Mindbending Brooklyn bass producer (with debut single, Mind Reader, out this week) who creates black masses out of occult symbols, ringtones, GIFs, Diva House.
KINGDOM made pretty much my favourite remix of last year, the astounding I Don’t Know. In a year so full of brilliant club tracks, this was the most, well, clubby of tracks, an audacious updating of Black Box’s Diva House classic I Don’t Know Anybody Else, a surging rush of a remix that reminds you of everything that is so impossibly glamourous and frightening about the experience of going out and getting out of it to fast-paced electronic music, and, by extension, life.
So, I obviously got terrifically excited when I heard that Acephale and Fools Gold are sticking out Kingdom’s debut EP, ‘Mind Reader’. Featuring the heightened emotional vocal of Shyvonne, it’s a similarly thrilling song, backed by some terrific remixes, including the L-Vis 1990’s version, available for download under Mikael’s portrait of Ezra. Where I Don’t Know retooled Diva House, Mind Reader is a rewriting of speed garage’s structure, taking Todd The Godd’s thuggy pound and crisping its bass, refining its vocal, expanding it exponentially, packing it full of chimes and so on. Like all of his work, it recalls not just the best of 90s rave, but something deep, deep in the DNA of dance music – the disembodied, pure emotion of the disco diva and that pounding eternal rush, that invincible mix of terror, impudence and ecstasy that only the very, very best dance music has.
Though Kingdom’s music is firmly, undeniably rooted in peak-time, big-room ‘funktionalism’, there’s something really weird and interesting about it. It’s something in the metallic shimmer and how it rubs against the organic give, something in the way the rush rubs so unforgivingly against the emotional depth, something about those beautiful top notes and how they float around the bass kicks. Anyway, it was really interesting to actually speak to him, and find out that he’s really into all the stuff you’d think (Todd Edwards, Crystal Waters, Night Slugs) and a few that you wouldn’t have thought (like ancient symbolism and Korean food).
Hi there, is that Kingdom?
Hi! Yes it is, can you hear me?
Yeah. So, you played Fabric the other night. How did it go?
Yeah, it went really well actually. It was my first time ever at Fabric, and it was really nice to see what it actually was. It seemed just like a really good club – but they go across the board, from the more mainstream stuff to the really underground music. I mean, it’s the big London club, isn’t it?
Yeah, pretty much. So, tell me about the Mind Reader EP.
Well, yeah, it’s my debut EP, it’s on Fools Gold, and there’s also a 10” version out on this Vancouver label called Acephale records.
Is that how you pronounce it? I’ve never been sure.
I think it’s ass-A-phal… I forget what it means. But anyways, it’s out on those two labels, the A-Side features a vocal from my friend Shyvonne, so there’s a big female R&B vocal on top, so it’s like a house-garage hybrid in a way, and a darker take on a Diva House song.
Diva House is one of those much-maligned genres. Why do you like it?
[Laughs] Well, I’ve never been one to be ashamed of my tastes based on social pressure, I try to take the music for what it is, and if it has emotional power and it works for me, it works. There’s a lot of straight-ahead Diva House that wouldn’t interest me, but when I put a Diva on a 150 BPM Juke beat then it takes it to a different place, and there’s a really strong female vocal and if you take it to different places with the way I produce the vocal, I think it could be really interesting.
It’s interesting – that remix of I Don’t Know reminded me really of that 1993-era rave music, where it’s so extreme in its joy that it’s actually really dark. Is that music a big influence on you?
Most definitely, most definitely, early rave, UK Hardcore, early jungle are definitely massive influences on me. There’s a lot of that with a really euphoric breakdown with strings and a female vocal, mixed in with a big, big bass that’s a really, really big influence.
You’ve been over here a few times, haven’t you?
Me and Bok Bok got in touch through the internet and appreciated what each other were doing – both with out nights and our visuals, because both of us do flyers and cover art for the stuff we do, and he hit me up and said he was coming over to New York to do an event, but I think I actually came over to London to play his Night Slugs party a few years ago – and that was my first international event, and we just hit it off instantly. His little crew of people L-Vis 1990, Girlunit. My next release is actually going to be a six-song EP on the NIght Slugs label. The connection just started over the internet, but now it’s a friendship connection.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, this unsung relationship between New York bass music and the London hardcore continuum, what with Todd Edwards and so on.
Yeah, the UK garage sound has been a massive influence, and Todd Edwards was incredibly important to that – he arguably invented the sound! Now there’s been a lot less I would say of that sound from the US, but I’m still really connected with it. I just like the whole continuum of hardcore-to-garage-to-grime-to-funky has always just been something I’ve been following.
Can you tell me something about you musical background?
I come from a semi-musical family. Nothing crazy to brag about [it’s only been 8 minutes and 34 seconds, but I feel that Kingdom isn’t one to brag about much] but my family, going back to my great grandparents, have been musicians of some sort, so I started out playing different instruments and played piano for a few years. I never was an academic musician, but my teacher was interesting because she was really into midi when it first came out, this was in the early and mid 90s, and she taught me to sequence on a computer and make beats basically. So I started making beats on my computer and a four track recorder around the house, I guess I’ve been making beats since I was 14 or so.
Are you from Brooklyn?
No, I grew up in rural Massachusetts actually, and there wasn’t much of an output for that sort of stuff really. I didn’t start making productions that I would call Kingdom that I would start sending to friends until about four years ago.
