Text by CLOT Magazine
Our new mixtape comes from London experimental musician and producer Kinn, with a mix of sound, youtube rips, film audio, raw sound design and unreleased music from the artist himself— an intimate compilation on the artist’s expansive creative universe.
Kinn has emerged in recent years with a bleakly psychedelic take on post-rock shifting between traditional band setups and move avant-garde studio works. A rotating cast of collaborators, including Arthur Leadbetter, Maxwell Sterling and Alexander Tucker, bolsters this. Recently they have collaborated with artists Tai Shani and Mark Leckey.
Their current offering, ‘Dogtooth’, coming out on 7th July 2023, carries off down this path with spoken word, string shards and clouds of distortion, giving away to more traditional song form. The production was all rendered over a 2-year period in precise, spacious, sonic detail, bringing to mind a mood somewhere between Mogwai and The Haxan Cloak or The Body.
The album puts a profound and disenchanted humanistic stance at the centre of the stage. As we read, Dogtooth reflects on an array of individual, global and digital, often seemingly esoteric, shared experiences. Anger, conflict, beauty and grandeur, all summarised as part and parcel of wheezing and spluttering modern metropolitan world.
The mix Kinn has prepared for us is built around some of his compositional approaches to long-form and non-linear narrative. He spent a lot of time playing around with the arrangement and dynamics of the mix, how one thing can suggest, merge and form a narrative only by preceding another track completely disassociated from each other in time, aesthetic, even meaning, or how a motif placed at the end can bend time and pull you back to something you heard at the beginning.
This never ceases to interest me, he continues, how loose “reality” can be, how easily we can be suggested. It can easily be smashed apart and put back together in a different way, a wrangling of ambiguity. As I started to work on this mix, to me, a clear narrative unfurled, I’m keeping this ambiguous from the listeners so that they can invest their imagination in it. That’s one of the beautiful things about music. It is meaningless without you to listen to it
Dogtooth, your second album, is an inner expression of unrest, anger and conflict (both personal and societal) how do you think you canalised or expressed these feelings through the sound?
The music I wrote for Dogtooth is deeply personal from the offset. Still, it’s about that experience (which I don’t consider too different from the general experience) in context to the bat-shit era we are in. From the beginning, there were things niche to my experience which became tied to the musical themes I was writing during this time, but this is an abstraction to someone else, and I didn’t want to create 40 minutes of me gawping at a mirror in a vacuum.
I don’t believe sound/music has an objective meaning either and that the meaning is added by culture or consensus. With lyrics, I could convey concepts more acutely, but I’m severely dyslexic, so my heightened self-consciousness of communication through language has made me well aware of its pitfalls. Explicit language is still blurry and sometimes dangerous, not to mention I had no intention of joining the instrumental experimental electronica act turns to autotuned popstar canon just yet.
So, whilst most of the music was conceptualized without much looking outward, I attempted to explore the meta-modernist zeitgeist and reference material which could communicate these themes I was exploring more broadly, and I actually quite enjoyed it. I looked at many memes (something I don’t normally do despite my proximity to Gen Z-ness) for samples, and the result adds layers to the experience I was trying to convey.
I wanted it to sound like many voices yelling over each other whilst my personal themes oscillated from centre stage to obscurity. I also found it quite…humbling? You get a sense you’re not alone, which in turn became inspiration which folded back into the composition process. So, as much as it’s about modern unrest and teenage angst, it’s also about pursuing beauty and finding awe in the mundane.
What was your creative process like for the album production?
New Dog, old tricks? I wanted to go deeper into recording for some time, it’s hard in London as we’re all living in cramped noisey spaces on top of each other, but with home recording, I learnt that working with imperfections is really satisfying; even a mistake can be looped and repeated so it becomes an intention. It opened things back up to the possibility that anything can be music, crows, or ambulance sirens outside my window; it was like rediscovering (John) Cage.
My friend Shaun (Duncan) also got a job as a studio technician at a University, so there were quite a few late evenings literally sneaking around campus making deals with the security guards to let us use the studios whilst all the students were on holiday. We recorded on some very expensive bits of classic hardware kit, some we used conventionally, some not.
The clinical soundproofed rooms opened up a different set of potential to the DIY sound, and I wanted to merge the two starkly. I learnt a lot from the experience. The experience still inspires me and am going to be carrying this forward onto the next album for sure.
And was your creative process now different to your previous album? And maybe as a composer in a broader sense, was your creative process different from your usual one?
My first album, Anamnesis Landscape (AL), was my “ripping off the band-aid” album. I had just graduated from Goldsmiths University and released a lot of music before that, but Kinn was something very specific I had in mind. For me, AL was about getting it finished and out, learning how to expel the ideas from my being intuitively through developing a practice along the way, from the start to all the banal things which come with finishing a project.
It was quite important that I wrote, recorded and performed it all myself as it is more of a blueprint than a perfect statement. Dogtooth and the music I am working on now feel like a true arrival. It’s very exciting. I’ve got lots of ideas from listening to this finished record. It seems like a healthy place to get decent inspiration from my own body of work.
When I then started working on Dogtooth in 2020, I had fallen out of love with electronic music a bit. There was a lot of Post-Arca-Granular-Synthesis-Runway/Club-sounding music in fashion. I absolutely love Arca, but the sea of people putting out music inspired by her made it all feel a bit too normalized, which is exactly the opposite of why I got into electronic music in the first place. It pushed me away from the DAW-focused process I was working with before.
I’m not really one to follow trends, but I missed the smelly rehearsal rooms of my adolescence and got quite heavily into the bands I was into as a teenager, such as Shellac, Mogwai, and Sonic Youth, which were all making a comeback through the ouroboros of culture, maybe this was a post-pandemic thing, being in rooms with people felt lamented.
Ominous, heavy string lines are a prominent element of the album. How do you think they carry the “message” of the album?
Honestly, the strings on the album came about through chance, I met Will (Boon) online and Jenny (Ames) through Louis, who drums with Kinn live and, as you know, are in a group together called Barkum Deer. We put out the idea of making some recordings together, not necessarily songs. It was pretty loose, but then one thing led to another, and it happened (thanks to some big favours from Shaun and Jonny Solway at Dean Street Studios).
Being obsessed with making music for a long time but not having the resources to do everything at any moment, you build a backlog of ideas ready for when the opportunity arises so you can jump on it. I try to be in the moment with creative decision-making. I’ve spent a lot of time honing my technical skills, so I’ve learnt to rely on that and let the elusive Inspiration take over when creating.
I’m looking after a friend’s small synth collection whilst she is going through post-Brexit Visa hell to save her from extortionate London storage; despite my minor disinterest in explicitly electronic textures, I’d be stupid not to make something from them, but it would be no different if she was lending me a bagpipes or didgeridoo collection, you get an opportunity, you make it work!
Back to strings, they weren’t in their based on a design feature, and I try my best to subvert aesthetic impressions of instruments. It’s a futile challenge with everything being so meta these days. My personal interest in recording and acoustic sound is for its objective properties, but bowed string instruments certainly hold this sense of grandeur; growing up playing guitar like everyone else, I saw them as this elegant unobtainable instrument.
It wasn’t until discovering Tony Conrad, Xenakis or The Dirty Three that I realized they could have an edge to them. After recording, I started attempting to break my adolescent notion on strings. I treated them quite crudely, using arbitrary studio techniques like panning, EQ, awkward looping and transposing them up and down in Kontakt. I love RZA’s soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s The Way of the Samurai. I think I read somewhere he took an Ennio Morricone soundtrack and sampled and hacked it up on an MPC. It’s so simple, like all RZA’s productions, but it upholds the brilliance of both worlds so well.
Are any other elements you consider were really key for you? Also, what were you exploring at a technical or compositional level in this production?
I wanted to build a new catalogue of sounds for Dogtooth; certain sounds have phased out of the last album, so really, the whole pallet was key. There are a couple of sounds (which I’ll keep to speculation about how I made them) I am so proud of and are proving to be integral to evoking new musical ideas; you will continue to hear “uuummmmh” in a lot of my music I think haha.
You recorded several friends playing cello, guitar, viola, voice, and drums for the album production. How did incorporating this collaborative aspect into a quite soulful, intimate project feel (both when recording or mixing? Were the results what you were somehow expecting?
Fun? Stupid humour? Homemade packed lunches for the studio? Despite all the dread-voyeurism in the music, I am a social being. I think there’s somewhere a distinction between ambition and virtuoso which is somehow separated by charisma and chemistry. I think I’m quite an open and candid person, I’m not easily offended, but I am sensitive, so I think I can communicate with people deeply and quickly.
