Behind The Beat: Hummingbird
Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner and the House and Techno fans are ecstatic for one thing… Movement Music Festival in Detroit. Celebrating everything deep and dark, Movement is the weekend warrior mecca bringing the who’s who of House and Techno to Detroit. The best thing about an event like this? The local talent that flocks there performing at local venues.
Related: The Blu Party Lineup Revealed
Earlier, Only The Beat had the pleasure to announce The Blu Party lineup featuring Christian Martin, Sydney Blu, Worthy and countless others. One of those “others” is Kelly Richards aka Hummingbird, a Chicago DJ looking forward to playing in Detroit during her favorite festival in the United States. We had the chance to chat with her about her beginnings, her love for music and where she’s going. Check out her mix below while you find out about your new favorite bird.
Hummingbird DJ Mix Presented by Only The Beat
Only The Beat: Tell me a little about your past with music? I hear you started with the violin?
Hummingbird: Yes. My mom said I responded to music in a rather remarkable way at an early age so she began researching where and how I could begin training. In doing so, she discovered the Suzuki Method, which teaches very small children to play by ear, as they’re often too young to read words in their native language, much less sheet music. Reading music generally starts 2-3 years into Suzuki training. I gave my first violin recital at age 4, and piano lessons followed shortly thereafter because apparently they couldn’t keep my hands off the piano in my violin teacher’s studio. When I was 9, my grandfather, a jazz musician, left me his clarinet in his will, and thus began the woodwind training. Around this time I auditioned for the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra and was accepted into the program. In high school I also began playing drums, and performed with a jazz ensemble, a marching band, and in the school musicals.
OTB: Composing music at age 10 is no easy task, granted producing house music today isn’t any easier. How do you think composing music at such a young age helped you become a producer today?
Hummingbird: There are a lot more commonalities between classical music and electronic than one might think. The first time someone showed me Ableton my immediate reaction was that the arrangement view looked just like a conductor’s symphonic score. In fact, I think that’s one of the things that drew me to it and made me want to figure it out – this idea of being able to write all the parts while hearing the others play, and then crafting each sound through all of the tools and effects available. Classical music is similar to electronic in that in a symphony, every instrument fills a niche and serves a specific musical role in the piece. In electronic music the producer creates all of the elements necessary and is forever mindful of their roles as well as their particular niche in the frequency spectrum.
Having an understanding of music theory, song arrangement, chord progressions and all that is extremely helpful – although certainly not necessary. There are so many insanely talented producers with no classical training at all. But for me, this is my foundational context and as an artist we each draw on our past experiences and knowledge base to shape our creative process, perspective and ultimately the body of work that results. I think those who know my musical style would tell you that I leverage melody to a significant degree, and that the tracks I use will include common threads that create cohesiveness to the set. I also like to introduce and relieve tension at certain points to move the dance floor across the span of human emotion. (It was described by someone once as: “You weave together a tapestry of sound that takes me on a magical carpet ride.” I thought that was a nice way of putting it.) I feel as though this is the classical training and my experience with “lead” instruments (violin, piano, clarinet) coming through.
I would close by saying that the desire to create, if it exists within you, is always there and never goes away. I composed when I was young, then didn’t for a very long time. I felt this incredible void in my life in my late 20’s, and ultimately realized it was this. Coming back to it felt to a large extent like coming home – like re-inhabiting a place I’d forgotten about but needed in my life in the most crucial way; that this is something I have to do. Without it my existence feels meaningless. I don’t think I’m unique in this way. I imagine any artist feels this to some degree. It’s an undeniable part of you that you love, but that also drives you a bit mad from time to time.
OTB: What made you decide on house music? What attracted you to this genre?
Hummingbird: There’s something about that four-on-the-floor beat that always spoke to me on a deeper level than anything else. All those years of playing classical and jazz and big band – I liked it, but then I would hear Depeche Mode or New Order or even Madonna or Ace of Base and there was just this deep feeling of “I want THAT.” Of course that message didn’t go over incredibly well with my parents, largely because I probably wasn’t that articulate with my request… I had no idea what a step sequencer or sampler was back then. I was 11, living in rural Wisconsin, and had no exposure to what electronic music was or how it was made.
I’ve always been a rock kid too – many long nights have been spent at Metro, The Empty Bottle, Lincoln Hall, etc. The bands who drew my attention the most were those with an electronic feel. LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead, and Nine Inch Nails are three of my favorites. At the end of the day, I suppose house and techno just resonated on a categorically different level. For me, it’s a spiritual connection.
OTB: You’ve been able to open for some great artists including Lee Foss, Kolsch, Jeremy Olander and 16 Bit Lolitas. Who has been your favorite artist you’ve opened for and who are 3 artists on your wish list?
Hummingbird: It’s a toss up between Eelke Kleijn and Coyu. I’ve been a fan of Eelke for so many years. He’s a sick producer and such a talented DJ too. He’s one who can take you on a real journey through various subgenres and emotions, and when he plays, you can just tell it comes from a very deep place. I met him for the first time at a session he led during the industry conference at ADE (in Amsterdam) and we talked about how we needed to get him to Chicago. A few months later RJ Pickens brought him to Spybar for the Vested anniversary party. That was the first time I played with him, and it’s happened twice since then. His music is always on point and the experience is made even better by the fact that he is such an amazingly nice guy, so humble and down to earth.
