Following the release of internationally renowned DJ Cassy’s debut album Donna, KALTBLUT is excited to present an exclusive interview with the artist herself. Catherine Britton, a.k.a Cassy, is a celebrated DJ and producer who can work crowds at underground havens like Berghain and Panorama Bar, as much as she can at vast outdoor festivals like Tomorrowland. Her productions are inventive and left of centre house and techno affairs, that have come on esteemed labels like Perlon, Uzuri, and Bass Culture. With no real plan other than to make an album as unpretentious and natural as possible, Donna simply reflects the sounds that have enthused and inspired Cassy over the years, but it didn’t come easy. Once the album writing process eventually started in earnest after six years of stop start, six months of structural experiments ensued with sound engineer and friend Lad Agabekov, as did a relocation to LA and then Philadelphia. It was here the album was finished, as Cassy found new inspiration and passion with her newborn son and partner. They, along with friend and “soul brother” King Britt, ”helped me transform the album into a more mature version of me and my music. Into the version I am ready for the world to hear.” Opening with the downbeat vocal darkness of ‘This Is How We Know’ this album has you immediately enthralled. Plenty of vocals lend the whole thing a personal and intimate feel, with the overall mood lovelorn, vulnerable and honest. There is minimal techno, soul infused house and Latin flecked rollers next to creepy slow burners and delightfully freewheeling and melodic disco style cuts. All in all, Donna makes for a roller coaster ride that is accomplished and unpredictable, and very much proves Cassy has much more than just effective club music up her sleeve. We had a chat with her about why she wants to be more than just your typical female ‘role model’, how she reads a room of 150 dancers to five thousand dancers, and the new challenges she faces as an singer.
KALTBLUT: You’ve been working for a number of years on your massively anticipated debut album out this June Donna. Tell us about what this album means to you, and how this project came into being and developed?
Cassy: Well I needed to find the right people to work with, and I didn’t wanna do tracks, or a minimal house or techno album, because I kind of stopped doing that kind of music. I’ve done remixes, and obviously I want to continue doing that again, but maybe in a different way – or maybe now in a new way. I’m obviously not stopping making house or techno -or whatever you wanna call what I made – but I always thought an album has to be something that is really an artist’s album. Something that I can do, obviously because I sing as well, and I’m such a huge a fan of music and it means so much to me. And I’ve always wanted to make music, and not just house and techno. Make music in a broader sense, and that’s a very difficult undertaking. You also have to be brave enough to do it! That was the biggest wish behind all of this, to do something that’s slightly different, the next step for me. Obviously as an artist you have to release music, and you have to be in people’s minds, but I’ve never been too strong on ‘what needs to be done’. Not out of protest, but because I’d rather do something that I feel and really mean, than something that is just not very meaningful. Obviously it took a very long time, and it’s funny that it was released now, after all this time, exactly the time Prince died when I covered a Prince song on the album, which I’ve always wanted to do. So this is something I guess – good things always have to wait, they need time.
KALTBLUT: You’ve had such a prolific and multi faceted career previous to this and that’s obviously shaped your previous work – how does this album offer something slightly different from you?
Cassy: That’s exactly the point, because I obviously I can make nice house tracks, or weird minimal house tracks, and sell 500 records, and I wanna do that again! But I wanna make music that a lot of people can listen to, because that’s why you make it. And obviously house and techno is something a lot of people listen to, but you listen to it in a club. Some people listen to it in their cars and their homes, but I really wanted to make music that my mum can listen to as well, in her house. Obviously she’s not gonna put a techno album on in the living room!
KALTBLUT: What were your first experiences of music growing up in Austria?
Cassy: The background that I had was everything, from classical music, to jazz, to pop music – and that was all from a very early age on. And being an only child as well – having a ‘ladybug’ record player, and just being by myself a lot of the time, spending a lot of time listening to music – that’s the strongest memory I have of my room. All the memories I have of that room is me dancing or listening to music most of the time, these are the best memories. And recording stuff from the radio, and being extremely ecstatic. Spending time by yourself listening to music – you don’t feel alone. It was just something so vital. So I guess a very important part of my life, or where I am right now.
KALTBLUT: So how did you become immersed in the electronic scene in Vienna in the 90s, and how did you come across the people who drew you into this world?
