Interview: Kahn

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Keen ears will have followed Kahn’s movements over the last few years, as he has quietly released heartfelt, genre-crossing dance music on Bristol labels such as Punch Drunk and Box Clever. 2012, however, has seen his meteoric rise to acclaim - not just in one scene, but across the board; he has simultaneously dropped some of the biggest releases in dubstepgrimegarage and dancehall, releasing on influential labels such as Deep Medi whilst also putting out tracks on smaller Bristolian labels such as Idle Hands, Bandulu and Hotline. Ahead of tonight’s Christmas party, I caught up with our (not so) secret headliner to hear his take on the Bristol bass music scene and his place within it.

Perhaps the most striking thing about your music, for me, is your ability to capture the diversity that exists within the UK electronic music scene, showcasing its different aspects whilst in turn joining the dots that connect them. In 2012 alone you’ve dropped the fiercest grime instrumental in years with Percy (I won’t even start on Fierce…); you’ve debuted on perhaps the most prestigious dubstep label out there with two cuts of pure Youngsta–style dread; you’ve soundtracked summer festivals with your dancehall cuts like Backchat and Find Jah Way; and the overriding feeling I get is that you’re as much a listener as you are a producer. So, starting from the beginning – what was your first involvement with music here in Bristol? What route did you take into electronic music – in terms of listening, playing and producing?

Having grown up in Bristol and knowing that I’d always be involved in music in some way, immersing myself in the community and music culture here was rather subconscious. 

I always credit my parents when asked what influenced and encouraged me to follow the path I’m on, as their involvement in the arts and passion for music has played a huge part in my own relationship with music. Since I was a kid I’ve always been surrounded by all sorts of music and it’s left me with an openness towards many contrasting styles, which I think in turn has informed how I work as a musician today. My parents are both avid reggae fans and my Mum was a promotor during the 90s rave scene and has always loved electronic music, so I’ve just grown up around dance music from a young age.

I’ve made music since I was very young but I suppose my most noteworthy involvement with the music community here has been as a producer and DJ. Like many people I began just playing at friends’ parties and I would spend most nights out at small club nights like Dubloaded, just immersing myself in the music and learning through listening. 

You frequently work alongside other Bristol based artists – whether it’s your work with Neek or your involvement with both the Young Echo and Sureskank collectives, you clearly work well as part of a musical community. Do you think this is something particular to Bristol? How do you see yourself as fitting in with the collective Bristol sound?

Bristol isn’t really a big city, and especially if you’ve grown up and been to school here there’s usually only a couple of degrees of separation between everyone. It lends to a pretty close community of like minded people and I think there’s certainly a pride which most creatives here feel in being part of the music and art tradition in the city. 

I tried to explain to someone the other day that it’s quite difficult for me to attempt to look at or describe the scene in Bristol from the outside as I just feel so ‘in it’, as in I feel I’ve naturally become more and more integrated over time. Making music is a full time thing for me and it requires being in a certain head space so it’s tricky to explain when asked to step back and really analyse the nuances that exist and make up the scene in Bristol when you’re a part of it yourself.

The generation of Bristol musicians I’m a part of were at college and sixth form during the golden period of the Dubstep movement and many take influence from people like Pinch and Peverelist who were forging a scene of their own from within the city, or more importantly they were carrying on the tradition here and writing a new chapter in Bristol music history. I think that’s what I’ve always felt most connected to as a musician, the idea of being part of a continuation and evolution of the music tradition in the city that has been laid down by artists like The Pop Group and The Wild Bunch, the dynamics of which are unique to Bristol.

Right now there is a new batch of talented, open minded and creative people here that are taking that sound and tradition in different directions and I feel really excited to see what happens next.

You clearly have a deep attachment to the original aesthetics of electronic music – you continue to play and release vinyl (including your hand printed, self-released tracks on Bandulu) and have recently put together a limited edition cassette mixtape documenting the early movements of Grime. Why are these things so important to you?

It’s a discussion you could have for hours really; vinyl over digital, self releasing over going with more established labels. There’s a lot of factors involved in the decision to create physical mediums over digital ones, and there’s a group of us (namely Young Echo, Peng Sound and their various sub-labels, Tape-Echo and Astro:Dynamics) who I feel are creating our own little community when it comes to independent and limited runs of things, be it tapes, t shirts, records or newspapers.

