music faces a sexism problem. Have you experienced any challenges in your career that you think would be different if you were a man?

Constantly. Almost every day. But that's just — that's part of what I'm doing. And that's part of why I'm doing what I'm doing, the way I'm doing it. But, I think, if I hadn't had to face all the challenges I faced coming up, I wouldn't be as confident, or so comfortable with myself, as I am now. It makes you stand up for yourself even more, to be even more individual. It's cool for me to not have to be “part of something.” I feel like the older I get, the more I'm doing it, I've got my own thing going on. I'm very happy about that. It makes me become an even better DJ. I'm more comfortable with what I'm doing now than a few years ago. I think I'm only winning.

So as time goes on, you're becoming more comfortable with yourself as an artist and as a performer.

Yes, absolutely. And maybe some people don't have that because they haven't had to ask themselves the questions that I've had to. You know, I've had to reassure myself, be very adamant about the choices that I've made. “Why do you keep doing what you're doing?” Sometimes, if you're making a lot of money, things are very easy, and you don't get the chance to make the right choices. You're just in this bubble, this big thing, and you can't be careful about what you're doing.

In the past couple years, there has been an explosion of the “DJ as career,” which wasn't really the case 10 or 15 years ago. DJs tended to become DJs because they were passionate, and now, all of a sudden, like you mentioned, everyone wants to be the DJ.

Yeah, historically, everyone who had a career as a DJ had that career for a very long time, because they were there first — they worked hard, they kept it alive for 10, 20, 30 years. That's why they had their pole position. Now someone can come up and attain the pole position really quickly. Maybe not completely, but financially, people can rise up very quickly.

In this day and age, how do you think it's important for a DJ to distinguish themselves?

You have to have your style, and I don't mean playing a certain type of music. When people hear you, they have to recognize that what they are hearing is you, as a DJ. And that is something you acquire after a certain amount of time, it doesn't just happen from one day to the next. And that's the beauty about the job. It's the same, maybe, as artists, in the sense that every artists have different periods — but over time, they develop a style. That's the beauty of it, that you can develop yourself in this craft, and make something unique with what you've got. That should be the priority for every DJ, I think.

Are you a resident DJ anywhere, right now?

I play at Output [Ed: in New York] regularly, and I hope I'll be heading back to Panorama Bar [Editors note.: in Berlin] very soon. But… hmm, that's about it right now. It's difficult to arrange, with time, and touring.

Do you think there's anything special about being a resident DJ that being a touring DJ doesn't permit?

Well, it's really good to be able to play in the same spot several times, so you have a feel for a room. But, generally, the more often you can do it, the better. That's obviously a very good thing.

I was having a conversation yesterday with a friend of mine, about how being a resident DJ is really important to build your DJ chops. It can be challenging in the States to get the chance to DJ repeatedly, over and over again, but being able to play in a single place, over a period of time…

That's the best thing that can happen to any DJ.

You were a Panorama Bar resident in the mid-2000s, right?

Yes. It was an extremely great experience because, back then, it was so fresh, and its own thing — you were thrown into something that was just great to experience, great to develop. Obviously, it's Panorama Bar, so it's something that now, people think it's an extremely amazing club, like Berghain, which they are. But it's also such a professionally run club — every weekend, it was an opportunity, every single time, to do something special. Every gig is, but to return again and again, fully focused, and play for three, four, five, six, sometimes more hours, that's just an extremely cool thing to have as a DJ! And in a club that isn't commercial, but has a commercial appeal — you can rely on it. It's like clockwork. It'll be a full club every weekend. And that's important for a DJ to have.

Have you been to San Francisco before? Anything you especially like about our city?

One thing I love about San Francisco is, the crowds are very cool and open-minded — and quite savvy as well. They're really into the music. Very chilled out, as well. 

Cassy joins Catz 'n Dogz, Adana Twins, Nikola Baytala and James Fish this Friday, Oct. 30, at Public Works, from 9:30 p.m. until 4 a.m.

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