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We get to grips with ambient extraordinaires Mount Kimbie
words Fabrice Bourgelles / photography Fabrice Bourgelles
British duo Mount Kimbie are a little tricky to define. We probably shouldn’t try, but here goes: it’s sort of ambient electronic music, drawing on anything from hip-hop in the best J Dilla fashion (without overdoing it), post-dubstep, and many other influences like garage. Beatnik caught up with one half of the duo, Dominic Maker, to talk about remixes, their new album and what sets them apart from other beat scene producers.Andreya Triana - A Town Called Obsolete (Mount Kimbie remix)
Waiting in the venue where Mount Kimbie were about to play the Brighton show of their tour, shouldn’t really have felt like so much of a homecoming, even if one half of the duo is originally from around the corner.
But considering the musical and physical distance the duo have covered since releasing two EP’s — Maybes and Sketch on Glass — on Hotflush Recordings last year, it seems logical that the gig would have a special significance to Kai Campos and Dominic Maker.
With remixes for some of the most coveted acts of the year, appearances on Gilles Peterson’s BBC Radio One show, as well as features across the board of music blogs, podcasts and magazines, Mount Kimbie have seemingly jumped in at the deep end and come out smilling thanks to their humble and forward-thinking approach to their music. Their sound has been readily embraced by a ever-burgeoning scene of beatmakers and music-lovers, all with ideas of what electronic music can sound like.
As we got settled backstage, I opened up the local lifestyle magazine and sure enough, there they were, heading the page and listed as one of the shows not to miss that month. It was then, seeing the smile on the local’s face, that I couldn’t help but feel that maybe the night did indeed have something special to it.
So how did Mount Kimbie arrive at their special night?
“It started off when we were living in the same halls at university in London, we got to meet through a mutual friend, and eventually got to chatting about music, and found out we had similar tastes and started going to a lot of dubstep nights together,” explains Dominic ahead of their gig.
“We were already both into hip-hop, but hearing dubstep really felt different, plus there was something exciting about being part of something really fresh and interesting. From that, we eventually got together and decided to make music.
“None of us were classically trained in any way, Kai had been producing music for a couple of years and I was still very limited on how to make music on computers. I was initially up for singing over Kai’s work but eventually I got my own setup, and we just started to pull our different skills together to try and make dubstep. It actually ended up not working out at all, really, just terrible stuff. So we thought, let’s get more honest about what we do and this sound came out of that really…
“All of a sudden we started getting some interest from people, it was really weird at the time as we didn’t have time to gage what was actually going. Someone asked us for an interview, then a mix and suddenly Paul [Scuba] was like , ‘Right, we wanna release some stuff!’ The actual process from meeting, to making music, to getting stuff out there, was actually really quick, which has worked out fine now, but initially it was difficult to get our head around.
Was the name part of that kind of ‘lightning bolt’ process as well, or was something you had always liked?
“Yeah exactly! We were like ‘Ok!’ we need a name, so we cracked open some tunes and the Nick Drake song ‘Kimbie’ came up and followed by an album by The Microphones called ‘Mount Eirie’ and we thought ‘lets roll with that’. I mean, the name is difficult to find, it can really set the tone, and we’ve been fortunate enough not get sick of ‘Mount Kimbie’ yet….”
Things have certainly come together quickly for Kai and Dom. Now on their first international tour, I was curious to find out what they remembered about where they were, even just a year ago.
“We had literally just started playing live, and it was alongside James Blake. It was one of our very first real gigs and it was very raw and unpolished. It was actually in Norway, in this amazing Church in Oslo and we were all still really really nervous. Its funny thinking back now because at the time we would never have been able to imagine ourselves where we are now.
“I think its partially because we’ve never pressured ourselves into being successful, it really has been about just making the music we want to make as opposed to thinking ‘right, this is also a job, or a business’. Fortunately, through the kind people we had the chance to meet and be involved with, I think we’ve been able to afford that approach and If we could have seen then how things have turned out now, we would have been extremely happy and to be honest am trully grateful for the opportunity we’ve had.”
