Uncontainable joy: Kilopatrah Jones’ authentic expression is exhilarating dancefloors - Music - Mixmag

Uncontainable joy: Kilopatrah Jones’ authentic expression is exhilarating dancefloors

New York native Kilopatrah Jones dances behind the decks like nobody's watching — but the animated response from crowds shows how strongly that energy translates to dancefloors

  • Words: Annabel Ross | Photos: Xander Opiyo
  • 30 November 2023

There are few DJs more enjoyable to watch at work than Kilopatrah Jones. The Queens, New York, native was a dancer before they were a DJ, and during their sets they show us what they’ve got — not in a camera-baiting, poseur kind of way, but with sheer uncontainable joy. So infectious is Jones’ presence behind the decks — all big ‘fro, mile-wide grin and uninhibited expression — it’s easy to overlook their gifts as a selector, which are considerable.

Jones is best known for their love of uplifting, sexy and sometimes downright dirty house, but given a chance to spread their wings, they confidently throw down tough as nails techno, slamming breaks, and chaotic jungle. Having recently played their first international gig in Berlin, Jones, who is a resident at Brooklyn’s The Lot Radio, is poised to grace the globe with their music and energy in 2024.

How was your summer?

Child, it’s been my busiest summer ever! I moved to Brooklyn from Long Island because I was always commuting 3-4 hours back and forth daily & was like, you know what, let’s drop some roots. I’m always here, so let's do it. So far it’s been a really big ride. Also, I got to travel to so many new places this summer. I played in Detroit [at the infamous Club Toilet party held over Movement weekend] and played in Denver with Jada [JADALAREIGN]. I went to Berlin and met so many different new people and experienced so much new culture...I'm a born and raised New Yorker so I was like, wow! There was a big culture shock, but it has been truly life changing. I feel like it's given me a lot of perspective and a lot more growth as an artist. I feel really inspired.

Was that your first time in Berlin?

Yes, that was my first international trip, other than Haiti. I was in awe. I was trying to figure out how to ride the S-Bahn, the food, sparkling water versus still water...Germans really love their sparkling water! I was with Stella Snacks, an amazing house DJ from France but she lives in Berlin, and she’s also a singer and plays in a band. I met her last year when she came over to play with Jada at Nowadays, and musically we synced up so beautifully. She’s truly my twin flame. She’s just a ball of energy and we reflect each other really well. During her visit she was like “Oh, you should come over to Berlin.” and I was like, “Stop playing, I’ll do it!” She responded, “No, I'm serious!”

I had a great time. I got some crazy records. I went to Bikini Wax, Audio-In, as well as a couple of different other recommendations. I went to Refuge [Worldwide], visited some friends who were in the city and danced my heart out at some beautiful clubs. Lastly, of course, you know I had to go to Berghain!

I mean, when in Rome! What did you think?

I loved it. I went there Friday, Saturday and Sunday and every night I felt I got such a different flavour. I had a phenomenal time. The music was great, the speaker system left me breathless, but the dancers were the biggest thing. Also learning about the history of the building and how seriously they take the [club] culture there, right down to the architecture. In Berlin it’s very intentional and it shows. It was pretty jarring coming from New York where the nightlife community is still dealing with the effects of the Giuliani era and a lot of spaces are getting shut down due to gentrification and high rent.

Read this next: Black expression: Dee Diggs is reclaiming house music

I saw your post where you describe Dee Diggs as a mentor. How did that relationship come about?

Jada was running a Skillshare workshop series that I went to around 2016 or 2017 and Dee was teaching a CDJs class. At that point, I was just using a controller and I was like, oh my god, CDJs, they're very intimidating, I need to be in this class. I was already a big fan of Dee’s, but after that lesson I asked if she could maybe give me a couple of private sessions. Back then, they had three-hour Skillshare sessions on Saturday mornings at Newtown Radio so I would go there literally every Saturday and text Dee and just be like, “Hey, wanna play again? I got some new tracks.” And through that we bonded and I feel very lucky because I honestly feel like without Dee and Jada I wouldn't be in the same position as a DJ. I really look to them as inspiration to keep going not only as a DJ, but also as a woman of color in the industry. I'm constantly asking them, “Hey, what do you think about this situation?” I just feel really blessed to follow in their footsteps.

