Kayper may be soft-spoken, but the turntablist’s skills speak for her, hands a blur as she juggles beats and scratches up a storm. The U.K.-born Kaajal Bakrania (or Kayper, as she’s known on the club circuit) has been racking up the praise and awards since she started spinning in the late ’90s, including Best DJ at the 2012 London Bar & Club Awards. Kayper returns stateside Dec. 15 for her first gig at Lavo.
You started out as a hip-hop DJ, playing clubs in London at age 15. But now you’re dabbling in a bit of … everything?
I pretty much play everything now, from house to dubstep, drum and bass—whatever kind of style I can get into doing open-format and mash-up.
What first piqued your interest in spinning?
I used to have a Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince album from the ’80s. My brother bought it, and one day I found it lying around, put it in the tape deck and heard “Live at Union Square,” a track of them doing a performance in New York. There was a part where the Fresh Prince tells Jazzy Jeff to break it down, and he goes into scratching. That was the point where I was like, “I have to learn that. This is what I want to do.” I tried to emulate that for months and months, trying to figure out how he was doing it. That was a turning point for me, when I realized this was something I really want to do.
Were you self-taught?
I used to use my cousins’ [turntables], who were a bit older than me. They used to DJ in the ’90s, and whenever I would go to the house they’d be practicing. I was always curious, but didn’t really know how to DJ and they’d show me. My older brother tried to get into DJing and wasn’t very good at it, so he left it and went off to university. I was left alone to sneak into his room and practice whenever I could after school. It did kind of happen by accident, but then I realized it was something I was good at and kept at it.
Years later, Jazzy Jeff said you’re the best female DJ he’s ever seen in his life. What was it like to get such praise from the man who was responsible for first inspiring you?
If you ask any DJ who one of their main influences are, a lot of them will say Jazzy Jeff as a DJ idol; he’s one of the only [early] DJs who is still around, still relevant, still DJing, still touring—he plays in Vegas as well. It was amazing because I learned a lot of what I do from watching him. To have him acknowledge me was pretty cool.
What’s been the biggest hurdle to overcome for you in a male-dominated industry?
There are so many female DJs—I hate that term—but there are so many girls DJing out there who really just do it for the gimmick, not really for the love. Maybe someone told them they could make a lot of money out of it where all they have to do is show up, wear sparkly headphones and press play. But I’ve obviously been doing this for a long time, and when I started DJing that didn’t exist.
I feel like I’m always kind of underestimated, and I have to win the crowd over a lot more than the average guy. Maybe it’s just one of those things where I’m paranoid, but I get the feeling that every time I get on the decks, everyone’s like, “Oh, God. What she going to do? Play house? She’s gonna suck and do a Paris Hilton, and is probably not really DJing.” But as soon as I get at least 10 minutes into my set, I know they’re going to change their minds. That’s the biggest thing for me is to get people to see me as a DJ rather than a female DJ. It would be nice one day if I wasn’t called a female DJ, just a DJ.
Your track “Gimme Some” with dubstep producer Engine Earz was signed to Diplo’s Mad Decent label, but it’s been awhile since you’ve released a track. Anything on the horizon?
I’m working on my first EP, which is supposed to come out in February. I’ll be hibernating as much as I can over the next couple of months to work toward that. The last thing that I had out was quite awhile ago, but a lot has changed musically. In the States it hasn’t, because that whole genre of hard, aggressive dubstep is still around, but in England we’ve moved on. Being a DJ, it’s really hard to not get influenced by what’s going on musically because I have to hear other people’s music every day. So I have to take a break and think about what I actually want to make rather than being influenced by everyone else. So, that’s what I’ve been doing—sitting in the studio every single day.