"Alright people, let's move like we got a purpose..."
B: So, could you introduce yourself? Where are you from, where you at as we speak?”
K303: This is Kellen303 I am in Brooklyn, on my bed, Superbowl Sunday not giving a shit about sports.
B: Could you tell me a bit about when you began the ‘WHB’ EP?
K303: That happened last year, last August. I had a couple of friends of mine whose work I was really digging and I had the itch to get back into making music but I never took the step. A friend of mine gave me FL Studio and I just started tinkering with it, not really taking it seriously and then I decided one day to sit down and try to figure things out. I used the interview with said MC [who is sampled on ‘WHB’] who is dear to Keysound’s heart.
To be perfectly honest I kind of got a lot of inspiration from what you and Dusk were doing and just how the whole 130 scene was very very minimal, very sparse. So I decided that I wanted to try and do that and “WHB” happened. That’s kind of how it started.
B: Having voices in tracks, the link between journalism, spoken word, dialects and slang – they’re something I really relate to. And if you recall, the first time we “met”, was when you interviewed us for BigUp magazine ahead of playing Reconstrvct NYC a few years back. But how did you find yourself come about blending interviews in tracks?
K303: The interview stuff came from Rabit. There's Reconstrvct set he did where he was using a lot of different interviews and soundbites from different things and it kind of got me interested in taking on that type of concept. When I remembered the set, it was one of those things where I said “I have interviews that I’ve done.” so I was like "Let me see what I can do with these interviews and just started experimenting. When homie said ‘what’s happening brother,’ I was like ‘that’s it!’
B: And to be fair, people have been sampling dialog in music since recording sound was possible. Off the top of my head The Beatles did it on ‘The White Album.’
K303: Yeah, ‘number nine, number nine...’
- Photo credit Hayden Schwartz
B: so how come you came to choose the phases “who do you think you are, a big shot?” in “Big Shot?”
K3: The phrase really struck me. You know I was building the beat and the phrase fit with the mood of the track. It wasn’t anything that was overtly significant.
With the track “W.H.B,” I used the sample as away of discussing things that were happening in my personal life. As if someone was asking me the question. I have another version of the song that expands on that, where I just picked out more samples from the interview that related to me.
I just started trying to take that recording and attribute it to what was going on my life – talking about how certain people are fake and talking about how to stay true to yourself, and I think that idea started to develop, started to manifest from just a hook to “how can I make this personal?”
B: you didn’t think about recording yourself?
K303: Well man’s not going to sing, ever.
B: To me that “Big Shot” sample really sets you in a moment, like it’s in a scene on screen. You’re a film director as well as a music producer, how are the mediums connected for you?
K303: Sometimes if I hear something I can see a visual and vice versa. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. With ‘Big Shot’, I knew wanted to do something that was kind of vougey and kind of 130 as well. I wanted the intro to feel really creepy and when I was looking through soundbites for that tune it was literally something from this vintage movie file I had and the lady just said, “who do you think you are, a big shot?” and I was just like “okay, let’s see what I can do with this and how can I build a world out of this”. Not a defined idea but a space to explore, I don’t know if that makes any sense whatsoever.
I guess how I try to work my music is if I can bring someone into an atmosphere versus just playing you a song, that’s my goal. I guess it comes from filmmaking where in you’re writing dialogue, you’re writing a scene, creating a world or and atmosphere, so I’d attribute that to how I started making music. Trying to build an atmosphere for you to be in and most of the atmospheres on this record are kind of unsafe.
But I wanted that because I was in a very unsafe time period, so it was just getting all of that anger and darkness out. And I like scaring people so that helps haha...
- Photo credit Hayden Schwartz
K303: Jersey club, vogue are big things in New York and I love the vibe. At the time, I was surrounded by that and footwork, which is also big within my crew. I was just trying to take those aesthetics that I was listening to and attribute them to the 130 sound. One of the biggest pieces of advice that I got from another producer was “when you’re making music, don’t listen to the genre your making, listen to everything else and bring those influences into your work” which really helped me a lot but it didn’t help me when I had to DJ because I wasn’t listening to anything else but my own stuff so I was like “what’s new? I don’t know what’s happening now”.