Most of the time, I ask these incredible musicians to play material which undermines their talent, as when I got home, I just wrangled everything into my questionably sullen sensibilities through heavy studio processing without any exterior objections. I think if there weren’t any chemistry or trust, that would be a laborious ordeal, so the actual sessions needed to be the highest thing valued by everyone; I think it’s healthier than living in constant future prospects.
I also think it’s good that as a producer/lead, you must lean into what the person in front of you feels good about. It’s one thing to have your ambitious and “genius ideas”; this can be your guide/compass, but unless you’re going to learn to do it yourself, you need to make it work for them, listen to what they are playing and saying in that moment what you feel, it feeds into the recordings too.
Mixing sessions with Shaun were very focused, he’s such a slick engineer, and there are a lot of technical skills running in the background comfortably from our collective experience in studios. Still, we were chatting and goofing around the whole time. No point in making such financially evasive music if you’re not going to gain some intrinsic value from the time you’re cramped in a studio together.
What were some of your artistic inspirations for or during the composition of your album?
At the centre of Dogtooth is people, not broad demographics but making a spectacle out of the individual, ranging from the genteel to the nefarious. I read a lot of Dennis Cooper, and Ian Banks and was obsessed over the films of Rick Alverson whilst I was making the album. I found Gregg Turkington and Tim Hiedecker’s characters highly inspirational. They’re wildly anti-fun experiences and served as a good reference point for some of the bleaker themes I wanted to contrast with the more hopeful tones.
I also re-fell in love with Youtube wormholes too. It’s not like social media platforms. I think its algorithm must be less advanced than Instagram et al. It gets it wrong a lot of the time, kind of like how a distant relative tries to explain my music to their friends or something, sincere but lacking some of the contexts.
I compiled a lot of these into a playlist which a programming wizard friend of mine and I are going to do something a bit more elaborate with in the future. If you have some good weed and an evening to kill, go down a “Steamed Hams but…” wormhole, it’s not just stupid humour it’s an awe-inspiring community. It represents a beauty of the internet, which is lost on most social media. Individuals, ranging in technical competence and taste, all collaborate and put in a lot of craft, time and effort into silly, pointless creativity.
Then there’s the land of the free…America/Americana still fascinates me. It’s an absurd place, as problematic as it is beautiful. Jem Cohen, James Benning and other documentary/art film from that part of the world is very informative to Dogtooth’s themes, as well films like “The American Dreamer” (about Dennis Hopper) and “Harlan County USA (1976)” Spring to mind, regardless of where they’re placed on the moral compass they explore the struggles of waking from the American dream, similar to what the whole world went through during 2020.
This was the main inspiration for the opening track “Have We Recovered, From Our Dreaming?” The lyrics I wrote are about that cruel reality check we face once we’ve reached maturity, the failings of Postmodernism’s scepticism; the metaphor of Will Self berating Slavoj Zizek for a simple answer to the world’s problems over and over and over. Having my dear friend and old flatmate Xavi recite the words with his positively Californian accent was the icing on the cake it needed to convey this.
What is your general approach as a musician for live performances?
With the nature of my music, I believe a live performance should be an extension of the studio albums rather than a carbon copy, an opportunity to look at something outside its original context. The goal, I guess, is to translate the core of the music into uncertain territories, the potential for it to go really wrong. Still, if that core, whether conceptual, musical or atmosphere, can make its way through that, then I’m confident I’m onto something sincere, creatively. Working on these songs live has been a really good quality check and critical analysis of my studio and writing process.
I’ve read the phrase “revolving door band” somewhere before to describe a lot of the 80’s Industrial and No Wave bands that were seminal to me and many of BEB stans of the early 10s, my belief is that it was probably a creative endeavour born out of a practical or financial limitation, a familiar setting for the current state of affairs.
The past 4 live shows Kinn has played have all been different, from a 6 piece with a string section to me solo pushing buttons or playing the guitar. I was talking to Mark (Leckey) about this. He said it sounded like I have 10 bands. Sometimes it feels that way, and organising it can become a full-time job (good time to plug I am looking for a booking agent…).
Through this, I develop different sets I can play with individuals based on their availability, not what a promoter expects. I currently put on all my own shows, back to what I was getting at earlier. I learn something new about the music with each live iteration, mainly technical things.
