Introducing Kepla with a mix for aqnb

27 January 2016

“I really like the whole idea of this hyper-object”, says Liverpool-based Kepla, “this idea that you can start beginning to understand the Anthropocene and climate change when you start thinking at earth magnitude. It’s not just about your own micro sensibilities but about this massive stretch of time…” Including tracks from Fis, Eli Keszler, Rosen, Yearning Kru and Morton Feldman, Kepla’s mix for aqnb concerns the macro forms that arise from the interplay between each. His own tracks, too —such as the featured ‘Veata’s Call’ —embrace the same ontology.     

Incidentally, with an affinity for other producers like Brood Ma, Ornine, and Renick Bell, Kepla is part of a crop of emerging artists purposing analogous changes to the musical climate itself. “At the moment we’re making a lot of contemporary music where we cling too much to what we see as real”, he suggests. Centrally, Kepla’s work is about geology and the dynamics of the earth, but it doesn’t sound like rain or rocks clanging together. Rather, it rejects the normal hierarchy of humans above objects, embracing more of a network exchange in terms of control.

'ordinant 6'. Image courtesy Kepla + Jon Barraclough.
Ordinant 6‘ (2015). Video still. Image courtesy Kepla + Jon Barraclough.

Aside from his solo efforts, Kepla (aka Jon Davies) has been co-running Liverpool’s Deep Hedonia since 2012, putting on artists such as Dean Blunt and Dialect. As well as putting together an EP, touring with William Basinski and working on the play ‘The Happy Jug‘ (2015) — “about personal and political trauma in relation to a totemic moment” — he’s also involved with grime producer Ling, who’s upcoming EP is set for release on Visionist’s Codes imprint. Together, they’ve been working with an Iranian MC, making what Davies describes as double-layered esoteric music: “For me, what’s really interesting is not only that we are potentially making the first Farsi-spoken grime music, but what me and Ling are doing is still pretty out there for grime music anyway”.

Kepla’s own sound, though, is more amorphous than the high-tech style of other producers dealing in a similar manner. According to the artist, it goes back to thinking “about sediment and oil as degraded life”, in opposition “to an idea of dystopia being a hardened anthropocentric future”. Based on the idea of the Apeiron — a classical Greek word meaning ‘unlimited’, ‘infinite’ or ‘indefinite’ — the individual is viewed as part of an elemental ecology, or “primordial soup”: “I started working on granular synthesis, asymmetrical rhythms and meandering melodies, it felt like I was excavating samples that I’d picked up to find layers underneath layers”, he says.

At the same time, Kepla’s music stems just as much from an interest in nemocentrism — “actions and objects that are ambivalent to an audience, actively alienating or nihilistic in operation” — moving away from typical provisions of music insisting on its forum, such as a concert or listening to an album at home. In our conversation on Skype, he refers to a flood of inspiration, from reading Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia, speculative realism and object-oriented ontology, to hearing Graham Harman and Tim Morton talk about the Anthropocene and imagining how that can be bound up with sound…

**…is this the thinking behind your music?

Kepla: Yes, that’s kind of the thinking behind the tracks that I’ve been releasing over the past year, and it’s been slowly morphing into trying to incorporate more mystical stuff that I’m lazily reading right now, like Eugene Thacker, who writes about the Horror of Philosophy. Another thing I read up was about this Japanese philosopher called Keiji Nishitani, who’s inspired by Zen buddhism and Nietzschean nihilism. Instead of nihilism being a constantly destructive thing, you’re almost as a person striving to create this emptiness within yourself to become open, and to lose one’s ego, maybe in order to fit within the rest of your wider ecology, which is something that I want to embrace in music.  

** Would you say it’s more a symbolic representation of this process or an actual actor in it?

K: I think for me it’s both a personal process as well as something that I obviously want to publish and want people to hear. On the first level, I’m trying to make this sort of music that is not anti-human, but it’s the idea of the object-oriented ontology, of a flattening of layers and the normal hierarchy of humans above objects. I guess it’s me trying to embrace the fact that there are powers higher than what I can do in my life. I think that we’ll see in the next few decades, hopefully, a flattening of the hierarchy within society where we enter more of a network exchange in terms of control as a reaction to ecological crises. With the context behind it, I do want to attach some text to it or, fingers crossed, working with Quantum Natives to create these kind of visual environments that reflect the music would be really great…

** What’s your relation to Quantum Natives?

K: I’ve gotten to know Ornine and James (B Stringer of Brood Ma) and Cliff [Sage of Recsund] firstly reaching out on Soundcloud, then playing shows and hanging out with them. I played their last showcase in a sports bar between gamers on League of Legends, who I don’t think really appreciated our presence. They really remind me of old hardcore punk labels creating an amazing aesthetic without playing the game. I’m halfway through writing my album and coming up with some ideas for added online content. I think the beginning of my affinity with them was talking with Ornine about each other’s history, because he’s currently residing in Taiwan, my mum is Taiwanese, and we both come from Croydon.


