It’s hard to pin down what exactly KATE ELLWANGER is up to. There’s no doubt she’s anything and everything all at once. She splits her work as DOT in slashes as a live performer/songwriter/DJ/producer/label owner. In other words, she’s the maverick’s maverick. “Being active in both of these worlds pushes me to constantly grow as an artist which I guess is really my only goal in this life,” she explains.
There are some places where you associate a certain sound with. Places like New York City with their indie rock scene or Miami with all of their Latin salsa and dance. Although she hails from nearby Olympia, she associates herself more with the burgeoning R&B/electronic scene and she’s not afraid to make the distinction. With trancelike, tranquil ambient music, she has found the right balance between easy-going melodies and experimental approaches.
“Being active in both of these worlds pushes me to constantly grow as an artist which I guess is really my only goal in this life,”
“It was definitely nerve-wracking!” recalls Kate on her first time as a DJ. “I played my very first set as Dot at Low End Theory in Los Angeles, and I remember being absolutely terrified because I didn’t want to let the crew down for taking a chance on me. It ended up being a great set once my hands stopped shaking!” Still, the experience was something that stayed with her because, “It’s a really fun and liberating way to share music and make people feel something.”
With such intense focus on the DJ scene, it might come as a surprise that she initially moved to Los Angeles to pursue classical music. When asked about influences, she cites the works of French composers like Debussy, Chopin, Satie, and Ravel. “I also have a deep love for Brazilian music,” she adds, “and I look up to artists like Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso, and Os Mutantes.”
So how did she make the jump from classical music to DJ sets? “As soon as I began college, I realized I wasn’t really passionate about opera in the way that my peers were, and I found myself devoting much more time to my theory classes or composing my own music instead of singing. Discovering that creative freedom and unlimited sonic possibilities was really inspiring to me, so it just felt natural to head in a new direction.”
“It’s important for me to set artists up for long-term success and encourage them to look beyond the trends of the moment when they create their art.”
At present she’s got an album called Retrofuture (2017) done, her four EPs, and has recently launched Sonic Identity, which is an artist development program where she teaches female identifying, would-be artists on moulding their sound and finding long-term enthusiasm for making music. “I spent a number of years teaching music production and composition at some really great schools and colleges, and while I loved my time spent as a professor, I felt limited by some of the curriculum that I was required to teach.” Besides that, she also wanted to create sets of programs that were affordable, accessible, and push students outside of their comfort zones. “A lot of these institutions were great at showing artists the technical aspects of music production, but didn’t provide much support for them to discover their own unique sound or deeply connect with their intuition and emotions.”
Being part of a project that helps connect artists with their craft is something she gets a sense of pride from, and she hopes Sonic Identity can help enthuse students to look for new avenues or creative strategies they can apply in their musical projects for years to come. “I don’t want to create a program that gets people excited about their work for a short period of time, only to fall off as soon as it ends. It’s important for me to set artists up for long-term success and encourage them to look beyond the trends of the moment when they create their art.”
“So much change is happening within the music industry right now, so I want to do everything I can to shape a new kind of business that supports artists from the ground up instead of just using them,”
It certainly helps that Kate is under the Los Angeles-based record label Team Supreme as it gave her the confidence she needed in her earlier years, and the production skill needed to ensure the top quality of her tracks. Though she admits being the only woman in the label, she puts it all aside. “I never really know how to answer that because I don’t have any contrasting experience to compare it to. I love my TS family — we’ve all learned so much from one another,” she quips.
One of the common challenges she’s had to face as an artist is the lack of women who handle music production, and the ubiquity of men with connections to studios and festivals. This led to her founding Unspeakable Records in 2014, a collective that provides a platform for other female artists to further their sound through music releases, live events, and educational opportunities. “So much change is happening within the music industry right now, so I want to do everything I can to shape a new kind of business that supports artists from the ground up instead of just using them,” she shares with us.
It’s important for DJs to keep in touch with upcoming trends. And if the audiences’ tastes are indicative of a certain direction, it’s likely that dance music will start incorporating more live elements. As for Kate, she’s gearing up for more tracks and tours this 2018, as well as a possible release of her soon-to-be-completed book. But don’t be fooled into thinking that will be all, since she knows of something bigger in the horizon. “I don’t think we’ve fully realized the power that newer music technology has given us, so I’m excited to watch it unfold as more and more artists combine electronic elements with live instruments in unique ways.”
Written by: Zach Sung
Photographs by/from: Jennica Mae, Unspeakable Records, and Nest HQ
Interested in signing up in Sonic Identity yourself so you can see if being an electronic musician is for you? Stay tuned for our free course giveaway in our Instagram account! Learn more about DOT’S Sonic Identity course here.