It starts with a tap. And then another tap. A one-two, one-two, bouncing beat. A snare? Maybe, but it’s muted. And then more pulses. The beat is shrinking–but somehow, it’s still sharpening. More filters now, the beat is getting warmer. Skitzy. Slippery. A swirling echo rises underneath, led by a horn. And then, as the bumping grows, the bottom drops out. Three minutes later, the dark vocals finally hit:
Shadows turn to grey
A slave today
He cowered beyond reckless tracks of impulse
Made to stray around rough coasts
When grace is close to home
That’s “Made to Stray,” the lead single from British duo Mount Kimbie, a.k.a. Dominic Maker and Kai Campos. The song comes from the band’s new album, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, an excellent collection of post-dubset from South London, an area that’s sprouted the likes of Burial and others in the rising underground electronic music scene of the past few years. It released yesterday, and the band takes the stage at the Bowery Ballroom on Thursday.
With Cold Spring, the band’s second full-length album, they’ve arrived–more focused, more precise, but still very much their own sound and voice. Adding more vocals (including two guest verses from King Krule), the record could be (and has been already by some critics) looked at as more of a push to the mainstream, but that remains to be seen. Last month, I called England and chatted with Maker and Campos about the perceptions of their music, the Americanization of dub-step, and when that bass will finally drop, man.
How was the recording process for this record?
Dominic Maker: Probably started writing songs for it about a year, going on maybe a little bit longer. Like with the first one, it actually only really came together in the last three months of the process. We didn’t want this one to be a rush, and in the end it was exactly– we were kind of writing songs whilst we were doing the mixing and things like that.
How did you arrive onto this nontraditional sound?
D: I was thinking about this today as I was listening to the record — you’ve got to figure out a song’s life, played on different instruments, and I think the songs are, actually, kind of pretty. I don’t think they’re massively ground breaking in a lot of ways, but we got here by accident–just figuring out a lot of stuff by yourself in a lot of ways. Starting off as being very technically proficient forces you to develop, and you develop something kind of individual.
Was it difficult?
Kai Campos: Just that we were using a wider palette of sounds for the songs. We were very influenced by rehearsal and practice and going out and playing them live, and other songs were more entirely studio recorded, which all of our first album was. The woman who was doing the mastering, when she was first listening to it, she was like, “It sounded like three different bands or something.” But I do feel like it’s there. Obviously, you’d hope it’s a closer record to what you want to achieve, and hopefully the next record will be even closer.
What’s it like being a perfectionist who makes such odd music?
K: I think over time I tried to definitely become less of a control freak in terms of what’s actually going on in the studio. Any time in front of the computer, you can get obsessed with stuff that people wouldn’t even notice, stuff that isn’t even audible. Really technical stuff, the shapes of things–stuff that no one hears or cares about. I’ve sort of let that go. I never used it before, so, which is just a stupid thing to do, so I’ve just kind of let go of that.
The first album requires a lot of closeness and an ideal environment, like really good speakers. Unintentionally or not, I think this one is definitely more direct in certain ways, more confident, exploring ideas. I was listening to the old album yesterday for the first time in a long time, and if we now had these hooks, we’d have made much better songs out of them. We kind of ran the pipes more with this album.
How does confidence affect your creative process?
D: I think we were always confident, but we weren’t during some stages of writing of the record–some pretty big lows of not making what we wanted to make, and not feeling like we knew where the record was going to. Getting to a point where you feel quite low about where the record is going, the only way to go is up. It just kind of swings back the other way, and then everything starts making sense. I guess this is the second album, so people have expectations for it. That’s kind of a negative thing, but it’s also easier to put what you’re doing in context. If people heard the first one, you can take things a little bit further, and people know where you’re coming from.
Your first record was really well received. Do you feel pressure?
K: I’m more excited than anything else. It’s really happening, and more so than the first album. We’re excited about getting to play them, and just having the album out there, really. Sitting on these songs and waiting to get them out when the record label and other people think it’s the time. The first thing that came out got a good reaction, and it’s perhaps not representative of the rest of the record, but it’s quite different from the first album.
How do you feel that that changed you as a live band?
K: We just got a lot better. It’s great what technology can do, but I don’t think anyone has time to go see a band and then see them apologize because SoundCloud isn’t working or something. It’s not that rock ‘n’ roll. I think we’ve got better at just plugging in and starting playing.
