The twin sister DJ duo talk shop with Brandon Wilner.
It was in this odd era that Jacky Sommer and Kat Smith, the twin sisters who make up Analog Soul, moved from Oakland to New York and started to explore the city's house and techno scene. The two had already spent time at Eddie Amador's parties in Los Angeles and LTJ Bukem's drum & bass nights at 1015 Folsom in San Francisco. They started DJing after Sommer bought a turntable and mixer in the late '90s, but it wasn't until they made the move eastward that they began playing in clubs.
Sommer arrived first, in 2000, after being accepted as a dancer at The Ailey School. Shortly after, she started working at Dance Tracks, a record shop owned by Stefan Prescott (formerly co-owned by Joe Claussell). Smith soon followed and began buying records of her own. When East Village Radio approached them about doing a show in 2004, they took the opportunity to explore sounds connected by the same sense of depth. A friend recommended they call it Analog Soul.
The duo's wide-ranging tastes and versatility have allowed New Yorkers to see them play everything from disco classics at an art gala to psychedelic techno at an afterhours and an all-night set that ends in "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega. They possess and preach a sensibility that's hard to come by, putting ego aside so they can adapt to whatever's best for a room. They visited RA's New York office to talk about the ideas that inform this strategy.
A sibling relationship generally allows for much deeper shared points of reference than friendships begun later in life. Does your shared past provide any advantage in the context of DJing?
Jacky Sommer: I think so, but I honestly don't really know what it is. We both have this extremely passionate relationship with music, but she [Kat] will independently find something that I would have never even thought of, but it's still coming from the same place.
Kat Smith: I think a certain dynamic is very symbiotic. I think we possess a shared intuition. A perfect example would be The Lot Radio's second anniversary party last week. A friend asked if we actually rehearsed the entire set. We didn't, but I started off with this "Tswana Dub" track, the Beat Pharmacy remix, and Jacky goes, "Oh, I was actually going to play that."
The only real conversation about a set we might have is beforehand to say, "Well what are you thinking about playing?" And then we'll give each other a general idea in terms of sound, but we never actually rehearse. I thought it was fascinating that we hadn't talked about that particular set until we got there, but we were on exactly the same page.
Jacky Sommer: I think we just generally love the same sounds. When we were younger, she'd go to a record store and find something and say, "Oh my god, have you heard this?" and I'd be excited about it too. I can't really think of a time when I tried to turn you on to something and you thought it was terrible.
Kat Smith: We have similar tastes, but we have very different tastes as well.
Jacky Sommer: We have similar tastes, and then we have specific sounds that one person is extremely into and the other person isn't. What's your thing now that you're really into?
Kat Smith: I'm just always digging into the past, like the '60s and '70s, for weird world music. Like '70s Mongolian shit and Japanese stuff—just really obscure. I am just hyper, crazy digging for that stuff all the time.
Jacky Sommer: So when she plays it, it's amazing, but I don't feel like I have to do it too. I'm not going out to look for that sound just because she's doing that right now.
Do you ever practice together these days?
Kat Smith: In terms of rehearsing, the approach is really a matter of a text message conversation. I'll just ask, "What direction are you going in?" So much depends on the set, it depends on the hour that we're playing, it depends on the gig itself. So all those factors play into how we approach the set and how we select music. And I'm usually thinking about this on the day of the gig, so it's fresh.
Jacky Sommer: I'll spend a week going through a lot of music, but it's the same for me. If I started [preparing for] a set five days ago off of a feeling, I might not have that feeling in five days. I'd rather go into a set truly inspired by the room I'm playing, not having picked something six days ago and then finding that the feeling that inspired that music has gone. For me it's about trying to be in that moment, and usually if a set is final, it's finalized that day.
Kat Smith: As prepared as you think you are, you're never really prepared until you get there. Things happen all the time that can ruin your plans. I am learning now more than ever that you need to come with different mediums. You have to have vinyl, you have to have an organized USB. Turntables always get fucked up in a party. Or the crowd isn't what you expected.
This adds to why we play such a varied sound, because you think you're going to a certain party, and it's an entirely different crowd. So a good DJ, in my opinion, is one that can roll with the punches and go with the flow, and who knows how to read a room. So this question about being prepared—can you be? Should you be? I just think that you need to be ready to work and read the room.
Jacky Sommer: Yeah, that's the other aspect of it. There's really only so much you can do in terms of being prepared. I do focus a lot on track selection, but it's really about being in a certain vibe—in a certain headspace—so that I can be open to what's actually happening in the room. Because you tell yourself, "Okay, I'm playing techno, and I'm going to play minimal techno and a little bit of acid." And then you might have a room that's not responsive to that. Or you might even have to just completely flip how you thought your were going to play all that music. I'm very focused on the vibe, on centering myself in the vibe.
Speaking of classic house, in the times I've seen you play, I've noticed that you don't shy away from certain tracks just because they're considered classics. For instance at Nowadays I heard you play "Fuk Dat" by Sagat and "Do It Your Way" by Mood II Swing. What role can a classic track play on a dance floor?
Jacky Sommer: Well, I think these are the tracks that we just know were the bomb when they were first coming out. I play that kind of music because I feel like that's what makes a party get lit. I mean those tracks like "Fuk Dat" and stuff like that, those are recognisable party jams. But it's a vibe depending on the party. For Nowadays, of course we're going to play that because we were in a party vibe where we needed to.
