Talking music, festivals and collaborations with DJ Kyle Watson

Local star is set to make a return at the Ultra Festival

21 February 2024 - 10:24
By Staff Writer
Acclaimed local DJ Kyle Watson.
Image: Supplied Acclaimed local DJ Kyle Watson.

Dominating airwaves for the past 15 years, renowned DJ Kyle Watson is set to burn up dance floors at the upcoming Ultra South Africa festival. Loved for his electrifying and innovative sound, Watson is one of South Africa's most prominent music exports and producers after building an impressive international reputation.

In anticipation of his appearance at Ultra South Africa, we chat to the producer about the festival and his remarkable journey in the music industry so far.

You’re performing on the Ultra South Africa main stage this year. What does it mean for you to play on such a major stage in your home country?

I’ve played a few Ultra festivals in South Africa and have always had a great time no matter what stage I was on. I’ve never had my chance on the main stage though and it feels pretty great to know the work I’ve been putting in is being recognised on this scale in the country I grew up in.

How did you fall in love with electronic dance music?

My entry point into music production was through house and I connected with it immediately. I used to listen to mixed albums of dance stuff like the Deeper Sounds Of series and House Anthems way back, and what really appealed to me was the ability to make unique sounds and create pieces of art people connected with.

As a producer, what's your creative process when producing new tracks or remixes?

It’s always different. I’ve got a soft spot for drums and basslines so I usually start there, but sometimes I’ll get inspiration from a new plug in or a melody I hear somewhere. Even sound effects inspire me. Sometimes I’ll start a track based off something I record in the world like a train or the sound of hitting a biscuit tin.

How do you keep your sets fresh and engaging for your audience, especially at major festivals like Ultra?

For festivals it’s important to keep the energy up and mix up your set with a balance of music the crowd will recognise as well as taking the opportunity to introduce them to things they might not know they’d like. That might be dropping a few classics, or special edits that feature a recognisable sample. Festivals are different to club shows. For the most part people go to a club show to see a specific act, but at a festival not everyone’s there to see you, so it’s a chance to convert people who haven’t heard of you into fans.

Which collaborator challenged you the most during the production phase and why?

I don’t think I could say anyone has challenged me in that sense, but collaborations are definitely unpredictable. Sometimes nothing happens and you both go home at the end of the day with nothing, but other times something magic happens. I can relate to both.

Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure.
Image: Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure.

Are there any artists you are dying to work with in the future?

There are tons of artists I’d like to work with. Disclosure, Chris Lake, Gorgon City, Walker & Royce, Maverick Sabre, Elderbrook, to name a few

Why do you think festivals like Ultra are so important for the global dance scene?

Festivals are one of the best ways to expose people to a range of genres in an environment where they’re surrounded by friends and others who are there for the same reason. Multiple stages and artist slots also allow more artists a chance to showcase themselves and grow their fan base, so it’s good for the fans and the artists.

You’ve performed on some massive stages around the world including Coachella and Lollapalooza. How different is it performing to a home crowd?

No matter which stage I’m on and which country I’m in I always enjoy it, but I think it’s going to be pretty special coming back for this show. I played countless clubs and small festivals in South Africa over the years and the vibes were great but I haven’t played something of this scale there yet, so I’m really looking forward to it.

Why should your fans attend this year’s Ultra Music Festival?

Why skip the chance of going to one of the few world-class music festivals in South Africa? The production is always top class, the sound is good, the vibes are good. Why not?

What advice would you give to aspiring DJs who are looking to break into the electronic music scene?

Differentiate yourself. The barrier to entry for DJs is lower than ever and that means there are a lot of people out there in the exact same position as you trying to level up. Do whatever you can to cut through the chaos, whether that’s through your music, your brand, your social presence and so on. 

Ultra South Africa 2024 will take place on March 1 in Cape Town at HollywoodBets Kenilworth Racecourse, and on March 2 in Johannesburg at the Expo Centre at Nasrec.