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Kettama on his first big DJ set: ‘Within 10 minutes the whole place filled up. My jaw dropped’

What’s Next For?: The producer returns to his home city for a colossal show in the Big Top at Galway International Arts Festival

The Galway DJ and producer Kettama

Next month the Galway DJ and producer Kettama returns to his home city for a colossal show in the Big Top at Galway International Arts Festival. Kettama’s rise, like his brand of pumping electronic music, has been fast. When, about six years ago, the DJ Mall Grab began playing Kattama’s track B O D Y, things got even faster.

The track managed to capture Kettama’s spirit, equal parts nostalgic desire and modern franticness. Somehow, he manages to conjure a sound that evokes, simultaneously, the feeling of travelling to, arriving at and dripping in sweat from a rave. Kettama’s tunes have a self-propulsive quality, as though the competing beats and samples are urging each other on. This is hectic house music for the masses.

Kettama established G-Town Records with his friend Cóilí Collins, otherwise known as Shampain. He has released music with electronic-music legends Underworld, played under the banner of prestigious brands such as Boiler Room and Rinse FM, and bagged a coveted BBC Essential Mix. His touring schedule has also taken off. September 2023 alone saw him play in Chicago, Toronto, San Diego, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Portland, Washington, DC, Brooklyn, Berlin, Ibiza and Manchester’s Warehouse Project.

Kettama’s sets have a tendency to go in hard. Yet in a DJ era of breakneck speed – marking yet another generational divide in dance music – Kettama’s style is textured. Within his tune selection, and the music he makes himself, it’s often the “jack” that comes through – that of the loaded energy of the original 1980s Chicago house music. He’s fond of a handbrake turn, a face-melting moment, and a level of impact that demands the bodies on a dance floor get involved or go home. But within this boisterousness there’s also soul, a clear attraction to melody, a love for the past that skirts around cliche or embraces the familiar unapologetically, and a sense of risk.


It might be a surprise, then, that he’s pretty sure the first CD he bought “was Avril Lavigne”. Kettama was a budding guitarist when he began gravitating towards electronic music, via his brothers’ passion for rap. “I played guitar for four or five years and then stopped doing that once I got a bit older, and I started going out and getting into electronic music,” he says. “My brothers were always into unreleased music online, but it was more US rap stuff. I was always obsessed with CDs they’d make for the car. I’d just rob them, show them to my mates.”

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The first G-Town release came in spring of 2021, a three-track EP by Kettama himself. Releases by Australia’s X Club followed, along with Tommy 2000 releases, followed by more from Kettama, including Samba Soccer 2001, a reconstruction of Eclipse’s Let the Rhythm Move You, with a beat as hard as bricks. In 2021 G-Town released a compilation featuring Tommy Holohan, SertOne, Prozak, Newdad, Turnstiles and Gaptoof.

“My style is a bit more raw. I started off making harder stuff, I guess. A bit stabby. A bit different. Sometimes I’m just throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. I was just a young lad from Ireland making random music. I’m not so narcissistic to say that kind of music wasn’t being made, but whatever it was, something clicked.” (A stab is an isolated sample or original sound, often in the form of processed strings, synths or horns, used as a form of punctuation that straddles both melody and percussion.)

It was when he got the call to play Life Festival, in Co Westmeath, that things began to take shape. “Sunday came along, and I went to the stage half an hour early,” he recalls. “There wasn’t that many people there. Within 10 minutes of my set starting the whole place filled up. My jaw dropped. The minute I started playing music the place erupted. It felt like, ‘Okay, this is a surprise, but it’s mad cool, so I should probably give this thing a crack.’ It felt real.”

Back in Galway, Kettama and Shampain set about putting the city on the map for a new generation of clubbers. “We used to say, ‘Are you going out G-Town?’ when you’re 15, getting a can or whatever. But it was ironic. ‘G-Town’? Will ya stop, like? But it just stuck.” Shampain suggested that’s what they call their record label. “I have to give props to Cóilí,” Kettama says. “I’m after getting [G-Town] tattooed on my hand, so it must mean something. It’s nice to have people saying it when I’m going around doing gigs and stuff – ‘G-Town massive!’ It’s pretty cool.”

Embracing regionalism is increasingly common in contemporary Irish music. “It’s a beautiful thing about the scene in Ireland,” Kettama says, “Everyone is taking control of being proud of where they’re from, knowing that it’s a gift and not a disadvantage ... You might not have the best clubs, you might not have this or that, but it is where you’re from. I see it as a good thing. Limitations breed creativity.”

Kettama’s position in the Galway and Irish scene was solidified by a show at the Big Top in the city as part of the 2023 Galway International Arts Festival. Just a few years earlier he and his friends’ audience experience of the marquee involved sitting on the opposite side of the Corrib, drinking cans and listening to the muffled sounds of distant music. “I just didn’t even think it could be on the cards,” he says of performing in the tent. When it happened it was “easily one of the best days of my life”.

At the Big Top next month, Kettama will be joined by DJ Heartstring and Pretty Girl. He is, as ever, looking forward to the party. “Given any chance, people in Galway will take it,” he says of the opportunity to cut loose. “It’s in the blood. It’s in the ethos. Everyone is just keen. It’s a party city. Any chance for a good time. When you have clubs in Galway, they just give people a chance for new sounds, new opportunities, a chance to enjoy new music, try new things, to DJ. Galway is a music city.”

Kettama is at the Heineken Big Top, as part of Galway International Arts Festival, on Thursday, July 25th