How many pieces of equipment would you estimate that you have onstage?
K: Seven or eight. No. Wait. Nine or 10 things that make noise, and then other things that kind of loop it or process it.
Tell me about the addition of King Krule the record.
D: We weren’t sure that we’d be singing much on it, and at the time we didn’t want it to be an electronic album featuring a lot of different singers or whatever.
So then why him?
D: We were just super-excited about his work, really. I thought there was a kind of correlation between what we were doing, in that he was using quite sparse arrangements. He was doing something that was still really personal and quite original but rooted in soul, traditional soul structures and pop melodies. We went to see him play when we were back in London and spoke to him and he was actually a fan and wanted to do something, so that was great and it happened very naturally. We came into the studio that we were working in and listened to some stuff and then he went away, came back, and had some ideas. He was just working with us, in the studio, on the spot–which is kind of how I wanted it to happen anyway, rather than him just filing in or sending us something.
How long have you two known each other?
K: Seven years.
See also: Electric Daisy Carnival’s Pasquale Rotella on When the EDM Bubble is Going to Pop
How did you meet, and how did your relationship develop?
K: We just lived on the same block of housing for university, and Dom’s flatmate was in my class at school, so we just became good friends, did a lot of broke stuff. We drank a lot.
Does that change? Because I feel like I’m still broke and drinking a lot and I’ve been out of college awhile.
D: That’s true. [Laughs.] I’m still doing the drink, but, yeah, we’re just a bit older. Our relationship was natural. We talked about doing stuff together, and it didn’t seem like a bad idea, and it started to work pretty well, and we were both going for the same thing. We both got excited about the same sound.
How do American audiences respond to your music?
K: They’re always really, really good. They’re always really, really up for it. And quite forgiving when things go wrong. And I just feel that Americans are way more confident in expressing themselves by, you know, shouting. The English are much more reserved. Come away from UK shows thinking, “What an awful show,” and then you see a comment on Twitter or whatever saying, “that was fantastic.” [English] just don’t really express themselves in the same way. In America, it’s always full. It just feels like a land that’s built for touring. The land. The kind of people you meet. The cats you meet. People are just a lot more welcoming, and they approach you. They’re just generally more friendly. Aside from being in a band, it’s just–you meet people in various airports and restaurants, and people just seem ready to chat. So you feel a bit more at ease on stage and–the majority of our best moments were probably in the USA.
D: I guess in the same way, being quite a small band–the internet having a kind of fan base to warrant world tours is that people feel like it’s their discovery, you know–this little band from England. And so people are quite pleased that we make the effort to come over, which is obviously not the case in England. People are just like, who are these pricks who think they’re all that?
D: You take that to Tallahassee and they’re crazy-thrilled.
How do you feel about the Americanization of dubstep?
K: I think dubstep was turning to shit over here before it started getting really bad in America, so it was already on the turn. It’s not something that we’re particularly concerned with. I mean, it was a really exciting, interesting time to be in South London in 2007 or 2008 when we lived there and were exposed to a lot of that, but it was something that started becoming repetitive before it started becoming completely global. It’s not like we only listened to dubstep at that point, and you know we were making music before that and we’ll carry on even after it’s gone.
Is it weird for you that EDM is topping the Billboard charts?
D: Yeah, yeah. Really inappropriate places like just quiet restaurants and stuff. You’re just trying to buy some shoes and it’s like, what? A lot of film trailers as well, I’ve realized. It just doesn’t seem to fit, but I guess it’s pretty hot.
Have you felt a trickle-down of that to you?
K: Still waiting for that. Still waiting for the big bucks to start rolling in. I mean, I don’t know. Hopefully kids who are like 17 or 18 now will change. But, you know, I had terrible taste in music when I was that age, so I’m in no place to judge. I’m happy we’ve got a fan base.
Have you ever had anybody, like, request a Skrillex song or anything?
D: Not recently. It’s been a few dodgy ones where old drink women are yelling at you to play something they can dance to and stuff like that.
K: It’s when the DJ before us has been playing a lot of kind of tear-out dubstep stuff, and these quite woozy, ambient tones start coming out of us and everyone’s like, “What? Where’s the bass, man. Where’s the bass?”