Kamal Joory - Part 2 (of 2)
© Brian David Stevens
Continued from Part 1
…And what about the fact you’ve done a lot of stuff with vocalists? That’s not really standard in dubstep, was it conscious on your part to give a particular appeal?
I am in some respects a bit of a weird music listener. There’s not many people I know, apart from Juliet [his partner at the time of the interview, now wife] maybe, who like all the kinds of music that I do. I’ll listen to really dark, experimental, strange music, but I also like pop music, even current chart music – if I hear a good song, I’ll say that’s a wicked song, I’m really into that. I don’t care if it’s made in a really bad-hearted kind of way, for purely commercial reasons, and there’s nothing new about it – if it works in terms of the melodies and construction I like it. I can appreciate really well-made pop music far more than really badly-made sound experiments or rave music, because I can see the skill involved. I’d much rather listen to something in the charts where I can hear something engaging in the melody than some boring bit of minimal techno where I just think a machine could have done that by itself – and literally it could.
So what I’m trying to say is that me working with vocals, it’s not nearly as contrived as maybe it might feel – I am really into that sort of shit, I am really into R&B and soul singing, but I’d just never known how to do that or how to incorporate it, and most importantly I’d never met the right person until we met Marita, for example. It wasn’t particularly an idea of let’s do something with vocals, it was once again just let’s make some music. And it definitely wasn’t about appeal, I mean you saw with ‘Reminissin’ – originally it was just this 2-step track that only Oneman liked, and it was only later after it had been remixed by a few people including myself that it became something that more people could play out.
Well and it’s not like you weren’t working with melodies, chord structures – song structures, basically – long before you worked with singers.
Yeah, although actually the first time I worked with Marita was ‘Unnecessary Stress' and that wasn't a song at all, it was much more grainy, I realised recently it's quite David Lynch-y, quite sort of “what's happening?”. It's quite spooky, it's like you're straining to hear and someone's just whispering funny stuff at you – or maybe they're not! It's that sort of angle. I think she wanted to make more of a song then, actually, but it just didn't happen, it's just little bits of songs, bits of moods, but she kept on the pressure to make a song and we made 'Reminissin' and it was just, OK, we'll let the song dominate here.
And now, listening to ‘Sugar Coated Lover’, also with Marita, you’re clearly getting a lot of inspiration from UK funky, which is obviously a genre that encourages songs – did you jump on that as soon as you heard these kind of pirate radio house rhythms, or did that take a while to filter into your work?
Woah I don’t want to come over like I’m determined to make lots of songs; I’ll only make it if it’s the right song, I don’t ever have to worry that I’ve got to make another great song!
But melody is important to you…
Yes, melody is massively important to me, and I think sometimes slightly to my detriment – I might make better dance music if I used less melodies, after all you quite often realise that the thing you dance to most is the thing that’s just got one note. And I don’t really do that.
Of course, some of the most danceable records of all time are those Chicago jack trax on Relief or Dancemania that are just pure atonal repetition. But going back to funky, when did you first start becoming aware that there was this British house sound which you could relate to?
I can’t really remember… [turns to Juliet] What was the first funky record we ever got? [Juliet: “I dunno, I remember last summer getting really into that Supa D mixtape”] Ah yes, Supa D’s Rinse CD was really important in terms of playing it around the house, listening in detail and realising what’s good about this sort of music – and what’s bad about it, too, because some of it is just terrible. The best sort of stuff is things like that ‘Sweet Blue’ song by someone called Daniel Sea, that’s really beautiful… and what else is good? [Juliet: “all that DJ Gregory stuff”] Oh yes! Yeah, we’d had all these DJ Gregory tracks on another older album, and suddenly it fitted into place, how it was the same but different – and then more and more as I looked for other things that could mix with it, I realised more that there was so much from across the years that did fit exactly with it, without it being exactly repeating the past. There’s a lot that’s really good now – Ill Blu are wicked, I think, that’s the best part of funky: it’s accessible to everybody, it could get in the charts, but it’s still quality. That ‘Big Boys’ tune they did [with Princess Nyah] is wicked, especially with the video which is just really really funny – it’s the best sort of UK urban product we could make, it is the sort of thing that could be acceptable on a world level, but it’s still got that really British sense of humour to it.
Cheeky, a bit Carry On even…
Yeah, not too Americanised, not too shiny still. You can imagine those girls in the video meeting people and having a laugh with them, not being these aloof divas, you know what I mean?