Kepla. Photo by Andrew Ellis. Courtesy the artist.
Kepla. Photo by Andrew Ellis. Courtesy the artist.

** How do you feel about working collaboratively?

K: I think that it’s really good for one’s own peace of mind. For me, it was always interesting to crack open one’s own mind and to face those challenges when you’re working with someone from a different discipline or a different level of performance.

** I’m curious, because even your solo stuff deals a lot with the communal effort of cross contamination and reproduction. Is it hard to define it aside from the collaborative?

K: I think that unless you’re completely hermetic that’s hard anyway, especially if you see the proliferation of certain genres. The cross contamination thing is really interesting because we all subconsciously enter this hive mind anyway. We’re constantly trying to keep afloat with what’s going on whilst trying to keep a certain individual distance and maybe that’s what Kepla’s about in a way.

** What’s the deal with the Ling collaboration?

K: That’s this project that was called Gomnam, which means ‘unknown’ in Farsi. At the moment we’re waiting on the masters to come back. In the meantime, me and Ling have got this mix for Radar Radio and we’re going to try to do more sets together. I think we’re going to do sets that are quite heavy in themselves, I guess in the way that SCRAAATCH do together, really granular deconstruction of club music basically.

** How do you approach your live performances as Kepla?

K: I guess the live set I did for Tropical Waste is the blueprint for what I do. There’s a lot of scope for controlled improvisation. In the last few shows I did supporting William Basinski, I started developing a knowledge of what worked and what didn’t. At certain times I’d be frustrated about what I did in a set. For example, if it wasn’t as banging as I wanted it to be then I’d do a really aggressive moment, and then look up and find people were actually more into the serene moment of it. I think that returns to this collaborative process where the audience and the artist get into this zone together. In my first few sets I’d be really caustic with stuff, but now I really want to have this build up of waves where tension happens quite naturally.

'The Happy Jug'. Sculpture by Madeline Hall. Courtesy Kepla.
‘The Happy Jug’. Sculpture by Madeline Hall. Courtesy Kepla.

** Especially in a live setting, how do you balance audience engagement with your interest in alienation and nemocentric music?

K: In a way it’s trying to invite people to look inwards. I think you learn a lot of things not only about the world that you live in but about yourself when you do that. I’m not trying to conflate my music to this thing where you listen to my music and you’re doomed [laughs], but maybe it’s part of my personality. I’m constantly attracted to really sad news or tragedy, and understanding the fact that you can be ultimately lost in the world we live in.

When mainstream thought accepts that we’re living in the Anthropocene and accepts that there is climate change it’s already too late, and I guess that’s where I want my music to be placed, or where I want my audience to be placed; where it’s terrifying but, at the same time, maybe it is too late and maybe all we have to do is think about what we can do to prolong existence. But at the same time, why should we think about prolonging existence? Things are born, things happen, and things die, and there’s a certain romanticism to it. I guess with my music, I’m not necessarily trying to sell it as this nemocentric thing, but there’s definitely an invitation for people to…

** …alienate themselves?

K: Yeah, to alienate one’s self is great, because that’s like an inversion of being selfless in a way. I’m always keen to stress that this is not a dark thing for me or a destructive, depressing thought. It’s actually optimistic to absolve yourself and devote yourself to something. I think that the idea of nemocentric music is rather a process of giving away the idea that the world revolves around the needs of the human. If we can navigate ourselves as beings within a wider structure then that’s a lot more credible. **

Marianne Faithfull – Skye Boat Song (from The Last Of England, Derek Jarman)
Fis – Knecht
Unknown – Homemade instrument, bike cable
Ex-Easter Island Head – untitled
Eli Keszler – Oxtirn
Beatriz Ferreyra – Dans Un Point Infiniti
Fugazi – Rend It (demo)
Toru Takemitsu – Clap Vocalism
Rosen – lliim
Felicia Atkinson – Carve The Concept And The Artichoke
Luc Ferrari – Etude Floue
Nurse With Wound – Nasal Hair
Kepla – Veata’s Call
Istvan Marta – Doom, A Sigh
Domenico’s Speech – from Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky)
Yearning Kru – burning blue lune
Jire – Materiality Notion
Kepla – The Happy Jug (libretto by Nathan Jones, performed by Nina Jones and Imogen Stidworthy
Morton Feldman – Why Patterns?

