Play weirder: livwutang is the DIY-inspired DJ playing at her own speed - Music - Mixmag

Play weirder: livwutang is the DIY-inspired DJ playing at her own speed

NYC-based livwutang shares a brooding mix and speaks to Sophie McNulty about clubbing alone, signature tracks, and why she wants to play weirder not harder

  • Words: Sophie McNulty | Photos: Xavier Hadley
  • 4 July 2023

When Liv Klutse moved from her hometown in Denver to Seattle for university, she didn’t expect to become a DJ. That’s not to say she wasn’t into music, though. Her mother was a big music collector so she "grew up listening to everything from soul and corny, folky rock to more contemporary funk or R&B-inflected things." And her dad, from Togo, had his own radio station, AfricaU Radio. “He's the type of person who loves to do a lot of random endeavours,” she says. As part of Colorado's West African community, Liv also spent her fair share of time at community parties "I would stay at these parties until 4:AM (not of my own volition necessarily). I was literally 11-years-old, listening to music at ear-shattering levels.”

It’s understandable that such an upbringing would seep into her DJ voice as livwutang. As a lover of dubby, percussive tracks (that she likens to her father's influence) her sets are often propulsive, but even within that driving force she manages to make her audiences feel comfortable. She’s not afraid to slip into genres like R&B, resurface well-known house bangers or pump out some wicked tech-house — an expansiveness she's clearly picked up from her mum. And when she does so, those switch ups don’t feel like sharp left turns but simply necessary bends in the road. It’s this rare quality that has taken her to Berlin’s Panorama Bar, De School in Amsterdam, and even landed her a residency at Nowadays in New York, but she’s just as comfortable getting down at the warehouse rave, too.

Liv’s way into DJing and Seattle’s DIY rave scene came through radio. Her friend Raf signed her up at the local pirate station, Orphan, where she met CCL and other members of the female, non-binary and trans-centred collective, TUF, which she was a part of until it disbanded in 2020. Liv got her first hit of DIY rave culture via TUF’s annual rave up, TUF Til’ Dawn. Her first time there was back in 2018. "I was so excited. It was the best party ever. I remember getting home at 10:AM and my voice was hoarse,” she remembers fondly. At the time she had also just heard about Sustain Release, the storied DIY festival in upstate New York where only friends and friends of friends could attend. She eventually played there herself a couple of years later.

Throughout the pandemic, Liv started to create a name for herself with her fervent and rapid mix output which showcased her skill and range as a DJ. A move to New York from Seattle in 2021 helped to cement her rise as she became absorbed in the scene there. When Mixmag speaks to livwutang, she has recently returned home after a stint touring the UK, Europe and Canada. This type of touring is still relatively new for her, but what’s clear throughout our conversation is that she hasn’t lost sight of where she came from. Her commitment to music, digging and DIY scenes is stronger than ever. Read more about that and listen to her Impact mix below.

You came up through the scene in Seattle. What led you to move on to New York?

A few things. I felt like I hit a ceiling on what I could accomplish in a musical sense and a lot of my friends, who were also in dance music, were moving away or planned to. Before I decided to move to New York in November 2020, I was working five different side jobs. Most of them were working with kids in some capacity but I was also volunteering for this climate justice organisation. I wanted a shift. I wanted black community because I didn't have many close black friends in Seattle at the time, so I was like "I guess I just have to move to New York."

I saved up, quit everything and moved back home to Denver for one month. I had the fortune of having a friend here and his roommate was moving out in August, I got really lucky. Then I interviewed for the job I have now in July and started the first week I moved to New York. The first or second week after I moved it was also my first time at Sustain, so it was very chaotic and lucky. A perfect storm of chaos.

The stars aligned for you a bit, I guess. You've lived in New York for a year and a half now. In this time you've become a resident at Nowadays. How have you found integrating into the scene there?

At first, I kind of struggled. It took me a solid eight months to a year for me to find my people. When I got here, I was just playing for different crews and venues. I was just saying yes to everything because I was like "Bitch, this is heaven! There's a party every night, this is crazy."

So you partied a lot when you moved to New York?

I was definitely either going out or playing pretty much every weekend for a long time. Then I naturally started to gravitate to Nowadays most often because they book people that I enjoy seeing most. I think they have the sweet spot between best sound system, best crowd and best programming.

I actually realised I'm not playing in New York that much this year though and it makes me sad. Next year, I want to configure my schedule so I can intentionally spend more time playing in New York. It’s my favourite place to play in the world. Every time I come home, I'm like "Damn, I feel like people in New York don't know how bad other places got." Even though it's very club oriented and there's not as much DIY stuff as I was used to in Seattle, overall there's camaraderie in New York.