The guys’ strong yet subtle approach to making their sound remains untampered with even in their prolific work with other artists. Between remixes for the XX and for the rising voice of Andreya Triana, their sound has successfully merged with other artistic talents.
“There’s so many people we would love to work with, but I would say that we are not really into pushing these things to happen, its more like if the right thing comes up then they happen,” Dom says of Mount Kimbie’s remix work. “And even then, in terms of remixes, it sometimes doesn’t feel like we even should try and work with certain artists just because we often get tracks we absolutely adore, so much so, that that we just wouldn’t want to touch them. For example there’s this thing up in Manchester called Wu Lyf, this sort of small collective or community project, which would really be a dream to work with, but again, the reason I think we like them so much is partially is because they are so untouched and un-phased by anything else out there at the moment. That having been said Micachu would be great to work with. We are big fans of Micachu!”
Apart from the remixing and the first few EP’s, it was the duo’s debut album Crooks & Lovers, released in the spring of 2010, that really put them on the map. Like the EP’s, Crooks & Lovers was released on Hotflush and given welcome from critics and fans.
How did you choose the title Crooks & Lovers for your debut album?
“The name of the album is kind of Kai’s creation. He had been listening to a podcast that was a kind of collage of poetry about London from various different people with different sound bytes from streets scenes and situations. There was this episode which was about cab drivers and one of the cabbies said something like, ‘Picking up, lover to lover and crook to crook,’ and it seemed to encapsulate a lot of what living in London was about for us. So many people have different perceptions of London but this definitely had to be something quite personal. I think the ideas behind the characters are quite ambivalent, there’s a contrast implied yet the figures aren’t mutually exclusive which really leaves an open end to the title which works for us and for particularly for the music.”
With the idea behind the title out of the way, what about the album cover?
“We worked with a great guy called Tyrone Lebon who works with film and still imagery. We approached him and asked if he wanted to get involved in a ‘project’ with us. He then basically went off on his own round south London taking pictures. He came back to us with these blown up reels and some of the tuff in there was exactly what we wanted, notably that shot of the girl with lovely big behind in a tracksuit which ended up as the cover. I mean it’s big, it’s red and its catching, and we wanted something that caught the eye and something that had something that kept with the theme of London and the area we spent a lot of time in.”
One of the reasons for the flourishing beat scene is the revelation of producers coming out of the confines of their home studios and performing their music on stage. We asked Dom what he felt had been the catalyst in this transition from bedroom king to the clubs.
“I wish I could still see it from a perspective of a punter, but I think that along with the feeling of wanting to be part of something came the relative ease and possibility of actually being able to do it with the technology we have now.
“I mean, there’s that and the fact that with the break down of the boundaries in terms of style and genre, people have probably felt more free to just create and not just limit themselves to just one type of music. Its not just on a local level either, people from different countries are engaging their own music into their sounds and there is this real sense of people wanting to make their own little community out there.
“In fact, we were just in the States and I was surprised to see the amount of effort people put in to get shows going, and bringing shows to smaller towns around the country and people seem really receptive to it.”
New music software is integral to most new producers — any stage will have laptops left and right. Mount Kimbie, however, are keen give a live performance that’s not solely sprung out of technology. Computers, for instance, are nowhere in sight at their shows.
“We try to balance out the acoustic part of our live sets with live instrumentation and live drums. But we wouldn’t want to give the impression that everything we do is live. I mean we have the sequencers and hardware and live loop functions that we use which we feel still helps us retain an sort of organic quality to the sound. We really wanted to keep that balance, and not fall into a situation where were suddenly mainly playing jazz clubs, or feel the need to just get a female vocalist in and that would be it.
“We wanted to create something that is essentially based in dance music but that still holds something exciting and fresh, so laptops are on the floor, out of the way, only checked for volume level and the rest comes from the hardware and instruments you can see. The sound is as important as seeing the action. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve heard great sets done in that way, but were always left wanting to see more.”
——Mount Kimbie: Carbonated