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Balancing The Double-Edged Sword

May 1st 2012 | Brendan Telford

Two years after wowing the world and coining the term post-dubstep, UK wunderkinds Mount Kimbie find themselves on the precipice of overexposure. Kai Campos assures Brendan Telford that they have new horizons to explore.

Dubstep as a genre exploded onto the UK, then the world scene in the mid-2000s, becoming a commercial and culturally fashionable style of electronica at the turn of the decade. As with most genres though, by this stage it was overcrowded with a glut of soulless imitators that cashed in on the credibility that the music intelligentsia had given it, and the birth of tight, dark production, incessant drum-and-bass lines and static interplay between samples and vocals appeared headed for a meltdown.

Two unlikely London lads set about revamping the sound and by 2010 with their debut LP Crooks And Lovers, Dominic Maker and Kai Campos, under the moniker Mount Kimbie, had changed the face of the electronic dance landscape. Alongside close friend James Blake and US compatriot Flying Lotus, Mount Kimbie heralded a new dawn, a zeitgeist at once spontaneous and seemingly overnight. The existence of the record is almost as accidental as the effect its existence has since had.

“I guess it was new to a lot of people, what we were offering, but when we brought the record out we saw it only as the album we wanted everyone to hear,” Campos explains. “Essentially we had done two EPs beforehand and there was this push to put out a longer one. I didn't really see the point – I enjoyed writing these shorter records and I wasn't sure that it would work in a longer format. Yet people kept saying that we wouldn't ever be taken seriously if we didn't go ahead and do it. I mean, we did want to do an album, but even we weren't sure if we were ready, but we were contractually bound to do one! Even on the eve of its coming out I wasn't sure if we'd done the right thing. An album is such a statement, you know? Four tracks can be taken as is, but an album is a big undertaking and has added weight and structure, how the tracks are placed and where. It was a daunting experience.”

The success of the album still resonates now, a fact that has helped the band to grow into themselves. “Our success has been a slowburner,” Campos muses. “It grabbed people, but has kept on rumbling for two years! And at different place, at different times. I remember getting our royalty collection statement and you get these pie charts indicating where it's coming from – and there'll be this huge fucking chunk from Australia or something. In Australia, triple j played the hell out of Before I Move Off, which wasn't even a single; no one had cottoned onto that one here at all!”

Whilst dubstep originated in the UK, Campos doesn't feel that the advent of Mount Kimbie has as much to do with geography as other musical movements.

“I think it's been a mish-mash,” admits. “Living in London has had a profound on our lives in general, it's an amazing city. But we were around 13 or 14 and on the internet we were hearing all kinds of music – and not always things that were already big here. In fact the first direction that people like us in our 20s take tends to be something we've discovered, rather than something that we've lived with and become a part of. I remember when I was at university before we started the band and I heard the first Flying Lotus album, all I wanted to do was replicate that. I wasn't paying attention to anything else. I think that's affected the way we access music forever more, so that idea of something being borne from geography is becoming more infrequent. London has loads of inspirational aspects – we wouldn't have met, for starters, and there are a lot of people having ideas and acting on them – but it doesn't define us or our music.”

The now-iconic template of Mount Kimbie resulted from the melding of elements of post-rock, garage beats and traditional songwriting has been used by a multitude of bands all with their own agenda and degree of musical creativity, stretching the boundaries of what post-dubstep meant until the term became loose, indefinable and almost redundant within a year.

“After Crooks And Lovers came out, we thought we had at least a year of hitching up vocals and using 808 toms before everything sounded the same,” Campos laughs. “It's not a sound or a term we particularly aspire to anymore. For me now the term brings to mind a lot of fairly bland music… I don't wanna sound like a bit of a dickhead or anything, but a lot of music that sounds like that album; I don't really feel anything for it. Of course it's completely flattering that our music has touched and inspired so many people in different ways. But it's like anything, really – because people say we did something first, there are people who have come along who have clearly done it better than us, have actually improved upon what we were trying to do. But at the same time there is a lot of stuff that really misses the point. It can sound like an imitation; therefore we can't connect to it personally, which is what music is supposed to do.”

It has become a double-edged sword for them musically, for as much as Maker and Campos may want to distance themselves from the base sounds they helped create, they run the risk of ruining what it was that made them special in the first place.

“That reaction to Crooks And Lovers leads us to want to do something radically different to what we have done previously,” Campos declares. “I've had to rein my ideas in though; [at one stage] I thought we might even be a punk band by now. We're trying to find a way for our sound, which we're still really proud of, to morph into something else entirely that's interesting but can be seen as an honest progression rather than a kneejerk reaction.”

Campos is currently trying to relax during their first tour of Russia, using it as a warm up for their impending Hi-Fi Shoreline shows here in Australia, yet it hasn't all been smooth sailing.

“It's been interesting, quite different,” he offers wryly. “St Petersburg has been lovely, but Moscow is a bit of a headfuck, unlike any other place I have been to, it holds a certain intensity. The traffic is fucking horrendous and everything is just not… right! There is little organisation, we haven't been allowed to do any soundchecks… We wanted to try out some new things, trial them before Japan and Australia, but it's just been too hard, so we've just played and seen what happens! The audiences have been great though and, seeing as we've never played in front of these people before, it helps to create interest in the songs again. We'll have a few days to get things together though. I'm sure we can come up with something a little different.”

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