Saturday, September 26, 2009
Exclusive Kowton mix
Download it HERE.
STL - Bird Art (Something)
Andre - Moments in Life (Mahogani Music)
WBeeza - He So Crazy (Third Ear)
Soundstream - "Live" Goes On (Soundstream)
Kowton - Stasis (G mix) (Keysound)
DJ Abstract - Touch (Tempa)
Kowton - Looking At You (unreleased)
Pearson Sound - Wad (Hessle Audio)
Kowton - Countryman (Keysound)
Emvee - Nocturnal (Wireblock)
Kowton - Metronome (LV Remix)(unreleased - Nakedlunch forthcoming?)
Joe - Grimelight (Hessle Audio)
Peverelist - Bluez (unreleased - Punch Drunk forthcoming)
Guido - Beautiful Complication (Punch Drunk forthcoming)
Blackdown: So Kowton, tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you currently based? Where did you used to be based?
Kowton: I’m in Bristol now, I’ve been here a year or so and its working out well. There’s a lot of good things going on here, I’ve probably been to more decent nights this year than in the rest of my adult life. Under_Score, Tape, Crazy Legs, Dubloaded, Focus and SeasonFive have all been putting on forward thinking acts regularly. One of the best things I’ve seen was Bruk’s night where all sorts of quality music went down ‘til 4 in the pitch-black windowless basement of what at street level looked like a dead normal cafe. St Paul’s Carnival was magic too.
K: Before I moved down here I was in the Lake District and you don’t really get much in the way of nights up there, if something good happens its usually because someone’s stepped up and put the time and effort into organizing an outdoor rave or a party in a village hall or whatever. It’s pretty fucking parochial! Most music I’d hear up there would be either sat smoking in cars or playing records round people’s houses. If we wanted proper nights out it was always a question of driving down to Manchester or across to Leeds which was always well worth it but just didn’t happen that often.
B: When you first started sending me tracks, it must have been about 2005. Your take on the dark Youngsta halfstep sound stood out. Can you tell me about the music you were making then?
K: About that time I was living in a box room in Manchester and in retrospect pretty ridiculously depressed over very little, I was going through a stupid amount of skunk and only really going out to go to college or to the pub. When I heard tracks like Loefahs’s “Horror Show” or D1’s “Crack Cocaine” or even melodic bits like Cyrus’ “Indian Stomp” it was just like an echo of my mood, all dark and melancholy and smoked out. I guess making tunes like that gave me a sense of purpose so I put a lot into them, I wish I’d been a tighter producer back then though so maybe I’d have been better at getting my ideas out. It was like a fucking compulsion though – I’d stay up ‘til six or seven every morning, pass out with the computer on, get up at 2 and see if anything I’d done the night before had worked. I wrote a lot of tunes but it was a pretty horribly isolated loop to live in.
B: Where you used to live, I remember you sampling the clanking of boat riggings and singers on the ends of piers, how did these experiements turn out and do you think they had value?
K: I think they turned out ok. There was a track called “the Gift” that I gave away a while back that had some of the recorded vocals in it and it sounded alright, but then it might have sounded just as good with an Beyonce acapella or something. That latest track “Looking at You” has a recording from an indoor market in Bristol that I did in the background and I think it definitely adds something, most probably just helps keep things sounding grounded in the real world.
Probably when I was recording stuff originally it was in some vaguely pretentious “oh I’m recording stuff this will make things good” fashion, rather than being about the value using recordings could add to a tune. I still think its important to source original sounds though, films are amazing for them. Someone has spent months with best gear on the planet just building this artificial world of noise and all you have to do is spend half an hour recording and chopping and those sounds are yours. Its an advantage of the decline in music sales that no ones ever going to chase you up for sampling anymore unless a track goes massive.
B: These days you've, ahem, dropped the bpms and upped the groove, moving to housier realms. Can you tell me about how you got there?
K: Just a slow change in listening habits really. As the number of what I saw as essential dubstep releases started to wane a bit I started buying loads of Berlin and UK techno and a bit of US house after not really buying any 4/4 records for a few years. After a bit I began to try and incorporate various aspects of techno into the music I was making - automating reverbs and delays and fading levels rather than dropping elements straight in and out the mix.
Obviously at the same time as this loads of heads were on the techno/dubstep thing and I’m not too good at working when there’s too many people doing the same thing from the same angle. After a bit I figured rather than making dubstep using techno production styles I’d try and flip it and make techno or house using the same sounds as I would were it a dubstep track, Countryman and a tune called Headaches were the first examples of this.
In some respects having the kick on every ¼ note gives room for the rhythm and the groove to be a little wilder, the kick acts as an anchor for it all and if the tempo’s slower that equals more space to swing the percussion. If you start pushing the kick out of time a bit too then it gives thinks a nice lolloping feel, Theo Parrish plays a lot of shit that just kind of falls along really gracefully.
