Our bookings and music resources guides may be the practical how-tos of our Resolutions 2020 series, but, for our third iteration of this series, we’re focusing on the more intangible aspects of career building. When considering the reiterative information out there that emphasizes ‘network as your net worth’ or ‘fake it till you make it,’ there is a considerable lack of sincerity in most professional guidance. Before you ask, “What does it take to accelerate an emerging DJ career?” the first approach should be questioning why you’re in this game in the first place. If music serves a great purpose for you than mere accolades, then this fact alone will inevitably carry you above the industry cycles–and DJ Kikelomo is a testament to this.
Since learning the intricacies of blending and selection just over two years ago through No Shade, a collective and DJ training program spotlighting female, non-binary, and trans artists, Kikelomo (real name Kike Oludemi) has become a weekend standby in Berlin’s oversaturated scene. Her CV, marked by appearances at CTM, Fusion Festival, and splash! Festival, demonstrates her versatility and genre-agnosticism; last year, she’s also played out to an audience of 100,000 alongside S Ruston at Brandenburg Gate for the Mauerfall 30 Jahre. Oludemi’s astronomical growth is at once intimidating and inspirational–but, more importantly, she stands out and shows out for all the right reasons. So listen up.
1. Start off with the right career intentions
It’s really important to understand why you want to DJ. If you go in with the motivation of achieving some kind of accolade or fame, there is a limitation to that. For me, the reason why I want to DJ is because I just love sharing good music with cool people and that process of exchanging energies with the crowd.
I think that intention in itself is really instrumental in helping people’s growth because when you reach out to promoters or to potential collaborators, that passion is really transparent, or, conversely, the lack of good intentions or the lack of genuineness is clear.
2. Step into the new year with a list of goals
I started last year with a list of goals: I wanted to DJ internationally and I wanted to DJ at a large-scale festival. In terms of the power of setting intentions, that’s something I’ve always done. I’ve always moved towards something; I’d feel lost without that. It doesn’t have to be anything specifically career-based either, but maybe something I wanted to try or bucket lists for the more mundane, you know?
I do believe in the power of manifestation. Being able to put your goals there and constantly working towards them really does help you focus and look for opportunities that will help you achieve them.
3. Clearly state what you want
When I first moved to Berlin, I just told everyone what I wanted: I want to learn how to DJ. So, when I met people in clubs, through friends, or at work, I spoke this into existence. I think Berlin is a good city in that people will generally want to help each other. Just don’t be afraid to speak to people about what you want, what you hope to achieve, your goals, and aspirations–because when I see that passion in other people, I want to help them grow.
Also, follow up on people’s offers. If they offered to connect you with someone, make sure to write them and ask about it.
4. Prioritize your visibility
If you’re starting out as a DJ, have a presence online. I know it sucks, but it’s one of the most important tools that people can use, and it shouldn’t be necessarily seen as a bad thing. It’s just about understanding how you can use it to your benefit. Make sure when people look you up and see what you’re about, that it’s easy for them to do so.
See your social media as your portfolio. Make sure people can find your mixes and see what your sound–or what your variety of sounds–are about. I make sure I have a variety of mixes, whether it be hip-hop, deconstructed club, bass, techno, or grime, to demonstrate my abilities. I think connecting with people via social media is one of the best ways to mobilize your career.
5. Produce regular content
With my show [on Cashmere Radio], I was able to make sure every month, I had a fresh mix, whether I liked it or not. It provided me a platform to connect with other people in the industry.
I gained a lot of party bookings in the beginning through the fact that I invited people [such as Gizem Adiyaman and Lucia Luciano from Hoe_mies] to my radio show because I wanted to connect with those scenes and see what they were about.
6. Invest in your community
I didn’t have any goals of climbing some sort of social ladder or force an integration in terms of community. I think music naturally forms community of people willing to help one another, especially when you consider the history of dance culture, club culture, and radio culture–it’s about sharing and process, but it’s also about the individual. The fact that music can connect so many people means that communities naturally form around that.
This is why I got involved with so many projects: the sharing, connecting, and community aspect of music is something I naturally enjoy.
7. Consider the metrics to assess your own growth
I definitely think I’m growing in terms of versatility of my sound. When I first started DJing, I I was quite clear cut and confined to a particular sound–being grime, bass, UK club, with a bit of mainstream pop house vibes. But looking at how I evolved, I wanted a large breadth in terms of genres and styles of mixing. Also, I am no means an expert at reading a crowd, but I also think that this skill has developed and I’m much more versatile and adaptable.
I also measure [my growth] by the opportunities that I’ve been given: the ability to play around the world, and my general exposure. I’ve been able to play to such a wide variety of people in so many different situations, from clubs and festivals to corporations and conferences, and that breadth is a testament to the way I’ve grown as an artist.
8. Explore all avenues to stay curious about music
I have worked quite hard to maintain the fact that I am a multi-genre artist. When I first started out, I had quite energetic grime and bass sets, but then I reached out to a collective called Lecker, who does live soul and r&b shows, and I asked if I could do a soul set. I love basically all forms of music, all genres, and I think exploring in the way, I can use that love of so many genres in my sets to keep things spicy.
Something I learned early on, [from experiences with L-Vis 1990, Abyss X, Neana, and fellow No Shade member AUCO] is that going back-to-back is amazing. That’s one of the fastest ways I’ve learned and my eyes were opened, to both good and bad. Go back-to-back with as many people as possible, and have fun with it. People mix in so many different ways. Making sure you understand that you are on a journey of exploration, and really doing it for the love of music, I think, is the most important advice.
9. Maintain joy for the craft through financial self-care
I won’t lie, I’ve been quite overstretched and that becomes quite draining. I think making sure you’re taking regular breaks and making sure you know why you’re playing gigs is key. I’m lucky enough that I have a [full-time] job and that I’m not financially dependant on my craft. I pick gigs because I love them, not because I need them. Almost making sure I have that detachment is important and keeps things fresh for me as well.
Also, negotiate. Always negotiate when people ask to book you for a certain fee. I’ve been on both sides of it: both as a booker and as an artist. Especially when it comes to minorities, just because of the way society is, we’re not naturally conditioned to ask for more. Now, it’s always drilled into me to negotiate.
10. Lastly, be present with your audience
One last piece of advice, look up at the crowd when you’re DJing. It seems so simple, but you can get so stuck in mixing and blending, and you get so nervous you don’t want to acknowledge the audience. Engage with the crowd, people will remember you, and it will be a memorable experience for everyone.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Follow Kikelomo on Instagram.
Additional graphic design by Ekaterina Kachavina.
Published January 21, 2020. Words by Whitney Wei.