But it’s a tip something that helped me a lot. I've always been a lover of Goth, Industrial and EBM stuff. I was listening to a lot of it and it definitely made it's influence in my sound. “What I noticed with that genre of music was panning and how voices pan left, pan right, they sound like they’re above you, they sound like they're behind you and that was something that I started doing a lot with and it all kind of came to a head with “Planet X” because I panned those breaks back and forth.
I wanted that song to sound like you were surrounded by something that you can’t see and you're trapped. So taking that effect and that influence from that music helped shape that song and helped shape how I go about building atmospheres for my music.
B: haha that’s mad...
K303: Yeah ‘Big Shot’ was definitely inspired by this one group called Xmal Deutschland I fucking love the shit out of that band and I was listening to them over and over and over again. The one song that I love to death is called ‘Eiland’ , just listening to those drones of the guitars and that heavy atmosphere that I loved so much, I thought “how can I do this in what I’m doing?” so that one song and that bands was a major influence.
B: And what’s it like for you - once you’ve found some inspiration - the actual process of making a track?
K303: Well it's funny. I've worked on songs with Mike Empyrean [fellow Transit FM family] and he’d be like “that’s how you do it?” and I’m like “yeah” and he’s like “that’s crazy because I wouldn’t think of doing it like that” I know that's incredibly vague, but I'm a bit shy about talking about my process. The strangeness of it I think also came from being the new producer, how does FL Studio work, what are the limitations, just figuring shit out which I think is really interesting. I think this record shows how I grew in way – going from just crazy kicks and pitching them up and down, to like ‘Big Shot’ and exploring more with space and atmosphere and then to ‘Planet X’ and Spy Glass.
B: Well, I think sometimes the best most free ideas come from people who are just beginning to master their tools. I for one fight against my own pattern recognition to try and find net new twists and turns in where my music is going. Amen Ra from LHF always talks about “playing with the beginner’s mind” and there really is something in that. One of the things I feel is really creative is how you’ve woven film dialog into a sense of scenes and place, and this has then looped back into the visual narrative of the promo videos you’ve been making for your own tracks. As an example, can you tell me about the narrative for “Planet X?”
K303: How that happened was, I was messing with this one note that became the main pulse theme, the “whomp” bass and when I made that, literally just by changing the pitch, adding a reverb... I saw in my head that little Geiger counter that they have in all the alien movies.
When they're looking at the screen and they're seeing where the aliens are in reference to where they are. And that pulse when it’s just getting closer and closer and closer to you – I literally saw that in my head. That’s when I said okay let me go and get that sample because I know it exists. That was the beginning of that track. I was like okay let me just basically make you feel like you’re in that movie and there’s no escape.
B: I’ll be honest, I hadn’t noticed or particularly thought recently about what an iconic badass SW is until “Planet X?”
K303: SW is dope. She is one of ultimate badass women in film, I don’t really attribute the song to be about her journey. I think that to me that song was kind of like, “you’re going out there to destroy the dance, to make people go crazy” and that’s kind of all I meant by using that quote, that was my point behind it but what it became was this bigger world that I didn’t know that I was creating for myself. Making the ‘Interstellar’ version of that song was just me saying “okay I haven’t done anything that was similar to weightless so let me try a hand at that” that song has become one of my favourites.
B: And then you built this amazing short Instagram clip for the weightless “Planet X [Interstellar version]” that took it somewhere else, like SW was waking up from deep, deep slumber in this really groggy but almost erotic way...
K303: The scene from that video clip I did where SW and her team all wake up, that was the inspiration. That's exactly what I was seeing with all those sounds. “Planet X” is more about getting ready for war and the interstellar version is about traveling to that war. I wanted it to feel like cryo-sleep, more dreamlike, thoughts of the day passing in and out in that version.
