Dancing with Della

Kristina Dunn is at an interesting point in her career. Previoulsy established as one half of DJ- turned production duo, No Dial Tone, she is currently embarking on a new chapter in her artistic life as a solo artist and DJ under the alias, Della. Having made an inimitable mark on the dance music scene with No Dial Tone and their releases on Derrick Carter and Luke Solomon’s label Classic Music Company, alongside the likes of Herbert and Isoleé, Della has now arrived and she is “getting back to where it all came from – understanding where the root of it all is.” It’s explained in its simplest terms as a pair of decks and a dance floor.

Della might have actually experienced more in House music and Rave culture than most would even begin to understand. Like many of her contemporaries, it doesn’t start with a studio or a pair of decks, but rather on the other side of the booth, with the likes of Hipp-e and Halo bringing this thing called House music to the rural parts of Minnesota. “My first rave experience was in a barn made for square dancing. It was the coolest place to dance ever, because it had this polished hardwood floor and you could just slide around. A dancers paradise.” But it was a DVS1 party in Minneapolis that stands out as the catalyst for most of it, it’s here where Della “learned to dance“ and appreciate the music, she would adopt wholeheartedly as her own. This was a time when dance music was still an underground thing, held at secret locations, sneered at by the general public, and marginalised cultures that made it the scene it is today. At a time when a rave event was exactly that, an event, “we would sew costumes for days leading up to the party, and then set off on a mission to go find the ticket office, which would send you to the map point, and eventually to the venue where someone like Plastikman would be playing. It was a whole other experience, which made the venture so much more crazy,” remembers Della, who marks these events as an important chapter in her own development as an artist.

She might not have started DJing during that time, but it certainly planted the seed and when she moved to LA in the early part of the 2000’s, she also made the move to the booth. She settled in LA at a time when “corporations started getting involved in Rave Culture” throwing massive events that gathered unwanted attention from authorities in LA. “These massive events, and the police involvement in them, blew out the light for ‘dance music’ in Los Angeles and House music went underground again.” Della, like her contemporaries, retreated along with it, moving back into warehouses and small clubs with DJs like Marques Wyatt, Mark Farina, Garth, Heather, you name them, playing on a regular basis. LA’s leading House record store at this time was Wax Records, which was Doc Martin’s shop, “and that’s who I hung with – The Wax boys. I was then later introduced to a group of DJs from Dallas, JT Donaldson, Lance DeSardi, Cle Acklin, and Brett Johnson, which then led the trail up to San Francisco and the Sunset Crew, Solar & Galen. DJs that influenced me in ways that I am grateful for today.”

It’s around this time that she met partner in No Dial Tone, Vibeke Bruff, and the sound of Scandinavian electronic music was introduced to her. “I was really into this Scandinavian sound, Lindstrøm, Prins Thomas, Rune Lindbæk, it was something fresh and new and different than the American House sound. I remember one of my first records was Ost & Kjex, Eaten Back To Life EP, with this amazing Maurice Fulton remix of ‘Have You Seen The Moon In Dallas.’ I played that record on repeat. It’s still so good to this day!” LA was a time that marked the beginning of Della’s creative artistic career, one in which she would move to Oslo; establish No Dial Tone and a studio; and eventually release records on labels such as Classic Music Company, Leftroom, and Twirl. No Dial Tone’s blend of Scando-Pop, electro, House, and Della’s vocals, was welcomed with open arms during a period that would see acts like Miss Kitten and Ellen Allien rise to fame through a scene/genre that would eventually be coined electroclash by the media. For a DJ it meant no taboos were in play and for Della it meant that she could “mix this sound of Space Disco with something like Patrick Cowley and XTC” – a rebellious disregard for any kind of generic signifier that would play a fundamental role in the appeal of No Dial Tone too later.

