Like a rhythmic jumping pulse, Mount Kimbie’s latest album Love What Survives navigates the abstract and the emotional with its beautifully gnarled post-punk electronic sounds
There are a wide range of music festivals in Asia, and we’re blessed with opportunities to see bands from across the globe perform in Hong Kong, including Alvvays, Beach Fossil and Wolf Alice. Having made an appearance at Sónar Hong Kong on 17 March, 2018, we interviewed Kai Campos from Mount Kimbie, the internationally-renowned electronic duo, to find out more about their latest album Love What Survives and how they examine success in their creative career.
An interview with Mount Kimbie
Bright trembling synths, hard-hitting percussion, sounds weaving together as a set of retro-sci-fi soundscapes – electronic fans are probably no strangers to Mount Kimbie from London. Often glossed with contemporary groove, their new material also features a number of great vocalists that naturally engages listeners with a powerful dynamic.
Hi, Kai. Thanks for chatting with us. Your latest album Love What Survives seems to expand further with its futuristic and postmodern soundscape when compared to your previous album Cold Spring Fault Less Youth. What’s your own vision of this record?
The record came about after we had been playing a lot of shows together, and we became more interested in what we’ve learnt from performing live more than from being in the studio. It was kind of a search to find this kind of energy that we haven’t really used in recording before.
Love What Survives seems to have incorporated more “post-punk” elements in a broad sense. How do you take that label, do you agree or disagree with it?
I think post-punk is one of those terms that can get quite easily thrown around at times. I’m uncertain because it might not be very specific (not that it has to be) but the term can get overused. Although there are elements of sounds from what would be considered classic post-punk records that we’re very influenced by – things like Joy Division in our cultural DNA – apart from that, there isn’t like a ton of records that I could say we’re very influenced by.
Sometimes when you wanna make something, it’s not like you are a student, so you don’t want to make a record based on the stuff that you do know but rather with stuff that you don’t know about, and at the same time trying to figure out yourself a bit. I don’t have a problem with the label, but I don’t understand what it means either (laughs).
How do you structure and layer the tracks from Love What Survives? Are there certain feelings or emotions you try to convey?
There is some bits of music that you write and they don’t mean very much to you, and there’s some music you write and it feels different. I think that’s probably because you manage to tap into something that is true, or that it feels good to express. When we started writing, we definitely didn’t have an idea what that is going to be, or what it is that we look for. Sometimes some songs really capture this feeling that you have, that’s quite often caught in between two feelings or even among five feelings. It’s normally me trying to touch on that and sometimes it just naturally sounds like a feel.
Having featured a number of amazing musicians that you’re also close friends with – like King Krule, James Blake, Micachu – how do you stay level-headed and efficient in terms of creative process and production?
Everyone we have worked with is very professional and very interested in making good music, trying to make a good record. There is always something that is incompatible, but making the record is like a chance for every one to kind of come together for a couple of days and see what would happen. What makes a good collaboration is that its result is always quite surprising to the both of you, and it’s something neither of you would have done by yourself. Usually when somebody else has an idea, you hear it and you get excited about it in a way that is unlike with your own ideas. Because you’ve been with your ideas from the very beginning, you know how you got there, but when somebody else hears it, they don’t know how you got there.
You once again collaborated with Archy (King Krule) in your new single Turtle Neck Man, what do you think his dynamic has brought to your music?
Archy takes up so much space as an artist and there is a real joy writing with him. With this record, I really think about what is unnecessary in a song and try to do the simplest thing that works. The amount of space that Archy takes up really allows you to leave a lot of room in there. You can use the bare bones of the original idea and energy from that and let that be as it is, and Archy will then elevate what could’ve been just quite a simple idea. As a person, he is also not as anxious as we are about music, but he is very willing to try and fail, willing to try stuff that doesn’t work a lot, and I’ll say he is making me more confident when it comes to doing things differently.
Since the track Made to Stray, you guys have definitely caught everyone’s attention. How do you identify success or failure in your creative career?
It’s like everyone knows the feeling of when you’re doing a thing you want to be doing, or just the feeling of making process. It’s undeniably an almost physical feeling of being okay with stuff – like a kind of peace that comes from a balance of moving into the area where you feel like you’re growing as a person – and so is your creative work. It’s the sweet spot when you have worked enough for something to be of good quality, but you’re still working on an area where you’re feeling unsure about in a way. That’s the kind of exciting period where you make music in the same way you did when you were sixteen, or get the same feeling you had when it first hit you.
When it feels like that, that’s great; when it doesn’t, it means that you have to become more adapt to the things you are trying to do, or change some ways of working. So success for me is chasing that, it’s all the other stuff falling right into place, the shows are good, and there is always going to be a certain number of people that is into it. And as far as I can see, all the stuff that are deemed success, they usually come from a more internal and personal presence.
How do you make sure that you’re always up for experimentation instead of following conventional arrangement and producing something generic?
When you first started making music, you don’t have such a musical background, you’re unaware of some of the rules and how to achieve certain things in the same way that other people have. So there’s often a great period where it is unconventional in a way that it is completely unconverted. It’s not deliberately trying to be unconventional but rather just a very personal kind of response to making sounds and trying to organise it.
I guess it’s also about staying curious as a listener, and knowing when you’re reaching for something. Because there would be a time when you are figuring out how to do something – as in music being a magic trick – and when you hear something and can’t figure how that was done, that is an interesting feeling. Once you’ve figured out how to do the trick, and you’re not wondering how it is done anymore, then for me is the time to change something. As it has become a different relationship between you and the music when you are just executing a trick that you learnt.
How have your recent live shows been with the new material?
It’s certainly the most exciting period of the live part so far. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that there is more of us on stage – we are four people – there are so many different moving parts and they stick together differently every night. The energy has changed the way the band sounds live.
What can we anticipate for your debut at Sónar Hong Kong?
There will still be old music that is reinterpreted through the band – (the band) which is pretty much the product of this record – and we sort of look at the old music through that lens. Although it’s a new setup, we’re still in touch with the oldest stuff. It is interesting to play because it’s a completely different setup to how it was when we wrote it.
Liked Mount Kimbie and want to discover more new music? Check out our favourite bedroom pop albums of 2018, Listen to Morningside by indie pop darling Fazerdaze or learn more about The Echo of Pleasure by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.