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HOW KITTENS IS RESHAPING L.A.'S CLUB SCENE

HOW KITTENS IS RESHAPING L.A.'S CLUB SCENE

By Senay Kenfe

The LA Club scene is ever-evolving primarily because the participants in it are bringing new flavor into the mix. The power of social media has helped establish burgeoning nights in spaces and venues that never would have catered towards the younger audiences that are hungry for it now (Los Globos, Club Bahia). With the high profile emergence of artistic collectives within Los Angeles like Soulection, Team Supreme, Wedidit, and the ever popular Low End Theory in Lincoln Heights - what we are witnessing is the youth’s attention diverting away from that contrived bottle service/sparklers atmosphere that has become the calling card of Hollywood. Lauren Abedini better known by her nom de guerre Kittens is part of this new movement of LA artists changing the nightlife of the city. As 1/4 of the Athletixx crew, as well as the reigning queen of the ubiquitous indie label HW&W, she’s had appearances on Sway on the Morning and even played this summer’s Fool’s Gold Day Off. Kittens is building up an incredible resume for herself as a highly in-demand sound selector for parties all over the world. We got the chance to sit down with business school-educated Persian hip-hop aficionada at Melrose’s famous Astro Burger. We chatted about how to navigate through the music industry as a woman, the divide in LA nightlife, how important a name fits an artist, the current nostalgia trend prevalent within today’s scene, and her all-star ensemble of cats.

SENAY KENFE: Tell everyone your name and who you are.
KITTENS: My name’s Lauren Abedini, I go by Kittens, and I’m a DJ, I produce, and I teach an all girls’ DJ course.

Yeah, I saw on your Instagram the other day you posted about teaching girls how to DJ. Why do you think that’s essential to have more female representation in the DJ world?
I don’t even have to say how male dominated it is. But this is the last week of the first session, so I already have girls that went through a six-week beginner course. So what I put up the other day was to advertise a new session.

But my dad’s a professor and I used to teach make-up stuff so I’ve been in a learning environment and I know how intimidating it can be when you’re constantly thinking about the other people around you judging you. So for most girls, if they’re in a class with dudes, they’re really going to be intimidated, they’re going to be nervous, and it’s already a hard thing. That’s kind of scary to be up there and mix and be trainwrecking - which you’re going to do when you’re first learning anyways.

So I figured there are just not a lot of girls here, there’s a ton of girls that I know who definitely want to learn, but they’re always scared. What better way to provide a safe learning space to be taught by a woman in a room full of women? So I just put together a course that was just real basic, beginner, DJ 101 stuff. But then throughout it I go through a lot of stuff about navigating the industry as a woman, issues you face, things that you have to be prepared for how to deal with them.

Can you elaborate on that in terms of navigating through the music industry as a woman? In terms of the success that you’ve had and the career that you’ve made out of it?
The ongoing struggles. It is hard because all the people who are in places of power are men. So if you’re going in as a woman you’re definitely going to have people who are going to either expect or try certain things that are not the most professional.

[They] try to sexualize you.
Yeah, totally. You’re objectified, you’re brought down to a different level, you’re not respected the same way a man in the same place with the same experience would be. So you have two options: You either go with it and play the game and flirt or do whatever, which then nobody’s going to take you seriously. Or you stand up and are like, “That’s inappropriate, stop doing whatever to me.” Then they dislike you and they judge you and you know, they’ll withhold opportunities because you turned them down. The ego gets involved.

So it’s a real delicate game to play, it’s a really fine line of trying to deny somebody while not bruising their ego because you don’t want to burn any bridges basically. So for me it helps because I’m gay and everyone knows that, so even if somebody tries to do something I’m just like, “I’m a lesbian. It’s not you, it’s me.”

But for most girls they can’t do that and it’s even harder. So I just talk to them about different things they’re going to face with that. Or what to expect when you walk into a venue, people are going to think you’re a go-go dancer, bottle service girl - anything but the DJ.

If you dress -
Regardless of how you dress. I literally show up to the club in sweatpants and sneakers a lot of the time. I’m not trying to be fancy when I go to work all the time. It’s still like, “Do you work here?” I’m like, “I’m literally playing in five minutes, don’t give me shit right now.”

“I’m providing you with an experience.”
“That’s my name right there.” But it’s things like that or constant backhanded compliments like, “Oh, you’re pretty good for a girl, you’ll do all right.” I’m like, “Seriously, I’m going to backhand you, don’t give me that shit.” It’s endless.

I think knowing what those things you’re going to face are and how to navigate through those situations so that you still have a career and can still move forward and still demand respect without smashing someone’s ego into the ground is something that women need to learn how to do. It sucks but it’s the reality of it.