Cassy: I guess it was people that – the people that I met that were DJ’s I met through friends. And I guess because I liked going out – I liked going to clubs, and music and dancing, and I liked going to places that were not just the normal cheesy nightclubs. And I liked meeting these people, because they would go to cool parties and cool events, and they would take me there, so obviously that was the common interest that made me very curious. And then you become friendly and hang out. And then eventually I started singing, or started DJing or learning how to DJ, and I would go round with people to gigs, like with Electric Indigo.
KALTBLUT: How did this grow into a love for electronic music, when you started immersing yourself in this world, what drew to this particular style of making music?
Cassy: Why I was drawn to it is that it did not seem to be a very big world, but a very exclusive world, and not in a bad sense. It seemed to be a very small world, but a very free world, where there are some certain laws, but not too many. And when you wanna sing blues, or pop, or R’n’B, whatever, then you have to have the right contacts, or you have to grow up in the right country, and work with the right people, and all of that. And you have to fulfil a certain format to fit in. And I guess with electronic music you’re in a community, you’re in a group of people that has the same interest, and does similar things. That was something that I needed to be in, with these like minded people, in order to feel that creative freedom is there as well. And that you don’t have to act a certain way, or a look a certain way, or sing a certain way, or build a song a certain way, that you have a lot of freedom to explore what you can do. Because I knew that I was not gonna be a pop singer, I was not gonna be a classical music singer, but I always wanted to make music. So that was something that was in my head right from the start.
KALTBLUT: So in terms of what you’re looking for in the artists you’re working with, what do you feel you were drawn to with those that produced your album?
Cassy: It’s interesting to see the different approaches people have, and the different way of building tracks, and what they then want from you, or how they want you to sing. It’s all very good when you collaborate – but this time it was different because it was my project, and it was my thing, and I asked people to come and help me and do my thing, and not I come and help them do their thing! So that was even more interesting.
KALTBLUT: It must have been quite a change. So by surrounding yourself with people that share the same ideas and sensibilities, what did you learn from the women you looked up to that mentored you – and how would you hope others look up to you?
Cassy: The most important thing is it’s not about making cool music, and it’s not about becoming a cool DJ. If I should be an inspiration to people, to girls thinking ‘I can’t do it – obviously I can because she did it’, if I can motivate people to do stuff – then that’s amazing. But in the end the ‘role model’ thing – I guess it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or woman. I should not only be a role model to a woman, as a DJ, we should all be inspiring each other. What’s even more important is to be courageous, to be yourself, and do it your way. The most important message for me if I would wanna send it to people is to be really brave and not take any shit, and to fight for a better world. And I think it’s extremely important to be a good person, and to be aware of what the fuck is going on around you. And very much so as a musician too, or as a producer. There are people out there that sing amazingly and are super pop stars, but if everything around them is so crap – who gives a fuck if they’re really good or not, because what comes from what they are doing? Not very much. A lot of teenagers buy the music, and stupid people get rich, and what’s left behind is more or less nothing. There’s nothing there apart from a few people got rich. And this symptom is everywhere, and this bullshit is not very productive. It’s not gonna help the world, it’s not gonna help a lot of people, it’s not gonna make anything better, it’s just making stuff worse. And I guess that is something that I wanna represent to a certain extent. I don’t know how much I can do this, but also as a woman, and now as a mother it’s super important – I don’t want my son to be such a wanker! I don’t want him to just go out there and just do stuff blindly, I want him to be aware of what’s going on. And obviously we all live and learn, and we have ups and downs, and we make wrong mistakes and wrong decisions, and that all has to happen. But in the end we all have to be aware of what’s going on around us, and how we affect things – and the consequences.
KALTBLUT: Can you tell us a little but about the inspiration behind the establishment of the female:pressure network?
Cassy: The female:pressure thing – that was Electric Indigo’s network that she started off doing many years ago. And I guess I’m in the network, but I’m not a networker. I probably am a networker but I’m not aware of it in that sense. I don’t believe in clubs – obviously there’s always an invisible club, but I don’t believe in clubs. For me female:pressure is an extremely vital and important thing, especially for girls and women that wanna start up and who don’t have access to things, then a club is really cool. But beyond that they have their limitations I think.
KALTBLUT: Do you feel your experience of living in so many different places, and being able to share your experience on tour with your son and partner, means you have been able to adapt your career to move with the changes in your personal life?