It’ll be interesting to see with this generation of vocalists, with Nyah, or with someone like Donae’o, whether they do try to push on to the world stage, or whether they’ll stall in the way that most of the people who came through UK Garage do…
Yeah, I mean Donae’o obviously wants that, doesn’t he? He’s been looking at America for a long while now – and he definitely deserves it, although I don’t know whether it will really work with the rest of the world. I mean it appears that Ms Dynamite, for example, is actually getting much more back to where she originally came from in terms of doing something quite underground, and I don’t mean this with any disrespect whatsoever but I think that’s absolutely brilliant: she’s tried, and done quite well in the big pop world, but it seems realised that it’s quite soulless and the label don’t care about you or understand you really, you’re talking to a lot of people who are nice you because they’re paid to be, and they’ll be just as nice to some rock band tomorrow and not be giving you a second thought. So maybe she’s realised that if she works with Sticky again [referring to the producer of her classic 2001 ‘Booo!’ with whom she also made 2009’s excellent ‘Bad Gyal’], that she can do something that ‘s really wicked.
Well, who’s ever going to be as impassioned about one of her tracks where she was being groomed to be Lauryn Hill as they are about ‘Booo!’ - a tune which still to this day sends people absolutely apeshit?
So if you enjoy pop vocals and enjoy these big dance tracks, have you ever reached out to bigger labels with a view to producing more commercial artists?
No I haven’t. It’s not something I’d be against, at all, and like you say I always do melodies and songs – I wouldn’t be against working with anyone, it’s just that nobody’s asked me. And of course because I don’t live in London and I don’t see people all the time, I’m not on the scene to do that sort of thing, I don’t network with people like that.
That’s something that’s happening with dubstep, big time – obviously the Skream La Roux remix has now opened doors, and you’ve got things happening like Magnetic Man working with John Legend. Is that something you ever imagined happening when you first heard dubstep?
Hmmm. I think I’ve got a few things to say about this. I think I’m a little bit stupid in my own head, in that to me, whatever I’m into is big. When we used to put electronica nights on, and we’d flyer it all over town and put in all this effort – I now think, what on earth did you do that for? There would have been so few people who saw that poster and went “Oh! Freeform! I’m really into him, I’ll go and see that in a couple of weeks!” I find that absolutely absurd that we used to do that, now that I know how it really works in the club world – that there are certain names that are big at any given time, and they work and pretty much nothing else does – but, you know, it’s good because we were really into it. So yeah, whatever I’m into, I think it’s big, and I can’t quite register that everyone else isn’t really into it.
But I do think that, not singling out anyone in particular, whenever we get into this territory of “breakthroughs”, “big breakthroughs” and “oh, so and so Radio 1 DJ really likes it”, when underground music finally gets to that level, it’s crap. I mean I guess it’s just that I’m into really weird music, and by the time anyone gets to that level, to the “big breakthrough”… well, I dunno. If they can get there without compromising themselves, then great, but I don’t really see that that’s particularly happening. I think we’re at a time when we really need some critical faculties – I come from a grumpy bastard world of rave casualties who got into stuff like electronica, and from the outset that mentality was hypercritical: you’d say in a moment if something was wicked, but you’d also say if it wasn’t. But at the moment there does seem to be a world of congratulation where it’s always “big up” and everything is “great” all the time, when actually it’s just not, and I really don’t think that’s very healthy to be honest. Every track that comes out is great, and everyone’s a genius, but I just don’t see it like that. But then I’m looking at it from a different point of view; if you look at it from a purely commercial dance music point of view, maybe everyone is really amazing and productive, but I don’t see it is creating great music. Do you see what I mean?
Well I do, but isn’t there a contradiction here between your love of pop music, but not liking people from underground rave music moving towards populism? Isn’t that creating a space where really interesting new pop can emerge?
Maybe. Maybe. But our rave producers are not Darkchild [i.e. US R&B producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins], do you get me? That’s why I don’t think I’m contradicting myself.
But is there any reason why they shouldn’t become that?
Well, maybe they could be eventually. I dunno, I just don’t get excited when I hear Rihanna’s asked to be produced by Chase & Status, because the people who are already producing Rihanna are already doing a perfectly good job as far as I can see, they’re already making a better, more sophisticated product! I guess with pop and R&B I like it for different reasons, I like it for what it is, I like it to get into that Hollywood world for a bit and appreciate the artistry and the gloss in that way. I don’t necessarily want it to have rave credibility.
