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Fresh Kicks 155: Stem

Refuge Worldwide resident Stem whips up a vortex of percussive, experimental club music for the Fresh Kicks mix series, and chats to Niamh O’Connor about her interest in dance genres’ cultural histories and evolutions

“I’m really interested in genres, their in-between states and the historic, social and cultural environments and factors that enable them to develop and new ones to emerge.” This is what turns Stem’s ear when it comes to music. “I get so absorbed in the history of the UK styles that emerged in the ‘90s and ‘00s, it’s hard for me to disconnect them from that context. And it’s a huge part of why I love this music so much.”

Listening to Stem’s radio shows on Refuge Worldwide and NTS, you’re thrown into a vortex of tribal-tinged percussion, polyrhythmic steppers, clattering breaks, warped techno and fast-paced IDM — and that still doesn’t do her justice. “I’ve been reading about dancehall and listening to a lot of those styles too,” she adds. Stem’s curiosity cuts through the airwaves, bouncing through broken beats and bassy chuggers that surpass categorisation, the root of which began in the UK where she is now based.

“Growing up and going to university in London, I was immersed in the styles of that time. There was a lot of exciting music being released, from Hessle Audio, Night Slugs, Mount Kimbie, James Blake etc, that is now the soundtrack to my late teens,” she says. “Looking back on it retrospectively feels weird because it was such a special time for UK music, but at the time you don’t realise it at all. It feels great to know that you were there though.”

Having moved to Berlin in 2015, it was there that Stem started to DJ. “I moved there on my own, only knowing one other person living there who was about to leave, which now honestly feels mad. Looking back I’m like, what were you doing? My friend who I lived with was a DJ and we got decks together.” Unsurprisingly, the city influenced Stem’s trajectory on an artistic and personal level: “It was where I spent a chunk of my formative years, it shaped me as a person, and I met some amazing people.”

The hedonistic style of events on offer only lured her in further. “I loved experiencing it,” she says. “I learnt about collectiveness, stranger intimacy and false utopianism in club spaces, all of which impact on my interactions today.”

Stem returned to London in 2018. “At first I was attracted to Berlin for the lifestyle, but after a few years I became drawn back to London. I missed its variety and breadth.” Leaving behind the spaces she frequented, she knew the London scene would be equally vibrant: “The UK has such a rich, diverse music scene, it’s comforting to know that.”

While some artists prefer curating radio shows over DJing to a crowd, Stem reverberates to the energy that comes with an audience — but she feels at home on Refuge. “Radio has been an amazing way to connect with people through the pandemic,” she says. “It’s nice to hear people’s voices and I’ve got a lot of love for the radio chat rooms.”

After the temporary shutdown of the global club circuit, Stem is itching to get back out DJing: “I’m excited to play gigs again! And I’ve been reflecting a lot over the past year. I’m happy with where I am right now and I’m looking forward to the next year.”

Considering the seismic shifts of 2020, she says she feels the need for a change within the music industry, too. “There’s a lot of toxicity and bad behaviour that gets excused, so I’m constantly navigating that, evaluating my values and interactions.” If her transcending sound and tenacious mixing are anything to go by, Stem is set to flourish regardless. 


Alicia ‘Archangelic Collapse’
ex.sses ‘guts’
Josi Devil ‘Misnakes’
Lithe ‘Yaya’
Sky H1 ‘Night / Fall / Dream’ 
Beneath ‘A Shrill Manner’ 
Kode9 x DJ Fulltono ‘TKO’
object blue ‘(time to) WORK’
S280F ‘/222222222/ف̶̶̷̵̡҈̧́͘͠҈͏͏̷̴̴̷̶҈̨̨̧̨̛҈̛́̀́͢͜҈͟HIS ف̶̶̷̵̡҈̧́͘͠҈͏͏̷̴̴̷̶҈̨̨̧̨̛҈’
Lil Asaf & MFKZT ‘Thabat’
Jennifer Walton ‘Flash On (w/ BFTT)’
Cardi B ‘Bodak Yellow (880116 & S280F Remix)’
Lila Tirando a Violeta & Lighght ‘Ritual For Rusting Metals’
Slikback ‘JENE’
Minor Science ‘Balconies’
STILL ‘Shikorina (Slikback Remix)’
Slacker ‘Active Dreams’
Thoden ‘Huey’
Josi Devil ‘The Devil’s Dance’ 
TSVI ‘Modulatrum’ 
Halber Ball ‘Lift 3’ 
Stereotyp ‘One Name Hittas (feat. Daddy Freddy) (Meesha Remix)’ 
VTSS ‘Woah’ 
Happa ‘15Three’
Loraine James ‘Now’

Want more? Check out DJ Gigola's Fresh Kicks mix and interview here

Niamh O'Connor is a freelance writer and founder of Quarantune, which you can follow on Instagram