To listen to Carista is to dance — or at the very least to smile, widely. The Utrecht-based DJ has grooved up audiences and paved a way for herself with her rhythmic, mood-boosting and above-all versatile sound. Because whether she’s hosting a radio show, running her record label United Identities (which is currently celebrating its 5th anniversary) or closing the main stage at a crowded festival; Carista always seems to know which track to play, which influences to combine and which people to connect to stir up an energising cocktail of a night.
“I’m someone who just goes for it rather than overthinks. If it goes well, great! If not, things can always go better,” she laughs during our Zoom call. It’s a wonderful illustration of how her energetic spirit isn’t just reserved for the night. In fact, it reverberates throughout our laptops as we chat about her upcoming main stage-closing set at the intimate (or gezellig, as the Dutch call it) festival Lente Kabinet, her dedication to supporting local talent and a prize-winning mixtape that got the ball rolling.
I read that your uncles were playing in a Kaseko band, which your mum and you would occasionally join. Could you tell me a bit more about that? Has it influenced your music today?
Sure, so my mum’s brothers played in a few Surinamese bands from a young age. My mum wasn’t a direct part of it but it slowly became a family affair, where the kids were taught how to play an instrument too. The Surinamese culture is definitely a part of me. I grew up with it, speak the language and have visited the country often, so it’s influenced the music I play. I try to keep it very rhythmic, strong on vocals and on sharing the message. My background taught me that.
Did you play an instrument as a kid too?
I started out by playing the guitar. I don’t do it a lot anymore, but I have a guitar here in my studio that I occasionally pluck.
And how did you start DJing? Was there a specific moment, a song or a party that inspired you to start?
Not specifically. I started out, as many do, as a music lover. My sister was a hip-hop fan and together we listened to Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and stuff like that. I went to parties, started collecting music and at some point, a friend of mine had some turntables for me to take over. I bought a mixer and started teaching myself, mostly with the help of YouTube tutorials. After a few months, lots of practice and perseverance, Bird in Rotterdam hosted a mixtape contest. The prize was a pair of shoes and the opportunity to perform at the venue. I thought that was insanely cool, so I sent in my mixtape not thinking I’d win, but I did. Playing in front of that crowd enticed me. I got a certain energy from people. Plus, people enjoyed seeing a woman behind the turntables, because usually, it’s just men.
Now you’re an established DJ, particularly known for your diverse style. I feel like your music is characterised by this fusing of influences, styles and sounds - is that something you do consciously?
Not consciously, no. Many people think it is, but it’s just an innate part of me. I grew up in Overvecht, on the outskirts of Utrecht. For me, that characterised a mixture of things and people. Because I also like to go out, see, hear and get inspired by new things, that fusion goes very automatically.
It reflects in your music too, which can go seamlessly from soul to breakbeat in less than a minute.
Yeah, for example, I like surprises and to make people think: “hey what’s happening here?” Mostly I like to play the music that I’d want to hear if I was on the dance floor myself.
I had to think about your Dekmantel Festival Boiler Room set of 2018…
(Laughs) that’s been a minute!
It’s still on my mind and my Soundcloud. It was technically strong but I could feel your joy and it translated to the audience. What’s going through your mind during a set like that?
I was very nervous! There’s this camera with a lot of people watching on the other side. It was a Boiler Room, which is well-known. So the only thing I could think was: “I should have fun.” Since Dekmantel Festival is home turf, I also had some friends in the crowd hyping people up. In the end, it turned out to be the right time and right space. There was just so much happening simultaneously. Actually, looking back on it, it was pretty cool. I’m someone who just goes for it rather than overthinks. If it goes well, great! If not, things can always go better. This went really well.
Music can be a powerful emotional tool, enticing people to laugh, move and more. What feeling do you want your music to transfer to your audience?
A feeling of nostalgia, of belonging to the moment, but mostly, of having fun. I want their time on the dance floor to be a good one, for them to go home with a smile on their face. One of my heroes, Benji B once said in an interview: “Your task as a DJ is to make people dance.” So I make them dance! But I also try to read the room and play music in service of the crowd. It’s an exchange of energy. You have to find that dialogue.
Back in 2017, you started United Identities: A music community with a radio show, record label and events — offering a platform to, and uniting, diverse local talent. What drove you to start it?
When I went out initially, I was looking for like-minded people — meaning I went out solo, sitting by myself on the late train home. That shaped me. After some time, I found my crowd and I found people who gave me a shot. Back in 2015, I sent a really long email to Red Light Radio because I wanted a show at their station, feeling that there was a certain sound missing. They gave me the opportunity and in the end, I became a resident there. That’s one of the ways to serve the community, by giving young talent a chance rather than staying up in your high tower. That’s the drive behind United Identities: the importance of supporting new, local talent, being a part of it by having honest conversations with them and by listening. Because there is a lot of talent in the Netherlands.
A bit of a random one, but the United Identities logo caught my eye, I can see it hanging behind you as well. What’s its meaning?
What do you see in it?
It looks like another alphabet, a sign?
So the meaning behind United Identities is obvious: we’re uniting identities. But you can also spot the U and I, for you and I. it also stands for Utrecht and I, the city I’m born, raised and based. If you look even closer, you can see the I as a figure, like an icon. The I is pushing the U, so I’m pushing you. You can get quite deep about it, but in the end, it’s just a cool logo! I love it.
So, we’re just getting back to physical partying after a long time of having to do things digitally. How important are these physical yet accessible spaces to you, in regards to uniting identities?
When it comes to finding venues for United Identities events, music and sound are a priority. I mean, for me it needs to be a good venue that knows how to handle the technical aspects of sound. I've recently hosted club nights at Skatecafe and Borisov in Amsterdam, as part of our 5th year anniversary tour. When it comes to pricing, I do try to define a maximum. But since the local cultural sector is still in a crisis, this isn’t always easy — especially since I do like to book in small venues. I prefer the intimacy of spaces that hold about 250-300 people. I like the fact that we can chat, dance and be together.
On the note of physical partying: you’re closing Lente Kabinet’s main stage on Sunday. Do you have anything planned?
Nope (laughs). Well, when I found out initially, which was before corona, I immediately spent the week just feeding my dedicated playlist with songs. But yeah, then corona hit and the festival was forced to move. But when I’m fresh out of my shows this weekend, I’m going to be working on this one for sure.
Are there other acts you're planning on seeing?
I’m incredibly excited to check Crystallmess and Suze Ijó, the latter is also a part of United Identities. I think I’ll come early to check some shows, then take an hour to rest and focus and head back to the main stage to see if we can raise the festival’s roof!