B: So there’s just the two versions?
K303: There’s the other one that no one has that I’m just keeping right now. ‘Planet X (Into Darkness)’ and that one is basically just ‘You Lose’. Yeah the aliens win. Or you narrowly escape. I was listening to a lot of metal at the time and I wanted to focus on drumming. That tune and the other song I did called ‘INk’ were more focused on drumming – I mean the crazy kicks are in there – but kind of trying to tone it down a little bit and focus on something that I haven’t done before. So yeah, metal.
B: can you tell me about how the vocal collab with Rainey came about?
K303: So, I shopped ‘Spyglass’ to a couple of people who were working on it but just was a fit for them, which is fine. Rainey I knew from the crew that I hang out with from the BX; Kush Jones, Bojaq, BassBear and El Blanco Nino. They're work is mostly footwork and Jersey Club. Rainey did a show with BassBear and I was like, “he’s a dope MC and he’s always supported me” so I reached out to him and he immediately texted me back and said “this reminds me of a story". Then the next day he was like “it’s done” and I was at work like “what do you mean it’s done?” and he was like “I’ve finished it, it’s done” and he sent it to me and that’s how that happened. He’s amazing, I don’t know what chord I struck with him to get that back to me in 24 hours but the verse he put down and the story that he was telling just really hits. He helped make everything I wanted. It was already a moody track and he just enhanced it tenfold. I owe him a lot for that.
B: What I think is interesting from a Keysound point of view, is that maybe if I’d done a tune with a US MC, it wouldn’t feel right in terms of the roots of Keysound and where our energy has come from. But for you, based out of Brooklyn, to work with Rainey – that feels more interesting & authentic to me. A black US producer from Brooklyn working with a Afro-Dominican MC from the Bronx.
K303: Yeah it’s like the influences are just melded together. The ‘Spyglass’ tune was really influenced by the whole trip hop scene, I’m a lover of that music too and I wanted to make something that sounded similar to that even though it sounds like a CSI crime scene. Talking about more influences, taking like a Bristol based genre of music influence and then having him make it completely the Bronx, New York City... just worlds crossing worlds you know?
B: I’ve only ever been through the Bronx in passing, what’s it like?
K303: I don’t actually know; I’ve only been in the Bronx twice so I don’t really have a good reference point. I don’t really have a sense of where my friends live, where I am in Brooklyn people get shot up at the corner and the day goes on but I’m not really too sure what the Bronx is like from his experience.
B: so as well as producing and making films, you also co-founded a radio station Transit FM. Can you tell me a bit about that?
K303: Transit FM started out of a little experiment. I was supposed to play a gig in DC but a blizzard hit the east coast and pretty much trapped everyone in their homes. Friends and I decided to make the best of it and do a soundclash over the internet. Throughout the day we had other homies jump in from around NYC, Philly, Jersey and the DC area. The soundclash went from I think 2pm-12am on MIXLR. The next day, it kept going. People who didn't play the day before kept the spirit alive. I said to Hayden, “I think we started a radio station”.
We had meeting with our friends, Mike Empyrean and Joe Milazzo who lived out on Long Island at the time and had been involved in the clash the first day and drummed up how we could make everything happen in my basement. The main focus was and still is to big up our friends in the States. We said “well we’re all a family so let’s big up our family, let’s start putting our homies on more and showing what the locals do” and just trying to showcase that. People look out of the country instead of in and we wanted to shift that. I think what you saw at the 1 Year anniversary party [Sunnyvale BK, May 2017] is just a culmination of that fact that we all know each other and we all love each other a lot and we’re all pretty tight knit even though we cross cities and different states.
B: yeah, that party was insane, genuinely life-affirming as a DJ, to be able to really go deep into 130/rollage dubs and have people really, really come with us – it was nuts. And NYC has had a few special nights over the years, well, a few I’ve been lucky enough to see, like Reconstvct and Dub War before it, but that one...