Well personally, I think a record like Britney Spears’s Blackout album is absolutely amazing, and that is the pop gloss you’re talking about, but fused with a real European electro-techno sensibility, even with dubstep wobble bass on one track. And if you listen to a lot of what The Neptunes or Timbaland do, they constantly take influences from what you might call underground music, and it’s precisely that which keeps it fresh…
OK, yes, that’s true – but it’s taken a long, long time for what you’d call European dance music to infiltrate that world. I do remember thinking it was really interesting when Missy Elliot did that Miss E So Addictive and it all seems they were getting into ecstasy, really shamelessly emphasising that “E” on the cover, that was really funny anyway.
Right, talking of hip hop and dance music, there’s been an increased interest in those kind of electro/booty fusions whether from the states or elsewhere – Baltimore club, Chicago juke, but also things like Kuduro from Angola. The UK influence of grime, dubstep and funky is fairly obvious in your sound, but do you follow any of these sort of beats?
Well I was fairly heavily aware of the axis of Portuguese-speaking music like Kuduro or Funk Carioca – Juliet’s got very strong links with all those things – and I really liked Funk Carioca a lot, then I quite quickly got bored with it because every track literally does sound exactly the same. But it’s fun. At first I was particularly interested in how ridiculous their sampling was, I mean how much they would sample, the whole solo from a track, or just an entire section of ‘Planet Rock’ or whatever, but yeah it’s wicked, and it’s really nice to hear the 808 used in this new context.
And Kuduro is interesting, I was introduced to Buraka Som Sistema, who are really popularising it, when we went to Portugal to play at a dubstep club out there. I’m very happy that Afrobeat is more popular now, that Tony Allen is still continuing that and people are hearing the African influences in modern records and digging up more old stuff from the ’70s or whenever. There’s Sega music from Mauritius, which is very very African in influence, and there’s one track I’ve done in a Sega style at a funky tempo – I’ve played that in a couple of clubs, didn’t really work so I’ll not be playing it out again, but I think a few people might like that to listen to at home.
But really the kind of things I’m interested in doing at the moment are that area that’s been called “wonky”, which frees me up to do what I want pretty much, in terms of whatever out-of-timeness, non-melody, weird melody or whatever I want, at any tempo from 70bpm up to 100 or so. I like the fact that this is the climate now, where there’s that, there’s 120, 130 house music, 140 dubstep, and I’m really interested in working at 170bpm now after having seen Instra:Mental – seeing them DJ was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.
This might give you a picture of the slightly bizarre way I think about music, but one of the really good things about it was the way the guy looked when he was DJing; not like waving his arms around or falling about like “waheeeey”, but he actually looked like he was going to cry at one point because he was so deeply into what he was doing. Brilliant, the man’s doing a job, and he is fully into it, he’s fully feeling that music and I’m feeling it along with him. And that’s something I feel sometimes just isn’t there in a club – it’s all to celebratory, and nobody’s stopping to think “is this actually any good?” Everyone’s having a great time, but is anything really actually happening? I know, I’m cynical I guess, but I do think it’s possible to have a really good time and for there to be so much more to it. I dunno. Instra:Mental is a really good look, though. I love the way with what they’re doing, you can look at their podcasts and see a couple of Autechre tracks in with drum’n’bass or whatever elese. They play what they want.
It makes me laugh that dBridge, who does those Autonomic podcasts with Instra:Mental, was in Bad Company. I mean Bad Company! The absolute epitome of raging drum’n’bass noise, which might be well made but it’s hardly emotionally engaging, and here he is doing this incredibly considered, often very beautiful music.
Yeah it’s interesting isn’t it? Coming from something I’m really not into, then making this very very interesting stuff. He sings really well too.
A lot of times chatting with other critics, we talk about looking for that ‘Wot U Call It’ moment – referring to the name of that Wiley track – where a sound is as-yet undefined, the possibilities aren’t reined in by genre yet, although you can see the genre emerging. I do think that what’s called “wonky”, although I loathe that name and I don’t think it will stick, is in that state – and it seems likewise with what you’re talking about here.
What, the Instra:Mental type stuff? You reckon?
Well you don’t have a name for it, do you? You just referred to it as “170bpm music”, and it’s not drum’n’bass as such, it’s something else.
