Big thanks to KELEFA SANNEH for the wonderful article!
ILLUSTRATION BY FRANK STOCKTON
When Kris Klayton was growing up, in the nineteen-eighties, the radio stations offered him the usual enticements: pop music, state-of-the-art R. & B., insurgent hip-hop. But because he lived in Baltimore there was also something else: by the decade’s end, the city was in thrall to rowdy, up-tempo dance music, curated by an influential local radio d.j. named Frank Ski. On Ski’s show, rappers shared the airwaves with the Chicago producers who were pioneering a new kind of dance music known as house, as well as their European counterparts. And by the early nineties this mixture of far-flung sounds had given rise to a local genre, Baltimore club music, defined by its clattering rhythms and its exuberant chants, which weren’t always radio-friendly. (One early classic was “Whores in This House,” a 1992 track with lyrics consisting entirely of a blunt—and not necessarily censorious—declaration: “There’s some whores in this house.”)
Klayton witnessed this musical evolution, and took part in it, too. He adopted the d.j. name Karizma, built a following in the city’s clubs, and produced some influential Baltimore club records of his own, including “Blow,” from 1994, a dance-floor staple built out of little more than a break beat and a deftly dissected sample of a referee’s whistle. But Baltimore club records generally needed to be quick and dirty, and as Klayton learned more about production and composition his productions got slower and more elegant.
In 1999, he released “The Power,” in which a disco sample and a jazzy piano improvisation remained in orbit for nearly nine minutes. He had moved from Baltimore club, one of the most raucous dance genres, to deep house, one of the mellowest. In the years since, he has built a worldwide following, and developed a reputation for long and subtle d.j. sets—three hours might be considered a good start, and ten hours isn’t out of the question.
But Klayton never left Baltimore behind. For a number of years, in the two-thousands, he balanced his international touring with a residency at a Baltimore night club, which helped him stay in touch with the city’s discriminating listeners, and dancers. And using the electronic turntables known as CDJs, he developed a d.j. style that incorporated live looping and sampling, tapping out counter-rhythms to roughen up the smooth house records he loves—in his sets, the choppy and propulsive spirit of Baltimore club music lives on. When he’s producing music, Clayton uses a number of aliases. As Kaytronik, he turns out records that are a bit darker, with menacing electronic tones; as K2, he creates buoyant reëdits of R. & B. songs. But as a d.j. he brings all of these characters into the booth with him. Early next year, he plans to begin a new residency at Flash, a club in Washington, D.C., but first, on Oct. 8, he is coming to Output, in Brooklyn. He won’t have anything like ten hours, but he should get enough time behind the decks to make listeners and dancers wish he had much more. ♦