I always think it’s great when I see marginalized groups, whether it’s people of color or women in particular, coming together as a community and building each other up. I’ve seen you at shows, people like Von Kiss or So Super Sam - just a lot of women who are connected within the LA scene being visible. Obviously it’s not a publicity stunt, why do you think you guys have been able to come together?
Oh, well, I know Von Kiss from before I started DJing because I actually started DJing at lesbian clubs because they were the only ones who would hire me. So I used to open for her and I would just play really, super, underground, obscure hip-hop. I’d be like, “Whatever! I’m not selling out! Fuck it! I’m going to just play what I want.” So I know her just from that and we have a lot of mutual friends. I don’t really hang out with her, we just really know each other.

But one of my best friends is really good friends with her. But Sam and I were on the same label - every girl at least knows of each other. Everyone knows of each other in some capacity, so there’s just a mutual connection and understanding.

You want to see your kind do well, but at the same time there’s this other thing that other people project onto women and any kind of marginalized group that is weird that none of us really play into. But I see so many dudes, label heads, or whatever will try to project this sense of competition on it. Like, “There’s only room for one girl, who’s it going to be?”

“This is our LA girl.”
Like, “Oh, we’re putting another girl on our label, you’d better step it up.” And it shouldn’t be like that. We’re trying to support each other, we’re all doing something different anyway. None of us are doing the exact same thing and instead of -not to get all feministy here, but I just feel like when any minority is trying to overcome some kind of oppression or some kind of issue, it can try to be hard and do all these things themselves. But one of the most important things is for the other people - the people who are the majority and have the upper hand and the power, they need to come and back it up and be like, “You guys need to come together. I support your movement,” or whatever.

So there’s like A-Trak doing something really cool right now that I love - he does #WCW Woman Crush Wednesdays now. But instead of being like, “Oh, this girl’s fat ass,” he’s like, “This is a woman who is a pioneer in her industry and she’s doing X, Y, and Z that is really great.” Having somebody that is of such a respected stature support. It kind of makes other people like - dudes can be feminists too. So I think that’s one of the things that will help change it, when these labelheads or these other dudes in the world don’t make it about being a girl, they make it about -

Being good or bad.
Yeah, that’s what it should be. It’s not there yet, but I think eventually it will be.

When I first saw you play, I saw you play at the W, you were doing a residency there [at Drai’s]. I walked in and you were playing Dipset, I was like, “Ah, man.” I didn’t even think, “Oh, this is a girl,” because I couldn’t see. But I was like, “Yo, this is tight.” Because that place -
Oh my god at Drai’s? That was so long ago. That place is bougie. It’s usually like $1,000 bottle service.

Yeah! Which is not like my vibe at all so I was like, “This is tight.” Obviously you would consider yourself to be a hip-hop player. What is your initial interaction with hip-hop and how has it helped you get where you are?
Well, I grew up on it, my mom would always play the Above the Rim soundtrack, we’d go to jazz festivals all the time, I grew up heavy on Erykah Badu and Maxwell, lots of neo-soul, lots of jazz. Then I was a dancer for many years, I used to compete for hip-hop and jazz and contemporary dance.

So I was always around music really heavily and then I started going to Low End Theory a lot - that obviously opened my eyes to a lot more stuff and from there I just got really heavy into J Dilla and every artist he worked with. I just went off on a bunch of tangents and really educated myself on it. But it was always something that was so important to me growing up. My mom really started me on music that had soul in it.

And that leads us to your first, initial name that you’ve now changed. Because I heard your mix that you did - In the Mood 4 Summer under the name DJ Soulre.
Soulre, yeah. See, nobody can say it, people were saying Sa-lore, Sa-lorey, all this fucked up stuff. But it originally came from - because when you’re coming up with a name for anything it’s hard. So I was really like, “What’s going to be my name? What’s cool?” I was just like, “Well, all the music that I like comes from soul, it has a soul base to it. Hip-hop wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for soul, jazz wouldn’t be RnB - everything that I love comes from a soul root. So I was like, “Yeah, everything is just a soul renaissance.” I thought I was being all hella deep so it went from Soul Renaissance to Soulre. It just wasn’t fitting, I like the idea of it - maybe it’ll be in the alias when I just make neo-soul beats forever. Kittens just stuck more, made more sense.

Yeah, we were talking about how big of cat lady you were - how many cats do you have? And what are their names?
I have three. The baby is - I got a new one this past year, her name is Queen Latifah, she goes by Queen. Then my boy, his name is Andre Rakim Benjamin 3000, but he just goes by Rakim or Big Papa because he’s just like a big panther, he’s so cute [laughs]. And then my oldest is Tina Aaliyah Turner, I just call her Teetee.

You have a whole star ensemble, you can take them, train them with some band stuff, and you can take them to Las Vegas and make some real money.
I fucking wish. That would be so tight, just have them on stage with me.