What makes New York such a good place to play over other places?

I feel people in New York, and in the US in general, are much more open minded. When I'm playing outside the US, it's the classic play harder or faster conundrum. I honestly don't feel super free to play weird stuff or try new things as much when I'm touring outside of the US. No one's ever actively told me to play harder or anything, but I can visibly see people losing interest. If I play some strange polyrhythmic track that doesn't necessarily have a driving force, people don't know how to dance.

Whereas, at my recent Nowadays residency with Debonair we played slow and weird at the beginning and there were only 10 or 15 people for the first hour. When I have opened in other countries, people feel really awkward and tend to leave the floor super fast until maybe two hours in. But at Nowadays, even though it was a big open space and there weren't a tonne of people on the floor, they were really down to get weird. I'm pretty sure most of them had also come alone, which I really admired. I felt free to play new shit in my library, rather than things I know will get people dancing. I don't take that for granted in a crowd anymore. I always appreciate the person who I see really trying to lock in.

Do you go out clubbing alone?

Yeah, I pretty much always go out alone in New York, 85% of the time, because I also want the freedom to leave. When I go out by myself I don't have an obligation to make conversation, I have the ability to be more engaged. I'm also trying to make more of an effort to go out and see people that I haven't seen play before.

Even though you miss New York, it's also cool that you get to play in lots of different countries. How have you dealt with the lifestyle shift of having a full time job whilst also flying around the world to DJ?

It's hard. I was working five days during the week and now I work four. I take Fridays off but from a logistical perspective, it's still hard on my body. It's interesting when people ask how the tour was because I feel bad saying some of the shows are just okay. I will only have a few outright bad ones and then 70% of the time, they're just cool, they're okay. Then there's a few really good standout shows where I'm like "Oh My God, this is the peak that makes all the plateaus worth it."

There's a show called High Maintenance on HBO Max about a weed delivery guy and, for the most part, each episode focuses on one or two people that he's delivering weed to. It goes in depth into their story and that day in their life. I feel the High Maintenance guy when I'm on tour. I go really in depth to learn a lot about the promoters or the people hosting that party, to learn more about a specific scene or city and then I leave within 48 hours. It's kind of jarring. I'm just like "That was crazy.” But it's interesting getting insight into other little microcosms, even when I'm just dipping in and out.

Can you tell us about a special gig that stays with you from your last tour run?

One recent favourite was Ankali in Prague. It was their first in-house queer party called Crush and to get the ticket link they made you fill out an RSVP form on their website with a series of questions. The questions were like "Describe your naughtiest experience in the club; what item would you bring to a deserted island?; Are you queer?; Are you an ally?; If you're an ally, what are you doing to support the queer community?" At first, I thought no one in New York would do this, so I was interested to see how it would turn out for the club, but it was a really great turnout.

The decoration that they did was fucking amazing. In the chill out room there were all these fuzzy orbs hanging with soft light emitting from them, the decks were on a low table with cushions where you could sit to play. Then above the cushions was this bear suspended on the wall behind their head and they had stitched the word 'Crush' onto the teddy bear's chest. The level of detail was amazing.

Then the people who played after me, hadri and Sanjin (who were the organisers of the party) played the weirdest, fucking most amazing set I've heard in so long, and they played one my favourite Maurice Fulton tracks. It was the most locked in I've been into a dance for a long time. I had a flight to London the next day so I wasn't trying to stay that long, but I ended up staying and hanging with them till like 10:30. I didn't want to leave. It was very wholesome.

It was also interesting for me, playing in Prague, because the crowd wasn't the type to give verbal feedback. It took me a second to acclimate, but people were dancing and people were there so I felt like they were with me and I could get a little bit weirder. I definitely played my favourite tracks that I rinse often, which is a nice part about being in a new place–you can play things that you have played often and people won't always know. That sounds bad, but I feel like DJs should be able to have signature tracks they play.

It's interesting what you say about DJs having signature tracks. I remember Call Super said in an interview he has a similar approach.

I also read that interview, he talks about how he wanted Laurent Garnier to play 'Acid Eiffel' and I felt that was so refreshing.

What is your relationship to digging?

I have a friend in New York named Cosmo, and about a year ago we were talking about our digging practices, and she told me she only digs once every three to four months and she studies her tracks. I love that slow approach to digging where you really get to know your songs, but I've been kind of frenetic recently with how I download music. I honestly feel like I should take a page from Cosmo and restrict myself a little bit because it forces you to dig in your own library and develop a relationship with what you play.