Yeah, I guess so. There’s that Russian label, too, KosMos that’s really good like that, they’re doing the same kind of thing – Electrosoul System is one of them, I can’t remember the other artists, I tend to pay more attention to labels I guess – but it’s really mad that this is coming out of Russia. What’ll happen though is they’ll do these tracks I really like, but on the a-side it’ll just be “oh, this is just drum’n’bass isn’t it?” and it is drum’n’bass, really traditional, nothing new, and nothing I’d like. I remember chatting to the guy in the shop and he just went “yeah, that’s the dance side, the side people dance to, the other one’s the one you’d like” [laughs]. It’s a fine line, though, with that stuff you can easily get that stuff wrong but create a club banger that people will like, but if you put more into it, you can take it weirder, break the beat up, make something more interesting and still keep their attention. It’s really interesting when I describe it to people who don’t like drum’n’bass, I say “it kind of hovers, then it goes WOM-WOM, WOM-WOM chicka WOM-WOM” - everyone goes “wow, sounds brilliant!” and you play it to them and they’re amazed that is what it sounds like, almost like ragga.
Ha, I think I called one dBridge & Instra:Mental release “zero gravity dancehall” in my review. And yes, this so-called “wonky” stuff, the mutant hip hop beats – again, the great thing about that seems to be this space that’s opened up for experimentation, while still being about moving bodies on a dancefloor.
Yes, that’s exactly what I find so interesting about it, that it seems to be able to be played in clubs, but it’s pretty weird – and that didn’t seem to be allowed just a little while ago, that option was closed off, but this seems to have changed and I think that in itself is really positive. So trying to understand how that’s happened, is it drugs, is it ketamine or something, or is it people being bored of what they’ve heard before?
I do think the half-step, half-tempo element of dubstep broke open the gates for a lot of other stuff, it suddenly reminded people that beats could pull and flow from one to the next rather than having to “pump” or drive the rhythm forward, and you could still dance to it.
That’s interesting, how have you seen it from “Mixmag world”, like how has the mainstream club world perceived it? I’ve definitely seen clubs grimacing and going “what is this shit, take this off” when dubstep was played…
Well for a long time, I think the perception was either that it was super-aggressive, or that it was super-boring, and that’s because all the dubstep that Mixmag people were hearing was coming via other scenes, either via the drum’n’bass scene or via the Berlin minimal techno type scene – and the stuff that got played in the drum’n’bass scene was all the stuff like Skream and Caspa with see-saw riffs and really aggro buzzing sounds, while the stuff that came through the techno scene was the very floaty cerebral stuff like Scuba and so on, which kind of requires complete immersion to really enjoy, and otherwise can sound bland. So you had this real split perception, and then just really recently you’ve had stuff coming up in the middle that’s neither of those things like some of the stuff that Breakage does, or Joker’s remixes of acts that everyone knows, and they’re really nonplussed, they realise this stuff totally works in a club in terms they can understand but is still part of this new thing that they’ve not been able to grasp before. And of course so much stuff in the mainstream of club music is dubstep-influenced now, all this stuff like Jack Beats or Toddla T, it’s given permission for enormous sub-bass and more of a soundsystem mentality even in commercial electro-house clubs. So the thing is, it’s crept in on so many fronts, it’s made its presence felt in so many ways that now it’s just part of the fabric of normal club music.
Yeah I suppose that’s what I’ve seen, I mean any normal club DJ in any genre will probably drop a couple of dubstep tracks now, because all the kids go crazy for it – but they didn’t support it before, it’s just a nice little trick for them to be able to go “there you go, I’m on this now, I’m up to date.”
It’s maybe a bit different round south London where I live, because we’re close enough to Croydon, and close enough to where DMZ is held, that if I DJ in a pub and all people want is funky or bashment, I can actually throw in classic dubstep tracks and they’ll know them and like them. Obviously ‘Midnight Request Line’ and ‘Night’ because those crossed over into the grime scene, but more obscure ones too. But yeah, in mainstream clubland I guess just in the last six months we’ve reached the point where people pretend they’ve always known these tracks and always been into dubstep, because it’s so inescapably part of the dance music world now.
Well and that inevitably affects the music doesn’t it? I mean when there’s only twenty people down FWD» and a only couple of other clubs anywhere in the world playing it, it’s going to be a totally different headspace around where you take that music and what you can do with it than it is when you’re thinking this track might get played from one of the main stages at Glastonbury after Lily Allen’s just played. So I think to me that’s one of the reasons I don’t like the music so much any more, because it’s made to please everyone who might be listening, whereas before it was made to please a very specific and very exacting crew of people, so if you did it wrong they’d turn around and go “What the fuck’s that? I don’t like that, it’s some other thing.”