I want to get more into this cos I find the idea of groove proper interesting, this notion that you can have exactly the same elements in exactly the same order but by moving any of the hits a fraction of a second in either direction you can create a very different feel. It gives so much possibility, it’s like adding another dimension to writing music.
Grievous Angel taught me years ago about capturing grooves so you don’t have too switch the grid off, you just fuck it up. Since then its become a bit of an obsession, sometimes it gets in the way of song writing cos the grid is so stupidly off-kilter that even though the drums sound good its impossible to sit a decent bassline in there and the tune gets lost and I’ll have wasted a day.
B: Your current productions seem to fit in with both house and techno, yet still have that darkness, a dubby edge from dubstep...
K: I think though no matter what I try and make it comes out sounding dark, it’s just a reflection of my personality unfortunately. Hopefully though most of my stuff has a little a bit of light once in a while.. A lot of the stuff I love has that dark/light thing going on: if you’ve got the bass and the drums grinding away beneath then you get the balance with some colour on top. From people like Slam and Two Lone Swordsmen through to classic Dillinja, even Villalobos or Surgeon. Shit where they make you wait for the “good bit” where the tunes really rolling and all in the elements are bouncing of each other.
B: Is this deliberate? Do you strive to have a tension between the elements in your tracks?
K: If there’s tension its just because I try and make sure everything goes together. The bit I enjoy most about writing music is auditioning sounds through the sampler, I’m not a musician so I don’t get off on writing hooks and I’m not that interested techy stuff to be too clinical about mixdowns, that end of things is just very much a case of do what needs doing.
For me it’s just about putting together sounds that compliment each other and trying to give that space I just created some motion, sometimes that’s about switching things, sometimes its about changing the levels or whatever. I use a lot of delays and reverb because that’s how I’ve always done things. In contrast I really like the Pearson Sound tracks for being so sonically dry, they sound sick on a big rig, same with the new Untold bits – I reckon that’s the way a lot of people are going to be headed.
B: How do you feel about UK funky?
K: I don’t know enough about it to be honest. I was slow getting on it and though I know about the big tunes and bought the 12”s but that means nothing really. I dug the Marcus Nasty rinse sets from last year and the Cooly G Fact mix and the bits that you and the Hessle gang play but its dumb to pretend I know too much about it. Roska was good when I saw him Bristol.
B: How do you feel about Berlin/minimal?
K: I’m not as interested as I was in the linear Berghain type tunes or the dub-techno end of things, but the Ancient Methods 12”s have been great and I really love the Anstam tunes, T++ is still a big influence. The bit I’m most interested in though is the kind of slow house Workshop have been putting out because it’s heavy and got a shit load of groove to it. I’ve been buying up the STL 12”s on Something since they’re absolutely brilliant. On a similar tip, I caught Move D twice at Free Rotation, once in front of about 40 people in the café tent on Sunday afternoon and that was a real treat to behold, the shit he plays just seems to make people smile.
The stuff that gets labeled “minimal” I’m generally not into but then I don’t go looking for it and so I’m not that informed. Discussing what exactly “minimal” designates is a bit of a nightmare in itself I find. I’ve seen some dull sterile music this summer that I guess fits that description though – it’s not really minimal in the true sense of the idea though is it? From reading Sherbourne I hear identikit deep-house is all the rage now..
B: Is minimalism ultimately a dead end? Or not... :)
K: Psuedo-minimalism is a dead end for sure, its all too easy to slip into though. I love the Puritanism of the concept of minimalism, though I think it requires some serious concentration to execute with conviction.
Rob Hood, Loefah, Basic Channel all did fucking amazing bodies of work as minimalists and its some of the most emphatic and enveloping electronic music created. Tunes like Artwork’s Basic G too, its incredible and yet less happens in the course of the tune than in the intro to most tunes.
The problem is its just so often the idea is used as cover for lack of ideas of laziness. I think in a club its nice too mix it up too – an hour and a half of Dettmann’s skeletal techno was too monotonous for my tastes though I dig his records as individual works.
B: What or who musically inspires you right now?
K: I’m not really into lists of names but everyone I’ve mentioned so far, generally anyone who’s making involving, grooving and occasionally colourful music. I really like what Guido’s doing with female vocal tracks, and Peverelist’s Bluez is a percy at the moment cos its heavy as fuck and emotive. Geiom is pretty seriously under-rated I think. Mala always. FXHE.
Also good DJ’s who build sets properly are inspiring me massively right now, some people are just next-level and I’ve got a lot of respect for that.
B: What drives your musical direction these days?
