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Abbey Road Debuts Interviews [Part 2]: Mount Kimbie

Welcome…TO THE WORLD OF TOMORROW!! I mean…ahem…the second part of our Abbey Road Debuts interview feature. Yesterday we told you a little bit about the premise of the new season of Abbey Road Debuts, and provided you with a transcription of our lovely, insightful chat with previous BOTW, Trophy Wife, what you could look at using your eyes. After the studio had been prepared for Mount Kimbie’s set and they had done a few soundchecks, the lucky audience filtered back in to feast their eyes and ears on the Kimbie’s three song set, which consisted of their latest single ‘Before I Move Off’, the lullaby worthy melodies of ‘Maybes’ and the guitar driven ‘Field’. Kimbie slightly mixed up all of the songs from their recorded versions; with both guitar and live cymbals being played as well as drum samplers, the set occupied an exhilirating middle ground between DJ set and live band performance. After the short but sweet set, we caught up with Dom and Kai for an al fresco chat in the gardens of Abbey Road. Here’s how it went:

PN: You just played a session at Abbey Road: Madness. How are you feeling about it now you’re all done?

Kai: Disrespectful…I HATE The Beatles! [laughs] It’s very much a Ronnie Scotts moment, like when we played there before, I feel like something’s awry in the universe. It’s just not right for us to be playing.

PN: Is it a career highlight?

Dom: Definitely. It was quite daunting. The whole format of it, with the headphones and the people sitting down. Not normal.

Kai: I feel that if my mum sees me on TV she will finally accept that this is a real job.

PN: Is there some animosity there then?

Kai: Ha, no, she’s incredibly supportive. I said I was going to drop out of uni to make music and she was like, “great”.  I think it’s good to have those moments of ‘legitimacy’ though.

PN: After just watching you play, I noticed that between each 3 song set you played [each band played their set twice for filming purposes] you mixed things up a little. How much of your set is improvised?

Kai: We know the songs really well, we’ve been playing them for ages. You can’t solo on a sampler because you have things that are set out already, so there’s that limitation. The one thing that we try to do more and more is create enough space in the whole set so that we make the musical journey different for however we feel, and what kind of crowd we’re playing to. There’s more space for us now than there was 6 months ago. If we were playing a “normal” show we would work out different ways for the songs in the set to flow into one another.

PN: Something I noticed today that has never come to my attention during your sets is the sample from Jonny Greenwood’s ‘There Will Be Blood’ soundtrack. I think that soundtrack’s amazing, but what an unusual sample to use…

Kai: You’re the first person to ever notice that!

Dom: We like to quote the whole ‘bastard in a basket’ bit.

Kai: Have you seen the Youtube There Will Be Blood videogame?

PN: Oh yes…

Kai: Anyway, we were making music down in Dom’s garage, and we decided to watch the film…

Dom: We just thought “What a sample”. We also got the whole soundbite of Daniel Plainview hacking against the wall with a pickaxe. We do something with that as well, normally.

Kai: The opening is so striking, especially musically. We thought we needed a siren in our set at some point, but thought we would use Jonny Greenwood’s sound instead.

PN: So, the There Will Be Blood soundtrack rather than a standard Public Enemy style air raid siren?

Kai: Yeah, we watch films, but we don’t get in trouble with the police.

PN: You’re playing Heaven on April 28th [a 1500 capacity show, probably Kimbie’s biggest to date] do you see this as closing the chapter on ‘Crooks and Lovers’? Do you feel that you’re done with it now and want to move on?

Dom: That is the next step for us, although we did play some pretty big places in America without knowing it [laughs]. It is a big step forward though.

Kai: The truth is that we haven’t written a lot of new material since that, which I do think has been quite good. We have only just back into writing ideas and working on new stuff. I’m not sure about being done with the record as I’m not sure that too many people have really heard it. We can definitely improve the way we play it live, and keep mixing it up anyway. I think there’s still more scope for us to enjoy playing that record, but by the time we play that show we will hopefully have integrated new sounds and a new song or two.

PN: I will ask one questions that contains the term “dubstep”, and then no more, promise! You said in a previous interview that when you were starting out you didn’t mind the “dubstep” tag because it gave your music a sense of time and geography. I always feel like albums are best when they encapsulate a particular place or mood for a band or an artist. Did touring schedules and all of your moving about affect the way your album ended up sounding? Did that influence the recording process much? Most songs from album feels less dark than previous material (‘Taps’ or ‘Vertical’)- reflection of a good time in your lives?

Kai: For us, the first two records felt quite insular because there wasn’t any tension when we were making it. We were both aiming for a certain kind of complete sound. With the album, it was a different process it was a natural peak. That’s not to say it was necessarily the best thing we did out of all those releases, but in terms of “dubstep” and “post-dubstep”, and how our lives changed, it was more natural. When we finished it we both said that we were excited to move on and do something different. In thwat sense I will always look back on it and remember the last few years. Music that our friends are making has gone the same way, and between different genres, gaining a new breadth or something, always progressing and changing.