You just have to have the right outfits for them.
I know, they hate wearing clothes, I try it all the time and they’ll literally just slump on the ground and just not move.

That’s because they’re cats. [Laughs]
I like cats though more than - I love dogs, I’m an animal freak. But I like that cats make you kind of work for it. They’re like a real person, dogs are that easy girl in the club that you hit on, you know she’s going to come home with you. Cats are wifey, you have to work for it and then they’re like, “Aight.”

“I kind of like you.”
“I kind of like you, maybe I’ll give you a shot, we’ll see how I feel.” I like that.

How has [your Persian side] influenced your life and help shape your musical production? Are there any weird Persian musicians that you dig?
Honestly, Persian music hasn’t influenced me too much. My mom was really the music one in the family. My parents divorced super young so - but Persian music, it depends. I like the older stuff just because they have all those crazy instruments. Now it’s a little bit too much Casio Keyboarded out and just mad cheesy. It’s like cheesy club music so I don’t connect with that that much.

Has that connection ever - let me think - in terms of - I don’t know, my family’s Ethiopian so whenever it’s late I’ve always been able to get a taxi, before Uber, and get some kind of deal -
Haggling? Why do white people not know about haggling? I don’t get it.

I don’t know, man.
The discounts we get are amazing.

They’re like, “This is the price, this is what it is.” Has there ever been a time where you being Persian, people have [said], “OH, okay my friend.”
Oh, yeah, all the time. It’s the best. In every situation, mostly shopping. If I go to a flea market and I’ll go with one of my good friends who is white, she always makes fun of my haggling skills because it’s very real. They’ll be like, “Oh, here’s this cat figurine for $20,” and I’m like, “I’ll give you $5.” [Laughs] And then she’s like, “Oh my god, I would’ve given them $25 because it’s hot out and I wanted to do them a favor.”

The favor is the money I’m giving them.
Yeah! People specifically put their prices up higher so you can haggle down. But that actually has helped a lot as far as business goes because I was managing myself for so long. So I’m just really good at negotiating in general, so if somebody’s like, “I’ll offer you this much,” I’m like, “No, no, this much.” And then we eventually meet in the middle where everyone’s happy. But I feel like so many people will sell themselves short because they’re like, “Okay, I’ll take the hamburger to play your show instead of money, that’s fine.” I’m like, “No.”

How important do you think [your business degree] is in terms of managing your career? A lot of people are artists but they have no business side to them.
I mean, I definitely have a benefit because I have a business background and at Drai’s I was actually the talent buyer. So I set up that whole series of nights. But so I was on the other side where I was booking artists, dealing with agents, management, seeing the game that they played of, “We’ll pay you this much,” or, “They want this much.” So I had that plus business background so I kind of get how everything works and how to move around and what is appropriate and what you can expect and what is totally out of reach. Like, I’m not going to ask for $10,000 dollars, I know better than that.

Not yet.
Yeah, not at this point but then there are some people who are like, “I’m worth so much because blah blah,” or whatever their excuse is and it’s like, “No, you need to be aware of where you’re at, but then don’t sell yourself short at the same time.”

How was your connection to Fool’s Gold Day Off made?
Actually, that Sunday night thing that I was doing at Drai’s, we booked A-trak, and my roommate is P-Thugg from Chromeo. I’ve been really good friends with him for a few years so I obviously know A-Trak from that. But then we were just around each other and we just randomly hit it off because we’re both nerdy, sarcastic Middle Easterners, that just kind of works. But then we trade music a lot and I put him on to a few of artists that he ended up signing.

What’s your connection in terms of Internet culture? Because I feel like you guys - not saying you guys are connected to the health goth movement.
Oh my god, it’s so annoying.

Do you want to talk about that?
This health goth thing is just someone trying to throw a label on a thing. And I grew up with a dance background so I was always wearing leggings and just sneakers and oversized shirts and cut up sweatshirts and stuff like that. And I hate color so I always wear black, white, grey my whole life. I just feel weird when I wear color, it doesn’t fit me. And same with the boys, Falcons is an ex-breakdancer, he needed to wear stuff that he could move in.

So we all just started out with this sports aesthetic that was just very organic and natural. We were all like, “Hey, we all kind of wear black and white sports gear, that’s interesting, it kind of fits together.” And then now there’s this whole craze from whoever and Marie Claire is covering shit. People just love to put labels on shit that don’t need to be there.

The whole health goth thing started with a Facebook group that was basically just putting up imagery, but it wasn’t even about going to the gym, it’s not about being healthy, it’s just sports gear. That doesn’t mean you’re working out every day.

As we speak inside of a burger shop.
Yeah, I mean, I’m eating chili cheese fries. I mean, I do work out because it makes me feel better. But yeah, let’s be real.

