Dubstep is primarily a story of spaces. The sound and the scene has been transforming since it was put into a physical reality. We can speak of clubs, like the small and resonant haunts that were FWD> and DMZ, or even London as a whole, as found on the records of Burial and Dusk & Blackdown, which depict the sound experience of living in the city and what it´s like to breathe it in 24 hours a day. But, in the latest dubstep, new spaces have been opened up, and from there a new trend has been born, one in which Mount Kimbie plays an essential, visible part. This time, the spaces aren’t physical if not mental, emotional, and private. They are interior spaces filled with peace and introspection, without too much speed. They are spaces where it seems more important to stop and smell the flowers at the feet of the listeners. W. H. Auden said in his celebrated epigram, that “private faces in public spaces / are wiser and nicer / than public faces in private spaces.” Here, Mount Kimbie has come along to show us that this isn´t true, if not the exact opposite.
Kai Campos and Dominic Maker came together at South Bank University, and it was there that a union was born that has led them to release two 12” which justify the buzz ( “Maybes EP”, 2008 and “Sketch On Glass”, 2009), and has prepared the road bringing them here, to the release of “ Crooks & Lovers” ( Hotflush, 2010). The album condenses the furious emotional implosion of dubstep, in tune with James Blake (friend and live collaborator of our protagonists), Sepalcure and Joy Orbison, yet brings it one step further, almost into ambient territory. Its beats are so stealthy and timid that they make Burial seem like a hard-techno star, and its voices are so transparent that they seem more like lost souls than garage divas. In fact, from the EP´s until now, Mount Kimbie have lost the rhythmic pulse and have gained horizontally, with music that is much more open, filled with melody and space. Some consider them to be dubstep suitable for an indie-pop audience, which is not in vain as they opened for The xx on some dates. So, what´s true in all this? How do they perceive their status, evolution, and location on the post-dubstep map? Kai Campos answers these questions.
So you and Dominic met in university. What were the first musical impressions you exchanged and how did Mount Kimbie start to take shape from that point on?
Bass Clef, Burial, TV On The Radio, Xiu Xiu were all early on. Dom would come down to my room at uni and we’d go through what we’d been listening to, what was on Boomkat and other people’s myspaces and stuff like that. From there Dom wanted to learn more about producing on a computer, so I was showing him my set-up and we just ended up trying to write stuff at the same time really. That was very early on.
Since the first 12”, “Maybes”, there’s a clash between inner emotions and physical responses / movement in your sound: as if, even having dance music as the starting point, you actually found something unpleasant or embarrassing in the fact of dancing. So that may be why the music moves you, but don’t necessary makes you move. Are there any complaints or aversion towards dance music?
We’re both massively influenced by dance music. For me, personally, it is an area in music that encourages risk taking and is constantly moving forward and looking for innovation. Aside from the theoretical side, it is also a sound that is essentially physical and has a practical use in encouraging movement. It has always been for me a really interesting duality and perhaps the music we’ve made is partly a response to that. We certainly wouldn’t object to doing something that was more centered around making people dance, but so far it has felt like we’d be ignoring part of ourselves or influences to do that.
What about London? Is your sound an extension of the city as it happens to Burial, Dusk & Blackdown or The Bug?
I hope the music has a sense of place and time. I don’t particularly mind if it’s London, but it definitely had a massive affect on me as a person so that would probably come through. London is exactly what I wanted and needed it to be at that time of my life and also a lot of things I was not expecting. For me, it’s been a place that has challenged me in a really positive way. It’s full of crooks & lovers.
The crooks are there too. They are the same as the lovers. That was part of my thinking with the title. It’s like I talked about earlier in aiming for something that reflects the complexities of being human and all the contradictions that entails. Things are not simply bad or good, pretty or ugly, people who are crooks are also lovers and vice-versa and music is the best way I have of talking about this.
“Post-dubstep” is a common label these days. It´s in shops, in reviews, even among the sometimes fans who stay to have a beer and share recommendations. But, that doesn´t exempt it from controversy or confusion. What exactly does “post-dubstep” mean? Who do they want to bury with this arrogant “post”? Realistically, it´s a label that transmits a state, not necessarily a good one but one of general disorientation. Dubstep as we knew it now seems like a fossilized sound, barely moving or progressing, while collisions between the same rhythmic structure (malleable base and syncopated breaks) and other styles like techno, 2step (there’s currently a revival), dancehall, and hip hop have given life to interesting mutations that for the moment indicate movement but without a final destination. The music is open, with lots of possibilities in the air, and “Crooks & Lovers” is part of this uncertainty and search for adventure. On the album there is contact (yet never conflicting) with elements of folk and post-rock, IDM and ambient, garage and dub. It could never be dubstep in comparison to the standard made by the label Tempa or Digital Mystikz, but it´s still important music all the same. The question is: Do we want music that´s living or music that´s caged-in like an animal at the zoo?
It’s difficult to describe your (and other’s people) sound, so that’s why we talk about “post-dubstep” as the starting point in trying to make full sense of what you’re doing. What remains in Mount Kimbie from early dubstep and how far from that can you go?
I’m not sure and I try not to see it too much in the context of what other people are doing around me. When I first heard dubstep it sounded fresh and exciting and relevant and I wanted to do something that is all of those things. I think it’s got to a point now where what we are doing has very few reference points to what the word dubstep means to most people. And that’s fine.
