Little White Earbuds Interviews Mount Kimbie

With the markers of just what exactly constitutes dubstep in perpetual motion, Mount Kimbie have been doing their part to blur the lines even further. Since early 2009, their stuttering, crackling productions infused with everything from folky guitar lines, UK garage, R’n’B and ambient have pegged them as ones to keep a close eye on. After two highly collectible EP’s on Hotflush Recordings, they released their debut album, Crooks and Lovers, to critical acclaim in July. LWE sat down with Dominic Maker and Kai Campos to talk about influences, recording the album and the future of Mount Kimbie.

Where did you meet each other?

Kai: At university in South London, in Elephant & Castle. We both had moved up to London for uni. We didn’t really know anyone else at that time so we would go to school together and talk about music.

Where are you originally from?

Dom: I was born in Chichester in West Sussex and currently live in Brighton.

K: And I was born in Cornwall and lived there until I moved to London.

Where does the name Mount Kimbie come from?

D: It’s a combination of Nick Drake’s song “Kimbie” and the album Mount Eerie by the Microphones.

What were you listening to before you met each other and whilst growing up?

D: I listened to a lot of commercial indie stuff. I remember hearing Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm album and thinking that was wicked. Also Arcade Fire and TV On The Radio. I guess that was the stuff that was making me want to make music initially. But I guess I never listened to music that much. There were about six or seven albums that I listened to repeatedly and then maybe I’d hear a song here or there that I liked.

K: I played in bands and was more seduced by hip-hop and electronic music in my formative years. I was really in to Madlib and especially his Quasimoto stuff. Then I got more into ambient stuff like Phillip Jack and contemporary classical stuff like Steve Reich and Phillip Glass and John Adams.

What sort of music was bringing you together?

K: There wasn’t necessarily that much common ground. We were just talking about music in general. Dom made this incredible short film which had Pharoah Monch on it.

D: I was actually studying film and video at university and the project was to make a little five or ten minute video to introduce yourself to the group. At the time I was really into hip hop so I put on that track “Simon Says” with me just sitting there drinking milk.

K: But we talked a bit about TV On The Radio, which we were both into. But pretty soon after that we were both going on Boomkat and hearing people like Bassclef and Loefah and stuff and it was 2006 and we were like what the hell is this?

So was that kind of a result of going to university in South London?

D: Yeah I guess so. I remember hearing dubstep at Bestival and it must have been a good six months before I was in London, but I never followed it up. Where I was from there wasn’t a big resource for getting your hands on new music, but of course there’s so much going on in London and it’s really easy to hear new sounds and go to clubs. So finding out that there was the chance to listen to this sort of stuff regularly was really exciting and that’s how we came together really, just going out and trying to find new music. I remember one of the first things we saw was Bassclef at this old theatre and we thought it would just be this guy DJing, but he had this trombone and it was really inspiring.

Musically had you been doing anything before that?

K: Yeah we’d both been making stuff. I was making electronic music for a long time, so in my room at uni I had my little bedroom set up, so I had a half decent studio and I would show Dom how to use certain things on the computer. From there we just naturally started making stuff together.

Is that original set up basically what you use now?

K: It’s not too far off. I had a PC then, and was running Fruity Loops and had a little mixer, a guitar and some decent monitors. And I think if you have decent monitors then you’re set. I have a few new bits now but it’s essentially the same.

So you play the guitar on the tracks?

K: Yeah, although I’m not sure there is any on the first record, but yeah, pretty much any time there’s guitar I’m playing it.

Were the first two EP’s written around the same time?

K: No, they were written very much around the times they were released, even in the order the tracks run. The first four tracks we finished became the first EP and the next four were the second EP. It kind of seemed very easy at that point.

D: I think the EPs were a year apart.

K: Yeah, it seemed like a much longer time between the records, but it wasn’t, it was quite a productive stage at that point.

But there must have been quite a few things that you’d almost finished or had been working on before Maybes came out.

D: There were some things, but they didn’t feel very serious to us. I remember the first mix we ever did was a for a radio show in Lancaster and we just put in anything that we’d made. It was a terrible mix.

Everything you’ve released has been on Hotflush. Were they the first people you contacted?

K: They were the only ones we heard back from. We sent them some tracks, they liked it and asked us if we wanted to do a record. So everything we said they were happy with and we decided on the track order, the artwork and everything.