K303: I missed all the Dub War parties I was out on Long Island for school not knowing anything about dubstep at the time.
B: so you’ve got Transit FM up and running, what creative people should we be looking for from NYC?
K303: So the 130 stuff, I know there’s like a handful of people making it and I wish I could find more, my homies; A0, Diyr, they go in and out of 130 and different influences. A0 is a terrific producer who does a lot of work, be it weightless stuff, clubby stuff and grime. I featured him on my Rinse mix I did last year.
Diyr, I think is another amazingly underrated producer. I really dig his influence on grime and how he puts that into 130, how he takes that seemingly icy, Wiley, eskimo sound and kind of makes it his own thing - I’ve always told him that I love what he does.
Mikey Dubs, his tunes always bang. He's been a broadcaster on Transit FM for a minute and has become a really good friend of mine. We share a lot of the similar influences. Bojaq, another homie, who I featured on my Rinse mix last year. He is another really talented producer, mostly Footwork but also explores various genres music.
B: one of the things that was so positive about the 1st Birthday to Dusk and I, was how diverse the crowd was – age, race, gender, sexuality or vibe-wise. There’s a photo on my Instagram taken from the decks looking back into the crowd and seeing that meant a lot to me, because personally I just try and play the music that I think is interesting and and find new ways to re-frame certain other vibes but you never know who will relate to it. You never know who’s locked on Rinse, where they’re from or where they’re at.
But these sounds came from a place – FWD>> particularly - where different cultures, classes, races, groups from within London met up around a love of new music and that was pretty rare to be honest and I treasured it, because I have always loved meeting new people on shared musical ground and learning about where they were from and at. So it was amazing to see how the sounds we have been working on have connected with such diverse crowd in NYC.
K303: I think that’s just us. Male, female, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, non binary gender: “are you a good person and do you like music?” that’s what it should boil down to and that’s what we try to boil it down to – there’s no discrimination. I’m glad that you felt that because that’s all we try to do.
B: If I’m being honest, I think between you guys in NYC and Ganessa, Squane and the Jelly Bean Farm camp on the west coast, Son Raw in Montreal or Panch in D.C., the North America “gets” Keysound more than London right now, and so it’s doubly special that it’s such a blend of people who connect with it.
- Photo credit Hayden Schwartz
K303: There's always been and open mindedness in my crew, since I’ve been coming here to party and since I moved here. We don’t really bleed into the pop mainstream scene like the Space/Ibiza and all that other crap that goes on where you have to dress to impress, that’s kind of unto itself. If there’s a dark room where people are playing good music on a system you’re going to find everyone there.
I remember going to parties and thinking I was the only gay dude there and then also being like, it doesn’t matter though, you could vibe at whoever you want, you can dance however you want. That aspect has always something that’s been pretty healthy. There’s other dumb shit that has gone on in New York that our crew hasn’t taken lightly and we’ve kind of kicked people out for whatever reason – just bad energy.
B: yeah, I’ve had a bit of a remote window onto that particular world via Facebook, but all I’ll say is... anyone who uses hugs to stage a non-violent intervention and make a peaceful rejection of someone who’s unwelcome due to sexual harassment... well bigup that person and her non-violent, hug based methodolgy. If only there was more of that in the world... So, are you going to make a film of/for your sound?
K303: I do need to get back into it. Music took over last year and I haven't written a thing, I still have stories, ideas I want to share. The last film I did is a short psychological thriller called ‘Closure.’ I have started a video interview segment on Transit FM called EXPRESS. Each one is on a different local artist/producers in NYC electronic or not.
I’ve talked to Ben [Lyeform, Keysound] a lot because we kind of come from a similar background where film is a big influence on us and I’ve talked to him about trying to build an audio film, kind of writing a script and making the script pretty sparse but having the music and the script kind of being this album that’s an audio film. I think that would be pretty cool because it would be blending everything I love.
- The "WHB" EP is out now on Keysound Recordings. Buy the vinyl + free digi at Boomkat or hear it here on Spotify: