Katie Drover has that natural talent for melding a wide spectrum of sounds into a unified, uninterrupted flow. Coming from Melbourne Australia, the now Berlin-based DJ and Watergate Club Resident runs her own record label Dokutoku Records, which has spawned releases from artists such as Alexkid and Gullaume & the Coutu Dumonts. Along with her recent string of elegant productions on Pleasure Zone, Carpet & Snares, Lobster Theremin and her own imprint, her potential is far from exhausted. When you hear her playing she will doubtlessly fully embrace the range of the house genre, choosing records from minimal and deep house to electro and disco. Her influences were drawn from artists like Portishead, Sade, Lauren Hill, Moody Blues, Fleetwood Mac or Massive Attack and DJ Food. From her teenage years, Katie has been captivated by the world of electronic music, in which she has felt at home ever since. We had the opportunity to dig deeper into her background, so we went for it.
Please tell us more about your first encounter with interacting physically with music
My mum was always listening to music and records, more smooth 80s pop music like Sade, Simply Red, Fleetwood Mac. I remember as a kid very clearly my mother teaching me how to put the needles on the records because back then the needles were very fragile. She always told me: Don’t touch the records because you will scratch them. Put the needle on properly!
I know you played the piano. Did you like playing it?
The piano was a shitty, old out of tune piano. My grandmother liked to buy things at vintage shops so she bought me this piano when I was 5, and I started lessons when I was 6 or so. I like to think of myself as a genius but in reality, I was just making noise. My grandmother was always listening to opera and classical music so my musical exposure was fairly broad when Ii was young.
So I started piano lessons at 6, then clarinet and saxophone at 13, played in bands in high school and experimented with drums and percussion. I discovered electronic music in high school also – I had this naughty pirating thing going on where I would go and buy CDs, rip them and exchange them for others. I discovered a lot of new music that way. So I guess I was already digging music at a younger age and perhaps in a little criminal way (both of us are laughing).
Also, I discovered Napster and Lime wire which took up way too much of my time! When I was 16 I was introduced to clubs and raves through friends and fell in love with the atmosphere.
Is there a particular music style that you really like or was it always that colourful?
I loved classical orchestral baroque music, which was kind of my secret uncool shame. So I would get these boxsets of Bach and listen to them. I was also very intrigued by electronic music which was sort of starting to become popularized by people like Tricky, Radiohead and these kinds of artists. Looking back I might say that as I teenager I had a really embarrassing collection of music. From Minogue to Madonna, I had them all! But I was always intrigued by searching for electronic music which was new and I felt a connection with it instantly.
Talking so much about electronic music, do you remember your first rave?
I remember my first rave yes I do. It was in Melbourne where they used to do these huge raves at the docklands and I had some friends who lived on the other side of the city – this is where the raves took place. So my friends had some older friends who invited us to come over to one of these raves that was happening and luckily I already planned to stay over at my friend’s place on that weekend. I remember not really knowing what to expect, and my friends telling me to change my outfit. I was wearing a simple shirt and jeans but they decided to dress me up in colourful things which was super fun. So yeah, it was a very intense experience. I remember the adults calling the raves, rages. “Have you heard of these rages?” They used to ask us. What struck me the most was the collective energy along with the freedom and the rebellion of going out.
So you stopped instrumental lessons when you were 17 and concentrated on your studies, which was Math and Science. Is there a parallel between Math and Music?
Absolutely! It’s something I found very interesting that I learned. I used to think there was a correlation between method, rhythm and structure but I always thought that music was the creative side and Math and Science was all about dry rules and regulations. But as I did it more and went to university I realized that problem solving is the purest form of creativity. When you are faced with a situation where you need to find a unique solution you need to be creative to think of how to solve it. So Math and Science is actually an incredibly creative thing to do. And music can also be incredibly dry where you have rules and regulations, numbers and scales to learn. So, in my opinion, they are very closely related.
Did you still go out when you studied then?
Yes, it took me a long time to finish my studies cause I partied a lot. I went through this moment while studying where I was questioning the point of it. I was working at a club and, DJ and I guess when you are young, you simply ask yourself those questions. At some point, I was thinking if I should immerse myself more into music and so I took off time where I concentrated on it. At some point though I had a very amazing and important conversation with a friend who was a well-established DJ at the time. He gave one of the best pieces of advice up to now: “Whatever you do, keep studying!” And to be honest, I did. Just look at what we are facing right now, Covid19 is the proof.
So how did you manage to establish a DJ career at the same time? Was it hard?
It was tough, yes. I guess my work probably suffered a little bit but it always felt like that was my social time. I was working so much and in an intense job and environment whereas on the weekend I could play music, see my friends and switch off. It balanced each other out a lot.
Do you remember your first gig?
Yes, I started playing when I was 19 years old and it was the worst gig in the world (laughing). I have been working for a nightclub for a little while and they did these nights called Degenerate Session and they would get people who had never DJ’d before to come and have a set there. It was super cool! Me and my friend did a set together and I have already been collecting music for a little while and it felt like the right opportunity. I was so nervous!
So when did you start producing music?
I was playing around with Ableton for quite a while, to do mixes, bootlegs. But I didn’t really have faith in myself as much as I should have had. I am one of those people who needs results very quickly and I couldn’t see how I could get them. I guess you are always your own worst critic and I needed someone to mentor me, who I now have. A lot of that has to do with my husband Alex, who is my inhouse tutor now. He has a studio and I get into it to jam or do a sample library and finish up the rest on my laptop – pretty lo-fi actually.
How would you describe the music scene in Australia?
I would say that the scene is very diverse and I was really only operating in one area of it. There are quite a few different areas but the problem with Australia is it has such a small population so you just don’t have the volume of people to support different scenes. Sometimes it is just not viable for a particular promoter to do a party for a particular style – it’s just not gonna be enough people. I guess this is why things gear a little more towards commercial music because there isn’t the amount of people. The difference to Berlin for example is that electronic music is not really viewed as a career path or something you do for the rest of your life. So people mostly go out to clubs when they are really young and at uni, getting drunk, party and then they just stop going out. So it is a very young and kind of green scene. The ones who are a bit more life-long passionate people sometimes start feeling a bit awkward going out on the weekend because it is not really seen or valued as something real unless you are working in the industry. Having said that there are always some amazingly passionate crews running great parties and high-quality music coming out of the country.
How did you start your residency at Watergate?
I think it was the right place at the right time. They put me at every party on Thursday at La Maison and I am friends with the promoter who is running it. I went along to a few of their first events and they were kind enough to let me have a spot one night. After that, I was lucky enough to be put on most of the subsequent one. I would classify myself as a warm-up DJ, it’s the spot I love playing the most. So being able to do the warm-up on a very regular basis got me to get to know the room really well. I feel pretty grateful actually.
Do you have a favourite club in Berlin? Maybe in terms of playing and in terms of partying?This is really hard to answer because the clubs in Berlin are so diverse and all of them have their own identity. And sometimes their diversity within their identity is so broad from one night to the other – one night you love what’s happening and the next night you are like: whoa this is not my thing. So yeah, in the end, this is why it is really hard to pin it down and makes it rather up to the entourage and your crew of people, the DJ and just the chemistry of the night. I like the musical selection at Hoppetosse and CDV, it’s also very nice playing there and I always enjoy the atmosphere. To be honest I kind of fold anywhere here Golden Gate, Renate, all of them.
Let’s try to think of a night then that was one of the most memorable in Berlin
There are also so many! One of my favourite parties is Heideglühen because the spirit is always positive, uplifting and colourful. The music isn’t all the time unbelievable but I always enjoyed the energy of the party. I could stay there for hours and hours.
Another one I remember was New Year’s Eve at Berghain. There was one of those moments where my friend and I were sitting at the bar, chatting to each other and I think at some point we realized after hours that we just didn’t move. There were so many good DJs and DJ friends who played, so we just kept on prolonging for another four hours and another four hours. That was memorable in its extravagance because it was also not planned.
That really does sound like a lot of fun! Now switching to a more serious topic. How do you feel being a woman in a scene dominated by men? Have you ever come across any unfairness, sexism even?
Yes of course. I could talk about this topic for hours and hours and in fact, I do sometimes. It is a very complex issue and it also depends on who you talk to about it. My attitude has changed over the years as well because when I started there were almost no women. There was more of a legitimate excuse for male-dominated line-ups. I mean, I could count two or three women that I knew and that I could look up to. I had the attitude that I was probably benefiting a lot from the fact that I was a DJ and a woman. I got a lot of opportunities purely because I was a female so when I started up I was super positive about it because I could get further faster. Quite soon I realized though that there was a ceiling, a point at which I could not get any further because I potentially could become a threat. Some people could be really supportive up until a point where it was enough, the rest is on you. It was never really obvious or bad but I would say it was unconsciously biased. There were moments where people came up to me saying: “Katie, you are my favourite female DJ.” And for a little while, I thought it was sweet, but my attitude changed about it because let us be open, why do you have to bring me down by putting me in a subgroup. It’s a nice thing of you to say but you are also discrediting me at the same time. Why can’t I be your favourite DJ or one of your favourite DJs? No one would ever go up to a DJ of colour and say, “Hey man, you are my favourite black DJ”.