D: It was much easier in those days. [laughs]

K: Yeah, I was thinking they’d come back at some point and ask us to change something, but they never did, it was so simple with them.

Is that why you chose to release your album on Hotflush too?

K: Yeah I mean they’ve been really helpful and really open minded and just left us to get on with it I suppose, and hopefully it’s worked for everybody.

Has the album attracted attention from bigger labels?

D: We don’t really know. Our managers soak up all of that stuff so we have no idea. I think when the album came out it was like a big shock wave for us so we’re still recovering from that. We just want to play live and that’s really all we’ve been able to think about since the album came out really.

K: We are looking forward to doing another record but we’ve got a lot of shows to play and a lot of stuff to take and then we can sit down, hopefully the start of next year and think about how we want to do it.

When you first started making music together did you talk about what exactly you wanted your sound to be?

D: We never really had a chat like that, we just naturally progressed into what we’re making now from the original stuff. I think the only conversation we had about our music was that we wanted to make dubstep and we decided we weren’t good at that so we set out to do something a bit more creative.

K: It’s hard to put it into words really and if you could there probably wouldn’t be a point in making the music. So the reason I think it works between us is that we’re both aiming towards the same thing that we can’t quite put into words and there were a couple of moments where things just clicked. On “Taps” from the first record, for example, which is not necessarily the best thing we’ve done, but there was just something about the production that Dom was doing on that, that we both knew that was the sound we were looking for. But we’re always looking to change things too.


Picture by Phil Sharp

I was wondering that, that after two incredibly successful EP’s and now the album, do you feel a pressure that the next thing that you do needs to show a marked difference?

K: Well I think we want to anyway. I mean, we don’t really feel the pressure from other people to reinvent it all over again, but the best kind of feeling that you can get is when you surprise yourself with what you’re doing. When you listen back to something and wonder how the hell you came up with it, that’s the feeling you look for and it does happen every now and then. That’s when you get excited and when you want to do more. I’m sure whatever we do will sound very different, we just don’t know how yet.

How much planning went in to the album?

D: Well, it’s about a year’s work of not much work really. The intense part came about three weeks before we had to hand it in and a good percentage of the album was finished then. We didn’t over-think it though. Well, initially we did but nothing good came of that so we just relaxed and stepped back a bit and relieved ourselves of the pressure you naturally put on yourself in a situation like that; and we started to write things we wanted to go on there and at the start it was just ideas and loops, then a few months later we’d come back and add to them and just keep building up. One of the hardest parts was working out the order of the tracks, because there are so many different sides to the album. If we had thought too much about the concept of the album then the running order would have come easily, but it was good in the way that it made us really have to think about that side of things.

K: You can think about the order of things too much while you’re making the album and maybe think after finishing three songs, well, we need something to take it in a different direction so I’ll write a song like this. That becomes quite troublesome, so I think it’s best to just get in and write the songs and try and figure out the narrative of it afterwards. It was definitely a much harder process than the EPs, though, and I didn’t think it would be, but I just felt very differently about it. But I think it’s very hard within electronic music to make something that is cohesive and feels like it fits together. It’s much easier to just make a bunch of singles. So it was very important to us that it worked as a whole.

Do you agree that bass music in the UK seems to be in a very exciting place right now?

K: Yeah it does and I think that it has quite a bit to do with the Internet and those people who are now making music. Compared to say, the drum & bass scene in the mid-90’s which was a very exciting place to be, but perhaps the people who started making it were all coming from a very similar background. Now the people who are making music that is getting put under the same umbrella are coming from lots of different places and you don’t need to be in a certain place to hear a certain type of music any more. And certainly the breadth of influences that you hear I think is quite exciting too.

Who are some of the producers that you guys get inspired by?

D: We’ve always worked very closely with James Blake and listened to a lot of his stuff. Especially lately, we’re listening to a lot of his unreleased stuff, which has very tough keys and basic percussion, just real songs you know.

K: He’s really seen as one of the most exciting electronic producers around; he’s basically an incarnation of Joni Mitchell deep down. There aren’t too many electronic producers out there who sound like Joni Mitchell and write songs like he does. We listen to a lot of Actress as well. We were talking before about making a cohesive record, well this guy has made two records that just feel like works of art. If I was feeling kind of stuck for ideas I’d just listen to Hazyville from start to end and it would give me plenty to think about.

James Blake often gets talked about like he’s involved with Mount Kimbie. How does he fit in?

