Baltimore’s Karizma refuses to be tied down – musically or geographically.
As an indefatigable, globe-trotting DJ, he spends half of each year on the road, playing for crowds in Detroit, all over Europe, and even Japan. When back home in Baltimore, he produces a mélange of beat-driven electronic music, from New York-style house to broken soul and hip-hop. Recently he’s become the toast of the new UK house scene, with the likes of Roska, Night Slugs, Glasgow’s Numbers crew and Hessle Audio’s Ben UFO finding themselves naturally drawn to his tracks’ mix of textural sophistication and skippy, gutter-friendly funk.
Ever since 1995’s ‘Feel The Power’ 12″, Karizma – real name Kris Klayton – has carved out a hugely successful career, making music that is hooky and immediate enough to appeal to a commercial audience without compromising its underground attitude. Over the years he has released records on labels as diverse as NRK, Defected, Ricanstruction and his own Kohesive Recordings, recently finding a home with R2 Records (Floating Points, Osunlade, Alton Miller, etc). It was through this imprint that he released the 2007 LP A Mind Of Its Own and its 2009 “Upgrade”, as well as irresistible singles like ‘Neccessarry Maddness’ and (B-side to Simbad’s remix of ‘It’s What I Am’) ‘Groove A ‘K’ Ordingly’ – the latter, for our money, being one of the greatest house tracks of the last ten years.
As he prepares to headline Numbers’ 7th birthday bash at Fabric this Friday, 9 July – supported, appropriately enough, by Hard House Banton, Roska, Bok Bok b2b L-vis 1990, Ben UFO b2b Ramadanman and the Numbers residents – FACT’s Patrick Burns called up Karizma to find out what’s what.
Karizma – ‘Groove A ‘K’ Ordingly’
You’ve been doing this for a while, how did it all begin?
“I’ve been DJing since the age of 13, moving from fashion shows, to college radio, then big radio, and finally to production. I started producing when I was 17.”
You seem to pull in musical styles from all over the spectrum – how do you develop such big ears?
“In Baltimore, which is kind of like where I get my DJ style from, we had to play everything. Growing up, I had to play classics – I had to play Stevie Wonder next to Talking Heads, next to Pete Rock…whatever. It was always a mixture of music, and there was no such thing as a hip-hop dance or a house dance. Usually when you did a party, you had to play all genres of music for it to go off. So I think that has a great influence on my music today.”
“Blaps Posse and Shut Up And Dance from the UK – they were huge influences on the Baltimore club sound.”
It seems like this anything-goes approach to DJing carries over into your production.
“Definitely, I feel like, as an artist, I never wanted to be boxed in, and just make house, or just make hip-hop. So I always told myself that as soon as I blossomed into my own thing that I would never just stay to one type of music. I just wanted to do whatever I was feeling at the time. So it’s not a surprise to hear a hip-hop track from me. I always wanted it that way. Artists and DJs shouldn’t be limited to just the genre that they play.”
How did the emergence of the Baltimore club sound change the stuff you were playing?
“The Baltimore club stuff came later on, when that thing happened where house and hip-hop divided, and it was the in between for us. The kids who were into hip-hop would still go to club because the Baltimore club stuff was still sampled. Whatever was a hot hip-hop song or R&B song, we would flip it for a week, and that’s how we would do the Baltimore club. So it was a really interesting transition. We were influenced by the Blaps Posse from over here [UK], and Shut Up And Dance – they were huge influences on the Baltimore club sound.”
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Karizma – ‘Neccessarry Maddness’
I saw that just this summer, you played a show at Rick Wilhite’s birthday party in Detroit, then a few weeks later you’re in Spain, then at Fabric in London. There’s a distinct crowd at each place, each with different expectations. Do you find yourself adjusting your sets accordingly?
“Usually people ask, ‘Do you have your set list pre-set?’ No. I’ve found that when I was a kid, every time you set up your first ten records beforehand, nine times out of ten, the opening DJ has scored at least five of them hits. So I learned that you should always come off the top of your head. It just creates a better vibe when everything is just as unknown to you as it is to the crowd – both of you are having the same discovery at the same time, the same journey. That has always worked for me, and that’s something I don’t ever think I’ll get away from.”
Do you have a favorite place to play?
“Japan. For just about any DJ, Japan is it.”
“It creates a better vibe when everything is just as unknown to you as it is to the crowd – both of you are having the same discovery at the same time, the same journey.”
In 2007, you came out with A Mind of Its Own, which put your name on the map for a lot of people. These days, do you find yourself prioritizing production or DJing?
“I was doing both at the same time. But when something takes off as a DJ, you have to get out there and work. Before it was like work, work, work, on the road, halfway try to do a track while I have it in my mind on the road. Usually by the time I got home, the idea changed from where I was. Working on the road really didn’t work for me. Honestly, I love working at home, and now that I’m home more, it’s more of a balance. So now I try to do this thing of home one month, then gig one month. That way it’s easier on my body and I can do my production as well.”
I’ve heard you have a new release coming up soon?
“Yeah, I’m doing the ‘Best of Karizma’ compilation toward the end of the year. It’s going to be all that stuff in one package, and I’m including some other things, like a beat mix tape of all my hip-hop stuff for the people who buy the CD.”
You’ve been in the game for a long time. How have things changed for DJs and producers now that there is so much music that’s so rapidly distributed?
“The first thing to know is that you can’t have it all, and you can’t listen to it all. That’s the first thing. The second thing is you just have to take your time and know what’s good for you and what’s not. There is so much stuff that gets sent to me, and to be honest, if it’s not made by someone I know, I don’t even get the chance to download it. It’s really hard keeping track. At least with a CD or a piece of vinyl, you know when you hold it in your hands, this is the record I’m going to play tonight. But with the digital files, because there is no product behind it, you get confused, and you’ll forget about your friend’s track the day he sends it to you.”
“With digital files, because there is no product behind it, you get confused, and you’ll forget about your friend’s track the day he sends it to you.”
Very few DJs have been able to keep it going and stay on for over 20 years like you have. What’s the secret behind your longevity?
“By the time you get to my age, you should have thought out who your friends are, and who you need to have around you for the positive vibes. And, I tend to tell people, if you really want success, you really gotta work – there is no way around it. I’ve always wanted to work, and always like what it feels like to make a track and play it to the crowd. I like that back and forth, I always have. Always work, that’s it. When I go home now, I’m going to be working, I’m always working. That’s just something you can’t get away from.”