Do you experience sexism in Berlin?
No, I don’t experience conscious sexism in Berlin. Sexism in the music industry is mainly unconscious and people don’t mean it but that shows how heavily it is embedded in the culture. I am sure that I still get opportunities purely because I am a woman and many clubs need to have a good gender balance. In Berlin, I have met like-minded people who approach the topic in a similar way or how I would like to approach it actually. I hadn’t seen it before and it is hard to model it in your head, especially if you don’t see it being successful. Is it even possible? Should I say something or not? You start to feel this conflict in your guts. There is a lot of pressure as a woman as well and most of us very quickly get the feeling of being judged.
Do you think a gender balance could help the scene?
Yes, I think it is very important that something is happening. I spoke to people about the gender balance and I know a few that think it is not fair or right that people should be judging others based on their gender when it should be on talent. That is totally understandable when the pool of people available is equal then you can make choices purely based on talent but when it’s unequal and there is such bad disbalance between male and female then you have to push the majority somehow. This whole topic really gets me quite annoyed but I am still learning how to approach it properly. I have been asked by people to participate in podcasts or things like this and when I investigate their previous podcasts or check their network and I notice that they are only supporting men I will say something. I usually would tell them that I appreciate the offer and that they need to do better. As it’s most often with someone who’s facing a conflict or something that they are not comfortable with they get defensive and don’t really go further. So I don’t always wanna bring this negativity to the table but I am learning how to address this issue better and do it more. Many promoters or musical platforms don’t really see it as a problem and that is why it is unconscious but also dangerous.
I saw you playing at the first Vaginistan open air in Berlin. You absolutely smashed it. What is your opinion on their approach and what makes their approach so unique?
I think their approach is great because it is good vibes, friends and family and clearly in support of the feminine but also they don’t restrict themselves on gender either.
Let’s talk a little bit about Corona and how it has affected your creativity
Well, it’s funny that actually in pre-Corona I had been for a little while exploring music that isn’t related to dancefloor or audience reactions. I get the impression that when you are DJ you are very focused on making choices that will be effective as well as using the music a tool. So I have already been making some music that was not dancefloor-oriented and listening to a lot of different stuff. Then Corona came and somehow it seems as if the stars have aligned in such a way that I was able to explore that a lot further. As a DJ you are heavily reliant on participation from other people in terms of the choices that you make, even when listening to music I was trying to envision what effect it is going to have on other people – at least for me, it’s part of the choice that you make. The musical choice affects others so when you are not making choices based on the interaction of an audience it is very different, like doing a podcast or a stream at home. You are doing it alone and you have to imagine in your head what might possibly be the situation the listener is going to be in. At home, in bed, or a house party? It is very solitary.
Dance music becomes a little bit more redundant when there is not the space and people to make the atmosphere right to play it. I mean all music has its space. Jazz music is played in old dark clubs and bars, orchestral music is played in big halls and hip-hop is played in some cars (laughing). But every music has its physical contact and dance music is probably asking for it the most. And when you do it without this contact and constant feedback it somehow becomes very lost.
How did it feel then when you played in Watergate with all these restrictions?
Well, there was no dancing, no dancefloor, a very limited number of people who were seated. So again, no interaction from an audience. It was simply the space. It was, of course, a pleasure to be playing music to actual other humans but it definitely was not a club atmosphere, more of a bar vibe in a nightclub space.
Is there a place you really like visiting in Berlin? A secret spot or a place that charges your energies?
That’s a very good question. To be really honest, I absolutely love riding my bike here. I do that a lot and I feel that craving when I haven’t been out for a while, especially now in winter. I need a bike ride. It is also a lovely way to see, explore and experience the city.
Thank you, Katie, for this really lovely interview!
Fast round questions:
What are you currently watching on Netflix?
Ok, don’t judge, or do, but Friends just became available here in Germany so I’m back on that vibe for a while.
If you could live anywhere, where would you live? My dream would be half the year in Melbourne and the other half here.
Your favourite snack? Chips (Crisps for the Brits)
What is your favourite club in Berlin?
Heidegluhen for the vibe, Hoppetosse for the music, Berghain for the experience
What do you most likely do after you’ve had a stressful day?
Eat sugar and take a bath.
Black or white?
Fac record shop?
What record do you always have in your bag?
Lately (or pre-Corona) it was The Late EP by OTC and Stamp Collecting by Schatrax. If you just want one use Schatrax 🙂
What does music mean to you?