But then again, I didn’t come out to Della’s studio – where she produces her organic skin care line, RUE ­­– to talk about No Dial Tone, I came to talk about Della, and although her previous project did make a significant impression on her career, Della seems to be an artist on the rise, remaining true to herself and her origins. “When I split from No Dial Tone I really started solely focusing on my DJing because that is what I really want to do. I’ve reconnected with a lot of people that influenced me when I was younger. With No Dial Tone, it was more about getting records out and promoting ourselves, and now… I just want to play. I have no idea where this is going, I am just enjoying the ride.” It’s a very interesting situation for an artist that’s succeeded in establishing a career as one incarnation, only to have to “start form the bottom again.” It’s been “a challenge” in Della’s own words, since the two incarnations are “two different things”, but it’s a challenge she is all too happy to accept. “I think a lot of great things are on the way, and it’s exciting.” Some collaborations are in the works with several profound producers, we can’t mention just yet, with Della taking care of both vocal- and production duties. As such, it doesn’t deflect from her work in the DJ booth at all. “I personally don’t enjoy the studio that much, because I enjoy being behind the turntables and I enjoy listening to- and finding tracks, rather than using those hours to sit on a loop and make a beat out of it.“ This passion for DJing has led to some great moments where Della was featured alongside names like Ellen Allien and Magda, names that have inspired a younger Della and now have become peers. One highlighted gig, includes playing alongside Doc Martin at the Miami Music Conference with the House legend looking over her shoulder, saying; “What is this track, it’s so hot!” Playing alongside artists like these has started rubbing off on Della. “For me the preparation of the sets has changed a lot. I play from the heart, but I also put a lot more planning into what I want to play.“ Della spends hours sourcing and putting tracks together when playing with someone like Ellen Allien, with the organisation of the set becoming a key part of handing it over to the next DJ. “It pushes you to another level. You don’t want to match them, but you want to make sure that the two of you really work together with the flow of the night.” In the process she finds new music that she might not have come across before, and as such it becomes a time consuming practice, but also the mark of a hard-working DJ.

With this in mind, it’s hard to believe that Della, an artist that’s paid her dues at an international level, is still subject to the kind of adversity that women still face in the booth. It’s a dark cloud that still looms over the DJ world and it’s only natural that it should be approached through an extensive interview like this. “It’s not easy being a female in a very male dominated industry.” She’s had punters approach her, saying things like: “I didn’t know girls could play like this, I didn’t know girls could be DJs.” She does however also see a silver lining to the contrast where a lot of women are happy to hear a female DJ play. “I think girls are more dancers, and they feel a lot more comfortable on the dance floor when there’s another woman behind the decks.” Della believes there is a “different type of connection” in this situation, and as a DJ that started off like the women on the dance floor, she talks from experience. “When I look back at rave culture when I was young, the dudes would always be around the DJ booth, watching the DJ like hawks, and all the girls were on the dance floor dancing. And that was my experience too. I didn’t care who was playing what, I just wanted to dance and be free. Maybe that’s why there’s still a division.“ I wonder if she, and a person like Ellen Allien would ever discuss these matters while handing the night over to one another, and was happy to find that they do, and that the subject only goes to cement a bond between female DJs. “Ellen Allien’s reaction was, ‘we need to stick together.’ There’s a lot of women DJs out there, but quality music is quality music, and it’s not a male versus female issue, but there’s definitely not the level of respect a lot of female DJs should be getting.”

I can think of Della as an example of just such a DJ. Having heard Della on the decks in the past at Jæger (last year’s Øya Festival specifically stands out here) I can say Della is an excellent DJ, and has a remarkable ability to play the music you didn’t realise you wanted to hear. It’s music you want to dance to and there’s always that human element to her sets that she brings through with her love for vocals. In Oslo, her American influences are clearly felt through her selections and marks as something very unique on the scene. After hearing her story and knowing what she’s like at the decks, I can put it all into perspective too as something stems from her origins on the dance floor and flows through her experience as a DJ in LA and Oslo. It seems also that regardless of some adversity, her star is incrementally on the rise with sets lined up alongside Erol Alkan and a new monthly radio broadcast spot on Deep House RadioShe’ll be well on her way to achieving what she’s done before and the name Della will soon be just as familiar as No Dial Tone.

To hear more, check Della out here: