Obituary: Kemi Olusanya

Alister Morgan
Wednesday 05 May 1999 23:02

THE TERM "supermodel" is well documented; we are also in the era of "super DJs". This elite group of full-time professionals commands large pay-packets and loyal followings, with the mere presence of their printed name on a club flyer guaranteeing a full house. As part of the influential Metalheadz productions collective, and in tandem with her DJ partner Storm, Kemi Olusanya - as Kemistry - had recently entered the periphery of such an orbit.

For the uninitiated, club DJs superficially perform the same function as wider-known DJs from Dave Lee Travis to Chris Evans, but inhabit separate worlds. Club DJs are distinguished by their ability to "mix" records. While CDs are the current format of choice, vinyl records reign in night- clubs, where mixing skills require considerable creativity and no little technical skill.

More importantly, club DJs are trendsetters for a generation, championing new and innovative styles of dance music as opposed to adhering to popular radio play-lists. This was especially true of Kemistry, who specialised in drum 'n' bass music. "Acid house" music exploded across the country 10 years ago but was forged across the Atlantic in cities like Detroit, Chicago and New York. When drum 'n' bass - or "jungle" - arrived a few years later its innovative and uncompromising blend of crashing drums and raw basslines reflected the urban grimness of Britain's inner cities where it originated.

Olusanya was born in Birmingham in 1963 and worked as a make-up artist before moving to London via Glasgow and then Northampton, where she met Jayne Conneely who later became her DJ partner Storm. By the late 1980s, Kemistry was making a name for herself DJ-ing at Defection in London, before meeting the artist Goldie. With few night-clubs playing their chosen "hardcore" sound, Kemistry, Storm and Goldie formed the Metalheadz club (primarily a focus point for music and a meeting place for friends) in the early 1990s.

Metalheadz experienced meteoric success as the emerging jungle sound became hugely popular across the UK. Kemistry and Storm were at the forefront of the collective, championing a fresher, darker brand of drum 'n' bass and delighting fans across the country whether playing to 500 at an exclusive Metalheadz gig or 10,000 at one of the numerous raves they headlined over the years. Although the two were increasingly popular as DJs, it was Goldie who became the public embodiment of the new jungle sound culminating in the chart success of the single "Inner City Life" in 1995. While Goldie is at present more likely to appear on television in LA than Lewisham, Kemistry and Storm continued successfully with Metalheadz. They had recently released their first solo compilation, DJ Kicks.

Kemistry's death prompted few newspaper column inches but triggered heartfelt memorials from an entire generation. Across the UK, scores of dance-music radio programmes and night-clubs dedicated their weekend shows to her. Many packed night-club venues even turned off their sound systems in mid-flow to observe a minute's silence in remembrance.

As the queue for last Sunday's Metalheadz gig in London stretched away into the distance, it wasn't hard to find people willing to testify to her talent; but her tenacity was also impressive in a highly competitive industry dominated by men. The UK can boast other high-profile female DJs but none of them forged a reputation to compare with that of Kemistry and Storm.

"I knew Kemistry for about seven years," said her fellow Metalheadz DJ Marly Marl. "She was calm and laid back as a person but the secret of [her and Storm's] success was about more than just talent - it was about sticking together, working hard and believing in their music from the heart. They loved their work and would do anything to make it happen. Sometimes they didn't seem to realise how popular they were."

Kemi Olusanya was killed in an incident on the motorway when a cat's- eye flicked up by a car in front flew through the windscreen of the car driven by Jayne Conneely, and struck Olusanya on the head.

Alister Morgan

Kemi Olusanya (Kemistry), disc-jockey: born Birmingham 13 October 1963; died near Winchester, Hampshire 25 April 1999.

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