Photo by Rosa Maria Koolhoven
What’s left to say about David Kennedy? After years spent releasing forward-thinking and consistently genre-defying music, 2010 was the year where his name never seemed to leave the lips of critics and consumers alike. His first years of releasing saw him push dubstep out of its comfort zone and catch the attention of everyone from comrades like Appleblim and wild cards such as Ricardo Villalobos. But when his sound-defining 2×12″ on Hessle Audio arrived in early 2010 he opened the flood gates and let a torrent of tracks like “Work Them,” “Glut” and “Blanked” conquer the world of bass music — a world whose horizons have broadened in no small part due to Kennedy’s work. Helping found and operate the perpetually on-form Hessle Audio with Ben UFO and Pangaea, Kennedy has also played a part in launching the careers of now household names, from Untold to future-pop-star James Blake. All this, and he still finds time to make popular house tracks with Appleblim and Midland, launch a vinyl-only party Acetate, and tour as an ace DJ. Late March will see the release of his next major step, a mix for the lauded Fabriclive mix series, and LWE caught up with Kennedy to chat about the CD, vinyl in general, and exactly how much free time he has left.
I would like to first talk about Acetate. First off, what was the impetus for it?
David Kennedy: It was originally just gonna be one party with myself and Floating Points, just as a one-off thing. But then I decided I might as well do a few. I started it just because it would be quite fun and just wanted to play some records, basically. It wasn’t really a statement or anything like that; just wanted to have me and my friends playing our favorite tunes.
You seem to really enjoy that you can use your rotary mixer and isolator at Acetate. Do you find it difficult to play on satisfactory equipment or obtain good enough sound quality when you’re playing at various clubs?
Not really. The rotary mixer just is a different style of mixing. Especially for more house-y stuff, the rotary mixer was designed for it, and it’s what they used back in the day. The sound quality is a lot better, especially if you’re playing vinyl through them because their preamps are of really high quality. The sound is one of the reasons for doing the night, just because it sounds amazing. Especially down in the club, where it’s got a really nice Funktion One sound system. The combination of the two just sounds wicked. It’s not very harsh; it sounds very warm. When I’m DJing otherwise it’s not too much of an issue, other than the fact that I don’t really like Pioneer mixers. It’s not that I’m playing on unsatisfactory equipment or anything; more just that I have this mixer and I would like to use it. I use Serato when I DJ out, and yeah, I’ve had quite a few problems with turntables in the past couple of years. I bring my own needles, but the leads and plugs might not be working very well because they’ve been neglected. So I’ve had some experiences like that, but I’m not playing vinyl out, so it’s not a massive deal for me.
You and many of your Acetate cohorts grew up in the digital age yet instituted a vinyl-only night. What draws you to vinyl?
I’ve been buying it since I was 12 or 13, so quite a long time. I just like its physicality and its presence. I like how if you have a lot of vinyl it takes up a load of space in your room. I like its inconveniences, if that makes sense. I just like the idea of music being pressed physically onto this big disc, and then you somehow put a needle on it and it comes out through your speakers. I just really enjoy that process. If you watch how it’s made and things like that it’s just a miracle that you have this sound file that gets pressed onto this disc. Yeah, I just really love the process and obviously it sounds great. It’s a quality control thing as well, because it costs a lot of money to press stuff on vinyl. Obviously there’s still loads of crap stuff that gets released, but you’ve got to really believe in it to put it out, basically.
There shouldn’t be an opposing thing of vinyl versus digital. They both have their perks, and some stuff doesn’t sound great on vinyl, while some stuff doesn’t sound great on CD. I just don’t think it should be a big, opposing “either-or” thing; you can just use both.
Similarly, your recent music partially brings to mind old-school electro and Chicago house; musics that were almost odes to machines such as the 707, 808, etc. Do you see some of your recent output in that way? Have you been using any old equipment to make it?
No, I’m not really using any hardware. A lot of my music is just about the rhythm, and if I get some sort of rhythm I’m happy with going and letting that be the foundation of a track, which is what some of the recent stuff has been about. My stuff has always been pretty beat-oriented. I don’t use any 808s or anything, just samples, but it’s all how you treat them and process them I guess. It’s quite interesting taking samples of something and trying to make it sound old again. It’s an interesting process of… “retro-fication” or whatever.
A lot of your work in 2010 has been related to juke. How did you first hear juke, what do you like about it, and why have you integrated it into your music?
I don’t like all of juke. I like some of it. Addison Groove was sort of banging on about it to me and it took be awhile to get convinced. I sort of like the more… weird stuff, the more beat-y stuff. I don’t see my stuff as being that influenced by it, in terms of me just trying to make a juke track. It’s quite hard for me to describe, I guess, it being my own music, but I like some juke and I have my own preferences. Some of it has definitely been interesting; to see how at fast speeds you can create quite a crazy groove. Especially it being designed to be danced to; it’s quite refreshing in a way. Like in the juke dances it’s the dancing that takes priority over the music, so the music is there just as a compliment, almost.
Do you see much of a link between your music and juke?
