AMPRS&ND sat down to chat about her early inspirations, finding her niche in the Bay Area scene, and her upcoming releases in 2024.
Born from the city of endless fog and an eclectic nightlife scene, Kelsey Saunders, better known as AMPRS&ND, has spent close to a decade controlling dance floors across the San Francisco scene. From DJing electro house in 2008 to becoming a resident DJ at the formative weekly EPR raves (RIP), she’s been around long enough to know what she likes. And what she likes, of course, is to make people dance.
Since those early days, AMPRS&ND has become a powerful force within the local house music scene. Throughout the years, she’s played support for major artists like TOKiMONSTA, Oliver Heldens, Deborah De Luca, Shiba San, and Will Clarke, making herself a local must-see. She’s also released tracks on imprints such as Gold Bloc, Farris Wheel, House of Hustle, and San Francisco’s own Admit One.
Her most recent release, “Absolutely Flawless,” is a playful track released with Gold Bloc Records, and she has more in store on Disposable Records and This Ain’t Bristol this year. Looking ahead to the future, we caught up with AMPRS&ND to see what she’s been up to and what she’s got planned for 2024. Listen to her guest mix and read on for the full conversation.
Stream EDMID Guest Mix 407 || AMPRS&ND on SoundCloud:
Hi AMPRS&ND! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. We’re excited to share your story with readers. Let’s start this off by turning back the clock. What influences led you to pursue music production, and how did they inspire you to become the artist you are today?
I dabbled in production for a few years before having the revelation at EDC 2011 that inspired me to take it seriously. Something about seeing a crowd that size moving as one entity was awe-inspiring. The whole drive back from Vegas, I listened to Feed Me’s Big Adventure on loop. Once I got home, I basically locked myself in my room to produce, and I had my first Beatport release later that year. Other big inspirations towards the very beginning were deadmau5, Wolfgang Gartner, Dada Life, and Miles Dyson. Even though the music I make today is more house-oriented, I still have held onto the grit of electro-house sounds.
You’ve been a staple in the Bay Area scene for years now. What was it like breaking into the scene there? Do you feel being in this region of the US helped you out early on?
It feels like a very slow progression rather than “breaking in.” When I first started DJing back in 2008, I played electro house as Non Sequitur. I first really started getting traction as a resident at EPR, a Wednesday night weekly rave rager, and I was there for a few years before moving on to Ruby Skye. Even though I played some memorable nights, I had a hard time finding my niche within the scene here. My sound was too heavy to be trance, too progressive to be electro house, and I didn’t want to join the big room trend. No one in SF was making anything similar to me, so I felt stuck.
I almost quit in 2017, but I decided to give it one last shot. I changed my name to AMPRS&ND and shifted to a “housier” sound, and quickly discovered a completely different side of the scene here. The timing of this change was perfect – Dirtybird was exploding in popularity, and new crews of great, fun people were popping up, like Pizza & Techno and Admit One. The scene had a new sense of community that I hadn’t felt before. This was the first time that the music that I created aligned with what people liked, and this time around, the Bay Area was the place to be.
What’s your take on the current state of the scene in the Bay Area?
I really love what the scene has become here. There’s a general culture of accountability, respect, and collaboration that I love about the Bay Area scene, and it didn’t always used to be this way. I also love how diverse our talent pool is. I’m so glad that I stuck around long enough to see it become what it is.
Your most recent release, “Absolutely Flawless,” keeps a minimal yet fun beat, making it easy to dance to. What was the production process like for that track?
I actually started this track almost two years before it came out. My ultimate vision of the song featured Billy J Money’s voice, so I sent him some inspiration, and we laid down the vocals. It was my first time working with a vocalist, and I didn’t think that my cheap mic would do the trick, so I tapped a friend to help. We ended up having technical difficulties with the high-end equipment, so we ended up just using a Shure SM58. This experience was quite a revelation because I learned that I didn’t need fancy equipment to get a great result.
The original iteration of the song sounded quite different from what it is now, but the sleigh bells were always an element and continue to be one of my favorite parts. I ended up tabling the project for a year or so before pretty much starting over, and when I started again, I had become so much better at using less to get more. I’d also become more comfortable using my own vocals, so I recorded the call-and-response that you hear.
I really wanted it to be a super rave banger, but I had some trouble making it sound like “me.” I changed up the percussion to use sounds that I think have become the main characteristics of my sound, especially that muted “clock” snare. I’ve come to really like how it gives almost a techno feel to non-techno music. Add some tireless perfectionism, and voilà! It’s Absolutely Flawless.
What’s been the biggest struggle you’ve faced so far in your career? Have you been able to overcome it?
I’ve struggled with burnout throughout the years, and there have been some times when it has been nearly unbearable. That time in 2017, right before I changed my name, was the end of a long period of prolonged burnout, and I had another hard time in 2022. It’s tough because taking breaks doesn’t really help; time away from music ends up making me feel worse. I’ve gotten through it by rearranging my every day to minimize stress, but it’s a slow and constant process. Also…remember to have fun. I tried “not going out” to balance my mental health, and it backfired. I love the party. The party heals.
Considering the fact that the scene is very much male-dominated, can you share some words of advice for other women, nonbinary, or femme-identifying people trying to enter the space as a DJ/producer?
I feel like society wants women and femmes to see each other as enemies when really we are so powerful when we band together. Seeking out alliances with other femme DJs can help with bookings, advice, perspectives, and so much more. I’m so lucky to be a part of such a talented and collaborative community of women/femme/NB DJs and producers here in SF, but there are online communities that can offer similar empowerment.
That saying really is true – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. Success is better with friends, and a strong community helps us all. This advice can apply to anyone, but it’s especially important for marginalized members of the scene.
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind with the AMPRS&ND project?
I really hope that I can inspire other women to pursue their musical passions. The scene has become so much more welcoming for women artists in the time that I’ve been around, and I hope that I’ve played a part in that.
I also want to help my peers do cool stuff. I want to be known as someone who takes pride in hooking up fellow artist friends with cool opportunities.
Finally, what can we expect for AMPRS&ND in 2024? Do you have any specific goals you want to achieve this year?
In February, I’m releasing my track “Her” with Disposable Records, a sublabel of EMPIRE, and I’m looking forward to what that new path will bring! I also have a few tracks coming out with This Ain’t Bristol, and I’m looking to sign a few others. I’d love to release on Box of Cats and/or Dirtybird this year. As spring approaches, I’d like to play at some festivals and in other cities.