Was that the first time you had tried to DJ, in those workshops?

Honestly, no. I grew up in a very strict, religious family, and I'm Haitian, so it was pretty much you’ve got to be a nurse, a doctor or an engineer. Music was something I could do as a hobby, but nothing was supposed to distract me from my education. In college, I got kicked out of school because I ran out of grant money and was like, let’s start DJing just to see if I can make enough money to pay for a semester or two for school. I was totally lying to myself just to give myself the freedom to finally play. That was seven years ago, but that was my catalyst for taking DJing seriously. And I loved it so much I just never went back to school.

When did you first come across house music?

I was always a dancer growing up. I was on multiple after school dance teams and got into breakdancing around 16-17. That led me to take Kid Glyde [of Dynamic Rockers] classes for breakdancing. During cooldowns after class was where I heard house music for the first time; I used to Shazam tracks and be like, “What’s that? This sounds amazing, I need more!” Then I started going out with those same dancers and sneaking into clubs like Pacha and Sullivan Room around 2011. Ninety-nine per cent of the time I was one of the youngest people there. I didn't really care to drink or do drugs, I was just there to get down, learn new moves and listen to new music. I’d jump in my little car and go to Jersey, the Bronx and Uptown [Manhattan] just to hear different sounds.

What inspired you to want to take up DJing yourself?

Around 2015, I had a couple of dancer friends who were DJs and we’d always hang out, play and discuss house music. They said to me, “You have a gift, you should take DJing seriously.” So I started digging deeper into Discogs and some music forums and I learned about The Sound Factory, Limelight and Paradise Garage. These same friends brought me to a Paradise Garage reunion where Louie Vega and Kevin Hedge were playing. The OG house dancers were there, the dance cyphers, the baby powder…getting to see original house culture in real life made a huge impact on me.

After this, I started practicing DJing every day after school with a friend and I started following them around to clubs. This was around the time I ran out of grant money for school so I just stopped going and would practice DJing instead. My Mom was so upset when she found out. She kicked me out, I was homeless for a little while there. Thankfully, I had friends who let me crash on their couches while I worked on my craft. Around the same time, a close friend who taught me a lot passed away and I was like, I just have to go all in on this. It was a really hard time, but it made me hungry. My family still doesn’t really approve of the DJing, but now I have a chosen family of people who love and support me, and I pour their love and support back into my music. It's been a tough journey so far but I can’t imagine life without music so in my mind, it’s been worth it.

When do you feel like things really started taking off for you?

I got asked to play for Dweller in 2021, and that was a huge honor for me. The next year Clark from Honcho reached out and asked me to do a mix for Pride, and things went kind of crazy after that. I started to get a lot more attention and travelled interstate for the first time, but it had been a pretty slow drip 'til then. I’m grateful for that because it’s allowed me to be more intentional about my actions and the things I want to focus on as an artist.

What would you say your intentions are as an artist?

As far as representation goes, I’m recognised as a fat Black femme and as inflammatory as that language may be, it matters because I don't really see a lot of people like myself. So I’m very intentional about the music I play. A lot of times it’s very sexual and in your face and I feel like that’s something you don’t see as much with people with my body type. I’m here to be a representation of that. When I dance I wanna give people permission to feel like they don't have to change. You don't have to lose weight, you don’t have to change your clothes. You don't have to change any facet of yourself to be more acceptable, you're perfect just the way you are. That's really my intention with my music. Express yourself as you genuinely are, nothing less.

How do you feel about the level of support you’ve received from the industry?

It’s been a journey. I’m getting respected more now because people see that I’m serious about my craft and that I’m not here to play, but when I was younger some of the smaller clubs didn’t take me seriously. They thought I was just there to be cute but I’m playing my heart out on the decks. How I express myself through the music and the energy I give to every audience is not for Instagram or social media, it’s just who I am, for real. And I get so many messages from people who are like, thank you so much, I went to this party by myself and when I saw you getting down in the booth, that made me want to dance and loosen up. That really changed my perspective and encouraged me to hold firm against opposing opinions. When I was younger I didn’t really have that person to look up to, so now I want to be like, I’m here, I’m loud and I’m proud and I’m doing it for my younger self and hopefully for the next generation of Black and Brown queer baddies.