Well it depends on what you class as juke. It seems like now if you just put in some 808s and a sort-of chopped up vocal or whatever then all of a sudden it becomes juke. Juke-influenced or whatever, when those things have been used a lot more previously. It’s just a lot more because juke is in fashion at the moment. I listen to some juke, but it’s not like I’m trying to make it.
Some of your music has also been heavily influenced by jungle and drum and bass (thinking about the Amen break of “Don’t Change For Me”). How do some of these formative influences affect what you put out?
Well I like jungle and drum and bass but I don’t know a whole lot about it. So I guess the more recent sort of jungle-y stuff was just playing with breaks and trying to put some breaks in my tunes for a change, because I had never really used them before. My EP had quite a lot of breaks running through it, so it was a bit of a phase. I’m not a jungle expert; I was pretty young when it existed, so I’m not gonna pretend to be like some old-school junglist.
Photo by Rosa Maria Koolhoven
Your collaborations with Appleblim and Midland have been resolutely house-focused. Is this by design?
I dunno, really. I’m not really sure why all those collabs have been house basically. The first one I did with Appleblim we decided to work with those tempos and just see what happened, and “Sous le Sable” was what came out of it. With Midland, he’s more into his house stuff so we thought we would work at that tempo. It’s not really a conscious thing, just what we felt like doing at the time we were writing the tunes.
How do you approach the collaboration process?
Well with both of those they’ve been done at… well, I’ll say “studio,” but on my computer. We just work together really well, especially with Appleblim. He’s got those ideas that you might not think would work at first, but then you put them in, and it’s something I never would have thought of but ends up sounding wicked. So yeah, it’s just about finding someone who has a bit of a different approach. Sometimes you can collaborate with someone and it’s like you’re in competition; each trying to make your own tune. But with Appleblim and Midland it just worked out really nicely in terms of our ideas working together rather than being in competition.
Is there anyone else you would like to work with in the future?
Pretty much just them. I made a tune with Jamie Woon, but that’s about it to be honest. I don’t do a whole lot of collaborations.
Both yourself and Hessle Audio seems to be putting out more records at more house-friendly tempos, such as “Work Them” and the incredible Hessle 15 by Elgato. Is this more of a move away from 140 BPM, or just a desire to allow your records to be played by more people?
Well none of my friends are making anything at 140 anymore. It hasn’t been that way for a good year; everything has slowed down a bit and there’s not much stuff being made at 140 that I would still play, apart from the odd tune here and there. So yeah, it’s just a general slow down really; people are just writing at slower tempos. Once you start playing a bit slower you want to play stuff that’s in that tempo, so maybe you make your tunes slower. You can also do different things at slower tempos; there’s only so much you can do at 140, only so many rhythms. Slowing down gives you a bit more room.
Are there any other sounds that you would like to explore but haven’t gotten to yet?
Not really, to be honest. I’ve been making music for a lot longer than people have heard, in terms of putting stuff out there. So I’ve made most styles of music at some stage. I make music at quite a lot of different tempos all the time, so I guess I just make lots of different genres.
It seems that Hessle Audio likes to get tracks out quickly; issuing records that are fresh and haven’t been around on dubplates for awhile. Is it important to you guys to get things out quickly?
No, we just don’t tell people we’re releasing a record until about a month before it’s definitely coming out. A lot of the tunes have been around for awhile, but generally the people who release on the label don’t give them out very much, so they stay pretty fresh. The way we release is we just don’t jump the gun and say something is gonna come out and then it doesn’t. We’ve had problems in the past with delays, so if there are test pressing problems and things take a lot longer than you thought and you’ve already announced that it’s coming out people tend to wonder where it’s going. So it’s best to keep an element of mystery there, which is nice.
You put out the Grab Somebody/Mir white label in a year where your production rate seemed to go through the roof, leaving you with loads of dubs. Did you like this way of getting the tunes out there, and is it something you’ll do in the future?
No, it was just a bit of an exceptional situation where I wanted to get the tunes out there. Plus there’s a really obvious sample in one of them. [laughs]
What pushes you to keep sitting back down and making tunes?
I think I just work quite quickly. A lot of the stuff released in 2010 was made maybe a year back, so it might have the impression that I work very quickly. I’m always writing a lot of music and when I’m into something I try to finish it just to get the vibe across. Some tunes take months to finish, some you do in a few days. It really depends. I do write a lot, since music is all I do now.
You recently finished university; is your plan just to work on music?
Yeah I finished in June , so, well, I haven’t had a whole lot of free time since then. Since finishing studying I’ve been DJing a lot more in fact, so I’ve kind of had the same amount of free time that I did when I was at uni. I keep quite organized though, so I can keep things balanced.
What is the idea behind the Pearson Sound moniker? What is the difference between your monikers?
There isn’t a difference, sonically or anything. I just first started it to see how people would react if they didn’t know the name or who was behind it. Now it’s the name I’m working behind all the time. I like how when you go on Discogs you see a particular producer worked under a couple different names; I kind of like that mystery of working under multiple aliases.