An artist who expresses his wanderlust through his music, KELLAM, aka Kelly Kellam, is a DJ, music producer and event producer out of New York City, who has played on the worldwide stage alongside an incredibly long list of industry icons. He became enamored with djing whilst experiencing a funk DJ set at Burning Man several years ago. Since then, he has evolved to play the world over and he, of course, continues his love affair with the Playa where he has played/plays many of the most popular and respected sound camps at Burning Man, such as: Robot Heart, Distrikt, Pink Mammoth, The Kasbah, Kalliope, and Trifucta, sharing line up along side Lee Burridge, DJ Tennis, Thugfucker, MANDY & YokoO to name a few.
A seasoned regular in the underground NYC circuit, you can find him playing at Output and Cielo, two of the most internationally acclaimed electronic clubs, as well as a bevy of other important warehouse parties in and around the city. His natural ability to tune into the vibe of the crowd to draw an infectious energy from the room through his music selections that are seamlessly threaded together in a dynamic range of melodic and syncopated rhythms is something to be admired and has made him a mainstay in the international music community.
EG: Hey there Kelly, hope all is well with you, thank you for joining us. Let’s start with a more detailed account of your music journey and how long have you been cutting your teeth on the underground scene?
Kellam: Hi! It is such a pleasure to be featured on Electronic Groove, thank you for having me!
I was introduced to the NYC underground scene about 7 years ago, and, kind of luck of the draw, had a roommate that was incredibly plugged in to the scene internationally. We started doing these legendary afterhours parties at our loft in Manhattan. I’m not sure how we were never arrested. We quickly learned that our real-estate agency kinda screwed us over and rented us a space in a building that was being sold; which we realized was why we never had the cops called on us… We were basically one of 2 or 3 apartments in the building that were rented. So we made the best of it and regularly have 100-200 person events, sunrise roof parties in our space. That really connected me to the majority of the scene right off the back. I am incredibly grateful for that lucky period of time.
EG: You’ve managed to spread your music wings on an international level, do you think it’s necessary for every artist to have a wide touring base for proper exposure?
Kellam: I think it is important for artists to be a complete package. To know your music, know your industry, be a taste maker, create an avenue of exposure. Whether you are an incredible music producer or event producer- either way “producer” needs to a part of your professional tool belt. It is the only true business card in the music industry. Both music and event production demonstrate so much more than the music it self. They both are a means of displaying your musical ethos, what sounds and vibes represent you while also being a testament of your seriousness and personal investment into this world of music.
There are so many people that are “DJs” now that how do you set your self a part? YOU DO THE WORK, invest the time, be a contributing part of your local scene as well as creating something.
So, a “touring base” is something that comes from the time an artist invests day in and day out. So the time invested is what is needed, the tour base naturally grows as a wonderful result from the continued consistent effort.
EG: You have been involved in two different motorcycle accidents, how these have affected your music career?
Kellam: Well, I used to be in the US Air Force; so with out the first accident happening in 2003, It is likely I would have never entered the universe I currently live in. So, although most people apologize or sympathize with my accident – truth is, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was an incredible learning experience, it really made me want to LIVE, to go after things that I love and spend my time doing things I am passionate about.
My first accident nearly killed me, I was in the hospital for about 3 months, endured 60+ surgical procedures, broke more bones in my legs, pelvis, arms than I can even count, and had me on casts and crutches for 8+ years. I learned through this experience that the idea of “hardship” is only a perceived notion. It really taught me to appreciate the small things, to focus on what I have, not what I don’t, and that I have the power to pick in every moment to be happy. Pain and sadness are not productive headspaces to be in, the only way a person can heal their pain and suffering is to share/express it, set goals and work towards them daily and look forward not backwards… It essentially provided me a road map for life, look forward, set goals, work towards them each day. It has served me incredibly in music, and life in general.
I actually got brought on by W Hotels to be the music director & resident DJ for W Retreat Koh Samui, Thailand in fall of 2014. During my tenure there, I was involved in a second motorcycle accident on August 2015. This accident wasn’t actually that bad, comparatively. Unfortunately, my injuries were compounded exponentially due to the fact that I had metal rods/plates/screws in my legs. When my legs were re-fractured these were all bent and twisted in weird (very non-anatomical) ways. After a week in agony at the island hospital there in Koh Samui the decision was made that they needed to flight me up to a hospital that could handle these surgeries. Unclear of my insurance situation and how to pay for the life flight there a dear friend of mine, Travis, set up a go fund me page so that they would fly me up and fix me, rather than cut off my leg! I was so full of pain medications and not in a lucid state that much to my surprise I ‘came to’ in Bangkok and found out my friends, family and many fans had raised over $30,000 in a manner of days to ensure I was taken care of.
Gratitude does not even express what I felt, or still feel. I am humbly indebted.
I spent another 6 moths in a wheel chair recovering back in Houston, and roughly a month out of my wheel chair I moved back to NYC on February 2016 and have back at it with more vigor and more inspired vigor than ever. In fact, it was during my recovery period during Christmas 2015 that I did my first mix for Electronic Groove.
EG: You’re an avid Burner, tell us about your camp ‘Trifucta’ and what makes Burning Man one of, if not, the best music experience out there?
Kellam: The answer to both is the term “Organic”. Neither our camp, Trifucta, or Burning Man itself were “trying to be” anything in particular. Both grew out of community collective effort of people that just wanted to bring people together and express them selves. Neither Trifucta or Burning Man are for the point of music. We are not a sound camp, and Burning Man is not a music festival. We are community gatherings of love and expression. Music happens to be a central and core universal means to bring like minded people together. Like language, people are attracted to music on a frequency with how they feel, where they are at in their own headspace – Burning man provides a space for all languages, all music, all people. The various camps the come together and build some of the most amazing stages, art cars, mobile sound stages and more provides an incredible variety of music, and each person there can follow the frequency they are most inline with. Hearing a certain type of beat pattern, tonal qualities, and general vibe of various DJs also very naturally attracts like minded people in such a free flowing and welcoming manner.