Was it easy to get hold of this sort of music growing up?
I’d say that the majority of garage tunes that I know now I’ve been exposed to since leaving Massachusetts, but there was a small jungle scene in Boston, and when I really little I was drawn to house [songs], the obvious ones – Crystal Waters and all that stuff, I’ve got the tape singles. But I’ve also been into hip hop and R&B since I was in middle school.
That’s really interesting – both R&B and early 90s house are examples of incredibly popular music that’s also so, so experimental, so I always find it funny when people strain to think of obscure house artists when, I don’t know, Black Box are just so, so perfect. [Laughs] So, you know, it’s nice to hear someone not straining.
[Laughs] Yeah, people have written about that before – when it comes across like “He’s got no shame, he used a Ciara sample” … I don’t know, I feel that pop, and underground, and everything in between, it doesn’t really matter, the context I’m trying to put it in, when I’m playing out, it’s a way to get them a little more interested in the beat.
There’s a lot of amazing mixes of yours floating about. Tell me about these.
I don’t really think about genre when I mix, I more base each one around a certain feeling or bass tone and springboard off from that. Or I see a certain room, or house, or structure or space, but it travels through many different variations of that, you know?
So, how did the Acephale thing come about?
Well, Bok Bok originally sent it to this blog network called Grindin’, and straight away, that day, Patrik called me and was really nice and really seemed to get the song. And I’m really a massive fan of Salem, this amazing group he broke. When we spoke he really understand what I was doing from a conceptual standpoint, and he did see that it was more than just club music – I do want it to be for the club, but I also want it to be dark and mystical and all those things. A lot of different types of music influence me – new age music, ringtones, weird, more ephemeral.
Awesome. Could you expand on that mystical, pagan side of your music? Um, actually, is it OK to call it that?
[Laughs] No, I like that! Well, definitely, maybe it comes from growing up in the woods, and not that my parents are pagan, but my Mom is a painter, and my Dad is an amateur philosopher, and you know, in the woods, that’s my roots. Growing up in nature and my family taking me out into the woods and into the mountains, I think nature informs the mystical side of my music.
Hang on, sorry – the office is filling up with smoke… Could I give you a ring back?
Um, sure. Are you OK?
Um, yeah, I think there may be a fire somewhere in the building … Can I can you back later?
A few days later (there wasn’t actually a fire, it was just some toast burning in the cafe below the office, the smoke came through the floorboards).
So, sorry about that. Could we pick up where we left off, talking about the mystical side of you music?
OK, sure …. It’s important to me that the beat is strong, and it’s important to me that the bass is heavy. But I like there to be that airy, ephemeral side to it, and music that ties into that is New Age music or chanting, or like, stuff like ringtones that just ephemeral sound basically.
I really like the visuals on your website and those animations on your youtube.
I’ve always loved music, but I studied art at university, and it was something that I was always going to do and still do to some extent. Now mainly my art practice is part of my music practice, so it goes into the design of my flyers and my album art and my websites and the animations I project at the club and so on. But that’s always been the thesis with my art work – to present something mystical through something very very, very base. Using craft materials or gifs or ringtones to look like it’s expressing some kind of ancient mystery.
Are these the symbols I see you wearing in pictures? Do they have any specific meaning?
Yeah, people always asked me to defend that at school, because there always was this occult, spiritual element to my visual work, but the whole point is that it’s inspired by sounds but there’s no spiritual thing it’s referencing. It’s my own spiritual language.
Your productions are really, really ecstatic; dark, but euphoric. If you wanted to push it – and I do! – you could see a crossover between what we think of occult communal practice and the music you make. Anyway, can you tell me about how your sound is developing?
I really wanted to push the ecstatic ravey-ness. I’ll continue to make full-on dance tracks, but I want to push it into sounds you wouldn’t expect on the dancefloor, but still make it work for the dancefloor – like, organic, wooden percussion mixed with really clean sub-bass and mechanical clicking sounds.
What are the other plans for the next few months?
I’m continuing to tour a lot. Most parties I play at the moment the majority of people don’t really know who I am, so I’m just enjoying that and getting myself out there. I’m also trying to tie together a lot of people around the states who are thinking in similar ways to me, and trying to build our little community, because the irony is that while I have a lot of people who like the same music as me, we don’t really know each other. Then there’s the Night Slugs EP which should be out in early Summer, and me, Alex Bok Bok and Manara have been collaborating over the internet, and something will hopefully come of that, maybe a group together.
Amazing! You tweet a lot about food. What’s you favourite dish?
[Laughs] Well! Actually, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes about a year ago. It’s the less common type, it’s not like health or diet related, but it’s totally managed and under control, but because it means I have to stick to a low carb diet, it’s meant that my favourite foods I haven’t been able to eat. It’s meant that I have a different relationship with food… My favourite food is Key Lime Pie basically, but it’s meant that I can’t eat that all the time.
Oh no! Presumably there are substitutes though?
Yeah, there are. But you can’t just like, eat a whole bowl of pasta. Gone are the days when I used to just eat half a cake in one go! But at the same time, I actually feel great because it’s a pretty good diet and I’m really into the way I eat now. It’s actually quite a boring question for me, because I mostly eat at home and most of the time that’s variations on salads and sandwiches. But the simple answer is that Korean barbeque is my favourite food to eat out.
Yeah! It’s truly amazing.