Cassy: Yeah definitely. I was always very focused on my job, because that’s also the way I make money, and that’s also what I love doing, so you wanna treat it with respect. But the other thing is that I’m probably more focused on my job than focused on my career. Certain moments you have to focus on your career, you can’t just stand still. It’s really strange to watch the scene now that I’ve done it for quite a while change all the time, and to see these dynamics happening, and what happens with people, and to people. All of that stuff is extremely interesting to watch and you’re kind of part of it? But I also feel like an outsider watching it – obviously I’m playing the game, and I’m part of this circle of DJ’s and nightlife people, but on the other hand it’s also interesting that whatever happens I am a person, and I am on top of everything a woman. And I turned 40 two years ago, and then I turned a mother – that’s something you can’t just forget about. You go through all this and you experience so much, and then you’re like ‘Oh wow this is what I’ve seen’. Everything has changed now, I have a different career now, I am a different person now, I am a different DJ now. It’s very interesting that you actually have to stop yourself and go ‘Everything is fine, you’re just totally different now, and maybe you’re less interested in doing certain things.’ You’re even more developed now, and that feels sometimes very odd.
KALTBLUT: You’ve gone from playing residencies at huge underground venues to more intimate club spaces – what have you taken from these live experience how has the impacted on your own work and music?
Cassy: Being able to adapt to different sizes of dance floors, and the energies of more or less people is an extremely valuable experience I have had as a DJ. So for that I will be eternally grateful. And that’s obviously what I want keep doing, is playing here and there, and not always playing in the same places. But the most important thing that I’ve taken away from it all is to know that it’s all the same in the end. You can have a big festival and an amazing sound, and a feeling that you are touching every single person on the dance floor, like five thousand. And you can be in a small club with 150 people and have the feeling that no one gets anything that’s going on! So this is what I’ve taken away from it – it’s to be free and let the energy happen, and let yourself connect with the situation. That is what I think I’ve taken away most.
KALTBLUT: How do you feel your experience as DJ and producer has impacted your style, and how has your early experience as a singer evolved into your artistic debut?
Cassy: I think that’s very much part of the whole thing, is that I had the also the chance to sing to very different types of music, and always had a love for all different types of music. Doing your own thing and singing to your own thing is something different. There’s different styles of music represented in my album but it’s still very much my own thing. But I guess all of that helped me form my own voice, and my own way of singing, that I feel now more confident in doing.
KALTBLUT: Tell us a bit more about the personal creative process behind the album?
Cassy: Well I had stuff on some machines, and I’d collected some stuff, and we started off in Geneva, in Lad’s (Agabekov) place, my sound engineer, who is also an amazing mastering engineer – he masters all of my music. We started off in his studio, by connecting my tiny machines, and then using all of his stuff, and building foundations to tracks. And then sometimes I would sing on them, and we took it from there. Maybe one track we built up more, or maybe one track we sent to King (Britt) and he built on it. That’s what happened with ‘Feel’. We just built foundations, and then I took all of these foundations to Philadelphia and then either we started fresh, or we finished it. Or King just added something. Every track had the similar foundation and start, apart from I think ‘This Is How We Know’, which was completely new, and ‘Without You’,which was done completely new in Philadelphia. Every track has a different development.
KALTBLUT: Bringing this back full circle – what direction do you hope to take in future both as a DJ and producer, and now as an artist?
Cassy: What I’m scared of the most, is to go live, and to focus on singing a bit more live- that’s what I was more hesitant or scared of doing. And this is what I’m really hoping to do, and I really wanna do. It’s just the next step. In my head it’s very scary and far away – but it’s not that far away at all!
16.05. Up And Down / Barcelona, ESP
17.05. ZT Hotel Villa Olimpica / Barcelona, ESP
20.05. DC-10 / Ibiza, ESP
25.05. Flugplatz Spatyer / Mannheim, DEU
01.07. Soup Kitchen / Manchester, GB
03.07. Jardins de Joan Brossa / Barcelone, ESP
09.07. Aquabest / Eindhoven, NLD
22.07. Randalls Island / New York, USA
22.07. Club Guesthouse / Romania, ROU
29.07. Watergate / Berlin, DEU
06.08. Eastern Electrics / London, GB
17.08. DC-10 / Ibiza, ESP
21.08. Sonus Festival / Croatia, HRV
03.07. Arena Park / Amsterdam, NLD