Interviews

In Conversation With…MOUNT KIMBIE

‘Love What Survives,’ the long-awaited album that recently returned electronica duo Mount Kimbie to the spotlight, was met with pretty much universal acclaim, despite it’s challenging timbres and structures. Mount Kimbie have a reputation for being one step ahead of the game – they were already experimenting with ambient sounds and field recordings back on 2010’s ‘Crooks & Lovers,’ whilst the zeitgeist consisted primarily of a dubstep-dick-measuring contest won by the most aggressively puerile sawtooth basses. Their most recent offering is no exception to the rule – ‘Love What Survives’ sees them keeping pace with their competitors in the innovation department without sacrificing accessibility – their heady blend of post-punk grit and electronic ambience melding seamlessly together.

Naturally, I jumped at the chance to speak to Dom Maker, one half of the production duo/band (he’s not really sure – it varies depending on what they’re doing, he says) and was amply rewarded for my perseverance…

KG: You guys are playing at the Roundhouse on the 3rd of November – looking forward to it?

I open with a friendly appetizer – Dom’s had a busy day by the sounds of things, with several interviews overrunning allotted time slots, but he seems to perk up at the thought of the Roundhouse gig.

DM: “Yeah! Can’t wait – it’s the biggest London show we’ve done, so we’re really excited, and the fact that it’s sold out is brilliant as well. Pretty unexpected for such a big place, but we’re really pumped up and ready to play. At that point we’ll be four shows deep into the tour, so hopefully we should be fairly into the swing of things by then.”

I’m very curious as to how Mount Kimbie works as a live performance – I’ve seen them DJ before but a gig in front of a seated audience at the Roundhouse is a very different kettle of fish. I ask Dom how the live set up works – live instruments, or sample triggers etc…

DM: “We’re using predominantly live instrumentation – as the years have gone on, we’ve drifted away from sequencing as much as possible. We’ve got a few musicians – Marc Pell who drums with Micachu and The Shapes, and Andrea Balency who sings and plays keyboards and various other bits and bobs – so it’s a very live feel show. We’ve tried to explore some of the ideas that we’ve had on record and push them a bit further – jam, extend the structures of the songs and things. It’s definitely not a case of simply replicating the tracks on the records.”

KG: So do you guys consider yourself a band or producers – and is there really much of a difference between the two these days?

DM: “I mean at the moment, because we’re out and about a lot with the tour, the band has been the main focus. When it’s time to get out and play the songs live, there’s definitely more of a band feel to it – but we’re both producing on the side anyway – there’s really something to be said for both sides.”

Dom deftly avoids answering the question directly – but I get the sense that his role has somewhat transcended the traditional bandmember/producer divide. Labelling has never been much use with Mount Kimbie – the term “post-dubstep” coming as close to describing their sound as “post-classical” does to describing Jazz. I decide to press on into the question of influences – with music that uses sampling so extensively it seemed to me that almost no genre was off limits…

KG: Do you mind me asking a bit about your musical upbringing and musical education – your music is very idiosyncratic so I’m interested to hear what was formative for you?

DM: “Both me and Kai grew up in crappy small English towns where there wasn’t a lot going on. Both of us were in various terrible bands which obviously had influences on us, we both listened to a lot of music on the radio – you know not any particular genre – just whatever was interesting at the time. I think we bonded over enjoying making music ourselves without having to rely on other people – it used to be such a pain in the ass because no one would be as committed to what I was trying to achieve as I was – so I discovered home recording and working alone. Then when I finally met Kai at University, we seemed to complement each other really well. I dunno – it’s kinda hard to break down exactly what our influences are. I think naturally living in an area where there’s not any kind of “scene” of any sort, you’re always trying new and exciting things from other parts of the world – it lets you build your own identity rather than being pigeonholed.”

KG: “I suppose the bands who are trying to crack it on the London scene are having to think about what’s going to get put on at The Shacklewell Arms or whatever – and that forces them to conform to what all the other people in that scene are doing.”

DM: “Yeah we didn’t really have those pressures – no one was telling us how to do things.”

