Kaytranada Is Reaching 100%

Story by Alex Frank
Photography by Alexandra Gavillet

Last fall, Louis Kevin Celestin found himself in an unbreakably terrible mood. As Kaytranada, he had sold out shows all over the world with his joyful house and disco music, but when it came time to finish up his debut album, 99.9%, the 23-year-old producer was exhausted and lashing out at his family, including his younger brother Louis-Philippe, 21, with whom he still shares a basement bedroom in his Montreal childhood home. Kay would sit up all night working on music, sleep into the afternoon, then spend the day generally inconsolable. “My mom would always say, ‘What’s wrong with you?’” he remembers. “I was hella depressed.”

It was the first significant stretch of time Kay had spent at home since he’d started touring three years earlier, in 2012, after his unofficial remix of Janet Jackson’s “If” went viral among SoundCloud’s emerging dance scene. The rework took a song that pretty much everyone on the planet had heard and put it in a contemporary, context-less light, with euphoric percussion and a new spin on Jackson’s vocals that shifted her from foreground to background, so she appeared to whisper seductively at first then shout with command. The song has always been about intense desire, but in Kay’s hands, it practically became desire itself. It was thanks to “If,” and his equally ebullient follow-up remixes of Amerie and Missy Elliott, that, in early 2013, he flew on a plane for the first time since he was a child to play a show in Halifax, and was soon booking shows across Europe.

Tour money was good, so Kay dropped out of high school and began helping to support his family, which had immigrated from Haiti to Montreal in 1993, shortly after he was born. His dad has earned money as a taxi driver and real estate agent, and his mother worked in the healthcare industry; they divorced when Kay was 14, and proceeds from his shows were a big help to everyone. But being on the road didn’t always suit him. “I was touring with Ryan Hemsworth, and I’d see him have so much fun,” Kay remembers. “It was depressing for me. I was lonely.” He asked Louis-Philippe, whom he calls his best friend, to drop out, too, and join him on the road to cheer him up, but it didn’t fix things.

Part of the problem was that nonstop touring was keeping Kay from working on the album he’d long dreamed of making. In 2014, he signed to XL Recordings, the storied London label that’s been home to M.I.A. and Adele. He wanted to be known as an artist, not just a DJ and remixer, and thought that if he could make a statement with his debut, maybe the world would see him that way. But despite the deal, his managers kept insisting he stay on the road, building momentum instead of hunkering down with his songs. In early 2015, he finally told his agents to stop booking shows. “One day I woke up like, ‘I can’t do this,’” Kay says. “I was like, I’m not that dude.” He went back to Montreal to focus on recording, but even then he wasn’t free: should his goal be experimentation, or, as others were pressuring him, to craft radio hits?

At home, his depression only escalated. One day, he got in a fight with his mom and his brother about “stupid shit,” and he ran down to the basement. “I knew what was wrong,” he says. “I knew why I was pissed off out of nowhere.” His older sister, who also lives at home, came down to console him. She found him in tears and started to cry, too. It was then that he told her a truth about himself, the root cause of his turmoil: he was gay. “I just snapped,” he says. “Something inside me was like, ‘Wake the fuck up.’ I felt like there were two people inside me. I was trying to be somebody I was not, and I was frustrated that people didn’t know who I was.”

His sister offered to help him find a psychologist, but he declined. Instead, he focused on coming out to his mom and his brother. In truth, he had sort of already told them. At the age of 16, in a fit of self-assertion, he had admitted to both of them that he was bisexual, but had quickly retreated and never spoke about it again. “It was too many emotions at the same time,” Louis-Philippe remembers. “I was like, ‘Oh that’s good,’ and at the same time, I was like, ‘Oh what does mom think?’ We’re Haitians, and Haitians don’t appreciate gay people at all. I thought maybe it was a phase.” And on the outside it may have looked like one: not long after, Kay ended up involved in a long-term relationship with a woman that ended only last year. Finally, in early winter, he told his brother and mother definitively that he was gay. Though his mother, a Catholic, did bring up Bible verses that condemn homosexuality, Kay says both were supportive and told him that they’d always love him no matter what. “I feel better than I ever have, you know?” he says. “I’ve been sad my whole life, but fuck that. I know I have good things ahead. I don’t know honestly if I’m fully, 100 percent happy, but I’m starting to get there.”

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