K: It’s basically because he has played with us live. We were already friends and when we started doing live shows we asked him to come help out. We thought three people would be good, it would be more fun, plus he’s really good at playing keyboards and he has a MacBook as well. [laughs]

D: To be honest, at the time it was because he had the MacBook and then as soon as he played with us it was because he played amazingly and his voice was incredible. We knew it was going to be good.

K: This was before he’d released any records and our schedule started getting very busy and his was too with school. We started playing Europe a few times a week and he had essays to hand in so we had to go ahead with just the two of us and wanted to figure out some way we could make it work. Now his career has taken off as well, so we’re going to do gigs together in the future because it’s a lot of fun. But when we took it back to the two of us playing we had to approach it in a different way and it was really interesting. We have never recorded anything with him, though there was one track that we have played live that we all did together. So I guess that’s why we always get lumped in together with him.

So we can set the record straight with that then.

K: Yeah, that fucker didn’t write anything. [laughs]

D: I wish they said that about his tunes, that we had a hand in them.

Speaking of singers, I was listening to your remix of Andreya Triana. It seems that a lot of your remix work centres around working with bands and that your style goes very well with vocalists. Has there ever been any thought of using vocalists for your own productions?

K: Yeah we’ve definitely had to think about it. It’s a completely different element that you can bring to music, but with the album it was too soon because it would have been too rushed and we didn’t really want to have an album that had about four or five guest vocalists. Not that we have anything against people who do that. We just wanted it to be a singular vision and if we were going to have a vocalist on it they’d have to be a big part of it rather than just coming to the studio and laying down a couple of tracks.

D: It would to really mean something and feel right.

K: Yeah, we’d want the music to be as much there’s as ours. It’s just about finding the right person really. So it definitely is something to think about for the future.

In terms of remixing your contemporaries, there’s only been the LV/Untold remix. Have you been approached by anyone else?

D: No, just a lot of indie bands.

K: I remember hearing Untold’s track and really loved it. Then I saw him at Fabric about seven months later and he asked if we wanted to remix it. So he said he’d send over the stems and ended up sending about 4GB of stuff through, all these weird animal noises and effects and all sorts. So there’s probably a bit of Untold on the album, too. [laughs]

Any samples you’ve used that you can let us know the secret to?

D: We’ve definitely used a bit of James. Lot’s of him talking.

K: We didn’t use so many for the album, but definitely on the singles. The samples for “Maybes” are a well guarded secret but they are from a copyright free source. “William” is obvious if you’re in to minimalist neo-classical composers and know about a guy in New York called William [Basinski]. For the album there was a night where I was bored with what I was listening to and so I had an evening with techno, like Basic Channel style stuff. Every day I would log on to Last.fm and start with Basic Channel and skip forward ten or fifteen tracks and press record at certain points, and at the end I just had this ridiculous amount of files of about fifteen seconds of stuff. I organized them all by date and called them all things like “1”, “2”, “3” and things like that so I don’t know where half of it came from. But low quality Last.fm streaming, that’s helped make the album.

Many of your peers are also playing around with techno and 4/4 club tracks. Is there another side to you that you want to explore too?

D: We have done some pretty apocalyptic remixes with some sick acapellas.

K: For me, as a teenager, 4/4 was something I really struggled with and got quite angry about but I guess it’s like a lot of things in life, you come back to it later and think, ‘Why was I such an angry little bitch about it?’ There is a certain beauty in the simplicity of it and in the undeniable animalistic side of a 4/4 beat. I’m not sure we’ve done anything in that format that is good enough, but we are definitely influenced by it. A bunch of guys like Ramadanman and Joy Orbison seem to be looking for more subtle and different ways to make their point and I think house and techno is something that rewards you if you give it enough time.

Finally, what can we expect from Mount Kimbie in the next year?

D: A total overkill of live shows and probably not hearing much from us, maybe a few remixes. But then hopefully by next year, something totally fresh and new and something that we’ve enjoyed doing.

K: The plan is to run ourselves into the ground until February, then take six months off to look at the awful people that we’ve become and make a record and edge ever closer to the mainstream to find that elusive fame that we’ve been searching for.

Blaktony  on October 13, 2010 at 3:44 PM

Nice interview from a favorite production group, the LP is great….wait a minute, no one mentioned the girl on the cover. Everyone i’ve shown it (in Detroit) digs that booty.

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