Your dancing is honestly such a joy to watch.

Well, thank you, it’s genuine and authentic. I always try to keep it real and honest and I’m always thinking, if I was in the club and heard this track for the first time, how would I react? That’s always been a guiding star for me. And then I feel like it becomes a conversation with the crowd and we’re reflecting back to each other and then everyone starts going crazy and it gets really sweaty and there’s this insane energy...it’s better than sex, I’m not gonna lie!

Read this next: Bored Lord's ecstatic broken beats will have you grinning through your bass face

Does it make you less inclined to play ambient tracks or anything that’s not as danceable?

It affects it to a point, but then I think I was getting typecast as that fun housey girl and I had to push back and say, I’m about more than that. It actually made me decline some bookings in the beginning, which was hard, because in the beginning you want to say yes to everything but I was just like, “Am I here for clout? Or am I truly here just to be genuine and authentic to my craft?” And for me if it’s not authentic and genuine, I don’t want to do it. With this creative freedom, I’m able to get a little darker, a little more sexy, and a little deeper down the rabbit hole. I feel like people who understand and respect what I’m about will follow and trust me.

I heard your Honcho Campout set was pretty magical this year.

I know I'm going to sound like everyone else on social media but Honcho kinda changed my life. I mean, first of all they took care of me so well. The artist liaisons were either DJs or musicians themselves so they knew exactly what we needed, they took care of every little hair on my head. I played right after Shanti Celeste and that day I was scared shitless, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t eat, but Shanti and the staff gave me emotional support hugs and made sure I was ok. There were over a thousand people there and I’d never played to a crowd that big and there were all these beautiful Black and Brown bodies at the front. I cried so much, it felt like church, it was so spiritual. Everybody was getting down, yelping, screaming, panting, it was everything. It was in the forest in Pennsylvania and there was no cell service. It felt like five days away from reality where time didn’t exist.

I know this question sucks but thinking about your future, do you have any idea how you’d like that to look a few years down the track?

Honestly, that’s a difficult question for me. For a long time I wasn’t thinking about my future because I was too busy trying to survive, so in five years I wanna see myself thriving. I hope to be expressing myself fully, finding myself more as an artist and being able to support other artists, just like people have done for me.

Can you tell us about your Impact mix?

For this mix, I focused on queer femme energy from a dancer's perspective. This mix is her own woman. And yes, she has a voice (and attitude) of her own.

So what, she is loud, raunchy and just a little cunty? You love her cause she keeps it real. I focused on what feels sexy and empowering to me and followed that feeling just like I do in my live sets. Technique wise, I was pulling samples, melodies from my Caribbean upbringing and digitized records for this for a quite a while, so it was extremely satisfying to hear the sounds in my head come together in real time, fully realized.

This mix is a sweaty somatic affirmation to the fat girls, the shy club kids who don’t wanna go home, the girls who stay out too late, for those in which the club is home, those who yearn to be free and everyone else in between. May this mix be our release.

Annabel Ross is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter

Hateful Helen - Sweet Pussy Pauline
Sally C - All Love
The Melody - Solid Sounds
Men With Sticks - 3rd Eye (The Edit)
Albert Camara - Bemba Colora (Adam's Unreleased Dub)
Dynamic Noise - Do You Feel Alright? (Loca Remix)
Ketiov - Icon
Sally C - Hit It
The Trip - A Bit Spooky
Qualified - Adventure in Success (Mix 2)
Pianoman - Blurred (Pianoman Move To The Groove Dub)
Blake Baxter & Eddie Fowlkes - E3
Blake Baxter & Eddie Fowlkes - Wisdom (The Moody 2MB Mix)
Dj Bone - Thursday Night
The Melody - E-Troit
Tune - Change The Beat
Miss Fernando - Octapussy (Main Mix)
Holden Federico - Hours & Hours
Blake Baxter - Adrenalin
Sally C - Control
Wendy Willams Acappella

Sound Engineering: Karlala Music

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