Are there certain tracks that you would like people to know you for?

I have this song that has been very prevalent in my life in the past four to five months, 'I'm Lonely' by Hollis P. Monroe. I knew the song already, but my friend Nico played it when we were hanging out in Denver. I was preparing for my Nowadays New Year's Day at the time and I knew that was the vibe I wanted to bring. Then the night before I played, I was at a New Year's Eve party at my friend Andrew/Akanbi’s apartment with the Somatic Rituals boys. I played one track there and it was "I'm Lonely". The next day, I played at 2:PM. I knew they were gonna come but they hadn't gotten there yet. Around an hour into playing, I started to bring in 'I'm Lonely' and I looked up and they had just walked into the room, they were at the centre of the crowd, perfect timing.

This track just keeps proliferating as a lucky track. It's literally the cult of Hollis P. Monroe. I'm amassing the serendipitous connections. I also play a lot of Maurice Fulton because he's one of my favourite producers. I rarely go a set without playing a track of his. There's a few others. Halo Varga 'Future!', 'What Is The Time Mr. Templar?' by The Persuader. There’s just a few tracks that I feel can be played in any context.

Read this next: A brotherhood of bass: Somatic Rituals are spearheading new sounds in Switzerland

You’ve talked a little bit about what you appreciate in a crowd as a DJ. When did you start to notice that it was becoming something that was more like a job? Are you at the point where you could live off DJing?

I don't know if I could live off of it right now. If I quit my day job I could, but then I will have to play things that I don't want to and compromise my integrity a little bit. In the US and Canada, I prefer to play small DIY things that my friends put on for not that much of a fee. I would have to say no more often to those things if I were to make all my money from this, which I don't really want to do at this time.

I feel like in music there's always this expectation that someone would want to be full-time as a DJ or producer. But having the ability to be selective is also really important to help you keep the love for what you do.

Exactly. I'm just trying to keep my relationship to music relatively pure. I already see how my relationship to listening, digging and going out has changed. I see the potential for it to become much more commodified for me and I don't want that feeling. I used to just log on to Discogs and dig for hours for fun. I would look forward to it and I would dig three or four times a week.

Now I feel like I need to carve out time to dig for a few hours this week and then learn my tracks. That doesn't feel good. And on a personal level, I don't want to relate to something, that somebody put their passion, love and countless hours into, in that way. It feels disrespectful.

That's understandable. With that in mind, what nugget of advice would you give to someone who is coming up now as a DJ?

I would just tell them to try and keep their relationship to music authentic and to try as hard as they can to preserve it. That's what ends up giving people a distinct sound. You can literally hear it when people play, you can feel it. For example, Ceci, CCL, they're my friend but they're also one of my favourite DJs in the world and that’s partly because they draw on their personal library of music that they listened to before they got into dance music.

I have the same thing with another friend, Cleo, she DJs as Razrbark. She doesn't play out super often but she's super amazing. Every time I see her play my mind is blown. She plays shit that I would never expect somebody to put into a DJ set, but it's not a gimmick or for shock value, it's totally authentic shit that she's been listening to for 10 years. She's a true digger. Personally, I really love when people play weird shit that takes me by surprise. I feel like I haven't seen people just playing the true weirdo shit as much lately, but that's what sticks in my brain and that's what I love dancing to.

Can you tell us about the mix you recorded?

I'd been trying to make a mix that opened with this track by James Bangura for at least six or seven months, but every time I tried to use it for other mixes it wasn't the right fit for one reason or another. I knew that it would set the thematic tone for whichever mix I'd eventually end up using it in, and I was feeling appropriately contemplative when I finally had the presence of mind to record this one. My friend Sami, one of my other favourite artists from DC, had just sent me a demo that he'd made with Sir E.U; it mixed in perfectly and the rest of the mix followed. The mix overall has a brooding, but speculative tone to it.

Sophie McNulty is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter

James Bangura - Hazy Recall
Sami & Sir EU - ????
Dex - Eléctrico
Wallace - ????
Suburban Knight - Maroon
The Digital Kid versus The World - Total Control (Chicago Damn Remix)
Grain - Untitled B1
Big Ever - ????
Orbe / Oliver - ORIENT
Mike Parker - Druma
DJ Trystero - Beneath
Santiago Salazar - Dance Floor Confessions
Ubik - Non Stop Techno
Aril Brikha - Ottil
Trevino - To The Core
Swayzak - Speedboat (2023 Edit)
Dreamscape - New Age

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