When Mount Kimbie first emerged from the ashes of the dubstep scene in 2009, they were quickly tagged with the “post-dubstep” distinction along with their friend James Blake. By 2012 though, dubstep had become a dirty word altogether and with the rise of EDM and “bro-step,” virtually no one wants to align themselves with the genre any further.
It’s telling of our culture of consumption the way that genres and sub-genres are currently swallowed and spit-out so quickly, but luckily, Mount Kimbie has learned to grow with their influences. Their rapid progress in and style and composition can be heard in the differences between their first two EPs and the 2010 full-length Crooks and Lovers, the latter managing to pass beyond the bounds of the club scene to reach the ears of a more discerning group of critics and fans.
In the time since their last album, the duo has performed everywhere from Chicago to Shanghai, while also signing to electronic arbiter Warp Records and picking up a new member. And though their frequency of releases has slowed down briefly, they’ve stayed busy working on the follow-up to Crooks and Lovers and testing out new equipment on tour, which is where I found them in LA a few weeks ago. – Aaron Frank
So what is the current status of the new album?
Kai: No date set. We haven’t even got a title. No artwork. A good deal of the songs are there, but very little is finished. Last time we ran right up to the deadline and got half of it done in the last two months, so it’s going to be the same this time. It will be out hopefully before summer.
Since you’ve signed to Warp, have you found yourselves with more resources for recording?
Kai: Yeah, I think most of the money we spent on this record has been on our studio, which we’ve been renting for six months now. We’ve got a small place in between both of our houses. It’s where a lot of really awful music is made, but we’ve got our little room. And it’s not perfect, but while we’re complaining about it, it’s really a pretty good situation.
I think we got it before we signed with Warp, but we probably couldn’t have afforded to stay in it this long. Not to go in to too much about the deal, but we spent most of the money on the studio and then some of it on new equipment we thought would be useful and interesting, and we got some free shit as well. It’s like when you have money, people give you free shit, but when you need it you have to pay for it.
What kind of free shit have you gotten?
Kai: Mostly stuff that we would never buy, like preamps, a nice channel strip. But it’s great. In a way it’s saved money, because there’s stuff that we can do now that sounds just as good as going in to a studio and paying an engineer that knows how to use it.
Have you expanded the use of live instruments on the new album?
Dom: Unfortunately for this trip, we couldn’t bring the drummer (Tony Koos) with us, since it’s quite a recent acquisition. But he’s going to be involved in the long run. He’s playing acoustic drums and bit of electronic stuff as well. I think we’re quite conscious of the fact that we didn’t want to have a drummer on every tune. It had to feel right for the song, and the beauty of it is, the guy we got, he’s a good friend and plays keys as well. And he’s obviously really in to what we’re doing so he’s keen to contribute in other ways as well.
Have you two personally experimented with any new instruments? In the past, it seems like it’s been mostly guitar, drums, field samples, synths and keyboards.
Kai: I think what I mostly play is just the keyboard. I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I feel much more comfortable and confident starting a song from just sitting down and playing. So that’s been the start for most of the stuff this time around. We’re also using guitar more than we should be heard on record doing. We’ve got a horn section that we’re working with when we get back. And we’ve got one track, which is just entirely acoustic drums that we’ll be recording when we get back.
When you’re coming up with songs, are you consciously thinking about composition or do you have any formal training in that area?
Kai: Not much, only at like school and stuff like that. But I had a really good teacher in school and got quite involved and spent most of my free time doing that. I was drumming then, but that was when I figured out you could use a tape machine to do everything yourself. So that was when I started playing guitar more and picking up keyboards and stuff like that.
I think probably at the beginning, it was somewhat directed by the fact that we don’t know what we’re doing and we didn’t really have any formal education or whatever. It was kind of liberating for the first few records because structurally, we thought what we were doing was really normal. So I find that I prefer the EPs because of that. When I go back and listen to those, I feel like we really found our voice on the EPs and with the album, I’m fond of it, but you go through lots of phases of thinking about what you want to do. I think with this one, I’ve tried to forget what we did on the last record and just instinctively feel where I should go. I have more of a varied sense of composition now.
Most musicians are influenced by what they’re listening to at the time as well. Do you guys have different things that you like or do your tastes mostly line up?
Dom: I think we come together on a few things.
Kai: Generally, if I’m listening to a record and it’s great, I’ll send it out to Dom and vice versa. But most of the time that I’m really listening to music or checking new stuff out, I’m by myself. But the stuff that’s really good crosses over. I guess on the last one, it was probably the height of our real excitement around dance music in the UK and I don’t want to say that we’re less influenced by it now, but there are definitely other things that feel interesting.
Dom: I think our taste, our spotlight has sort of moved because I think it’s been quite bland in the UK since we were touring. When we came back, it all changed quite a lot and I wasn’t getting excited about anything personally when I was going out. I think that we both latched on to more bands. Kai found that Ariel Pink stuff, which is awesome, and Tame Impala, that kind of thing. You get the picture.
Kai: I really like the R. Stevie Moore compilation that came out this year as well. The song structures were just crazy, but at the same time real grounded in pop music, so it was really interesting.
Have you guys gotten in to any of the new R&B artists that have surfaced in the last few years?
Dom: As in like pop R& B? I think we’ve probably gone further away from it than the last record. I would say I got kind of interested in doing something that was deliberately a bit colder than that.
I know it’s sort of a cliché, but I would imagine your surroundings in London probably have something to with that, particularly in the winter. Would you agree?
