Working apart together to carve a new niche in the indie punk sphere, Amsterdam's Klittens are doing it for themselves
A portmanteau of ‘clit’ and ‘kittens’, Amsterdam riot grrl punks The Klittens are hard to ignore. Mixing pop, fuzz, indie rock and more, the DIY, self-taught multi-hyphenate misfits have self-produced and directed their own music videos, opened at Amsterdam Fashion Week, received airplay on BBC Radio 1 and 6 with their new singles, collaborated with Rotterdam’s Graphic Lyceum, and continue to use their music to express both the personal and the political.
A close-knit five-piece, The Klittens are made up of school friends Yaël Dekker (lead vocalist) and Winnie Conradi (guitarist); childhood friends Michelle Geraerts (bassist) and Katja Kahana (guitarist); and drummer Laurie Zantige – who joined the fold later but fits in like the final piece of the puzzle.
On a cold, grey Tuesday morning, we’re joined by Yaël Dekker, who greets us with cheer despite telling us that they and their bandmates are anxious in preparation of their imminent tour. Ahead of the release of The Klitten’s forthcoming EP, Butter, Dekker takes us through the band’s unconventional creative process, choosing setlists 30 minutes before performances, and newfound vulnerability.
You’ve got your new EP, Butter, coming out in March and you just released its second single, ‘Reading Material’. Each of you wrote a different song on the EP, then came together and built it out from there… What were each of your inspirations?
It’s funny that you asked this because we have differing opinions about that. We have very different music tastes but there are things we all love. I remember last week we got compared to Sonic Youth and Delta 5, and our guitarist Winnie [Conradi] agreed that those bands are sort of an inspiration. But I also think we don’t try to adhere to any rules of the directions we want to go in that sense. Also, people compare you with so many things so often. Last week, somebody came up to me and compared us to a band I’ve never heard of in a ‘of course you know that band, or of course you took inspiration from that’ kind of way. It was super funny because no, we’ve never heard of them.
Yeah, your music sounds almost similar certain bands, but it doesn’t feel like you’re trying to sound like them. It sounds very cohesive and unique. You’re all self-taught as well, so was your sound a natural thing that came together?
I think it really helps that we found everything out together. I mean, we were in bands in high school, but this is different. Everything we did by [trial and error]. We took our own pictures. We used to send our tapes in pink envelopes around the world. So, it’s very serious, but it’s also very much a game. And that helps because we’re very attuned to each other.
In terms of inspiration, we do have a general ‘atmosphere’ for each song. For example, on ‘Universal Experience’ we could be corny – all the things you don’t want, or all the invisible rules you make for yourself that may not be cool. Everything could go on ‘Universal Experience’. With Atlas, I know that the Dido was a bit of an inspiration… That song used to be in French as well, but that wasn’t going to work.
Oh, you guys speak French?
No. That’s why it wasn’t going to work. [Laughs]
Going back to Butter, what were the different flavours that each of you wanted to bring to the EP?
I’m glad it all matches but, in a way, it feels like an EP of five separate projects. Each person got to explain the atmosphere they wanted to exhume for their song. And I don’t think we did that in relation to each other. We tried to work on each song separately.
So, what kind of atmosphere were you trying to create?
For me, I tend to be quite heavy-handed, and my writing process is quite slow and concerned. So on ‘Universal Experience’, getting everybody to be happy, with no rules and just having fun – that was something that it brought for me. And as for the rest, I mean, I know for Laurie [Zantige, drummer], that’s kind of the angriest song. I think that was something she specifically wanted to convey, and she didn’t want to put any boundaries on it.
For Winnie, with ‘Reading Material’, it’s a very fragile song even though the melody is not very fragile. So, for her, it was about creating an openness she didn’t bring in before – a vulnerability. I’m really proud of her for getting more personal.
And Katja [Kahana, guitarist], she got to put ‘Atlas’ together herself because she has so many beautiful melodies, but she doesn’t always put herself at the forefront. I’m proud of all of them. It’s funny – it does all feel like they’re our shared songs, don’t get me wrong, but you can also see the presence of the person who laid the foundations of each song.
It’s very collaborative as well.
Yeah, we really try because we always make sure that we keep the writing process interesting and evolving. Maybe we’ll do it totally different next time, but it did teach us a lot.
Do you have the same approach when the band makes music videos?
For the last EP, we divided up the clips. So each of us picked a song and picked the concept for its video. Then the rest of us helped with production, and I’m already so proud of the production value we’ve had for some of them. We have one that’s really high-res, and then our last one was super DIY. But I love videomaking and if we could have a big budget, that would be amazing.
Do you have a concept in mind?
Choreography! Not us trying to do the choreography ourselves but having people who can actually dance. And maybe having one of those steady cameras so that you can do all the movements.
How do The Klittens prepare for a show?
We have different processes; Laurie tends to have a cigarette right before the show. We usually do warmups, and we still make the setlist like 30 minutes before [laughs]. Then the moment we go on stage, we visually check in with each other and smile at each other, but we don’t have a ritual or anything. And then for vocal warmups, I blow into a bottle before the show.
Oh, wow, you choose your setlist 30 minutes before? Is that what you’re planning on doing for the upcoming tour as well?
We do have a standard setlist, but we discuss it right beforehand. And we’re trying to play a set where we’re not too fragile – so a more confident set. Just because we have some songs that are super fragile, so you have to earn those songs.
What’s your favourite gig that The Klittens have ever played?
Two come to mind immediately. The first one was during COVID; we opened Amsterdam Fashion Week. It was in Paradiso, which is a big venue in Amsterdam, and we were playing but we were also part of the show, and the models were dancing in front of the stage. It was amazing; we had these huge wigs and dresses, and it was super absurd because it was so early in the morning. The second one was in Carlisle. It was our first time there and friends of ours organised a spontaneous tour for us. We were in this tiny venue that was also a vintage clothing store. The floors bounced, and the room was really warm.
Do you have a dream venue that you hope to perform at?
No, I don’t per se, but I would like to tour the States. But also, with venues you know, I just like it when the food is good, and the people are nice. And when we have enough monitors. That’s all.
What will a full studio album by The Klittens sound like?
Our lyrics have been expressing a lot of what we feel about the past, and now we’re going to focus more on expressing the present. And I mean, tough times, tough songs, I guess. So, we’ll continue to explore that space. I’m very excited for the album. Usually I have a very slow process and I’m always looking back, but this time I’m super excited to create new work. We need to give it some kind of fruit name or something.
Talking of names, how did you come up with your band name?
Ah, yeah… Myself and Winnie met each other during our school days. We used to hang out after school and we had all these plans for a band: we were going to make stickers and we were fantasizing about the name and the logo, and then The Klittens just sort of came about. Also, I mean, we take everything seriously but we just wanted to see if it was going to happen. And now it’s sort of exploded and it’s my whole life.
So it’s clit and kittens?
Yeah, I don’t really hear the clit part anymore. A Klitten is an actual thing on its own now.
Photo credit: Jade Sastropawiro