Is there anyone in that world you do follow, anyone you think is true to that ethos then? For me, Peverelist is someone who has this fiercely focused musical vision that is absolutely about the dark club, and Kode 9 too in many ways.
Oh yeah those are good examples, but I guess really the thing is that in the early days the quality control was total – very few records would come out and you’d buy them all and they’d all be really interesting – whereas now there’s so many more, hundreds every week or something, and you have to comb through them all to get to the good stuff. There’s probably just as many good tracks coming out of the scene, probably more, just that there’s a load of other crap that I’ve got no interest at all.
And in terms of how you get your music out there, it sounds like you’re reconciled to being weird music that only a limited section of people will “get”, is that fair?
Yeah, sure. I’d love to think it will be massive one day, but realistically it probably won’t so I’m happy with that.
Is there a sense that you court obscurity a bit? I mean you did this melodic dubstep-style stuff when you launched the Berkane Sol label, then got known for vocal tracks, then did an instrumental album [Island Noise, 2007] that was different from either of those sounds, then moved on to doing this more funky-influenced sound, and now onto wonky hip hop and half-tempo drum’n’bass… Do you enjoy confounding people’s expectations like that?
I dunno, I think it’s partly just because singles seem to be what is working at the moment – I think I’m actually more of an album type producer, that’s my natural format, but it seems that singles is what people like, two tracks at a time, so that’s what I give them. I’d be happy to do another album, but singles seem to work better.
So why did you make an album that was such a shift from what you were doing? I mean, compiling your tracks on the label to date would have been a more commercial move, but instead you did a whole album in a very coherent but slightly different style…
A lot of people said that, that I should have done a compilation, and maybe I should. Kode 9 said what I’d done was a fantastic dub album, and that’s a pretty fair description of it. It doesn’t have the sonic shocks that a lot of people expect from dubstep, it’s definitely laid back, looking back maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do for the audience. It’s a bit too much about what I wanted to listen to, maybe, rather than giving it up for other people, I don’t know.
So are you going release-by-release now, just seeing what mood or style takes you as time goes on?
Yeah, yeah I’m happy like that, seeing how it goes, building towards another album eventually, I’d definitely like to do another full-length at some point. Maybe there’ll be a compilation, but I don’t really like the idea of it if I’m honest, it feels like going backwards – if something’s out there it’s out there, it’s done, especially with digital now, people could compile these tracks themselves. Why would I want to put a CD together of tracks people already had? It seems unnecessary.
So there’s an aspect of wanting people to come to the music like you do as a collector, actually seeking it out? Are you saying you actually don’t want to hand it to them on a plate?
Yeah I guess that’s fair. But I mean, you ask me questions that suggest I might avoid appealing to people – and it’s not like I actually want to only appeal to a tiny amount of people, that would be a ridiculous desire, but if you are quite militant about what you do, and the thing you’re militant about is something that not many other people are, then that’s how it ends up being. So no, I’m not pushing it at anyone. I mean I want DJs to play my tunes, and there are certain rules that follow from that – the tracks have got to be fun in a certain way, they’ve got to be lively, they’ve got to have big sounds in them. It’s a bit of a hard one, I’ve got wide tastes and I think just about anything with a strong rhythm is danceable – but that’s not the case with most people, they wouldn’t describe nearly so many things as danceable as I do…
Well, there’s the DJ’s art isn’t it – if it’s done right, by contextualisation they show people how things they might not expect are danceable. I’ve recently seen someone play Can in the middle of UK garage tracks and it work perfectly, and to a Saturday night dance crowd as well.
Well that’s the ideal, isn’t it? It just doesn’t happen that much.
Ha, well that leads me to my last question to round it up, really… Although you say this, you don’t seem embittered. You seem to like to be grumpy about music, but I don’t get the idea that you’re disillusioned. Do you still feel optimistic about the possibilities for what you can do personally?
Yes. Probably even more now than ever. There’s always something new to find out, there’s always new things to try as a producer, and – something that’s very important to me personally – there’s always new people to collaborate with. So I might complain about this or that, about the way that mainstream dubstep went, but there’s so many more things around to be positive about. I’m just one of those people who’s very critical, but like I say, I’ll always say when it’s good – hopefully you know that I would never say “ah it’s all shit”, I will always be into what’s good and what’s being made with a good heart. And that’s a lot of stuff!
Kamal’s 170bpm experiments have just seen the light of day on a 12” single on Frijsfo Beats.