It’s really hard to pick! But playing direct support for Coyu at the Vested / Primary Presents day party earlier this year was definitely one for the books. That room was packed and the vibe was off the charts. People were dancing hard, and I was playing like 121bpm deep house. As he mixed into my last track, I saw him look out at this dance floor that was so ready for him and kind of smile to himself like, “Ok, here we go. This one’s gonna be fun.” That’s your job as an opener – to prime the dance floor for whomever is playing after you, to get them excited and ready, while also giving your headliner plenty of runway to take the energy even higher and blow their freaking minds. And that’s exactly what he did. People still ask me all the time when there’s going to be another day party like that Coyu one. Another element that made this really special was the whole Suara Foundation angle. Coyu and his wife have a great affinity for cats (as you could tell from all the Suara album covers!) and so they started a foundation to benefit the homeless cats of Barcelona. Being an animal person myself who’s adopted numerous cats and dogs, and so at the last minute, I got the idea of raising some money for the Suara Foundation. I was completely overwhelmed by everyone’s involvement and support. Coyu, always such a gentleman, was so grateful for Chicago’s generosity to help his philanthropic cause.
On the wish list…there are so many. But to narrow it down to three, it would have to be: Solomon, Dixon, and Anja Schneider. I love their sound, their approach, and their work ethic. And when I’ve seen them play, I’ve always gotten the overwhelming sense that for them the music and connection to the dance floor comes from a very deep place – all of that is just really inspiring to me.
OTB: What are you most excited for at The Blu Party and Movement weekend? Any artists you’re looking forward to hearing?
Hummingbird: Playing a party in Detroit the weekend of my favorite music event in the United States is just a really awesome opportunity. Sydney Blu is such a talented woman with an amazing work ethic and a killer personality – so genuine and nice and funny and totally down to earth. The chance to be involved in one of her events is pretty spectacular. In addition to a stacked list of names on the headline list, there’s also this really cool element of having this cross-section of awesome DJs from Chicago, Detroit and Toronto who are all deeply involved in driving the underground music scene in their respective cities. I really can’t think of a better way to kick off Movement weekend than this.
At the actual festival, well, Kraftwerk has to top my list. Where would any of us be without the innovative groundwork laid by Ralf and Florian back before most of us were even born? I’m also really looking forward to Scuba and La Fleur. At BPM, Scuba threw down one of the dopest sets I’ve ever heard – top five of all time. (Bold statement, I know. But true.) I don’t know if he can top it, but I’ll definitely be there to find out. La Fleur is someone I’ve been watching for awhile and her star just keeps on rising. She’s a killer producer and DJ, and has her fingers in related creative endeavors like fashion. An intriguing woman for sure, and I’m really looking forward to hearing her for the first time.
OTB: What do you have planned music-wise in the near future? Any singles? Any mixes? What are your future shows?
Hummingbird: Proton Radio asked me to do a guest mix for their weekly VS show, so that’s airing on Wednesday, May 25th (right before Movement!) at 1pm Eastern / noon Central, and then available on demand. I have a few tracks finished and a few others in the works, so you can look forward to hearing some new Hummingbird originals in the next couple months. As for gigs, after Detroit, the one I’m probably looking forward to the most is playing with Olivier Giacamotto at Primary on Saturday, June 25. I’ve been a fan of his for quite awhile and so it’s really cool to see his music gaining awareness here in the States.
OTB: If you could choose 1 stage to perform on, where and what would it be?
Hummingbird: I have an interesting relationship with stages. I’ve been performing on them since I was four years old, but classical music is so different from DJing. With DJing, there’s no careful, repeated rehearsal of what you’re going to play and how you’re going to play it. (Or at least one would hope!) When you’re behind the decks it’s all about connecting with the dance floor – interpreting their signals and translating that into what you play. I tend to prefer clubs like Spybar and Primary because I like to be down there in the dark with the sweaty throng at arm’s reach. That being said, there are definitely some stages I dream about from time to time 😉 The Egg in London, Watergate in Berlin, and Womb in Tokyo.
While many people may be flocking to Detroit over Memorial Day Weekend for big name artists like Adam Beyer, Chris Liebing, Dubfire or Claude Vonstroke, it’s important to take notice of the little guys (or girls) out there. As Kelly said, “That’s your job as an opener – to prime the dance floor for whomever is playing after you, to get them excited and ready, while also giving your headliner plenty of runway to take the energy even higher and blow their freaking minds.” Although she may be considered an opener, her groovy mixes and background in music speak louder than her set times and I for one can’t wait to see where she goes next.
Purchase your tickets now for The Blu Party on May 27th and enjoy Hummingbird’s set with the rest of the crew. Check out her mix above and make sure to give her a like on Facebook and SoundCloud. Stay up to date on the latest in electronic music with Only The Beat and check back soon for more mixes, interviews and more.
Hummingbird: SoundCloud | Facebook | Twitter
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