Kat Smith: And because "Fuk Dat" is definitely an anthem. It's one of those Analog Soul "Kat" tracks that I play all the time. "Do It Your Way" as well. I don't often play newer stuff, although I want to get better at supporting the new generation. But I'm always just digging, and the real heads are like, "Wow, I can't believe you played that," and most people don't even realise that this is from, like, 1998. This is not new. We mostly play old-school stuff. I just feel like, at least for me, it's kind of about nostalgia. I think it's human nature to want to be reminded about this time that came before. A lot of those tracks, in terms of production, just feel more party-oriented, I guess.
The one thing I can say about our approach as DJs is that we really want people to party. And so whether it's deep techno or dub or whatever, we always try to play tracks that actually make you groove and put you in that mindset. That's the point, to have a good time.
Jacky Sommer: I just really want you to dance. I don't care about being deep or obscure. You're at a party. It's not that deep.
You did a show on East Village Radio together for four years. How did having that regular radio outlet shape your style and taste when you were coming up?
Jacky Sommer: Well, Analog Soul, that was a radio show. It was never supposed to be this thing like, "We're called Analog Soul. This is a duo." It was the name of our radio show, and we specifically wanted to highlight a sound that was really open, dark and heavy but warm too. And later it evolved into being identified as Analog Soul.
Kat Smith: A friend of ours actually gave us the name, and it spawned from there. We did the show weekly, and this was a big early introduction for us. Not so much to the music, but being in the scene and being in the limelight. Especially for me, because I had been so far removed and I wasn't working at a record store. I was going out, but I wasn't really a player in the industry.
With the show, it was where I had to prove myself even more, being apart from Jacky, because people didn't know me. I had nothing under my belt—no real music education, no affiliation. But the show gave us access. We started to get more connections as well. We had acts like Function, so I think that was the way we just started to actually be able to invite other guests in to promote the Analog Soul sound.
Jacky Sommer: The show allowed me expand my sound further from what I would play at the store. Dance Tracks was straight-up deep house, classic New York and Chicago house, and some techno. But I feel like Kat and I have always been more open musically, so when we started doing the show, we got to present how our style always has been.
I don't want to say it was open format, because there was still a cohesive sound, but we got to play in a more varied way from what I would do at the shop. I appreciated the store a lot, but I always felt stuck because you can always go so far with their sound. Where else was that going to go? To me it was perfect to be able to be like, "This is ours, I am going to play some house, I'm going to play some dub. I'm going to go anywhere because I don't want to be stuck. So I feel like that was a huge thing for us to be able to do that on a radio show.
How have your record-buying practices changed over time?
Kat Smith: Honestly, I mainly use Discogs. Even when I'm working at the shop, I'm there and I'm on Discogs, not even on our own page, and getting records shipped to the shop. I spend lots of time on YouTube. It is interesting how YouTube allows you to really dig now, I mean there are so many amazing uploads. And then I'll go on Discogs and do some research. I seldom ever go out to a record shop these days.
Jacky Sommer: I know a lot of people have a problem with Beatport, but I've used Beatport from the beginning. So I use that for new stuff, and they even have a lot of classics on there. I still like to go to A-1 Records, but it's been a minute since I've bought a record, actually. I use Discogs for searching, but I don't buy from it.
Is there are particular time of night that you prefer to play?
Kat Smith: More in the morning. I'd say like 3 AM to 9 AM. With an opening set, there's a very systematic way to approach a night. It can be very specific. But ideally if you have a solid group of people at three or four in the morning, that's when you really have that freedom to go super deep and dark. You could still bang it out if you wanted to, but you have the freedom to just go where you want to go.
Jacky Sommer: I like mornings. That's when you can go really deep and then go really hard. I just really want to make people dance. I want the party. I love playing at any time, but that particular time period is the one. Especially with New York now, where parties go on forever. I mean the party's not ending at four or even six. I just feel like that's the perfect time.
Does your setup change based on what style you're playing? Do you have a preferred mixer?
Kat Smith: I don't think I do, but in general I prefer faders. I don't mind rotary mixers, but I'm not a huge fan. It's not my go-to, necessarily. I'd just prefer to have regular levels. I think I just have more control. Or perhaps it's just that I learned playing on those. But, Jacky, you learned on a rotary from working at Dance Tracks.
Jacky Sommer: We had a Urei, so I had to learn how to play on rotary. I like both, but for different reasons. When you're playing a techno set or something that's not so smooth, the control is different. Turning a knob is for a certain sound. It's smooth. I've done it, because I haven't had a choice sometimes, but the sound and the action doesn't match when you're playing something like techno on a rotary mixer. I like playing level mixers when I'm doing house and techno, and if I had to play a rotary mixer now, I could mix house, but I would do more house and some soul and reggae. I don't want to play a bangin' set with a rotary.
How did the move from the West Coast to the East shape your DJing?
Kat Smith: My thoughts on this topic are less about DJing. They're still related to it, but more about my relationship to this culture and the party scene, and the role that a DJ plays. San Francisco is largely gay, and the gay scene is synonymous with house. I had a much different experience with this sense of community. I'm not saying it doesn't exist here, but [in San Francisco] there's this idea of going out being about the experience as a whole. I definitely learned that there. I think that it exists here and that sort of idea is coming back, but I just feel like these days there's a disconnect, where there's so much more emphasis on the DJ, and it's not as much about the experience as a whole.