Dom: The actual area that we’re writing in is just fucking bleak. It’s not like a gangland or something like that. It’s just really fucking boring, just loads of industrial estates and the journey to that is pretty horrible. And it does have an effect on what we’re doing. So yeah, we were thinking the other day actually, just trying to work out what has really made us write what we’re doing at the moment, and I think a lot of it is where we are and where we’re going everyday.
What’s the area called?
Dom: It’s called South Bermondsey.
Kai: You have like no reason to go there unless you work in timber shipping or something like that.
Dom: You can’t really think of it as this beautiful concrete thing. There’s no romantic side to the area at all. That’s definitely made us make more of a cold, spiteful record. We’ve had a particularly bad summer. There’s hardly been any sunshine at all. I guess what you guys experience as winter has been like our summer. It’s been pretty cold and bleak.
So when you’re back home, are there any clubs you’re enjoying at the moment?
Kai: JFK’s man. There’s a poolhall with a bar in Peckham and they run nights there. Maybe a hundred people, really good.
Dom: It’s called Rhythm Section and you have to check it out if you’re in London. Peckham is turning in to kind of the new Shoreditch, but apart from that, to be honest we haven’t really gone clubbing like that in a while. Touring kind of takes it out of you a bit and we’ve just been doing other stuff. I’d rather go and see a band than go out and see a DJ now.
Kai: Still, going to see someone like Theo Parrish or something is like the highlight of the year for me.
Have you played with anyone on tour that caught your ear or maybe inspired you in a different way?
Dom: America is very different on the electronic side. It’s going through an altogether different thing. I mean, there’s some guys that we know in San Francisco and mainly California, like Shlohmo and Shigeto, people like that who we’ve come in to contact with on the road and become big fans of their music. Obviously you do see a lot when you’re touring and supporting people or whatever. I remembered we played in Tampa with two guys who sat on the floor in the middle of this place. There were about 35 people at the show or something. It’s always really odd things like that that you remember and they were great.
Kai: These guys were off their face from the afternoon onwards and had no idea who we were. They just wanted to play a show. And that’s very different from Europe when you’re playing with the same old people and start to feel like you’re in a traveling circus. Everyone knows each other’s sets and you don’t even go see your friends because you’ve already seen them 20 times that summer.
Dom: You just hang out in port-a-cabins basically…
Kai: Just getting fucked up and going to afterparties. So it’s good to see raw shit over here that’s completely different.
I know you’ve toured in some more far-flung areas as well. Have you seen anyone in Asia or places like that that’s been particularly inspiring?
Dom: You know who we did see actually was Ludacris in Shanghai. We didn’t share a stage annoyingly, but we were playing at the same festival. Really weird, man. It was sort of in the middle of a field in Shanghai and quite a strange vibe. A lot of ex-pats, so lots of British people and lots of Americans. And then quite a few large, obviously quite poor Chinese families, and you’ve got Ludacris on stage yelling like “Where the bitches at?!?!”.
Kai: The lineup was something like Gold Panda, Ludacris and then Jared Leto’s band.
30 Seconds To Mars? I saw them once. It was horrendous.
Kai: Yeah, they were really really shit. It was a strange festival to say the least.
So you mentioned America kind of going through this weird transition right now. I’m assuming you’re talking about the whole EDM craze with people like Skrillex and Deadmau5.
Kai: That’s a traveling circus. It’s just another reason for us to go in a different direction really. It makes us glad that dance music isn’t our only reference point. When we started out, it was all clubs and stuff like that, and over time we’ve had the chance to play more of the traditional circuit. We’ve played most of the same places that White Denim has played on this tour, and that’s kind of fun because rock clubs are set up a little bit better for us. It’s just nice to do the smaller ones that have been around for a while. You can tell a place like that because the in-house guys will be like “These fuckin jokers on stage, I can’t believe the kind of shit we’re letting in here.”
Well when you first started out, I know you were constantly tagged with the post-dubstep thing, but were you originally big fans of DMZ or Kode9 or anything like that?
Dom: The funny thing is that was all we got to speak about in the press when we were first starting out. It didn’t particularly have that much relation to what we were doing, but at the same time it was kind of what drove us to make music. That was all going on in London when we both moved there. It was really great, so we were going out to see DJs a lot more then than we are now. We would take trips to go and see people, so it was a huge influence. It was just when we came to write, we’d been listening to other music before that came about, so there was other stuff that was influencing us as well.
So what do you think the breaking point was with dubstep? As it stands now, it seems like most of the electronic music coming out of the UK is either house or just bass music.
Kai: At some point whilst we were on tour, we came back and it seemed like there was a way to make a post-dubstep record and everything that we encountered sounded like something that would’ve been interesting a year ago, just sort of bland and sterile. It was just really calculated and there was this pious snobbery about it. People would bitch about the tearout stuff, but the stuff they were doing was just as formulaic really.
All new genres, in dance music particularly, seem to eventually get oversaturated and commercialized though. Historically, would you say that’s been the fault of the artist?
Kai: I think, for one, post-dubstep was fairly easy to replicate. It wasn’t like free jazz came in to fashion and everyone started getting trumpets. It’s easier with electronic music, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing because it’s given people a wider range of entry points. It’s just the musicians, when people don’t push themselves for anything other than for the excitement of people hearing it.
Dom: I love the fact that people are so attracted to the bass and the kind of physicality of the bass. I think it’s so funny.
Kai: We do have a laugh at that, when people just go on about bass all the time, especially with our music. There’s literally no bass on our first two records whatsoever and people will be like “Oh the bass on that record!” So maybe we need to turn the treble up or something.