Affirmative: An Interview with Karima F

“I understand the mechanism of DJing is to create a good vibe, but at one point you have to say if you don’t like it go home.” And there it is, right at the end of our conversation; that firebrand determination that cuts right to the core of it all, feigning the calculated rhetoric some DJs play up to for an unbridled honesty that’s rare in the interview situation. “Let’s just have a conversation”, I urged Karima Andrea Furuseth (Karima F) at the beginning of our interview, indeed hoping for exactly these moments. As an active journalist working for various music and news publications in Norway and beyond, Karima has been in this situation enough times, albeit at the other end of the table, to understand the subtext of promo and enterprise that are embedded in the interview context to forego them, and we’re able to sit down in the spirit of a simple honest exchange.

It was through RETRO – a past residency she held at Jæger alongside Daniel Gude (DJ Nuhhh) –  that I would be introduced to Karima, and our acquaintance would not by way of any literal language, but by way of a DJ set. I remember it clearly, the first bars of a Theo Parrish track bursting at the seams with a formative kick snare arrangement, opening an early set by the Norwegian DJ during, pummeling a nascent dance floor into submission, with no quarter given. At RETRO she might have “felt a necessity to catering to an audience”  as a “warm-up DJ”, but at no point did she ever concede to public opinion or institutionalised dogmas, in any noticeable way at least. Even before I’d spoken a single word to Karima, I realised there was something curious, defiant and bold behind the character at the decks. “I want to get people on the floor with no time to spare” she muses about her sets. An unrelenting figure in the booth, a Karima F set is poignant, direct and affirmative, establishing the dance floor instead of pandering to it, “a constant battle” to avoid the obvious and to cultivate a temperament uniquely hers at the helm.

It’s always unclear where a DJ’s musical awareness comes to the fore, but Karima can pinpoint it exactly. It all derives from her formative years where she had “made a very conscious decision to be culturally involved at an early age”. Born into a very “protective environment” in the suburbs of Oslo to a Norwegian mother and an Algerian father , Karima’s youth was “not exactly conservative, but not necessarily culturally aware either”. She had picked up the violin in an early effort to “fit in with the cool girls” in Tåsen where her only exposure to music had been through the ubiquitous sounds of Celine Dion, but those were mere tentative steps towards her chosen profession, and she basis no relevance on them today. In a house where there was little in the way of creativity, except folk music and the odd Raï composition, Karima had found a very early interest in music, but nothing quite solidified in her reserve to pursue it at any significant level until the age of 19. It would only be only then that DJing first arrived as a creative outlet for Karima. Although already culturally conscious having picked up the pen as a burgeoning journalist writing for the Øya-published fanzine “Fan”, Karima “wasn’t really aware of what a DJ entailed”. After being asked by the fanzine to play some records for a festival opening party, she thought “sure, I can press play.”  

Today Karima F has pressed play from Panorama bar to Øya Festival, and spends her time between Berlin and Oslo, as a full time DJ and a part time writer. As a DJ her ”selections have become more streamlined” today. Taking her time to cultivate something more prolific, she feels she has a “better Idea of how (she) wants the set to go”, which during RETRO was more about “acting on impulses.” Karima’s approach had always been a calculated one. “When I got my decks I spent an hour each morning before going into the office”, she reminisces “practising for a year, just to master beat-matching and then spending another year just getting comfortable enough to actually play in a club.”

Feeling like she was “tricked into it at 19”, Karima knew the booth was for her when during that first event, a receptive audience started “throwing their hands in the air and stage diving” to The Communards. “Wow if every night is like this…”  she thought at the time, before adding with some satire, “I’ve never had a night like that again”. It didn’t go unnoticed and shortly after Karima would be approached by Jeff Niels (Mandagsklubben) to establish a new night at Fisk & Vilt, one that saw Karima pushing against the grain with the encouragement of Niels. “He said to me ‘there are too many good DJ’s in Oslo’” so “on the merit of being really bad I was given the job” she says with a simper. Karima has always been very coquettish, never taking herself too seriously, infecting enough humour into a storyline, without making slight of the facts underlying the matter.

It’s exactly in that spirit in fact that she’s established “Affirmative Action” today, a new residency at Jæger that “seeks to give the unrepresented white male DJs their contested place in the European electronic music scene.” With her tongue provocatively in cheek Karima approaches issues of gender inequality in the booth, an issue she’s been publicly vocal about in the past, with this new night only in subtext. A subversive DJ and social commentator, Karima is intent on changing the patriarchal hierarchy from within, but not by way of “using (female djs) as a quota in the booking program”. It’s about establishing female DJs as an equal to their male counterparts, and not using gender as some kitsch marketing strategy, and that’s why Karima will be booking men as well with her first guest the “singular” Kosmische producer and DJ, Barnt.

