DJ Colette is one of the first DJs to add her vocals to the record she spins, inspiring a new category of performance in the electronic world. As countless others begin to sing and spin many can still not compare to the vocal/turntable sessions Colette delivers.
How many singing DJs combine up-close observation of the legendary Derrick Carter and Mark Farina dating back to Chicago in the late Eighties with formal operatic training from the ages of nine to eighteen? Probably not many. In fact, there may not be any DJ today who can match the impressive pedigree of former music teacher turned mix-master DJ Colette.
Having already displayed that pedigree in clubs and festivals throughout the world, both on our own and with the beloved Super Jane collective she helped form, Colette is ready to establish herself as an upper-echelon DJ with the release of her Nettwerk America debut Our Day. Colette showcases that operatic training from the outset with the bluesy, a cappella intro/title track. Aside from Our Day, Colette is now the host of a mix show on Los Angeles' largest Top 40 station, KIIS-FM.
While the vocals add unmistakable flavor to the mix, the beats come fast and furious on this inviting CD that includes high-energy tracks from Wolf N Flow, Synthique, Colette's boyfriend, Angel Alanis, the can't miss club anthem "Under the Shower," featuring Colette's rising vocals over the Prax Paris original, and the percussion-rich Colette original, "Feelin' Hypnotized," which serves as a tantalizing teaser to Colette's first original artist album (which she plans on recording before the end of the year for release next spring on Nettwerk America).
Shut your eyes as you listen to Our Day and you'd swear Colette was right there spinning in front of you, which is exactly the effect she was striving for. "On most of the material I'm singing over it, so I kind of write new material that goes over other people's songs. That's what I do live. So I try and incorporate everything I do live into the mix CD."
Colette credits both her mixing style and her improvised vocals to coming up as part of the fertile Chicago house music scene at the turn of the Nineties. "I'm very spoiled because Derrick Carter and Mark Farina are the first DJs I got to hear growing up in Chicago. And I definitely learned how to spin watching people. Because at that time, unlike now, there weren't any classes, or people, that were willing to instruct you. I remember when I was 16 I used to watch Dizz and Lego; I'd watch every little thing that they were doing and just kind of suck it in."
It was also at those house parties that Colette, a classical music student by day, began to find the liberation she still enjoys from singing over other people's records. "I started singing with house music when I was 16 or 17. I would go to parties and just freestyle over other DJs playing." That spontaneous approach, a dance music version of rapping, is something that has stuck with her through the present. To Colette, there is no better rush than the one that comes from improvising in front of a room full of clubgoers. "It's very impromptu when I write a song over a record, cause a lot of times I'll buy the record that day and when I'm playing it out that's when I write the lyrics," she says laughing. "There's definitely something to be said for a practiced performance, but it's really freeing to just improvise. Because it's almost like you're one of the people in the party. It's just like dancing; you don't really have a set dance routine when you go out to a club; you just feel it and you react to it. And it's the same thing for me."
If the idea of writing lyrics in front of a crowded club sounds gutsy, it's even more impressive when you consider Colette was shy about the idea of spinning publicly until Super Jane mate DJ Heather forced her to overcome her fear. Though her fear came not just from shyness, but also from what she felt was a late introduction to the decks. "Growing up in Chicago, everyone started when they were 12, so in high school and my first couple years of college, all of my friends were DJs, and were really accomplished DJs at that. I just had been buying all these records and then I decided to buy some decks just to play around. I never was planning on playing out because it just seemed too late in the game for me to do that, and also, a little bit intimidating," she recalls.
Because of her early fears about entering the DJ scene, Colette is happy and proud to be a role model for young girls who follow her lead. "There are people who ask me questions about spinning or about music and it's great for me to be able to help them. It makes me feel really good about it, because it's just continuation. And it's really nice because I've been meeting so many girls who are 15 or 16 and are spinning, and I think that's amazing," she says.
In addition to being a role model through her music, Colette extends herself to a variety of women's causes, with many of her shows benefiting breast cancer organizations or battered women's shelters. Having become increasingly active and interested in these types of events, she plans on starting her own charity sometime in the near future. Doing what she does best, she'll spin to raise money for a variety of women's organizations, with the proceeds from each show being split between worthy causes.