Hipsters Don’t Dance are one of the most formidable DJ duos around. After nearly a decade together they’ve perfected their craft, keeping their ear to the ground throughout London’s sprawling Afro-Caribbean diaspora, soaking up everything from afrobeats to UKG and bringing it into their scene-defining sets. Over the years they’ve played at Carnival with Bunjie Garlin, bought a host of their favourite talents through the Boiler Room and gone from playing one-hundred capacity basements to shelling in front of thousands of people at festivals.
Made up of Inie and Karen aka Hootie Who and Kazabon, Hipsters Don’t Dance’s combined musical knowledge is staggering. Their passion for soca, dancehall, afrobeats, bashment, grime, UKG and every other part of Soundsystem culture runs through every set they play and every night they put on. Hootie Who and Kazabon balance a reverence for the history of the music they play with a passion for experimentation and a progressive approach to their sets. Listen back through their mixes and you’ll hear Beyoncé mixed into deep cut dubplates and Rihanna remixed over a dembow riddim. We caught up with the duo after their set at our Notion 78 launch party for a masterclass on all things dancehall, afrobeat and more.
How long have you two been DJing together?
Karen: Almost nine years.
How did you meet?
Inie: We met through our mutual friends who used to run a club night in what’s now called Floripa but used to be Favela Chic, we were both DJing before but not in London. We both met up and at the time there weren’t really a lot of club nights playing music we really liked so decided to get together and start a club night. It’s kind of cringey looking back at some of the stuff we put on the flyers for that night and the name, but slowly but surely it evolved into a night with us DJing and our friends coming through. Then we got residents involved, people like Murlo and Illanja, The Large and Why Delila and then we moved on from that to absorbing the club night into our DJing.
How was the transition from running a club night together to DJing together?
K: We just ended up getting into a flow of things, for the first year or so we did separate sets and then, I don’t know when, but we just did one set that was back to back and it just way more fun so we kept doing that.
I: We became more reactive rather just solo missions and it sounds geeky but we started watching a lot of duos to see how they did it.
K: Then we kind of came up with our own routine, Inie usually starts and we play two tracks each because we think that gives you enough time to pick your own flavour but also react to the person playing, it also lets you have two mixes in which is quite nice. There’s another rule which is that if you play a riddim you get to play more because it’s a riddim.
Do you have your own specialities or do you chop and change?
K: Most of the time we chop and change but I’m usually the one who leans more towards the soca kind of thing.
I: I lean more towards the UK club stuff just because I like spending time on internet forums.
K: Also you grew up with specialist radio shows, whereas I’m Irish and we didn’t really have them with good club music.
I: We play this thing with Swing Ting where we try and guess which one of them picked a certain song when we listen to their radio show, I like to think our friends do the same with us.
K: You know if it’s garage or some sort of amazing club gem it’s usually Inie but if it’s some slack bashment or soca tune it’s usually me.
There’s been this huge explosion of dancehall and afrobeat, soca in the UK and beyond – as people who have been doing it for so long whats your take on the sudden interest?
K: I’m really happy that it’s popular now because it’s nice to switch on the radio and every second tune is something that I’m into. Also to see that cultural crossover in the UK where you’ve afrobashment and afroswing or whatever you want to call it, but because its influenced by dancehall and afrobeats and all those artists are working together I think its really good. This is happening all over the world. These links are happening all over the world.
I: First of all I’m really happy that everyone’s getting paid, it’s nice to see that. Two things, it’s nice to see a lot of people we’ve known from the beginning get their dues, people who have gone on to do things in different ways that you wouldn’t have expected. We had So Shifty come over and play one of our parties pretty really and now half of them are in Major Lazer and Large is part of Mixpak.
K: Seeing them at the Red Bull clash and winning it was amazing.
I: London is placed in such a unique and wonderful position, even the young DJs coming up its like second nature to them. Its exploded and it’s amazing to see, the days of being in one hundred person basements have changed and now we’re doing big raves and there people getting big looks for all of these things. This is the sound of London, this is this beautiful melting pot, it’s not just house and techno, it’s all these sounds coming together.
K: It’s nice to see people playing music their parents were into and playing it clubs and mixing it with different sounds, like why not?
Do you ever worry about faddism? Do you worry about people running to get involved and not respecting the culture of it?
I: I think we’ve been around long enough to see it happen, sadly, so many times so it’s just a) you get jaded and b) you just hope that the artists make hay while the sun shines. It’s always been this way, record labels are more stat focused than they’ve ever been before so as great as it is to have Stefflon Don on ‘Boom Boom Tan Tan’, it’s kind of like you can see all the machine cogs working behind it. All the labels like ‘this is the most streamed song in the world, we need an English language remix.’ I’m not sure Future’s there listening to baile funk but you never know. It’s good and bad, as long as it’s presented in a better way than it has been in the past I cant really complain and I think it has at this point.
K: I don’t think it’s a threat because the new wave of afrobeats and danehall and soca, all those artists can see an opportunity to expand their reach and get paid but they’ll also be working hard in the own communities and putting out loads of riddims so as long as they keep that going its fine. It’s like you need to get paid but as long as your creative juices are flowing elsewhere then its fine.