As if cued by kismet, Bob Dylan’s “The times they are a changin’” starts playing over the café stereo, and I sense a congenial air leave us as we approach a more serious waters, and I have to ask Karima; do you think the times are indeed changing? “ It has changed” marks Karima, but she still feels it has a long way to go. “I was looking through my record collection”, she says by way of elaborating, “and I was disappointed that I don’t have more women in my selection. Men are overrepresented in the genre I’m interested in.” She mentions Avalon Emerson, Shanti Celeste, Kelly Lee Owens, Aurora Halal, Steffi, Karen Gwyer, Jayda G, Inga Mauer, Powder, Willow, Lena WIlikens and Charlotte Bendiks as current role models, but still thinks “it’s weird that women are noticeably absent” at the same extent men are present. “My theory is, because it is so accessible, there’s some sort of protectionism going on”, she continues. “Using language to turn it into a cult to exclude people because there’s some sort of ritual that you need to know, and by intellectualising it makes it seem more unattainable than it really is.” But it’s really “easy being a DJ” according to Karima and it seems that “with everything there seems to be some institution that defines what’s right and what is wrong” and that extends to the world of DJs and electronic music producers. “If so many men make it, it must be easy”, says Karima with a tight-mouthed smirk and we’re back in the friendly grip of humour.   

It’s unsure how Karima is able to expresses this in the abstract void of electronic club music, and especially with fewer female producers falling it into her category, but what is certain is that music has always worked within a socio-political landscape for Karima. When she made her “conscious decision to be culturally involved” at a young age it was in the backdrop of living in Hoybråten, “a really horrible place” where Karima was constantly teased for her Muslim heritage. She had however found a resilience in the “white male music” from bands like Jokke & Valentinerne and gravitated towards the community around Blitz, a local haunt for the politically aware that embraced the sound of Punk at that time.

At the same time, Karima’s musical identity would start to take shape, aided by some fundamental figures around her. “A boyfriend at the time” would introduce her to Tom Waits’ “Rain Dogs” and The Streets’ “A grand don’t come for free”, opening up a world of new musical discovery away from the pop standards of her youth. Coinciding with a job at Platekomapniet it would lead to a serious investment in music taking shape. “As a result of the job, I listened to everything” explains Karima, who started indexing music with a digger’s approach, even before she knew the term existed. I ask her what she’s digging today. “I’m trying to catalogue the history of jungle and hardcore”,  she says.  It’s all part of Karima’s desire to “map out everything” and with so many DJs and producers “referencing Jungle and Hardcore in music” today, albeit at more conservative tempos, Karima’s curiosity has been piqued.

During our conversation she cites a short list of musical influences that have “opened a door” to a new style or genre, including her latest Jungle/Hardcore infatuation, but at the top of that list is  “Brigitte Mandlied” , a “musical mentor” of sorts according to Karima. It was Birgitte that took Karima from the “white male” music of her rebellious teenage years and into “disco and eighties groove” from where she developed as a DJ, going through new rave and eventually landing in the dance floor fundamentals of House and Techno that she is known for today. She’s favoured an eclectic approach I’ve found through my experience of her sets, but there’s always a palpable energy underlying everything she touches from Disco to Techno, which brings it all together quite comprehensively as a set.

It was in Mälmo, embarking on a fine-art degree in her early twenties, that Karima really started to envision being able to DJ exclusively and the Karima F sound or temperament we know today started to solidify through Disco. It was there she had found a DJ community that was “incredibly welcoming” and an environment in which it was “easier to do things”, nurturing a latent talent further in her through the experience of others. “All my friends were older men collecting records”, she remembers and she would often follow one them on flea market jaunts in search of rare Disco records, picking up the kind of knowledge only experience can bring with an open-minded resolve. Although Karima still doesn’t consider herself a collector, it could be here where her archival tendencies took a definite shape. She quickly found a residency of sorts, playing at a local cocktail bar through those very same friends that took her under her wing, and it wasn’t long after she was hosting bigger gatherings in the area too with the likes of (Henning) Telephones.

Her time in Mälmo was also significant for two other reasons; it’s where she first “got ruined by the idea of institution” through university, and it’s also where she would come to “love writing”. Never quite a creative outlet for Karima, writing certainly propelled her into the public eye, and magazines like NATT&DAG would give her a platform from which she could express that musical curiosity that has followed her throughout the different aspects of her working life.

Today writing however has become institutionalised again for Karima as it’s “caught up in the framework of something dull like a job”. While she’s aware of her “privileged” position as a writer/DJ, she imagines a day where she “would stop writing and just DJ”. She’s currently so enthralled with music that when she’s writing writing she can’t help but think: “why don’t I have the same feelings about it as I do with music”.

It’s clear that there is an inherent passion to Karima’s work in the booth, whether it’s culturally invested origins in music; her socio-political activism outlook from the perspective of music; or her simple curiosity in mapping out the entire history of music. Our conversation winds down as we talk about life in Berlin, and how she most enjoys “going out to listen to her friends play” in the German capital. In the simple honesty of a conversation over the course of an hour, we’ve exhausted Karima’s story leading up to this point. Even in this mere fragment of time, Karima has confirmed, in words what she’s established for me in that first set those two years earlier. It’s more apparent than ever that Karima F’s motivation is firmly ingrained in the music with no hint of compromise allowed. Hers is a singular path… and if you don’t like it you can go home.