Similarly, Trifucta was started with just a few friends with 3 RV’s (Trifecta). One of our friends jokingly listed us as ‘Trifucta’ on the Burning Man camp census and just stuck. 3 years later we started to have a larger group coming out, Travis Kavovit (Dj Travisty) and I started to organize our camp a bit more of a legitimate. By 2012 we were a theme camp with placement and have been incredible Esplanade placement since 2013. It all just kinda organically growing and falling into place… I have been incredibly honored to be charged with managing the DJ bookings and lineups as we have grown- Travis really took on the much more difficult task of building out the camp it self, and he doesn’t get enough praise and credit. So, Travis, thank you so much for your years of blood, sweet and tears while wearing a tutu!
Every year I book roughly 90-110 DJ slots at our camp and on our art car the Black Light Lounge, and couldn’t be more honored to invite these various artists to come and play on the incredible sound system we have at camp and on our art car.
This year at the burn Trifucta is on 8 & Esplanade and have another amazing line up shaping up. For anyone that is going to the burn this year, stop by and share a dusty hug with us, get a drink at our open bar, and play on the giant adult party playground while the system is bumping along.
EG: Tell us about your Mixcloud podcast series, how do you go about selecting the artists that get showcased there?
Kellam: Access Underground is a podcast series I started the summer of 2015 as a platform for DJs to share their music, tell stories, and have a gain exposure to a large listener base. Mixcloud itself has been wonderful support of my channel and has us featured, and shares the mixes we feature as well which has helped us grow to thousands of followers in a relatively short period of time; which I grateful for their support.
I hear so many talented DJs that have a limited social media exposure, combined with larger DJs that want to share a different side of their music – and I thought to create this podcast to serve a bit of both. I wanted to provide an avenue for DJs to share mixes that tell a story, and mix of the artist roster with well-known artists and have them alongside relatively unknown DJs.
A channel of stories, dot just dance music mixes. So far we have had some bigger names like My Favorite Robot, Anthony Attalla, Lee Reynolds, Graham Gold, Seth Schwarz along side many artists that are local home town heroes or just excellent selectors that don’t even play out anywhere.
“I think it is important for artists to be a complete package”
EG: Since you’re a globetrotter, which countries and venues, in your opinion, have the best music scene in terms of fans and artists?
Kellam: New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Hamburg, and South East Asia all have incredible music scenes. Morocco is even having an incredible scene lately, thanks to Amine K and his party/label, Moroko Loko. Truth is, they are all so different from each other, and I would argue one isn’t better than the other – While Berlin or New York may have some of the best clubs or warehouse parties in the world, you aren’t going to find a party in the jungle where the DJ booth is a giant Tiger’s mouth, or on a giant rock next to a water fall like you would in south east Asia.
I think the trick is not to go to a new region and expect to find something that is “equal to back home” or even “on par” with NYC or Berlin – rather find the gem or two in the local scene. That is where you will find the magic. And HOPEFULLY, it won’t be like NYC or Berlin, or where ever home is for you, it should be different, let it be its own magic.
EG: What experiences, producers, and DJs have helped shape you as an artist? Can you give us 5 artists that we need to look out for?
Experience? Burning Man will open your mind to things, people, experiences and everything you couldn’t even conceptualize. As means of sonic exploration – you’re an artist to develop a sound you have to listen to a wide variety of music and cultivate certain elements from each to put in your own tool belt to create your unique sound. Listening to Robag Wruhme, Led Zepplin, John Mayer, Lee Burridge, a variety of jazz, funk and rock and roll, and even Latin and world music has all had a profound effect on my sound.
People? Travis K. was my #1 supporter from day one, my DJ mentor, and still a brother to this day. I have too much love and respect for him – incredible DJ as well, everything from hip hop, funk, glitch, breaks and house. He plays what ever he is feeling. One of the few DJs left on this that hasn’t put him self in a musical genre box and I respect him so much for that!
Andrew K., who got me started DJing at his club (even though I never had played before) after I wouldn’t stop talking about wanting to DJ for months after my first burn. There I quickly became a resident and was playing 34 days a week 6+ hours a night right after I started. This really provided me the foundation to jump off from. Thank you Andrew!
My old roommate and friend, Rishi from that legendary apartment I spoke of earlier in this interview. He has such a straight forward, honest and a cultured perspective on nightlife, DJing, and just cut to the point honest critique of music in this underground house and techno world that was invaluable for me to be exposed to. He also got me plugged in with essentially every single person I needed to know in the music scene … and he is a hell of a good DJ too, I wish he would play more. Look out for his DJ alias, Rambo Springsteen.
Gavin Stephenson & Iman Rizky. The most humble guys I have met in dance music. Gav and Iman are the head and founders of Ebb & Flow in NYC and both are eally great DJs as well. They have been such wonderful supporters of mine for several years and recently brought me on as one of their residents, and I couldn’t be more honored to be a part of the Ebb & Flow family!
Artists to look out for? Tara Brooks, Wild Dark, Brett Rubin, Amine K, Kora (CA) & Justin Marchacos.
All of these artists are incredible DJs, and producers. Look out for them in the next 2 years. I think all 5 of them will still be around in 10 years – they are incredible people as well and are building beautiful careers in music.
Thank you so much for having me! I look forward to the evolution of Electronic Groove and I am honored to be a part of the EG family/roster of artists!
EG: Thank you so much for your time! Your set is on repeat daily:)