Swimming in the Subconscious: Kai Campos talks about Mount Kimbie’s ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’, the concept of musical influence and the rise of EDM-centric YouTube channels.
South London’s sky is bulging and bleak when I sit down to talk to 1/2 Kimbie-member Kai Campos. It’s been two years since their critically acclaimed, 2010 album ‘Crookes & Lovers’ hurtled into the dubstep-driven resurgence of Britain’s bass scene, spinning the characteristic, heavy reverb and fragmented samples back in the faces of forefathers Zed Bias, Skream and Benga with their own progressive adaption. Kimbie’s emergence fell perfectly at a time in which the near, dead-end crash of an evolving electronic scene was screaming over Doctor P’s ‘Sweet Shop’ (2010) for a subtler and more sonically varied take on what was soon to be umbrella-termed as ‘brostep’. For original pioneers of the genre, a filter-effect of influence into the ‘works’ of Flo Rida (note: ‘Good Feeling’, 2011) has kind of killed off the initial ‘this shit’s cool’ buzz and drawn attention to its inherently repetitive form. As Kai is pertinently aware, “a lot has changed in two years”, and the electronic scene has progressed through the power and will of ever-developing technologies.
After 24 months of devoting themselves to performing live, Kai and Dom finally got back in the studio at the end of last year, working on their second, May-scheduled album release ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’; a collection of songs that not only demonstrates their acquired musical maturity but a more refined and practiced instrumental approach to production. If music students look back at the 21st century and have to identify an artist defining the ‘musical avant-garde’, ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’ would make Kimbie a prime example. Intermittently deploying grungy guitar tones, Steve Reich’s 1972 ‘Clapping Music’, schizophrenic rap bars, calamitous brass sounds, asiatic synths and an always and ever-building groove, it is a cross-cultural, universal sound that speaks out through all the most beautifully basic elements. They don’t like the “reductiveness” of the label ‘post-dubstep’ and the controversial d-word couldn’t seem less appropriate, but the reactionary and collective nature of their enterprise makes it seem ‘post-something’ at least.
We get talking and Kai speaks of getting back into the studio in the same way that a bear would going into hibernation. “Completely giving up doing everything” that they’d been doing on tour was like changing their way of life, even stepping down. He doesn’t play the role of God-gifted virtuoso but admits the recording of the album was far from easy-breezing: “I mean we literally hadn’t tried to make a song or anything in about two years, so, we were kind of starting again effectively, completely afresh, back in the studio. I think it’s something you have to keep doing and so in two years that process was a challenge”. But worth it?, I ask; “It was a good thing and a bad thing in the end I guess. But grappling with the whole creative process is a big part of what it’s about”.
Kai and Dom became pals studying at Southbank university, and were inspired by going to nights at FWD during 2008. Making their own, self-admittedly, ‘bad dubstep’ led them to finding their own sense of creative identity. In 2009, their debut EP ‘Maybes’ came out on Hotflush recordings to warm reception. As I muse on whether brewing the same material live for two years might have stagnated or at least changed their creative output, Kai gets talking about their developed work dynamic: “For me the whole process changed quite a lot in the time between this album and the last. This time, we went in for it and knew what we wanted to get out of it. When we first started making music, we never really knew what we wanted the form of an album to be like. We spent a lot of time toying with ideas and trying to get excited about the music, even though it wasn’t always easy. And it’s frustrating, you know? It’s not a good feeling to spend months working and not feeling like you’ve got anything out of it.”
So, it was easier this time, I ask, with a better sense of artistic clarity? “Umm”, he pauses tentatively. “Not exactly. Creative frustration is part of the whole process because you feel extremities within yourself. And that’s a good place to be sometimes. I think we’d learnt not to agonise over so much since out first record and let go a bit but it still took a while to find stuff we felt excited about”.
As he says this, I can’t tell whether he’s being deliberately modest or just a modern day, artistic Sisyphus; indefatigably striving to set the stone higher but forever, fatefully knocked down and disappointed. But he gets on to talking about “Break Well” and seems at last a little more self-gratifying: “Myself and Dom both got asked which track was our favourite yesterday and independently said ‘Break Well’”.