I: I also want to say is that one of the great things about the genres we tend to play is that there’s a rich history of people performing these songs whether its in clubs or gigs or whatever and as long as they’re able to keep performing live that should provide them with a better income stream than the majority of UK based hip hop artists or whatever.
K: Yeah Davido and WizKid are still selling out shows in London, I think they’re fine.
You mentioned not playing in the small raves and basements before, do you ever miss those days?
K: Yeah I mean, we still play the odd rave in smaller venues. We had a really good year last year where we got to play some festivals but y’know a festival set is totally different to what you can play in a one hundred person venue and like what I was saying about taking the commercial things, you can be more creative in the small parties.
I: I think you’re right, playing a festival is a different thing. I think the UK is unique in that with a festival crowd you know they’re up for it but you know they’re a little more open as well. You’re more likely to play the big tunes but at the same time it can be more open than you think. There’s no point protecting the music, you should just shine a light on it as much as possible and I think that’s why we love doing radio.
K: A lot of people will say to us ‘ah I didn’t know I liked dancehall or afrobeats or socal’ until I heard it in a club and that’s what we want to do, if we can keep converting people to liking this music then why not?
For people that are new dancehall and afrobeats – how important do you think it is for them to go back and look through the history of it?
I: I think for a genre like dancehall in particular, looking back into the history is important but also incredibly fun. Like, the number of people that will have heard ‘Who Am I?’ but don’t know about playground riddim or the other cuts on that riddim. There’s a whole scope of history to go through. Since we’re talking about the afroswing stuff in particular it’s so new and fresh I’d day just enjoy it.
K: I kind of disagree because there’s a pattern in afroswing where nearly every single tune is borrowing lyrics or a melody from something else, sometimes it could be cool, people don’t know that its borrowed or that its something that inspired an artists. It doesn’t mean you cant enjoy the music if you don’t know the background but I do think its important, especially in Caribbean music and soca music with carnival. A lot of is only played in Trinidad for carnival and then the radio goes back to playing dancehall and hip hop the rest of the time. The Tuesday after carnival stops its like soca never existed. Lyrically its about dancing and enjoying yourself and respecting each other. I think when you go to carnival its important to know the history and that you should be respecting people. It’s about wining, but its about respectful wining. History is important.
Where should people start? If you’ve got into Not3s or Mixpak and you want to find out more about their influences where’s a good jumping off point?
K: Radio. People with good shows, Seany B on 1Xtra is great, I listen to his show as much as I can, he’s been in the industry for a long time, he gets great guests, he does great interviews and he’s really up on new bashment so that would be my first point of call.
I: I was going to YouTube, it sounds ridiculous but YouTube wormholes are really good, you can watch the parties and see what they’re playing out there now. You can go back and watch old clashes and get an idea of where grime and garage got the stage show element from. There’s an incredible amount of archival footage. I remember when I first started focusing on dancehall there was this DJ Iron Lion mix that I used to play all the time, which just went through the history of dancehall and some newer stuff. Trust the DJs, that’s what their job should be. We got Serocee to do a history set ages ago which was amazing, he turned up in a professor’s outfit and I think everyone walked away knowing more about dancehall.
K: Check the Heatwave mixes and people like Swing Ting, Chris Goldfinger.
There’s been a lot of debate about people using dancehall as a jumping off point for experimentation, people like Palmistry, Gaika… what’s your take on ‘experimental’ dancehall?
K: Erm, I don’t know. I really liked the Palmistry album, I quite like his voice. Taking it to new places is fine as long as you acknowledge that you’re doing that.
I: I’ll be honest, I had critiques about the Palmistry album when it first came out but through time and realising that he uses it more as a soundscape… I don’t think he’d ever present his music as ‘dancehall’ he says its pop and goes from there… it’s great to see. There needs to be more experimentation in different ways. Take Equiknoxx for example if we’re going to talk about experimentation in dancehall, Equiknoxx have been some of our favourite producers for a long time, you look at their riddims from ten-twelve years ago they’re bashment riddims.
K: Yeah like one of the filthiest dancehall tunes from Aidonia is on an Equiknoxx riddim, ‘Sky Daggering Riddim’.
I: From that, to where they are now it’s very different but it’s also still Equiknoxx, there’s still the same bird noises from back then. I think Jamaica has always had that experimentation, they’ve had more club music out of the island that hasn’t been as well publicised. We’re seeing more experimentation across the world.
K: Because it’s got so commercial it’s opening more doors to be experimental and still get club play.
What’s the best dance that you’ve played together?
I: Both times we’ve played Notting Hill Carnival, they were both on my birthday or around then so its great, first time with Toddla T and then playing on a truck with Soca legends.
K: Like Bunjie Garlin and Fay-Ann Lyons, just being on that truck was so overwhelming. The soundsystem was so massive and there was just a see of people behind us.
What’s the track in your set that’s shutting things down?
K: I’m gonna say one that I think is going to be big which is Tiger Paw – ‘Applause Ha’ it’s a flip of applause riddim.
Catch Hipsters Don’t Dance on NTS Radio tomorrow night from 5 PM.