Genre Busting DJ’s Kay Illah x Yisel Are On a Mission to Evolve Music in Houston

The State of Houston’s Music Scene

Our great city of Houston is a leader in many fields like space, medicine and energy, but unlike Los Angeles or New York; homegrown arts and entertainment isn’t our strong suit.

Houston’s local music scene particularly struggles to breakout from the patterns set by more entertainment focused markets. This is why we’re generally a few years behind the tip of the entertainment spears in musical tastes and styles. What we are hearing in clubs now is probably what was playing in Miami, Las Vegas, LA, etc… 3 – 5 years ago. Consequently, our creative talent has to leave the city in order to flourish.

Case in point, a producer friend of mine just landed on the Billboard charts at #23, but moved to New York 4 years ago to accomplish this feat. He couldn’t find the right infrastructure or support in Houston to fine-tune and unleash his full potential.

While Swishahouse and Rap-a-Lot have held down the hip-hop side of our music for years, genres outside of hip-hop don’t have the same organized support to build the much needed national attention for local artists.

Our homegrown DJ’s fare even worse as most mainstream club operators in Houston prefer the safety of Top 40, hip hop and mainstream EDM at their venues. Forcing more creative DJ’s to color within the lines to get booked or else be relegated to the underground scene in Houston.

Granted, being part of the underground scene is rightfully a badge of honor, but as a city, we need to do better for our most creative artists. Forcing them to DIY cultural experiences, rather than lifting them on our shoulders is what’s causing our talent to leak into other cities. If given a real opportunity, they could carve out a unique artistic identity for Houston; which we sorley lack.

Enter DJ’s Kay Illah x Yisel

Kay and Yisel are key drivers behind Houston’s underground music scene and have taken it upon themselves to DIY musical events that fill the gaps left wide open by mainstream venues.

Fellow collaborators like Don Rey and Human Simulator of Body Drip, also share the same passion for pushing the boundaries per Houston standards for what’s considered popular music.

Kay started to experiment with music as a DJ in 2014 and shortly after was booked to perform at Houston’s Boondocks a year later. There she honed her craft as the Boondock regulars weren’t simply party boozers, but musical enthusiasts who demanded more refined and eclectic sounds over pop culture hits.

DJing at Boondocks was unforgiving as their regulars would simply clear the dancefloor if they didn’t like what they were hearing. Cutting her teeth at Boodocks gave her the confidence to move to other venues with less demanding expectations, but larger crowds.

Regardless of high or low expectations, she dug into her craft and expanded it beyond her hip hop roots and edged into the Jersey club genre which she picked up from New York DJ’s passing through Houston. She also got into ballroom house and ghetto tech to round out her sound.

Since her beginnings at Boondocks, she’s performed at several venues and underground parties where she’s become somewhat of a Swiss army knife of a DJ, easily transitioning from one genre to another within the same set. This skill has allowed her to gain a loyal following that has enabled her to host DIY events, attracting hundreds of fans.

Yisel who started DJing in 2017 was one of those fans after hearing Kay perform at the Houston Health Museum. Kay’s sound resonated with Yisel in a way that other local DJ’s didn’t and while she was too shy to approach her then, Yisel posted a video of Kay’s performance shortly after.

That led to the two connecting and becoming a pseudo DJ duo. They typically perform together at the same parties and complement each other’s style equally.

Yisel’s musical sound is rooted in house and trap, but has since evolved further into more upbeat music, bordering hardcore.

They both feel Houston is limited by mainstream venues that have a functional product but do not stray too far from the pop culture spectrum of hip hop, EDM and Top 40. They passionately believe there’s a market for more diverse music considering Houston is just about as large as both NY and LA, and from their point of view, there are thousands of Houstonians wanting it.

AfterGlow at Haze Nighclub

You can find both Kay and Yisel performing their brand of music at Haze Nightclub, which is one of the first mainstream venues in collaboration with Houston Cigar Life willing to tap into Houston’s underground scene and bring it to the masses.

AfterGlow is a pop up visual and musical journey featuring UV lights and neon everything, hosted on March 26th. There they will crank out their music on a concert quality sound system to hundreds of Houstonians who have no clue what to expect.

Both DJ’s hope that people will walk away wanting more after realizing life outside of the normcore music they’ve been subjected to at most mainstream Houston party venues.

The ultimate result is to be determined, but as far as DJ Kay Illah and DJ Yisel are concerned, Houston won’t know what they really want until they’ve experienced one of their genre bending sets.