Dummy sat down with the enchanting Kim Ann Foxman for a wide ranging chat before she embarked upon her b2b set with Maya Jane Coles for Boiler x Ballantine's True Music platform.
Kim Ann Foxman feels like an old friend. Thanks to her work as one part of Andy Butler’s continually rotating collective Hercules and Love Affair, she’s been one of dance music’s most recognisable names – and voices - for a while now. But in person the singer, DJ and producer is more than simply familiar: she’s instantly warm and confiding – and disarmingly frank. In the space of 20 minutes Dummy covers everything from America’s seeming reluctance to embrace its electronic past to why she’s more likely to offer you a line of mangosteen powder than cocaine – nothing it seems is off limits.
Ask Foxman about the more delicately approached issues within music – the politics behind recent releases or how to protect the integrity of the scene whilst retaining the welcoming sense of inclusivity championed by its founding fathers – and her response is unglossed. “I don’t see any reason to keep quiet on things,” she says. “It seems only natural to talk about what’s happening and what we can learn from the past.”
Born and raised in Hawaii, a move to creative hub San Francisco introduced a young Foxman to the city’s buzzing club landscape before she took up residence in pre-Giuliani New York as the Big Apple enjoyed a major, albeit temporary resurgence in nightlife.
“I feel very lucky to have experienced New York in what was a boom time but it was only when I moved to London that I realised just how much the American mainstream had failed to appreciate the electronic music scenes we’d created,” she tells Dummy nostalgically. “Of course we’ve always had small pockets where the scene has always been fairly strong – San Francisco, New York, L.A, Chicago etc. – but the scenes in those cities are still much smaller than what people from Europe might expect them to be considering their heritage. “
"We’ve always had small pockets where the scene has always been fairly strong – San Francisco, New York, L.A, Chicago etc. – but the scenes in those cities are still much smaller than what people from Europe might expect them to be considering their heritage." - Kim Ann Foxman
“When I came over to London I was fascinated to see how normal electronic music was there - you heard it in taxis and supermarkets – it was so accepted and that was weird for me as that just wasn’t the case in the US. It was a slow comeback following its death in America. Now things feel like they have really exploded again and whilst America is still very pop cultured in its approach to music and still focuses a lot on the charts, electronic music now has a bigger presence in the States than ever before. I think that because pop music has tapped into electronic music – even though it seems to have gone more of an EDM route and I’m not into that at all - it made people more aware of club music and overall I think that’s a good thing.”
With electronic artists dominating playlists and even the most mainstream of festival line ups, she certainly looks to have a point but with all these Johnny-come-raveys comes a cost; is it one house and techno should be willing to pay?
“It’s difficult as when you have something beautiful you want to share it but you realise it also needs to be protected,” she muses. “The rise of festivals has changed the dynamic of clubbing. Festivals naturally attract eclectic crowds due to the diverse nature of their programming so have brought in a whole bunch of new people to the scene and this has of course affected clubbing. You want a night to feel like a solid story and so crossover electronic acts might find it a bit more difficult to maintain the same vibe. It is hard as you want to welcome people in without changing what you have.”
It’s interesting to note Kim’s commitment to togetherness in these divided times. Does she think it’s time contemporary dance music found more of a political voice?
“I think we’re going to hear more political statements in electronic music than ever before,” she responds emphatically. “As something built on open mindedness and freedom, we need as artists to push that agenda of tolerance and togetherness. In the recent past it hasn’t done so as much as it perhaps could have as a movement but I think we’re already starting to see our music being used as an instrument to initiate positive change."
Having started her own label Firehouse in conjunction with the Vinyl Factory a few years back, Dummy asks Kim how much of a role independent labels have in safeguarding the future of the scene, a question which she has no hesitation in answering.
“Of course they have a massive role, they’re the lifeblood of the scene “ Kim beams. “I think it’s great that people can put out their own music as easily as they can nowadays. Previously, artists often had to sacrifice a lot to get their music heard. Major labels had a big say in output and that didn’t lead to necessarily the most creative outcomes. I started my own label as a vehicle for my own music free of the pressure of others. It’s also easier logistically - I was really frustrated with having to wait a really long time to release new music due to other labels hectic release schedules. Being able to take back control on every aspect of my work was an incredibly liberating process.”
Boasting a most distinctive sound, Foxman’s productions conversely reflect her eclectic nature, be that in her curiously assembled DJ sets comprised of jacking sounds from across the wide spectrum of electronic music or her quirkily on point fashion sense, this is a woman who does things her own way. So being bombarded with so much similar sounding material just how does she avoid being lured in to the artistic echo chamber?
“It is hard to filter through because there is so much out there you can slip in to a wormhole of discovery that actually prevents you from creating anything new,” she states earnestly. “Like everyone else my friends continually introduce me to new music and you can quickly identify what excites you personally and how you might be able to frame that within your own sound.”
"Previously, artists often had to sacrifice a lot to get their music heard. Major labels had a big say in output and that didn’t lead to necessarily the most creative outcomes." - Kim Ann Foxman
“There are also lots of older tracks that when revisited can inspire you to innovate, those special pieces of music that continue to move you time after time. As A DJ, I like the elements of surprise and mystery so that encourages me to think outside the box. There are lots of DJs who when they play, like to play the ‘big tunes’ everyone else is playing and to play tracks that feel symmetrical in their design whereas I come from a different attitude where in I like things to not be shazam-able. I like to throw in surprises to catch my audience off guard.”
“The one thing is though you have to be willing to find a gem and be able to let it go as soon as you play it out! I dig really hard to continually uncover new ‘old’ music to keep things fresh. It’s crazy how many great records of the past never got their time in the spotlight the first time around and so it’s great to be able to right that wrong sometimes!”
So what surprises does Ms. Ann Foxman have in store for us this year?
“Well I’ve just released the Energy EP so I’m going to give that a little bit of time to breathe before putting anything else out,” she explains. “Then I’ll have a set of new records to follow. I’m also involved in a collaborative project which I’ve finished – it’s proper band style, me and two friends in Brooklyn working together on content for a much broader audience than my solo work. It was such a fantastic experience as we grew so much together in a really organic way. I’m really happy with the results and hope other people enjoy listening to it as much as we did making it."
Oh and if you’re wondering where we were going to mention why Kim is more likely to offer you a plate of mangosteen than class A drugs, that’d be due to her dad owning a ‘super food’ business – so there you go. Get jacked up on beats and beets. Both Dummy and Kim wholly recommend it!
Not lucky enough to have joined us in Madrid? Fear not, you can check out Kim Ann Foxman's blistering b2b set with Maya Jane Coles for the Madrid leg of Boiler Room x Ballantine’s True Music series in full below.