PN: ‘Crooks and Lovers’ is a great album to travel to; I was listening to it on the tube over here. Another publication referred to ‘[the album's ] repetitive elements [as shifting] the brain’s activity into a state somewhere between waking and dream…called hypnagogia’. Is the preferred avenue for listening to your album on a train or plane or something, rather than in a club? It has an ambient streak running through it all, so did you envisage it being more of a personal and introspective- rather than communal- listening experience?

Kai: I think everything we’ve done is a bit like that. Our records rarely get played in clubs, which I think is due to the tempo…they’re all over the place! When I have had them on big club systems it doesn’t really work, because you work with certain limitations that you put on yourself. For us, we never intended them to be played in clubs. There are a couple of tracks that sound good, but it’s always been about personal listening.

PN: Is that why you change stuff up a lot live, trying to create more of a communal, dancey vibe?

Kai: I’ve always been influenced by stuff that I wouldn’t like to write myself. That’s always been our way. But with any ‘far out’ bits of music that I listen to and try to take influence from, they will always then turn into a pop song. We wouldn’t do 20 minutes of drone on stage, even though I would like to see it live from somewhere else.

PN: Kai, do you think that moving from the countryside of St. Austell to London, especially at the time when dubstep kicking off, affected your sound a lot? Mount Kimbie have always seemed to mix ambience and “space” with a slightly more dance sensibility? Do you think your writing is a product of these two very different geographical and cultural landscapes?

Kai: Massively. The good thing about growing up in Cornwall is that there isn’t really any scene to be lumped in with. If you’re from Cornwall and you’re interested in music then there isn’t such a wide variety to be exposed to. All of the friends that I had who liked music would all trade what they were listening to, but during this time before I moved to London my musical listening was very vague and all over the place. Then when I moved to it made me really focus on what I wanted to do. Also, living in London generally- being over awed by the whole place…I still remember getting off the train at Paddington and stuff- I thought “this is it”.

PN: I remember watching an interview where Dom, you said that your interest in electronic music, which then lead to working on Mount Kimbie material with Kai, came from listening to bands like Yeah Yeah Yeah and TVOTR. It seems unusual to me for a band to be heavily influenced by what are essentially guitar based rock bands who use some electronics, and then produce what is effectively a wholly electronic album.  Do you think this has had an effect on your audience, coming at electronic composition from a slightly different angle?

Dom: I guess so. It’s difficult. I see it as there being 2 sides to our audience. Some of them will be like ‘when is the next club one coming out’, as on the album there ARE tracks like that. Then, we have this different side, ambient or whatever. To me there’s always been two sides to it, and we’ve been lucky enough to have people come and see us who listen to indie music a lot more than they do club music, but are still fans of what we do. I think that it just follows in the trend of what we do, which is to listen to loads of different things.

Kai: It’s probably a product as well of people listening to our music being around our age. So when we were about 13 or 14 the internet became properly usable. We grew up with a more traditional way of music first, buying music and following scenes etc. But then, the same as our audience, as we’ve grown up and reached our formative years, the internet has allowed us to listen to music from anywhere in the world…tiny little bands from wherever, who you will never be able to see live. I think that’s where we’ve come from in terms of how our influences have come about, and it perhaps resonates with how people have come to our music. Our music probably doesn’t have the same kind of shock impact that it might have had 10 years ago.

PN: You mentioned that the internet has allowed people to come across so much more music than probably would have been possible from using the traditional model of selling CDs. Do you think that Mount Kimbie as a project can be linked to democratisation of electronic music, with people obtaining Logic, Reason and Ableton very easily. Do you have any thoughts on how nowadays it’s so easy for someone to pick up their Mac and compose something that could be the next big electronica track?

Kai: It’s now so easy to pick up a laptop and make a beat or make a track, but that’s been the same throughout modern music, I think. There’s always been some invention that has altered music and people think it’s going to be terrible, but it never really works like that. Obviously there are more people in the world making music than ever before, and we all have far more access to it, but I don’t think that equates to more *good* music being made, necessarily. I don’t think it’s correct that it’s easier to make good music. That misses the point about creating art in general. The tools for creating music that are available to most people are obviously different and more far more widespread to how they were, say, 100 years ago, but the only thing that has changed is that there’s more shit music out there now. It’s as difficult as it ever was.

PN: So the gauge of quality hasn’t changed…

Kai: There’s more good music and there’s more terrible music.

PN: In a previous interview [I promised Kai that I would not link to it, though, as he said he was “very drunk” and “said ‘like’ a thousand times”] you guys said: ‘We’re always booked for DJ things, but we play as a live band. People can’t dance because it’s all out of time and shit’. Have you ever has audiences being unresponsive because you don’t use conventional DJ equipment? Was your plan always to have more of a visual spectacle . playing with live instruments and such, instead of just standing behind a laptop?

Dom: I don’t think the word “spectacle” is right! [laughs]

Kai: It’s different for people who were making electronic music when I was a young’un. That whole area hadn’t been explored as much. It’s no blight on him at all, but I remember going to see Four Tet when I was about 17. I travelled for fucking miles because I lived in Cornwall, too. He literally just pressed play and that was it. I don’t know if he was trying to take the piss or something, but he also just walked away at one point, then came back, EQ’d something and left again. I’ve seen that lots of times and I didn’t want people come to see us and experience that way of playing music.