Kepla is a Liverpool-based producer.


Header image: ‘Ordinant 6’ (2015). Video still. Image courtesy Kepla + Jon Barraclough.

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A bodily experience of Sónar

24 June 2014

Barcelona’s Sónar doesn’t seem like the obvious choice for a festival that, in its 21st year, most effectively taps into the cultural moment being lived by its permanently switched-on attendees. But more than any other, with its fluid interfaces, multi-disciplinary focus (on music, arts and technology presented via performances, screenings, workshops and conferences) and interconnectivity, it embodied the particularly 2014 feeling of existing on more than one plane.

The daytime venue houses live music, workshops, talks, screenings and miniature exhibitions, and encasing it in a vast complex of theatres and spaces meant that it was able to bring all of these things under one roof, with a strangely massive capacity for each event. Turf was laid out for the outdoor events to give the illusion of a grassy festival, the plastic spikes of which came unbidden into my mind while watching Warp producer Oneohtrix Point Never’s live performance with his longtime visual collaborator Nate Boyce, for their uncanny performance. Daniel Lopatin and Boyce worked together so fluidly you’d forget the music was ever supposed to exist in isolation, a connection only accentuated by the environment of the dark, seated theatre.

Sonar 2014. Photo by Mahala Marcet. Courtesy Sonar.
Sonar 2014. Photo by Mahala Marcet. Courtesy Sónar.

More fluid and kinetic than in their previous collaborations, Boyce’s virtual forms oscillated between metallic stiffness and mellifluous bodies, minutely following the ebb and flow of R Plus Seven’s hi-def structures from Lopatin’s laptop, leading to a sensory experience that was totally absorbing and excluding at the same time. In this space where the artificial interfaced with the organic, it was impossible to look away, while just as hard to know what exactly you were looking at. One moment we were seeing a disembodied bronze hand, the next it seemed we were in an actual bedroom surrounded by slightly morphed, dreamlike Ikea furniture; until, at the end, there was one tremor of light keeping perfect time with a single drone, a sole anchor to hold on to in an unfamiliar space.

Sónar 2014 benefitted from the use of a new daytime venue (for only the second year) which was capable of housing workshops and exhibitions of technological and artistic developments alongside and among the musical performances; with all of it happening in one area, the attendees were able to piece together the links between the various disciplines as easily as they were able to stroll from one event to the next. Walking out of Oneohtrix Point Never’s bodily performance, you were confronted by exhibitions such as Sedition’s ‘Art of screens’,  –a company looking to revolutionise the consumption of art through its online purchase and digital display on screens. Several artworks played on a loop around the Sedition booth in intense definition, Field’s skin cells blooming and ZEITGUISED’s liquorice all-sorts tumbling with crystal cartoon edges; each one explored themes of interface between the physical and the virtual, which was in harmony with the underlying question of the privatisation of online space and the physical manifestation of online art. Most arresting was Universal Everything’s 2011 animation ‘The Transfiguration’, which depicted a single human figure walking at a constant size and pace in the centre of the screen while morphing from being made of hair to being made of bubbles to being made of spikes. As with Sedition’s take on the art world, the textures were changeable and shed easily, yet its pace forward was consistent and determined.

Elsewhere, at the GlassworksPan Me‘ installation, run by the London-based animation and effects agency, users were invited to actually interface with light and sound displays using face and hand recognition technology. A little more explanation and guidance surrounding the works might have been useful to help users understand what it was they were aiming to achieve by flipping through samples or moving lines of light with their faces, but in a way the experience of being plunged into a dark side room and given little human instruction was a more interesting (and fitting) experience. The question of the possibility of an intuitive interface hung heavily over the experience; particularly in light of the way in which computer and human engaged in a two-way exchange, with mounted cameras using photos and facial recognition to embed the persona of the user in both the physical and digital sides of the experience.