There are some approaching angles to your sound. One can be post-rock. Another can be IDM or downtempo beats. A third one can be emotional dubstep or garage as in Burial. Is something missing that shapes your sound?
Yeah, I can see all of those. There are many things that affect making music that are not direct musical influences as well. It’s not always best to over-analyze those, however. I want the music to be a reflection of myself, like knowing me as a person and I would go crazy if I talked about that all the time. The music is self-indulgent enough!
As some records sound mellow, something like ear-candy for dancefloors, is it easy to judge this sound as “new lounge music” if you don’t scratch the surface. Do you see any pros and cons in that?
Mostly cons. It’s pretty much the last thing that we’d want to be considered. One of the most exciting things in music is hearing something that is challenging and that’s something we’d hope to do and continue to do so in different ways. The idea of “lounge music” is a pretty horrible one, sound that is so familiar it doesn’t require attention. I’m not saying we have always achieved this, but that is the aim. There are too many interesting sounds in the world to spend time making something like that.
What about the “pastoral” adjective? As the music chilling and flows gently and paused, that word is often used. Can we find something creepy or gloomy when looking closer?
People are welcome to listen to the music in whichever way they like. It isn’t for the artist to decide. I really don’t mind. I would hope that there are some people that listen to it for a range of reasons and not just for sunday-morning sound. I try not to think about the really fine details too much and hope that they come in to music naturally, and not for the sake of making detailed music. Some of our stuff has been very simple really. I guess it’s nice when people say they hear different things when they listen back a number of times.
Somehow, the music sounds shy. Is it a translation of you own mood? Some might argue that Mount Kimbie is for the emo kids of the hardcore continuum.
Firstly, the music is for us. It’s often the case that we’d like to try and go back to a place when there was little or no interest in what we were doing, just because when you’re making music purely for yourself it’s easier to tap into your personal responses to music. I would hope that people can hear lots of different emotions in the music. I think the music I’ve appreciated has always done something for me that another form like words or pictures cannot and I’d want to achieve that in my own work so I’d hope it wasn’t as simple as being shy or sad or happy music but I can understand why people hear that.
There are some details on “Crooks & Lovers” that could play against them. The album is quite short (it doesn´t even make it to 40 minutes) and not only does it leave you wanting more, but it gives you the sensation that not everything has been said that could have been. They also are missing more moments like those in “ Field” or “Carbonated”, where the disc begins to bubble with nervous rhythm and balances out the laxness of “Ode To Bear” or “Adriatic”. But, of course there´s more that plays in their favour. Like the way that Kai and Dom don´t reject any genre when mixing their cocktail of passion which is the album (the use of the female vocals is fantastic), and how they are able to make a calm and quiet work. That´s where they create the physical space, where they isolate the outside world, sounding personal and alone. Imperfect, but important. The space is where they admit to the listeners that they don´t necessarily come from dubstep or dance music.
You play with a band, and you’re currently touring with The xx. How’s the live experience being so far? How does playing live eventually affects in-studio composing?
The live experience has been wonderful. Travelling because of music is a blessing that we are very grateful for. The xx are playing big shows as well so it’s been really great to be able to learn about playing in front of thousands of people and even getting a good response from people as well. I suppose it has affected our composing habits quite a bit. Some parts of the album are only there because we were trying to figure out how to play something live and just jamming ideas over the top, that’s been great and a real challenge as well. I feel like we’ve learnt a lot from making the record and that is one thing I’m looking forward to taking further and developing more.
James Blake helped you live in the very beginning and he was like the third unofficial member of Mount Kimbie. How long have you known him and in which way has he been influential for you? Is there an ongoing fellowship or a mild rivalry between you?
We met James early on in our musical career. Feels like a lot has changed since then, but I guess it can’t have been that long. Two years at most. Firstly, James is a really good friend and we talked a lot about how to do a live show with the music we were making so we just started working out how to play songs together, so James played with us at live shows for a while. We played a couple of James’ songs as well but we didn’t really write together at that time. He’s one of the first people I send new music to and someone whose opinion I respect. It’s a good relationship to have and it’s great to see him go from strength to strength at the moment. We’re looking at doing some shows together again in the future. Definitely a fellowship!
When remixing, one can do lots of things: some remixers intensify the dance beat and others prefer to rebuild the track as if it was theirs. What makes you decide you want to do the job, and what kind of job do you think you can do best?
I almost try to look at it as an original piece really but as an exercise in developing a set idea. I like to find something in the original track that speaks to me in some way or starts a thought process and then run with it. Hopefully even if the sound goes somewhere else then the music still has some of the original spirit. At the moment, after the album we want to think about where we want to go for ourselves before doing too much work with other artists.
The really passionate thing about Mount Kimbie is how, despite the sensation of transparency and pausing that they emit, they leave a lot of space to mystery and uncertainty. They keep information up their sleeve, and want to be closer to magic than to music. For now, they have given us two moves - one of expansion (the two EPs, the creation of a new soundscape, as if the planet was inhabited by aliens in a videogame), and the other of retraction (“Crooks & Lovers”, with its timid and private side). How will the third installment be? We´ll have to wait and see.
Where does the name Mount Kimbie come from?
Mount Kimbie is just two separate song names that we’d been listening to the day we wanted to decide on a name for what we were doing. I guess I liked it because it meant something in that it sounds like a place name but also it didn’t mean anything specifically as it is a fictional place.
Whose butt is on the cover?
I’m not sure and I think it’s best we keep it that way for everyone involved! She was in South London on a sunny day in early 2010.