Kiddy Smile Opens Up About Being A Queer DJ Of Color From The Projects

Kiddy Smile is an impressive guy. His size and style make him stand out in a crowd, of course, but above all, his creative approach to his many artistic endeavors have earned him the admiration of many.

While Kiddy is primarily a DJ and producer of house music, he's also distinguished himself in the art of voguing, hip hop dancing and fashion.

His foray into the fashion world has recently expanded to include music direction for several major designers like Alexander Wang and Olivier Rousteing for Balmain.

© Sylvain Lewis

© Sylvain Lewis

But before the fashion world and house music, there was hip hop and the street. Kiddy grew up on the outskirts of Paris in Rambouillet, a far cry from the fashion world and the parties he frequents now.

His background helped him develop a unique style and boundless curiosity for history and culture, leading him to become more and more politically active, even in the tracks and music videos intended for clubs.

His music, which was fairly light and poppy at first, has now opened up to new possibilities. The darker, more robotic sound is also more accessible and has led him to headline at festivals like the recent Loud & Proud event at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris.

During the show, Kiddy unveiled never-before-heard tracks off an upcoming album that he's been working on for some time now. For the occasion, we met up with him to talk about music, voguing and videos.

Konbini | In addition to all of your other activities, you produce house music. But when you were younger, you weren't a fan of electronic music. What changed?

Kiddy Smile | I grew up in a very urban environment. I listened to urban music because it talked about my life, things I saw in my daily life. When the whole French Touch wave happened, I was too little to understand the issues.

But I did recognize it wasn't meant for my social category, since I came from a disadvantaged milieu, kind of rejected by society. It was a culture that, from a distance, looked very elitist and I wasn't part of that elite.

It didn't have enough of an impact, repercussions or reach in my life for me to like that style of music. The first time I was exposed to it, it was through hip hop dancing, which I practiced, and which is divided into several styles: disco, funk, G-funk, hip hop and house.

In dance, I found the same elitism I had noticed in music. And I felt like it wasn't something that belonged to me.

Things changed when I discovered DJ Mehdi, through his work with 113. My sister was a big fan. The song "Les Princes de la ville" had a sound I really loved.

When I started making music, the mix of urban sound and electronic music made me want to explore it more to find out what the real roots of house music were.

I discovered that the genre had been whitewashed in France, where it had become very white and upper class. Which makes no sense at all, actually. Originally, electronic music came from the black LGBTQ community. Learning that helped me to approach it differently and make it my own.

You mentioned hip hop group 113. What else did you listen to when you were a kid?

I listened to what everyone listens to when you live in the projects. Lots of top 40 and whatever my parents listened to. At home, we had James Brown, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald. My mom loved Grace Jones.

What are your favorite songs currently?

There's Beth Ditto's album, Fake Sugar, Years and Years – I love the lead singer Olly's sound – Låpsley, James Vincent McMorrow...

Those are all pretty chill sounds, actually.

Yeah, I listen to a lot of things that are nothing like the music I make. It's not very house because I'm working on my album right now. I'm terrified that people will say one of my melodies sounds like a track that already exists. So I'm trying to stay as far away from house as I can right now.
 
 
You're working on an album now. It sounds like things are moving forward pretty quickly for you now, after four years of not releasing anything.
 
The reason I haven't produced much music in the last four years is because I do everything myself. I'm self-funded, so if I don't have enough money, I can't make music.
 
Things are going a bit better now, and I've found music partners who've given me a huge hand by lending me their studios, gear, etc. So it's easier for me now, even though I still need to have inspiration. Since I like to create multidisciplinary projects with visuals, etc., it gets pretty expensive.
 
Speaking of partners, you recently signed with Defected, right?
 
Yes, I've always wanted to work with them, because it's a sign of approval, it means you're making quality house music. They're the label who picked up Strictly Rhythm, a label that really had an impact on the history of house.
 
For me, that was my ultimate goal. At first, I said I would contact them once my music was solid. First, I released an EP on my own, and Pedro from Ed Banger, really liked the track "Let a Bitch Know."
 
He listened to it often. One night, he played it in England and that night, I got a message on Twitter. It was from one of the art directors for Defected and he told me he wanted to work with me. It was a Saturday night, I met them on Tuesday, and we started working together right away.
 
 
The lightness, sound and energy of your first songs is very 90s. Is that a time decade that inspires you? 

I love the 1990s. It was less about self and appearances back then. I really think it was a time when people dared to try lots of new things. It must have been terrible for people who weren't creative or imaginative.

If we asked you if you'd rather stay here now or go back to the 1990s tomorrow, what would you do?
 
If I could travel through time, I'd rather go back to the 1970s, actually. The music and clubs were incredible back then. Then again, I'm not sure if going back to the 1970s would be a wise decision for me as a person of color.
 
But the 70s had it all. If you were 15 years old in 1970, you would have known everything that was cool, you grew up in the heyday of rock, you would have been exposed to funk, disco, the death of disco, the birth of house. These days, we've mostly just seen the death of those things.
 
 
Your most recent songs "Teardrops in the Box" and "Let a Bitch Know" are a bit darker. What motivated that change?

I think before I was really making club music. It was a lighter approach, I just wanted to make people dance. After that, since I took two years to make this EP, I still wanted to make people dance but I wanted to address darker issues. That came through in slightly less festive vocal effects and more rhythmic production.