When I first heard the enticingly labelled number, I thought it was pure, unadulterated satire. The listener waits for three, entirely tantalising minutes for the title’s promised ‘break’, as the song teases and restrains, mocking the club-centric house tracks of today that’ll drop fives times in three minutes and at thirty second intervals. You know, the shameless crowd-pleasers. “Break Well” rejects stricture to constant tempos, making it both hard to mix and an unusable source within the recyclable electronic community of Dj-cum-producers. Is it a statement track, I hesitantly ask? “Yeah I guess” Kai says as though shrugging “The initial reaction to it was that it could be a first track on the album. It feels like it’s setting something out. At the same time I felt like it was a bit too much of a question to be the first track in the end. You needed some stuff in front of it for the context to sit right. But I don’t think me or Dom are particularly concerned about making mixable songs.”
I talk about hearing “Made to Stray” for the first time and how I thought it prophesised a progression further into dance-centric environments, only for the rest of the album to prove otherwise. But Kai is sure the release of this song first was more of an artistic choice than an act trying to reflect and feel relevant to the current scene: “The music you record is probably less direct than that. You probably can’t separate what’s going on now in terms of us and house tracks we’ve been exposed to. You know, it seeps through the walls. And that’s the kind of environment when you find what you really want to do.”
I suppose that no one of the tracks, each containing their own individual sense of place, mood and positioning, would do justice in representing the variety of the whole record. Kai gets excited as I say so, claiming the album is “meant to do exactly what” I “just said”. In naming the album, they realised how hard it was to summatively represent; “So the whole album is like five, separate words that don’t necessarily come together to form perfect English, but create a series of images”. Is there a mayonnaise, an all-important sandwich glue holding together these awkwardly varied though flavour-full elements? Kai says that it’s lack of cohesion, the fractious and disjointed tracks, that maintain the continuity. They picked the words ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’ because they “grasped each of these fractured sounds”.
Beyond doubt, he seems to sum up the feel of the album aptly; as King Krule’s voice is overlaid and echoed on one of his three feature tracks “Took Your Time”, the English undergrad inside me is trying to stretch a connection to modern, urban alienation. Yet Kai assures me that interpretation is something both he and Dom aspire to evoke in their listeners: “I think if you’re doing something interesting, people will be able to look at it and find something that they relate it to. We try and keep everything that we do open to interpretation, we don’t want to lead people to a certain meaning. I think that’s one of the beautiful things about electronic music, it can be a very personal thing to people, it doesn’t limit itself to one strict idea”.
I asked how the direction of it all changed with regards to King Krule. “The echoey vocals in “Took Your Time” was actually Archie’s [/King Krule’s] idea” he happily admits “We were in the studio and he said can I try it like this? So we did a whole other take with that underneath. It’s interesting that you picked that out”. I assure him I don’t think it’s a rare moment of beauty within the album. He laughs, then continues: “At the beginning we didn’t want anyone else to feature in it, it seemed like a really boring move to have a second electronic album with six guests featuring on it. But Archie’s someone that we were excited about as an artist. In the end, we felt like he was really a part of those songs. I just felt like stylistically and compositionally it worked with him”.
In true sicko-fan style, I tell him I’ve watched him on YouTube in the H∆SHTAG$ series episode on ‘Post-Dubstep’, smirking with Dom about images of aspiring page three girls spread across electronic blogs on the cyberspace. He sighs helplessly. Then, with feeling, says he just can’t stand “people [who] talk about channels in the same way that people used to talk about musicians.” He reflects on such individuals, those who can be heard speaking of their “favouuuurite channel” and says it’s a trend that neither him or Dom would “want to be associated with”. People should “plow their own paths” and “put more of themselves” forward instead of lumping other music together and reducing the individuality of meaning. Luckily for him, they’re about to be too big to need to think about web promo anyway.By Jonjo Lowe