As you can gauge by now, I’m keen to lean into limitations and problem-solving. Still, strings have been really difficult to do live, with the dynamics and levels we play at or certain venues just can’t cater to the sonic pallet.
I’ve had to simultaneously work on quieter sets as well as interesting ways I can sample the strings and play them back through my sampler or Eurorack system; playing an unprocessed string recording back through a PA at obscene levels without feedback sounds bizarre in an engaging way, it’s been a great source of inspiration which I have a hard time not getting carried away with.
When live sets are mainly based on an album, do you allow any improvisation, or is it all planned/rehearsed?
The merging of electronics and improvised acoustic instruments presents unique problems in how contradicting their functions are. The songs are written, and the aesthetics of the music, although really important, limit how the music can be performed, so there are restrictions to how much can be improvised and sacrifices as to how certain elements can behave in a live setting.
Working with Jenny Ames, who is a bit of a local legend (working with Björk, Mica Levi, Floating Points), as well as Will Boon, is really exciting, their ability to improvise on their instrument, particularly with texture, could be endless so guidelines are established in rehearsals. There is also a lot of onstage barking from me, directions which probably look more (Michael) Gira than it does (John) Zorn.
After our gig at Fold, a few people came up to Louis and joked if he was okay with me shouting at him; we are very comfortable with each other, so urgency can be expressed with a bit of tension. Also, in my own defence, I was standing right in front of Fold’s Function One sound system, so my voice was pretty wrecked afterwards. It’s also nice to reserve this sort of cathartic output on stage; it sets a good tone for the music.
At the centre of the live show is my Octatrack; it’s such a powerful live instrument without even touching the sequencing stuff on it, I leave a few channels of it to dedicate to whoever is playing in the lineup or plug my guitar through it, it’s nice having so much chaos being tamed by one machine. Still, as much as I fight it, total control is futile.
I saw Carter Tutti Void a couple of years ago and was hypnotised at how everything was on the edge of falling apart, not because the music is brittle, either. I want that experience for Kinn shows. A strong motif throughout the set pulls the set along and occasionally to its feet.
Are you planning something different or special for Dogthooth Live? What are you planning in terms of setup and bringing those collaborations into the live setting?
Dogtooth is just the beginning of a larger shadowy plan. I’ll have to keep shtoom until we next chat. At this time, Kinn is operating with a lot of DIY spirit, elbow grease, and carefully considered curating of shows. I’m working closely with venues and promoters to bring Dogtooth into the live setting. It’s just as important as working closely with the band.
It’s harder to do something outside the Cronenberg blob of 90’-00’s cover-esque bands. With nearly 3/4 of venues and clubs closing down since I was a teenager, the pressure and stress surrounding those involved with live music is so high. It’s simply not worth killing yourselves trying to put on all these live shows as it was in the old days (what, up until 5 years ago???).
One thing I learnt during the pandemic is that slowing down can ironically become more productive, all these efforts with the shifting lineups are about making it worthwhile and fun for those involved, so it ideally needs to be that way for the venues,, the bar staff, security, and everyone.
I announced the next live show, which I’ve curated at The New Cross Road Chapel (SE14 6TJ) alongside Microcorps (Alexander Tucker) and Rocheman, but I’m in cahoots with a few promoters and venues I’ve worked with before…
What is your relationship between new technology and analogue tools for your music productions these days?
It varies day to day; I think with such broad interest in music/sound, not everything I do fits into the aesthetics I’ve meticulously crafted for a Kinn album, but I try to make something every day, even if it’s just playing guitar for half an hour after I’ve slogged through a day at work, it’s good for decompressing, but it also has intrinsic value, so I’m constantly exploring new technology and tools in this time.
Currently, I’m obsessing over Sovage Engineering. They’re a new company based in France, and all of their products are familiar enough but with some distinct aspect of weirdness added, a pristine work of art in a crooked picture frame. But I’ve just discovered my Strat makes some insane noises if I scrape my rings over the string saddles, so expect a 4+ hour double box set of that sometime in the future.
Jokes aside, it feels archaic yet somewhat overly looked still with all the future promises and the mouth-watering, wallet-emptying weirdness of things like the Expressive E Osmose. It’s all the same is what I’m trying to get at, new or old. When it hits, it hits.
And how do you cope with technology (screen/digital) overload?
With the beautiful irony of using a Youtube video to answer this, I’ll let my man Rodney take this one…