As well as a festival that, on the whole, confronted you with the impossibility of the amount of human bodies existing in one section of meatspace and the strangeness of such a place designed to hold so many, here was an experience that demanded you think about the way your living body interacts with technology and with networks that blossom from your every movement; not only a privatised digital landscape like the one we navigate every day via social media, but a digital sub-reality that actually depends on the body. With photos of users appearing onscreen at the air-swipe of a Matrix-style web, I was preoccupied with thoughts about the endless photos people were taking of strangers, the apps being used to navigate Barcelona and the hashtags that beamed from every available surface denoting Sónar’s status as an extension of digital landscapes as a whole.

Glass Works, 'Pan Me' @ Sónar 2014. Installation view. Image courtesy Glassworks.
Glass Works, ‘Pan Me’ @ Sónar 2014. Courtesy Glassworks.

Those apps were more useful at the Sónar By Night venue, which is notoriously cavernous and provides the most extreme experiences available at the festival. Copeland, performing on the Friday evening, provided the most bodily listening experience of the weekend with a set that shirked her perceived role as “female vocalist” to display her aggressive range of ear-splitting whines and thuds of bass, matched with blasts of light that made it difficult to watch her for an extended period of time. Immediately afterwards, Visionist played a grime set that used a minimal framework as a bassline for contortions that clambered all around the space, with all the fun-not-fun of his cathartic I’m Fine EP series. Both artists played the smallest stage of the venue, drawing their crowd together.

Evian Christ, meanwhile, took to the huge SónarLab, but created an intimacy all of his own with a series of well-worn tunes and straight bangers from his early YouTube cuts (‘MYD’ and ‘Fuck It None of Y’All Don’t Rap’ being the stand-outs) as well as ‘I’m In It’, the tune he produced for Kanye West’s Yeezus, and a slew of current dance floor heaters from Young Thug and MssingNo. These recognisable moments appealed straight to the producer’s online success story, and hummed with the closeness of bringing together a congregation of people who usually worshipped together in the form of Soundcloud comments and ‘@’s.

On the Saturday, an easy stand-out at Sónar By Day was Sinjin Hawke, who had the same body-slamming approach as Evian Christ despite playing closer to 9pm at the close of Sónar By Day. All presence and lightness, Sinjin is the kind of performer you can’t take your eyes away from, and his willingness to drop big tracks like his 2013 hit ‘Yea Hoe’ and his ‘Say My Name’ remix created a similarly familiar atmosphere to the IRL hype of Evian Christ the night before. Future Brown were one of the most-anticipated acts of the final day, and as expected brought a similar slew of cold, metallic hip hop and grime shot through with vocal stabs. It was a little disappointing to see that Fatima Al Qadiri, Nguzunguzu and J-Cush took turns to play B2B from a laptop, however, despite being right in the middle of one of the biggest stages: some of the tension that had been building for their set from the promise of their hyper-stylised hip hop dissipated in the actuality, as they seemed lost and disjointed in all the space. But with more of a visual component to pull viewers into their space like OPN, or just more musical and performative involvement from the whole crew, sonically this is a set that could make any venue connect.

Where they didn’t quite come through was where the rest of Sónar succeeded almost seamlessly; in making use of space, as a physical entity but also a social, emotional and sensory one, as well as a thing to be considered and discussed in itself. Despite movement to a bigger venue and an impossibly huge line-up, Sónar remains an intimate festival, because of the way it so comfortably inhabits the digital alongside the physical. Dominating social media feeds, placing music in its context of consumption by presenting apps and other technologies, and wising up to the artists that generate the most intimate live performances thanks to the IRL audience they summon from the digital ether, this was the music festival for this year’s hyper-connected crowd. **

Sónar Barcelona is a three-day electronic music festival held in the Spanish city annually.

Header image: Glass Works, ‘Pan Me’ @ Sónar 2014. Image courtesy Glassworks.

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Visionist & Fatima Al Qadiri – ‘The Call’

8 August 2013

Visionist (aka Louis Carnell) is a London-based grime producer who’s affinity with other Fade to Mind outfits like Nguzunguzu and Fatima Al Qadiri is uncanny. As if to consummate the comparison the 23-year-old Brixton native has dropped a collaboration with the NYC “global.wav” DJ, ‘The Call’, from his forthcoming release I’m Fine on Lit City Trax, September 3.

That label just happens to be run by Jamie Imanian-Friedman, the man behind J-CUSH and third leg of the Future Brown tripod with Al Qadiri and Nguzunguzu. The circle is complete. **

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