KG: “You guys use a lot of found sounds and field recordings in your music-”

Dom quickly interrupts…

“We have done in the past.”

“But not on ‘Love What Survives’?”, I continue.

DM: “No, not on the new record – thing is, we kind of get a lot of excitement out of recording – there’s a lot more pure recording on the new record than we’ve ever done before – really long takes and stuff. We get as much pleasure out of doing that as we do from walking around with a field recorder. To be honest, back in the day when we were just starting – the field recordings were the only real source we had of something unique – we didn’t have any money so we couldn’t buy any equipment. We used to rent the field recorders from the university and find whatever someone else had recorded on there and chop it up. But now, we’re able to buy a lot of equipment and we take a lot of pleasure from using it. To me, there’s not a lot that separates going out to a location and recording from recording a take on a synthesiser – they’re both just ways of searching for sounds really.”

KG: I’d wondered if you guys had listened to a lot of avant garde classical music or something – some of the more experimental composers, Pierre Schaeffer and the music concrète crowd etc., were interested in using such techniques and I wondered if that figured in your thought processes when you were doing that?

DM: “We listened to pretty much no music at that time to be honest – we were just so locked into working on our own stuff – I’m sure there are influences from that era but it wasn’t a conscious thing that we latched onto. We don’t just listen to Krautrock or whatever – it’s a big melting pot of loads of ingredients…”

KG: “You can definitely hear the Krautrock element on ‘Love What Survives’ – Marc Pell’s definitely tapping into the whole motorik thing!”

DM: “Yeah it was a new thing for us trying to work around a live drummer rather than loops – we were interested in trying to find something to do with the space in between a standard drum beat.”

KG: Does ‘Love What Survives’ have some kind of personal significance for you guys as well? It’s quite a provocative title.

DM: “To be honest, the title took ages to come up with – that kind of thing always does with us. The record almost feels out of place in this crazy sped-up world we live in now – its trying to find something honest and constant – that’s the place we’re coming from. ‘Love What Survives’ was trying to capture that feeling – it signifies a lot. It’s taken about four years and a lot’s gone on in that time. It’s about celebrating things around you that you take for granted, in our case – the way that me and Kai work together, always returning to a similar place and space. It’s also about being aware of all the things that you lose on the way. It’s quite a bittersweet outlook.”

KG: “Sound like a big step up in maturity for you guys.”

DM: “Yeah, I think it’s letting go of a lot of bullshit that we used to worry about, and just accepting the music we make and what we want to be doing as people and so on. For me, you can hear a bit more freedom in the music. That’s just from experiencing what we have over the last ten years, and trying to come out of that with a positive outlook – there’s a lot of things that drag you down along the way and its important to stay true to who you are.”

Dom’s answer is clearly ruminative – he comes across as someone who’s got a helluva story to tell, but also as a person who’s careful as to who he’d share intimate details with. I’m fascinated, but choose not to press further out of respect for his privacy. I turn the conversation back to the collaborative elements on the new album…

KG: You worked with several vocalists on the album, notably King Krule and James Blake. How does that process work with you? Do you produce an entire track beforehand and then let them loose on it, or do they come to you with a set of lyrics, or is it some other way of writing entirely?

DM: “We played them loads of really early ideas, some of which made it to the record and others of which didn’t – really rough and ready thirty-second loops etc. Each and every person who features just picked something out and bonded with it in their own way. There was really very little direction on our behalf. I mean they came in and we recorded together of course, but basically we were at a point with each of these tracks where we didn’t know what to do with them so it seemed like the perfect time to get help from your friends! How to take a pretty basic idea and turn it into a song? Luckily, all the people we worked with are experts in doing that! We were a little bit reticent to have an album full of features, but it ended up being quite natural, since they were part of the entire process rather just being sent an instrumental and doing whatever in isolation over it. There was a lot invested from all of us in these tracks. They don’t feel like features to me – they just feel like co-written pieces of music.”

KG: I was interested, because all five of the people you used as vocalists have such notably different sounding voices. The coupling of those unique voices with tracks with similar production produces such starkly different effects – did you find yourself writing the instrumental music specifically to the style of their voices?

DM: “Not really, to be honest. I mean you hit the nail on the head… You know, they obviously informed the way that the tracks finished, but the initial idea was already there. I think that’s what excites us about writing in this way. As I said earlier – recording long takes with a certain synthesiser has it’s own character, in the same way that Mica [Mica Levi of Micachu and The Shapes] has her own character. The way that all of those vocals set a very different mood was exactly the thing that we were excited about. We wanted to keep that precious, that initial reaction they had to each of the tracks and not let it get washed away. I don’t know how, but they all seemed to tie in together quite nicely in style and sonic content, even though they lyrically use such different imagery.”

KG: “I was just imagining James Blake singing ‘You Look Certain’ in my head…”

We both share a little chuckle at the thought of Blake’s delicate voice trying to capture the angular staccato of Micachu’s feature song…

DM: “Oh my God, that wouldn’t work at all! Just going back to what you were saying – I think every single one of our collaborators heard the others’ vocal on a different track at some point, and they all LOVED what they heard. There was a lot of cross-pollination – I remember James listening to Archy’s [King Krule] one, and saying ‘I wish I could do something like that’ and then Archy listening to the Mica’s one and croaking ‘I bloody love that’. Everyone was connected in the whole thing. I’d like to think we got something different out of each of them to what they’d normally do I suppose…”

KG: “Did James play the organ on ‘We Go Home Together’…?”

DM: “Yeah.”

KG: “It’s such a classic James Blake sound – you just know who’s gonna start singing the second you hear that organ…”

DM: “F**k me, I mean that was…”

Dom stops to gather himself – it’s obvious that seeing Blake’s organ skills up close had a powerful effect on him…

DM: “He does that all the time – I remember we really didn’t know how to finish that particular song – we were in Los Angeles, he just recorded… about 45 mins of that incredible, swirling organ. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. We eventually chopped it down, edited it down to that particular progression. But yeah it just couldn’t be anybody else but him.”

KG: “It really is a fantastic song.”

Mount Kimbie’s rise was pretty stratospheric – I wondered if they’d ever felt pressure to produce as a result of that…

KG: You guys got signed up to Warp records reasonably early on – a very prestigious electronic music label – there must have been a lot of pressure. Did you find they influenced your direction or sound in any way? Did you find yourself wanting to move more towards the Aphex Twin’s of the world? Or perhaps you wanted to distinguish yourself from people like that and forge your own path?

DM: “Not really to be honest – Warp have just been exactly how we needed a label to be – they’ve left us to our own devices. When the time comes, our contact will come and have a listen, give feedback or whatever, but it’s always been a very nice relationship between the two of us. This record would never have happened if we were with a label that was more intrusive. “

I check the time and I realise I’ve got to wrap things up. I’d have loved to have a little more time to get to know Dom, but he’s a busy man with several new projects underway already, not even including the tour…

KG: Thank you, you’ve been really generous with your time. I’ve got a few final questions…What are you listening to at the moment – what’s inspiring you?

DM: “F**king hell – I’ve been doing loads of sampling – so loads of Diana Ross and Gladys Knight!”

KG: “Midnight Train to Georgia!”

DM: “Hahah yeah, loads of their back catalogue, and a lot of hunting for samples – which is always the most fun I have. A lot of it tends to be old soul music, I listen to loads of that. I listen for samples – I don’t have anything on my iPod – in fact I don’t even have an iPod! It just depends on what I’m doing – and at the moment I’m trying to sample loads of things for when I get back to LA – I’ve been working a lot with James [Blake] and I wanna come and help him out with what he’s doing next – so I wanna be preloaded with a big bank of material that I can bring to the studio.”

KG: “Sounds awesome, I can’t wait to hear the results. Thanks so much Dom, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, best of luck with the Roundhouse show!”

The new album ‘Love What Survives’ is out now via Warp Records – and is available to purchase on various formats here.

For tour updates and release information, visit Mount Kimbie’s Website.

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