It’s easy for some to see it as being overly nostalgic, pretentious or even ‘elitist’ by not fully engaging with the digital world in which most people form and understanding of and a relationship with the culture they’re interested in, but I feel there’s more to it than just trying to break out from the template way of making things public. It’s a way of properly documenting and marking a moment in time, it’s something you can hold and remember.

On another level, the decision is made when thinking about how people nowadays engage with and digest creative work of any sort. Downloading a jpeg of a painting isn’t the same as seeing it up close in real life, at least not to those who want to encounter it in the form it was originally designed for. I feel it’s the same with music. We release our work on vinyl and cut dubplates not out of a complete aversion to the digital world but because it is the medium on which we intended the music to be experienced. Of course there is the element of carrying on tradition in an authentic way, as I mentioned earlier, but it can basically be put down to what feels most appropriate to us as the creators. 

Ultimately it’s down to opinion and if you have preferences on how you want to engage with art. With the current culture of free downloads and instant availability, some people have grown to have a sense of ‘entitlement’ without really thinking about the reasons why people like us are doing things in a way that makes them limited and finite.

You recently played your first shows over in America – how did they respond to the grime in your sets? Does that sort of thing go off in the same way over there as it does in UK clubs?

Playing both coasts of North America this year was a really incredible experience, I met some great people and saw some amazing things and I hope to get back out there soon. 

I knew before I went out there that the kind of Grime I play wasn’t really known by a lot of people out there so it was always going to be a risk as to whether it would go down well. I think the main thing that baffles the audiences there is the slang and the styles of MCing within Grime, not to mention the accent. People would come up to me after the shows though and say they’d never heard anything like it before and I think that’s a positive thing. It’s important to stick to your guns and not cater too much to what people already know.

It was similar when I played my more reggae and dancehall inspired tracks, not everyone over there fully gets it as they simply don’t have a strong tradition of Jamaican sound system culture in many of their cities, certainly in comparison to the UK. But I think that’s largely to do with why they love getting UK artists over there as it’s often the only way for the fans of the music to hear it in an authentic way.

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Turning the attention back to Bristol, which club nights or venues do you feel were particularly instrumental in your involvement with the scene here? 

I mentioned Dubloaded earlier, which unfortunately stopped earlier this year. Particularly when it was at The Croft I remember it being very informative to me and it was great to have been able to experience many of the key players in the Dubstep movement in an intimate environment at a relatively early stage. 

Of course, the Sureskank Convention has been a big influence on me as a DJ and I’m really glad to have been involved with it since more or less the beginning. Sureskank covers the more ‘party’ end of the spectrum and for a while it was one of the only regular nights in Bristol where you could hear Grime, before everyone knew the words to Next Hype and Newham Generals were playing at Motion.

One of my favourite nights in Bristol, then and now, is Stryda’s dance Teachings In Dub which runs at the Trinity Centre and invites the best sound systems in the UK and beyond to run proper all night sessions. I don’t know what I’d do without having that there to give me a proper sound system fix.

We are now reaching the end of what has been a ridiculous year for you. How is 2013 going to top it? What do you have lined up, or what are you particularly hyped for?

It has been a great year for me musically, I feel I’ve worked hard and covered a lot of ground that I wanted to. Some days it feels like the real work starts now, to keep pushing myself and moving forward. It can be tricky keeping on top of everything as I’m involved in a lot of different projects but I’m really excited about next year and I’ve got a lot planned

There’ll be more news about forthcoming releases pretty soon, you can keep more up to date on my soundcloud (soundcloud.com/kahn) and Facebook pages (facebook.com/kahnofficial)

Lastly, give us 5 places in Bristol you’d recommend people to hit up:

1. If you’re remotely interested in sound system culture, go to Teaching’s In Dub at the Trinity Centre and get your head blown about.

2. The independant record shops around Bristol, namely Idle Hands on Stokes Croft, Payback Records in St. Nicks Market and Prime Cuts on Gloucester Road. Support the record shops and the music you love, once they’re gone they’re gone.

3. Bird cage walk in Clifton Village, one of my favourite places to walk and think. Paul McCartney came up with some of the lyrics for Eleanor Rigby walking through the beautiful arched graveyard.

4. Take 5 Cafe, really great little basement club on Stokes Croft. Kinda feels like a house party, I especially recommend the Peng Sound events in there that happen fairly regularly. All about that intimate atmosphere.

5. St. George’s concert venue, right next to Brandon Hill. It boasts one of the best performance spaces in the country with amazing acoustics, they frequently have world class acts of all sorts put on recitals and such and it’s really worth a visit if you’ve never been before.

14.12.12
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