"Dance is what helped me open up to the rest of the world"

Dance is a big part of your music videos. What is your relationship with dance?

My very first artistic expression was dance. I come from a family who had planned something else for me. I was the oldest, and my father didn't want me to dance. But dance is waht helped me open up to the rest of the world.

It's something that's very important in my life, along with voguing culture. Even though I don't really dance much anymore, it's very important to me and it helped me discover Paris, get interested in electronic music, make my genre of music and impart my own message.

How did you discover voguing culture?

I knew what voguing was from the moment I started dancing. But I didn't understand the political and identity implications until much later, when Lasseindra Ninja and Stephanie Mizrahi started reaching out to me and I was getting more recognition in Paris.

They asked me to help them organize a voguing event and once I realized it was something that was beneficial for LGBTQ+ youth and people of color, something that helped them deal with their anxiety and fear, something that helped them liberate themselves, I absolutely wanted to be a part of that culture. From then on, I was very involved.

Are you less involved now?

Yes, it eats up a lot of time, so I try to be less involved these days.

In the world of voguing, you ended up appearing in the "Runway" show. Why?

It was a bad idea, because it's one of the hardest categories and it requires a lot of investment. It's a category for models, so it was kind of like giving the finger to destiny, since the little chubby guy I was as a kid could never have been a model.

But it was important for me because I had an accident a long time ago, and I almost wasn't able to walk again. So being a part of that was kind of a double "fuck you" to fate.

You've said that as a young, black homosexual, the stigma you've suffered from the most had to do with your weight.

I'm part of a world where appearances matter a lot. So I don't really fit with the norm. I see it because I work with designers who have to make very specific clothing because fashion never considers people who are outside of the norm.

I also have anecdotes from my everyday life. For example, I never eat in restaurants with all-you-can-eat buffets because when I go there, I have to deal with people looking at me or making comments.

It's horrible because when you express concern about that kind of thing, people just tell you you need to lose weight, but that's not an option for everyone. And if you're fat, it's not necessarily because you eat too much or you don't exercise.

That's just not true, and no one talks about that. Especially not fat people, because they don't want to draw attention to themselves.

Your clip for "Let a Bitch Know" is pretty spectacular. You transposed an imaginary ballroom environment into the world of the projects. What was it like to film that?

After I got permission to film, I called my friends to explain that the shoot might be a little risky, but they still came. It actually didn't go very well, because the locals weren't too happy with us being there.

They threw things at us, and there were some disputes. A girl sprained her arm. We were even threatened. Some guys came to Wanderlust, but they were stopped by security. Now, things are much calmer.

In the rap scene, you can be proud of being from the projects. It even gives you a certain credibility. Is there some of that pride in this clip?

No, being proud of where you come from, I think that's stupid. At the same time, I don't want people telling me what I can or can't talk about. Being accepted by the LGBTQ community, I had the impression that I was supposed to shut up if I came from an under privileged background, but I refuse to accept that.

At the same time, when you're accepted into the rap community or the "street" community, you're not supposed to talk about your sexuality. I was caught between those two worlds, but I decided I was going to do both.

"Fashion is a good way to express yourself without saying anything"

When did you start developing your personal style?

I grew up in Rambouillet, a very conservative town where people are fairly rich. I was tempted to wear brand-name clothing, but my mother didn't have any money.

But I soon realized the way you present yourself could either make you feel rejected or accepted by others. My mother was a seamstress, and she has a great sense of style, she made her own clothing. She was my first role model, she taught me about the importance of appearance.

When I realized I needed to find a way to set myself apart, especially since being poor already made me different, I started to customize my own clothing. When I got my first job, I was finally able to start buying things, but I realized I was just trying to fit into a societal norm.

And that didn't interest me because even as an insider, I still felt like an outsider. So I told myself I should just do my own thing. So I took sewing classes and I started making my own clothes.

What role does fashion play in your life these days?

Fashion gets you everywhere, it's a good way to express yourself without saying anything. I'm not great at meeting people or having a conversation with someone I don't know. But clothes help me to have something else to talk about.

Right now, I'm a little tired of it, I've relaxed a bit, and I wear a lot of sportswear. It's hard to keep up a look. You have to deal with the gaze of other people, and I'm not good at ignoring that.

For a long time, I was getting into unnecessary arguments with people about my look. Maybe that means they won, because I've definitely toned it down. I was tired of dealing with it, actually. Dealing with other people's opinions is pretty castrating. It's a prison, it keeps people from doing things.

Fashion offers a lot of opportunities, but at the same time, there's a lot of cultural appropriation in that world. As a man of color, as someone who vogues, as a guy from the projects, do you sometimes feel conflicted working in that domain?

No, because it's not really my industry, it's just complementary to my industry. I have my priorities and there are people I would never work for. Before I get involved in something, I always ask myself if it's something that fits with my values.

I mostly work for designers of color: Olivier Rousteing, Alexander Wang... My first jobs in the fashion world were given to me by people of color, and when I went to their offices, people of color were working there. There's always going to be conflict in the fashion world, but I try to bring my own diversity to it.

Kiddy Smile is currently working on an album, and it's expected to come out soon.

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