Introducing: Kyrist, a Rising Star of Drum & Bass
Introducing: Kyrist, a Rising Star of Drum & BassApril 26, 2021
Jake Hirst hears the story behind Kyrist, a life-long music selector who has been driving change at the forefront of drum & bass’ male-dominated scene.
It’s the first Monday after social distancing restrictions partly lifted in the UK and Kyrist is feeling the effects of her first sit-down rave since lockdowns began. “I lost my voice yesterday,” she laughs, “my body was not prepared for it.”
Just like the rest of us, Kirsty Clarke, AKA Kyrist, is not used to the demands of the dance — and we haven’t even returned to standing shows yet. As a beaming smile emerges on her face at the thought of raving again, it’s clear Kyrist is looking forward to normality resuming. But she is quick to recognise her anxiety at the prospect.
“I’m nervous as I haven’t performed in front of people for a long time. It will be like going back to the early days when I used to feel sick before shows.” For someone who has been DJing since she was in school, it’s somewhat surprising to hear Kyrist speak this way. But in truth, it’s testament to an artist who has built her career on a deep connection with DJing – which is a big reason why the pandemic has been so difficult.
“When I realised there wouldn’t be any gigs for the foreseeable future, I felt like a chunk of me disappeared,” she says sombrely. “I felt depressed for most of last year as I didn’t know if things would be normal again.”
Whilst many people know Kyrist for releases on Dispatch Recordings, Hospital Records, Broken Audio, and Proximity Recordings, she considers herself to be a DJ first and a producer second. It’s a mindset Kyrist has her mum to thank for, after she encouraged a 12-year-old Kirsty to attend a summer DJ school after finding an advert in their local Luton newspaper. It was Kyrist’s first opportunity to mix on vinyl, and the moment ignited the artist’s newfound passion. “That was my introduction into music,” she reminisces. “If it wasn’t for my mum then I’m not sure what I’d be doing right now.”
Spending her teenage years training to be a hairdresser (which she jokes has come in handy during lockdown), it wasn’t until Kyrist studied for a degree in music culture and production that her rise began. “I started attending events in London handing out mix CDs to promoters,” she recalls. “I’d offer to DJ for free as I just wanted an opportunity to play out.” After getting booked for shows around London, Kyrist realised she wanted to push her career to the next level, so moved to Bristol in 2016 with the ambition to produce. This was when Kyrist’s journey really began.
Relatively quickly, she found herself joining Dispatch as Assistant Label Manager to head-honcho Ant TC1, who gave Kyrist the opportunity to be a resident at their events. It was a key time for the artist, who considers her debut Venomous EP to be the moment everything changed. “People started noticing me after that release,” she recounts. “I remember ‘No Remorse’ playing on Noisia Radio, and I was so proud. I even told my mum.” It was a special milestone for Kyrist, but also for Dispatch, as she became the first female with a solo release on the label.
That EP was the early formation of the deep, dark sonics Kyrist’s productions have become renowned for. It’s a soundscape inspired by the artist’s times spent attending Renegade Hardware events. “Those events were some of the best times of my life,” she says with an air of nostalgia. “Subconsciously, I take inspiration from that tech-step sound between 2010-13.”
This sound oozes through Kyrist’s productions, from the 2017 release of her Fragment EP on Dispatch, to her Parallel EP on Uprise Audio in 2019. But when I ask Kyrist how her sound has evolved, she says she mainly struggles with issues of self-doubt in regards to her own productions.
“My biggest downfall is that I pay too much attention to what other people are doing,” she says. “Sometimes it makes me sad because my tracks don’t sound as good as other people’s. Even now, I still prefer other people’s music over my own. I have to remind myself to stay in my lane and stop paying attention to exterior factors.”
Even after mentioning the success of her 2020 releases, she is quick to pull the reins back on any feelings of triumph.
“I always feel like I can do better. My friends and family often say, ‘Kirsty, you need to stop beating yourself up.’ It’s down to a lack of confidence, which sounds stupid when I’ve been doing it for so long. But releasing music is like writing a poem from your heart. You worry people won’t like it.”
Coming from an artist who usually exudes confidence behind the decks, it’s a surprising, and in some ways, refreshingly human insight. Maybe it’s her weary post-weekend head talking, or the continual anxiety of prolonged isolation, but without crucial re-affirmation that crowds at parties can provide for any artist, it’s been difficult for Kyrist to keep hold of what her music really means to other people.
“The whole experience of not doing anything over the past year has made me forget there are people who like what I do. I think when I’m able to play shows again and see for myself that people appreciate what I do, then I’ll start to realise again.”
But as a woman who has constantly battled for her place at the forefront of a male-dominated scene, Kyrist has a lot to feel positive about, as she has become a role model to other female-identifying D&B artists.
“I do feel like I have a sense of responsibility to the girls coming through,” she says. It’s one of the reasons Kyrist is part of Bristol’s Dynamics collective, which shines a light on talented women in bass music. And it’s the motivation behind Kyrist running one-on-one production sessions over Zoom with other women.
“I need to be that voice telling up-and-coming females not to worry if they say something wrong, which they may do when speaking to their male friends.” For years, Kyrist was one of the most recognisable women on the D&B circuit — and a solitary presence on many lineups. She recounts the times producers looked down on her for her gender, assuming she lacked the intelligence to succeed.
“I’ve had people telling me my music isn’t good enough and they don’t want to work with me. I remember an established producer once said my work was shoddy and I’d never get anywhere.” Though Kyrist had the last laugh. “I see him around Bristol now and he never talks to me.”
Whether it’s her remixes of Fred V’s “Away” (feat. Vonné) and Whiney’s “She Just Wanna Dance” (Feat. Inja), or her “Chimera” and “Sidestep” singles, launched on her very own imprint, Kyrist Music, Kyrist is right to grin at those who doubted her ambitions.
As our conversation turns to what’s next for Kyrist, returning to the decks is clearly at the forefront of her mind, and she is keen to mention her plans to insert an inclusion rider into future bookings.
“When I was growing up, apart from DJ Storm I didn’t see many females at events. That’s why I want an inclusion rider. I want to see at least one other female on the line-up, otherwise I’m probably not going to play. I want the rider to extend to ethnicities, not just females, because the majority of producers were white and male when I was growing up.” It’s a sentiment fitting of an artist who has consistently pushed herself and the scene around her during her rise.
Who knows if events will return in 2021. But we can be certain that Kyrist will continue to light up dance floors for years to come.
Jake Hirst is a freelance writer living in Bristol, UK, who has previously been published in UKF, DJ Mag, Data Transmission and Ticket Arena. A certified drum & bass head, you can keep up to date with his writing on Instagram.