Known for breaking boundaries with her intuitive knowledge of rhythm, grooves, and vinyl - Clélia Zida aka Kléo is a DJ and visual artist based in Amsterdam since 2001. As programmer of Amsterdam’s infamous Café Bélgique, Kléo’s DJ sets are an innovative blend of organic and electronic sounds played out with immaculate skill. Ahead of Kléo’s livestreamed set at ‘DIGITAL DGTL’, we had a virtual chat with the French-origin DJ about her most memorable sets, her seamless all-vinyl mixes, the influence of art school and what she’s most looking forward to when she plays our live streamed festival.
Kléo: Photographed by Mark Manzi
Q. To someone who’s never heard a Kléo set, can you describe your sound in a few words?
A. Electronics with an organic feel. Expect loads of drum machines, synths, melodic keys and a big splash of funk.
Q. What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not playing music?
A. Being in my studio painting or in the kitchen cooking.
Q. Your selections have been described as ‘bold and bright’. Do you think this is influenced by your background in art school?
A. I studied at the VAV department of the Gerrit Rietveld Académie in Amsterdam. VAV stood for ‘Voorheen AudioVisueel’ in Dutch, which means formerly audio-visual. Everything was possible here, it didn’t necessarily have to do with either audio or visual, nor with techniques but focused mainly on the power of concept. It was a very strong school of thought, which taught you to conceptualize above visualizing. I’ve always needed both music and art to balance each other - between feeling and thinking, intuition and conceptualisation. When I graduated from GRA, I had the urge to distance myself from conceptualization, I just needed to feel and let go. This is when I turned back to music, it felt so liberating to just play and not explain why. In my paintings, form is content, I paint from patterns, repetitive structures, geometrical forms to mainly vehicles of color. Just like Frank Stella stated, “what you see is what you see”. My paintings ironically look digital, whilst it is all painstakingly hand-gridded almost like a weaved pattern, with hours and hours of repetitive painting. I’m mostly inspired by Abstraction and Minimalism. Somehow this resonates very closely to the kind of abstraction I look for in the electronic music I play - both of which are uncompromising, bright, bold, inviting and relentless. I guess this is where music and art intertwine for me. In both, I’m feeding my OCD with patterns, waves, vibration, colors, light/ temperature and frequencies.
My art school days have shaped me within all my different artistic practices, and this has in turn influenced my editing process. By editing process, I mean, making choices and cutting it to the necessary sound. Especially when playing only vinyl.
Artwork of Kléo: Provided by Clélia Zida
Q. In your role as programmer of the infamous Café Belgique in Amsterdam, what has been your biggest takeaway?
A. For those who don’t know Café Belgique, it is a tiny Belgian beer Café in the heart of Amsterdam. I’ve been working there for a very long time. It all began around 11 years ago when I suggested to my boss to get a set of turntables. He looked at me and said “what do you think this is, Ibiza?!” - I dropped it. One day I walked in before my shift and he had bought a set of decks, a mixer and the whole shebang! He totally surprised me by coming around and I was like “I want to do the programming!”. We went from there. It’s been the biggest gift to create a space in the city dedicated to good music (outside “DJ Land”) in addition to supporting young DJ’s / diggers that don’t get to play much elsewhere. Exposing the audience to so much good music they might not be familiar with, but familiar enough that you can listen to it in a tiny space like Café Belgique.
Q. Do you remember the first time you realized you wanted to pursue DJing professionally? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
A. I never actually made that decision. My thirst to discover new music, added to my stubbornness in mastering the craft. This snowballed me to where I am right now. I never saw it from an ambitious or career perspective.I do remember the moment I realized I wanted to learn how to mix house music! In the late 90s, as a teenager growing up in a suburb of Paris, I remember walking home from high school listening to ‘Homework’ by Daft Punk on my walkman and thinking what the f*** just hit me!! The groove and euphoria leaking out of my headphones made me feel invincible, fierce, uplifted and powerful - such a strong emotion when you’re just a kid looking for any kind of escapism. I knew then that I had found mine in dance music.
Kléo: Photographed by Mark Manzi
Q. You are known for your effortless all-vinyl mixes - what is it about vinyl records that draws you to them?
A. I guess firstly, it has to do with the kind of music I play. 90% of it is from the mid-eighties onward and was released on vinyl, so it’s really the only medium for me to work with! It also has to do with the way I look for new music. I look for music mostly physically and not digitally. I like to dig and look for records I don’t know. In the mid 80s and early 90s, so much was produced that never made it commercially, so you’ve got to pick the record and follow your intuition - there might be that one mix on there that is everything and beyond. Also, I learned to DJ with turntables and it’s just my favorite tool. To be clear, I’m not a purist per se, it’s just how it happened and it’s my way. I’ve always preferred the analog way in any of my artistic practices. When I play vinyl, I only focus on listening and not on looking and that makes me happy.
Q. What is one record that has had a significant influence on the early years of your career?
A. There are so many!! But I think the one record that opened the floodgates was "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun'' from Nuyorican Soul. When I heard that track for the first time I think I was about 17 years old, I realized there was an entire world out there for me.
Q. If you weren’t a full-time DJ/curator, what would you be doing instead?
A. Painting in my studio.
Q. What do you think a live streamed festival like Digital DGTL can offer right now?
A. This global disaster is changing the world and I guess we are all adapting the best way we can, trying to find ways to share and connect through music. In real life, DGTL was meant to be this weekend, but of course it can’t go ahead. For me, ‘DIGITAL DGTL’ is a nice consolation while we wait until we can meet again on the dancefloor. I hope it will make the people stuck at home forget for a moment, the situation they are in and bring some joy and happiness.
Q. Do you think it is necessary for DJs to experiment more with virtual sets?
A. No, I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ve noticed that some artists have been doing daily live streams, while others are not online at all. I think every DJ will have their own take on it and I guess some will navigate through the virtual experiment easier than others. There’s no right or wrong. Though, I do believe there is a bit of an overload of content on social media at the moment that can be quite overwhelming. For me personally, I find live streaming quite confronting. I’m a private and shy person, and the cameras usually make me feel quite uncomfortable. I’m picking very few moments to do a livestream and hopefully I can make those ones count!
I actually feel the same way when playing for a full room of dancers – I don’t like the spotlight to be on me in the booth. I would much rather everybody focused on each other and the music than watching my grumpy face trying not to screw a mix! hahah. But I do understand that for many, having a visual focus point of watching the DJ perform is an important part of the dancefloor experience. So, I see this stream as a compromise in these difficult times, when we are all missing the real thing, in which artists reach out to give something from behind the screen. Hopefully we will get through this and be reunited on the dancefloor sooner rather than later. Fingers crossed. But for now, let’s party in the living room!
Catch Kléo’s live streamed set at DIGITAL DGTL this weekend.
Listen to her specially curated Spotify playlist here: