London's Mount Kimbie Takes Dubstep Over the Bro-Step Hump
- Words: Andrew Ryce
- Photo: Tyrone Le Bon
The Music of London-based duo Mount Kimbie, whose unique homespun style incorporates ambient, techno, dubstep, and found sounds, is so difficult to pin down, that when they sent out their first demo, "Paul [Rose, a.k.a. Scuba] was the only person who got back to us," Dom Maker, one half of the band, informs. But because of that sound, the band seems like a prime candidate to cross over from the dubsteppy associations of their label, the Scuba-run Hotflush Recordings, to broader, more accessible places.
Before they sent off that fateful demo, Maker and his studio partner Kai Campos were making music for years, together and separately. "We started chatting about tracks and music, and I found out Kai was producing music on his computer," say Maker, who met Campos at university in London. "When I heard what could be done with software musically, I just felt like I wanted to have a go myself."
Their debut EP, last year's Maybes, was the end result of the duo's correspondence with Paul Rose, and received massive attention in the dubstep world. However, Mount Kimbie's sound is no paint-by-numbers dubstep affair; it's deceptively complex, with a sense of floating formlessness akin to the gentler side of '90s-era British IDM. But to call it formless would be to miss the point, as their bite-sized songs are painstakingly detailed—and their influences predictably varied: "I remember listening to Bass Clef, Burial, and Loefah a lot at the time, but we had both come from different musical backgrounds, and both loved material like Xiu Xiu and Steve Reich," offers Maker.
Those touchstones come through in their intriguingly microscopic music, where washes of sound are dotted with delicate beats. The anchor of the duo's aesthetic is ambiguous—many of the sounds vaguely resemble household noises or accidental bleed-through from other sources. To achieve that aesthetic, "We recorded two to three hours of natural sound, singing, guitar, and throwing stones against the walls in this 50-meter wind tunnel that leads onto the sea in my home village of Saltdean near Brighton," Maker explains. "I sampled five minutes of the recording and made two tracks out of it!" Of course, Kimbie's music isn't all field recordings. "We use a lot of drum machines... the hip-hop drum pack on Fruity Loops is rinsed in nearly every track I have ever worked on in that program," Maker reveals.
Equally simplistic is their working method. "So far everything has been finished on Fruity Loops, with a couple of exceptions," Campos explains. You'd never be able to tell from the band's organic and diverse soundscapes, but their use of hardware is spare ("We don't use a lot of synths," says Campos). However, he does profess his love for loop pedals and the Korg Kaoss Pad, which they use extensively in their live show.
The Maybes EP showcased Mount Kimbie's almost rustic sound, with its majestic title track's gently descending riff lurching to life with a heaving-forward beat, and detached, pitched-up vocals sounding off in stirring fashion. It was followed up by the Sketch On Glass EP, which floated into funkier waters, employing a more colorful and playful palette of sounds. But July's Crooks and Lovers, the duo's debut LP, is a more realized statement of what Mount Kimbie is, in the holistic sense. Making the full-length "was a completely different and very challenging process," says Maker. "The EPs came together very easily... I feel like I've learned a lot putting this one together." Campos is quick to chime in, though: "I kind of want to write another one straight away." While the record took somewhere in the neighborhood of a year, Maker says he'd like to take longer still on the next one. Adds Campos: "There were a couple of moments when I was feeling very intimidated by the process, where I had to come to certain realizations or places in my mind. I really didn't write a single thing for about six months, which was difficult but a really good thing to deal with and get over."
"Before I Move Off"
This time around they have a better grasp of what they're going for, and have packed even more into those tiny songs. Crooks and Lovers features their typical assortment of chopped vocals, miniscule bleeps, queasy circular rhythms, and heavily manipulated live instruments, but it oozes with a fluidity lacking in their early material. They exude a new confidence, as witnessed by the silky guitar riffs of "Before I Move Off" or the slick liquid funk of "Mayor," and tracks like "Carbonated" and "Ruby" sound comfortably lived-in; the band admits that in terms of recording, these songs were not approached much differently than their EP counterparts, so it's no shock that they sound like an improvement rather than a reinvention.
They've also expanded their set of influences, loosening dubstep's grip and truly rising to the rare plateau of transcendence that has been ascribed to them since the beginning. "For me, going to Berlin was important—going out there and hearing and seeing this incredible techno sound," says Maker. "That trip made me respect and understand the hypnosis of just keeping a loop playing. That aspect has definitely rubbed off on this album."
The tempos are more varied than ever, as are the moods. "Blind Night Errand" dabbles in swollen acid sounds, while "Field" is like a strings-heavy Raster-Noton track, as electronics burst out into sunburnt guitar. "'Field' was certainly a kind of distilled and exaggerated response to a lot of Basic Channel stuff I was listening to," says Maker. Serendipitously, "A lot of techno people have been really into our stuff," Campos points out, reflecting the duo's broad appeal.
However much techno they might be listening to these days, the band is still rooted in UK bass music. They have a growing partnership with rising fellow Londoner James Blake, whose dramatically swooning electronics and distinctively distorted vocals seem like a natural couple with Mount Kimbie's twisted chipmunk voices. His influence is inescapable on Crooks and Lovers as vocals become more prominent ("Mayor" is a dead-ringer for Blake), which is appropriate as he's joined the band's live show as a sort of honorary third member. Campos happily agrees, calling James "a brilliant artist—someone who I can take ideas to and really engage with."
And in terms of engaging with others in the dubstep community, Mount Kimbie still has much reverence for the rapidly mutating genre. "This record wouldn't be here if it wasn't for dubstep," Campos says matter-of-factly. "I really don't mind whatever people want to call it. I feel grateful to be considered alongside some of the artists we get mentioned with. It seems like an incredibly interesting and fertile time for UK dance-influenced music at the moment." Ironically, Maker admits that their initial intention was to make straightforward dubstep—"but [we] couldn't really do it." Luckily, what they've created instead is so much more—and entirely their own.
Crooks and Lovers is out now on Hotflush.
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