Few members of the house music community have the wealth of experience to match that of Ki Creighton. Having signed with Underground Artists Agency in 2015, Ki’s career is currently experiencing an impressive acceleration. But this acceleration did not just magically manifest. It comes from three decades worth of industry experiences that span the spectrum of DJ, producer, promoter, and label boss. In that time he’s diligently worked to become one of the most connected and respected figures in the game. His story starts in the late 80s when he was 13 with nothing more than a couple of tape recorders and an ear for a groove.
“When I started high school in the UK, in first, second, and third years I would do the local parties… whether it was in a barn or one of the girls had a birthday I would go and do the music for that and sometimes just be doing two tape recorders. So I’d just have a tape recorder here and press play and pause, another tape recorder here. So it wasn’t mixing, it was just playing tunes so there was no gap, just stopping and playing… That sorta got the go for mixing… At school I was into people like Prince, Big Audio Dynamite, ya know random things… Michael Jackson, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses… I actually listened to a Big Audio Dynamite album the other day just driving about, it’s still fantastic.”
That affinity for diverse 80’s sounds took a turn when Ki bought Chicago producer, Lil Louis’, 1989 single, “French Kiss.” The famously head-turning track caught Creighton’s ear with its rolling bassline, synth work, and infamously promiscuous breakdown.
“That was my first recollection of thinking, ‘What is this kind of music?’ That’s the first-ever record I can remember buying… The first sort of house, bouncing into a different genre, was 'French Kiss.' To me that’s where I started my sound off.”
That curiosity sprang into an all-out devotion when a 16-year-old Ki discovered the infamous UK rave scene in 1991. He learned about the illegal parties and hardcore raves like Technodrome and Rezerection from coworkers and knew he needed to investigate further. Undeterred by his young age, Ki packed eight of his friends in a VW transport and went to Technodrome in Ayr, Scotland for their first rave.
“We were all young, and we looked ridiculous,” he recalls. “With ponytails and whistles and boiler suits and white gloves and the whole thing. There was Shades of Rhythm, Carl Cox, Pete Tong, all the hardcore DJs… the one thing I can remember I was violently sick all the way home. We snuck in drink… I just remember being sick all the way home and thinking ‘I’m never doing that again.’ But I had a sleep, woke up. There’s no social media so you meet your friends, say ‘How good was that,’ sobered up and I was like, ‘We’re going again next week.’… I forgot all about being sick in the morning.”
Before GPS, social media, and cell phones, Ki and his friends searched for flyers and announcements in record shops to target the next party.
“We traveled all around north England… finding either clubs or raves to go to. We were basically working all week getting our money on Friday and spending it on the weekend getting to either Blackpool, Liverpool, Manchester, Boatland, Wigan Pier was a big one. We went there religiously every week for about three years. We just decided we’re going to dedicate our lives to the rave… Some of the locations were illegal. Some were in farms, barnyards, service stations, wherever they could set up a sound system… We basically ended up touring the country as a group of ravers just having a good time and getting off to the music.”
That commitment to the rave later evolved into a commitment to dance music as a whole as Ki soon set his eyes on the vinyl. A self-proclaimed vinyl junkie, Creighton pivoted his focus from raves to records and amassed a massive collection of around 25,000 records. He acquired two Numark belt-driven turntables (later switched to Technics direct-drive turntables), a mixer, and some less than favorable speakers and took over his parents’ loft and pool table for eight hours every night. Those hours on the decks gradually led to small local gigs and in 1998, Ki decided to give music his all.
Ki’s best mate, Yousef of Circus Recordings, had just gotten a residency with Ministry of Sound in Edinburgh. Seeing one of his friends in a high-end gig inspired Creighton to not only take his drive and ambition in music to the next level, but to also dial in his sound—a sound reminiscent of the American house music scene championed by artists like Roger Sanchez, DJ Sneak, Derrick Carter, and CJ Mackintosh. That same night in 1998, Ki met the promoter for Ministry of Sound and exchanged numbers. The following week, he would get his chance to prove his resolve. The promoter contacted Creighton to inform him a DJ for Ministry of Sound in Edinburgh had fallen ill and needed a replacement. Ki accepted.
“For the lead up for that, I was absolutely bricking it… I had done parties… but to get into these big clubs… that was the break,” he remembers thoughtfully. “I practiced that two-hour set maybe 25-30 times leading up to that night and I played really well. I’m my own worst critic. If I have a bad night and I play bad I beat myself up about it. Nobody’s perfect, nobody plays well all the time. But that night for the first-ever set, I came away and I thought ‘Yeah yeah, you can do this… Leading up to it I was absolutely shitting myself, I was like Woah hold on” Ki laughs. “What if this goes wrong what if that goes wrong? But it went well,” he smiles.
Soon after that, Ki met Matthew Tyson, owner of a DJ shop in Carlisle. The two became good friends and partnered for an event called Lucid in 2000. In 2006, Lucid evolved into their current promo brand, UBER. The brand hosts some of house music's biggest acts like Solardo and Camelphat, as well as impressive local talents. They've also garnered a proud reputation for exceptional professional care and practices. As its resident DJ, Ki may also be able to lay claim to the longest standing residency in all of Europe at 20 years and counting.
Creighton’s career has surely blossomed since that fateful night in Edinburgh more than 20 years ago. In that time, Ki has released music on a long list of labels including Elrow, Sola, 8bit, Circus, Cajual, Glasgow Underground, Underground Audio, and New Violence. And that doesn’t even include all the music he has released under his own label, Under No Illusion, which he started in 2013. Since its inception, UNI has marked over 200 releases and counting—an impressive feat for that time frame.
“We release every two weeks. I was planning on releasing every month but when I started off I had that many connections in the music industry, I was getting demos and emails, I was getting management sending me things, I was like there’s no way I can do one a month. I’m getting all this great music. I made the decision to do two releases a month which is a heavy heavy workload. You’re continually having to get masters done, get artwork done, promos, videos, it’s non-stop. We’ve done that from the off.”
Heading Under No Illusion also provides Ki an outlet to give back to the community that has given him so much. As an artist with years of experience, he knows the road of an up-and-coming artist better than most.
“As a producer and an artist, me sending music and getting the rejection, I also know what it’s like to get given a yes and that’s the best feeling of it,” he confesses. “For me, I love the fact that this unknown kid or somebody who sends me music and says ‘What do you think of this?’ And I’ve tested it and the next day I can say ‘You know what? I’m gonna take this for Under No Illusion’… You hear it in their email. That sounds strange but they come back and they’re like ‘This made my day, my year, this is my dream,’ I get that a lot… and you’re kinda’ making that dream become a reality. We’ve given breaks to a lot of touring artists at the start of their careers.”
While Ki wears many hats in his life as DJ, producer, promoter, label boss, and family man, an air of gratitude permeates it all. His love for his family, friends, associates, and city is proudly expressed. His love for music is unrestricted. He cherishes the opportunity to help make an artist’s dream come true. His experiences have afforded him friendships, memories, and the opportunity to immerse himself in a life and career around music. Most importantly to him is the perspective that holds the fitting comfort of a father when he calmly shares this advice for brand new up-and-comers.
“You should never ever give it up. Just always stay true. Stay true to your sound as well. You’ve got to have a focus on your sound, what your sound sounds like to you. If it’s different, stay different, because fads change, genre’s change. There’s minimal sounds now, and there’s tech-house sounds then, disco is coming back, maybe in two years time garage might come back, UK house has always been great. So stay true to your sound and you’ll not go far off.”
More from Artist Spotlight