[How was the time you did] Sway in the Morning?
Sway Calloway. I’ve done that twice, which is really, really fun. That was the same thing, it was like, “Play whatever you want, you have 30 minutes, play what you want.” So that for me is fun, because I’m like, “Cool, I’m reaching a really huge crowd right now.”

My whole thing with DJing has always been sandwiching stuff people know and can connect to with stuff they haven’t heard. So I feel like it’s a basic DJ fundamental - you want to gain your listener’s trust. Like, “Hey, here’s something you know. Be open, feel safe, because I’m going to give you something else that you might not know right now and you’ll be open to absorbing it. And before you freak out, we’ll go back to something else you know.” It’s just a back and forth that has always worked for me. It was fun to play nostalgic shit with new whatever beats with a current hit.

How do you feel about this current occurrence going on where you - especially in the LA club scene - a lot of meshing with hip-hop and nostalgic music that we’re more connected with in terms of a lot of electronic music. How do you feel about that?
That intersection? I mean, it’s tight for me, I love it. That’s what I’m most comfortable with. But at the same time it depends what clubs you go to. If you’re going to some commercial bottle service sparklers and shit, you better only play top 40. I play that sometimes, that’s how I make my rent, that’s where the money is. You make more playing an hour opening set than you would headlining at a cool club for sure.

So you do those, but I still notice you have to be really careful with sandwiching in those places. You have to give them an extra few tracks that they know before you slip one in for you. If you want to take them somewhere then really get them comfortable before you bring back something from the '90s or from wherever that they may not have in the forefront of their mind.

Can you talk about that divide in terms of the LA club scene? Like places that are fun, places are whack, places that are top 40 - because you are a DJ in high demand in this city and you have to bounce around from all these places.
Honestly, the cooler parties, people have way more fun. You go to any of these Hollywood, snobby, bougie spots and people are not having fucking fun. They’re not there to have fun, they’re there to be seen every time. There’s barely any dancing, everyone’s just standing there posing no matter what you play or what you try. Posing, maybe dancing around, and singing, “Oh my god, bottle, sparker, cool.” That’s it.

But you play at a party where people are actually there for the music and obviously the reaction is going to be better and the energy is better. It’s just way more fun.

How does that make you feel in terms of [doing it] for the ones that come for the music?
I don’t know, I feel like it’s a really cool place to be as far as the responsibility goes. Because you have so much power and control over a room of people who are just eager to listen to what you have. And I feel like it’s every DJ’s dream to be able to educate people on new stuff. Or play a track that has only been out an hour. Or someone released shit and people just trip out on it, “Oh my god, what is that?” Or you see them react to something.

Or you’re producing and you want to get peoples’ reactions when you play a song that you haven’t put out yet to see how people vibe to it. It’s definitely way more fun as a DJ to be able to play something like that versus the same playlist everyone else has to play for Hollywood.

Where do you go to find new music [online]?
Obviously Soundcloud. One thing I always do is I listen to different mixes and radio shows - for hip-hop, Lily Mercer, she’s so dope, so fucking dope. Every week I listen to that shit as I’m getting ready and I always know there’s going to be some new shit that she’s on that just came out and I don’t know about yet. Then you can dig deep into that and go on a tangent.

As far as hip-hop, it’s a little bit easier to say, “I go here for this.” But then when it comes to new producers and different shit that’s on this new cusp, it’s luck. Just like stumbling on the right Souncloud, stumbling on the right crew. Once something’s on a blog, it’s not new really. If something’s on Hypetrack or something, it’s been around for a minute. It’s just breaking on a blog, but if you’ve done your homework, it’s been around.

Do people ever try to get you to pay to play? Like, “Blow me up on” --
Oh, like, “Support me and I’ll pay you?” No, I haven’t had anyone hit me up with money. I wouldn’t do that though, I’m too - I’m not going to put on some shit that’s whack.

But what if it was tight?
What if it was tight? I would do it anyways because they shouldn’t have to pay for that.

How do you maintain a private life while being a public personality figure?
I mean, I’m not too crazy private about my life, I’m pretty open, everyone knows basic shit about me and I’m okay with that. But I actually learned from being in that relationship with this famous Australian chick to not put my relationships on blast on the Internet. Because damn, people get involved. So I usually keep relationship stuff more low key, I’m not going to not post a picture of me and girl on Instagram, I don’t care. But I constant open communication where everyone can see, it leaves room for people to get in and fuck with shit.

But that’s it, there are some things that being open for me can help other people. Like, I can help young gay kids who don’t have a role model or young girls that don’t have a role model or women who want to DJ or do whatever. I feel like being open helps more than it harms in most ways.

Anything you want to end on?
These chili cheese fries are good.

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