I always find myself saying the same thing when I find a smaller, dark but near-perfect room within a big club, ‘imagine if this was a standalone club in town’. The Dark Room within the walls of Printworks is such a space. As we walked in early one Saturday evening it was obvious the DJ and crowd had already connected in that special, intimate way. The DJ is Parisian Kiddy Smile, a gentle giant of man with a real sense of who he is and the culture he wants to showcase to a wider world.
The next couple of hours were a delight; modern ballroom beats mixed with NY house classics in a lovely groove that let the music flow and connect with the fabulous dancers and Voguers on show. Kiddy enthused, “the show was a great vibe, the performers were on fire. I had such a fun time, it was such a blast. I love London, I love playing in London, I love that house and electronic music is everywhere. People know the classics, they know what they want, they’re not just amateurs. They know about house, and this I love. My favourite, favourite, favourite place in London is Dalston superstore, definitely.”
Kiddy explained how he first encountered Ballroom culture in Paris, “so, the house of Mizrahi was born in 1990 exactly, I was introduced to the Ball culture through Mother Steffie Mizrahi, now known as Mother Nikki. At the time I was a DJ and I had a residency, and she approached me because she needed a space to organise a ball. She was teaching some of the dance moves from this culture, Voguing and the ‘old way’ to young kids, but they didn’t have a place where they could actually experience a Ball. So, because I had this residency at Social Club at the time they approached me to see if they would be able to have the ball over there before my party.” Kiddy continued, “I’ve always known the dance Voguing, because I used to be a dancer, but never was I attracted by it, maybe because I didn’t understand back then that it was more than a dance. When they had this little event right before my party I immediately understood that it was something bigger than just a dance, it was about community and it was about lifting one another and giving space to people to express their identities, so I immediately wanted to be a part of it.”
Keehdi Mizrahi aka Kiddy Smile grew up in a tough Parisian suburb where hip hop was a far bigger musical draw for the black and Arab youths than the ‘uptown’ house scene. It was only natural his skills as a dancer would first shine on that scene. “I would specialise actually in ‘locking’, that’s a part of the hip hop dance that is a little bit overlooked because it’s not actually danced on hip hop, it’s a dance that was born a little bit before the soul train era, so it’s danced on funk music and B-funk and disco. I used to be obsessed with hip hop from the 2000s, mostly the producers like Jazze Phizzle, Dre, Timbaland, Scott Storch, all of that. It was just a nice era, where you would go to a club and music felt like it wasn’t just a trend, there was some sort of aesthetics about it that I liked and all the producers sounded very different. They all had their time where they could shine and now it just feels like nobody cares about who’s producing a song, it’s just about, is your song suitable for social media content? So, it felt nice to have been able to witness this era.”
Kiddy explained why it’s taken so long for people of colour to make a mark in French house and disco culture. “You have to understand in France people of colour don’t think that house and electronic music is something that is actually catering to them because there was, and still is, a lot of racism regarding who gets in the club, at the doors of the clubs. People just tend to avoid places that are not welcoming them, most of the time electronic clubs wouldn’t welcome black people. I never thought house was somehow part of my heritage, cultural heritage. I found out later thanks to DJ Mehdi, that house was actually queer and black. I did a dig-up and what I love the most about house, if I want to sing I can sing, if I want to rap I can rap, if I want to talk I can just talk and if I don’t want to say anything I don’t have to say anything.” Kiddy continues, “the range is so wide of what you can do with house music, and this is what I love, the freedom of it.”
French disco really seemed to influence NY back in the disco era, with cats like Cerrone and Space, plus French imports hitting NY and becoming ‘Loft Classics’, we feel Kiddy is part of that lineage although he shies away from believing so himself. “I wish I would be able to contribute to the Loft history but I think it’s a completely different time now. Music has become very global and I don’t think that where I come from is actually important when you listen to my music or come to a gig or come to a show.”
“I don’t actually feel like I’m contributing to this, I wish I was but definitely no, maybe sometime soon… but I feel more like I’m contributing to the history of French disco and house nowadays. It is very difficult for me to feel like I’m contributing to something related to the Loft and Mr Mancuso.”
Later this year Kiddy’s contribution to the scene will be honored with a Ballroom compilation on Defected Records. “We are working on something, nothing is off limits, you know? I have some classic records that are really difficult to get your hands on to, like Kevin Aviance ‘Cunty’ is very hard to find, it’s very hard to get in touch with the people to actually know who owns the rights and who would be able to help us clear it. I have reached out to contemporary producers of Ballroom music. I’m just trying to get a mix of it all, so it doesn’t feel like it’s something that’s looking at the past but also looking at what is being done now and also looks to the future, because it has become a genre of music and it has evolved. We have to look to the future because I don’t think it’s going to go away any time soon. On another note, one of my favourite tracks to play out when I’m trying to get the girls up would be Basement Jaxx ‘Fly Life’, this is one of my go-to tracks from Ballroom, I don’t even know if Basement Jaxx know how important this track is to the community but hopefully they will soon.”
We have a feeling that Kiddy Smile’s contribution to ‘this thing of ours’ and Ballroom culture’s move further into the electronic music mainstream will be one of the positive events when we look back on a difficult 2020.