K: Listening to new and old music, its literally fucking endless how much there is to go through. I used to have these phases of just shutting myself off from new things in case they were doing what I was trying to do better or something stupid but there really isn’t time for that. Everytime I hear something done in a new way I have to stop the track that’s playing and boot up Cubase. What I end of making generally sounds nothing like the thing that inspired it still.
B: Can you tell me about "Countryman" and "Stasis (g mix)"...
K: Countryman came straight from the film – me and a flat mate had been working through his collection of Reggae influenced films and he was egging me to make a tune from it. There’s a “Babylon” too which is a bit shit, “Rockers” never made it past the sampling stage.. Anyway, sampled every standout noise in it and built it up from there. It started out as a proper bongo workout using a loop from one of the percussive tracks on the soundtrack but after a bit though we chucked that. I was listening to the T++ 12”s a lot at the time I filtered everything down and just let the layers ride over each other. It took about a week to balance the automation out. The room it was mixed in has weird acoustics so I mixed the kick way too loud but I guess that’s what makes it a bit different.
Stasis started of as an experiment trying to build a vocal pattern like in Cassy’s “For You” where the different snippets get increasingly more involved with each other, then cos I’d just got some demo of a new echo plugin ended up all dub-techno sounding. The original Stasis is a techy post Rhythm and Sound tune, its nice and stuff but.. With the mix that’s on the record I was going for an Artwork meets Todd Edwards vibe – the drums are definitely 2-step but the variation is subtle and they just go on. If I’d done it proper there’d have been no breakdown I guess. I definitely want to take the garage drums at slower tempo thing further still.
B: Your music has an edge in it, like '05 loefah/youngsta halfstep but isn't as comically aggressive as a lot of 09 dubstep - do you exercise restraint in your aggression?
K: I’m not sure restraint is the right word – I’m not holding back on the nastiness, rather just starting off with the intention of keeping things sounding low and rolling. I read a good quote on FACT from Regis where he said about how he wouldn’t try to make anything deliberately dark and aggressive, yet his stuff certainly sounds that way to most people. In the same the way I’m not about aiming to sound ‘dark as fuck’ or whatever – space and movement are the important aspects. With the mid-range stuff it seems to be concerned only with the tear-out to the detriment of everything else.
B: Is it important to understand scene's lineages when you're consuming new music or do you enjoy the excitement of finding new music without being aware of its exact context?
K: Yeah I think it has to be important to understand where things come from a bit, obviously not down to every last detail but if you feel you’ve got an interest in a scene or a sound I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to check what came before. Its just the best source of inspiration there is, you start to see lineages in styles and method and patterns emerge. Idea’s getting echoed through different generations of producers.
At the same time finding stuff out of context is so often like a breath of fresh air. After a while obviously that scene or sound just becomes part of what you’re about but its definitely one of the most satisfying things about being deep into music. I’ve been listening to some of the WBMX radio sessions the past month and I’ve no-idea what a lot of the stuff they were playing is, same with a lot of the UK Funky I hear and like. I think for a while I was too concerned with knowing everything all the time - I’m trying to see stuff from a broader in perspective now. It’s daft being too limited to one thing.
B: How do you think things have changed in the last ten years where the consumption and creation of music can be so separate in an internet era? as you say "dark garage in the lake district..."
K: I think the key thing thats changed is the reach and effect of influence - the options regarding what you choose to expose yourself to have just been blown wide open, at the same time its now possible to have an input from a remote location was in what might have otherwise been a very localized scene. When the only way to know about new things happening was via print obviously word about scenes that were low to the ground wouldn’t spread until it was deemed hype enough to be worth column inches, and by that point you could argue that the peak of creativity might have been passed anyway. Now it’s instant. Obviously you need to be open to finding new things, but if you are its so much easier to find things than 10 years ago. As kids we used to ride an hour on the bus to go to Our Price ‘cause that was how you got new music in the Lakes.
B: How has the ubiquity and cheapness of music production software changed music scenes in the last ten years?
K: Its certainly made it easier to get involved, I mean the financial threshold you have to step to in order to get professional quality has dropped by thousands of pounds. A lot of people have access to a computer and that’s the only bit you need pay for really. I’m guessing there’s probably a fuck load more music being written than there was and I presume the number of tunes is accommodated to an extent by the number of digital only labels and so on. It’s effect is diluting but perhaps that’s irrelevant, talent always surfaces I hope. Maybe a lot of people wouldn’t have got into music without the opportunity things like cracked software present, me included.
All photos taken exclusively for Keysound by badgyal Bristol photographer Liz Eve. Find her at www.lizeve.com and on Flickr.
Kowton's "Stasis (g mix)/Countryman" is out October 19th on 12" and digital on Keysound. Hear it here.