Dom: It’s more fun and engaging for us too.

Kai: I’m sure there are bands that tour a lot who can just pull it off every night, even if they have a massive argument or something, or don’t want to be on tour. With us, you can very easily if we’re in a good mood or if we’re enjoying it. We’re horrendously insecure about the audience.  If you see someone enjoying it then it’s like “we’re the best band in the world”! If you see one person at the back with their arms crossed, then it’s like “shit, what are we doing!?”.

PN: Today must have been a mindfuck then…

Dom: It was difficult. Due to having headphones on and being inside your own head, it felt like there was no atmosphere even though there was. There was no space for the sound to go. We used to play in bad bands when we were younger, so the whole live thing has always been natural We were never taught guitar, but we both played it. My brother used to be in bands before I started making music, and I used to go sand see him play, so it always felt natural.

Kai: Neither of us were DJ’s before.

Dom: If we were, I don’t know what would have gone on. It was like, either learn how to DJ or just play live.

Kai: the reason we started playing live is not because it was different to everybody else or anything, it’s just because it felt more natural. It’s just a representation of who we are and where we come from.

PN: From comments you’ve made about ‘Crooks and Lovers’ it seems that your sound is not created by a one way process. Although it seems common in electronic music, it never seemed that you would sit for ages in front of computer, meticulously chopping up beats or whatever, and then try to emulate that exact sound live. You’ve said that your live stuff influenced what went on record, and vice versa.

Kai: It’s not like we have one keyboard that we can go to which has all of the sounds on the record, as they’re all from different places. It’s hard to find equipment that would suit even 4 or 5 songs. The live stuff influences what we record, and it works both ways.

PN: To finish up, it’s well known that James Blake is deemed the “poster boy” for bringing “underground” electronic music to the mainstream. Obviously he’s a good friend of yours and played with you live, so how do you feel about such claims? As a result of his debut LP being so different to his previous, more danceable releases,  it seems instead that it’s more you guys who have been the ones to take the those “post-dubstep” electronic sounds to the general listening public…

Dom: Thing is, he always said that he separated what eventually was on the album, and what he released on smaller labels. He called the album stuff “folk”.  He describes it as a folk album, but he said he’s still going to do his dance releases. He is not one of those people who would sit there and say “let’s take dubstep to the masses” [laughs].  He’s very respectful of the nature of underground music.

Kai: I think also he’s respectful of what he’s been influenced by in terms of electronic  music. I think that taking anything to anybody was the last thing on his mind- as it should be- because you can’t make a record for anybody. Music doesn’t really mean anything until other people like it, for me. It’s about communication, something that you can’t say in words. James has made a record that incredibly personal. Although I don’t agree with any of it, I understand wherein that critical backlash may have come from. I appreciate and love that record so much because I know him well as a friend, and it’s like having a conversation with James himself. I think it’s just about him, and how he’s an incredibly artist.

Dom: Once you strip back all of the hype about it and that ‘underground producer gone mainstream’ angle, you just see the whole wealth of talent. That’s what we were drawn to. It’s just an album by someone who produces great dance music, but also has an amazing voice.

Kai: If you take the music he’s inspired by those artists might have the same range if they were writing now. If Stevie Wonder was making music now as a young man, it might have the same range as James’ music. You know, John Coltrane got booed off stage, but I think he would be doing something which is as challenging as what James is doing now.

PN: Are you still hoping to collaborate for the next record, or do you think that- at least for a while- you’ve parted ways?

Kai: We’re both so busy. We got to see James over Christmas time. Yeah, that’s nice, but we haven’t ever really written music together. Whenever we do meet up we always just play other people’s music and chat. I love it when people talk about collaborations like that though: “if we just fused Fever Ray with Flying Lotus it would create this super band”; but that’s never how it works. 9 times out of 10, collaborations never work because you’re not speaking in the English language. Even if you’re best friends with somebody, it doesn’t mean at all that you’re likely to be able to work together. We wrote a couple of little bits, and one song that we actually wrote together was played live once and it went down really well.


Kai: The job side of it takes over, but you can’t complain about it. If someone told me that this would be my job at 25…I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities we’ve been given and what we’ve done so far. Maybe when we’re 50 or 60 or something, and no one gives a fuck, maybe then we’ll do something!

PN: Thanks very much guys.

Once I had finished my very laid back chat with Dom and Kai (Kai maintained that he was “very chatty [that] evening”) and a few more beers had been imbibed at the Abbey Road bar, the band, along with a few music industry types all headed to the nearest pub. After roaming through the Maida Vale darkness, we soon found a public house radiating beauty like a flaming beacon atop a hill. Conversation soon turned to a number of topics, including aggressive hip hop, large dogs and the joys of charity shop buying. After being coerced into drinking a shot of whiskey with Dom, it really was impossible to feel that the whole day had turned out as anything other than brilliant. Mount Kimbie…what lovely lads.

-Tim Robins

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