Redfest DXB 2015 will feature back-to-back live sets from Iggy Azelea, Kid Ink, The Script, Kiesza, Ella Eyre, Jeremih, Bastille, Cris Cab, Gorgon City, Rixton and Tinashe. Closing each evening, the main stage will become a real party with sets from some of the world’s biggest DJs.
We caught up with Kiesza and learned that the toughest woman in the music industry can sing, dance and handle a rifle.
In the time it takes you to read this sentence, Kiesa Rae Ellestad will have learned three new amazing skills. She’s 25 and officially the most proactive person in pop. She’s been in the Canadian Navy (excelling at code-breaking and keen-eyed shooting) and a Miss World pageant. In her youth, she trained in ballet, lifeguarding, mountain-climbing and sailing. She once voyaged from Canada to Hawaii – on a proper boat, with masts and everything.
Talking to her in a Shepherd’s Bush hotel, I feel like the laziest man in London. But I begrudge her nothing, for her music is really quite special. After adding a ‘z’ to her real name, Kiesza burst out of nowhere this year with ‘Hideaway’ – a song that captured London’s vogue for mixing vintage house music with irresistible hooks. It was written by the Canadian (until recently, a resident of London’s Shoreditch) in a matter of hours. Her excellent debut LP Sound of a Woman broadens her range to include hip-hop head-nodders and ballads as well as perfectly balanced dance bangers. It was recorded in just a few weeks.
Giving in to such a punishing time frame seems standard behaviour for Kiesza. She recorded the iconic, all-dancing video for ‘Hideaway’ in one take, with a broken rib. She’s a tough nut, as our chat reveals. But
not so tough that she doesn’t root for her mum too.
How does a woman from Calgary who barely knew the ’90s end up writing songs like ‘Hideaway’?
Well, my mum would listen to Chicago house music as a kid, so I always kinda had that sound with me. It’s weird: I don’t know how my mum got all that music, coming from a city in the mountains in Canada where it was all country music. I think she was kind of an underground girl when she was growing up.
What led you to live in London this year and really break through there?
London is where the whole scene is. The underground is the mainstream there. The sound that’s on the radio is underground in the US. They’re testing out bands like Disclosure and Clean Bandit, but radio in
the states is very ad-driven, so you can’t take as many risks. Having the BBC means you can throw out a lot more wild cards and see if they work. That’s why you get so many new artists launching out of the UK. Living there was bittersweet, though. My music blew up so quickly that I didn’t get to take advantage of my time in the city. I didn’t even get to go to a club once as a completely anonymous person.
So what’s harder: being a pop star or being in the navy?
Being a pop star. In the navy, the path is paved for you. Your job is to be a soldier and fit in. As long as you stick to your place, it’s actually really easy.
But hang on a minute: weren’t you once placed in a gas chamber?
That’s true. To make sure we knew why it was so important to fit a gas mask so quickly. They used low-level tear gas. It gives the sensation that your skin is melting off. Your ears run and your eyes feel like they’re being burned out with lasers.
And getting gassed was still easier than being a pop star?
Yes. It might be easier in terms of physical stamina, but you never know where the path leads as a singer, and that’s really hard.
Could you have actually fought in a war? Morally, I mean.
I doubt it. Being put into war simulators made me realise, first of all, that I don’t want to shoot people. Second of all that I don’t want to get shot. If I’d kept going, I probably would have been sent to Afghanistan because of my shooting. Sometimes you’re just sent and you’re told what the mission is. I don’t like that: I need to know everything. You can’t just send me somewhere and tell me to shoot someone – I won’t do it. That’s why I’m a stubborn soldier.
Dhs350-1,000. 6pm. February 12-February 13, 2015. Dubai Media City Amphitheatre.