Interview: Kahn

It’s no secret that we’re huge Kahn fans. The multitalented Bristolian producer is the man behind some of the filthiest basslines this side of legality, and his remix prowess is remarkable. The last time we were officially blessed with a pure Kahn original was way back in October with the viciously excellent “Illy/Tehran” EP, but since then we’ve been tantalised with some excellent clips of forthcoming releases, including collaborations with fellow producer Neek under the moniker Gorgon Sound. And  of course the producer has continued work with the Young Echo collective, who dosed us with a mix on Mary Anne Hobbs’ show in early March. We managed to get him to take time out of his busy touring schedule to talk about punk, Bristol and melancholy melodies.

Stream: Young Echo Guest Mix For Mary Anne Hobbs

Your style is really distinctive. Despite the inventiveness of your tracks there’s always a sense of very deliberate composition that feels almost classical, or even mathematical. Can you tell us a bit more about your background and how you got into producing electronic music? “I suppose I come from a more traditional musical background in that I was in bands and have played instruments from a young age. I had some music lessons when I was a kid but mostly I just listened and taught myself. I always cite my parents as a major influence on my sound as their taste in music was ultimately what I was brought up around and influenced by as a child. My appreciation of electronic music comes from them as much as my love of baroque or Sufi music. I started getting into music software at school around the age of thirteen and though I’ve continued writing other types of music, my electronic compositions have become the most full time endeavour.”

Would you agree that your music is quite dark? Do you set out to bring that hard edge to your sound, or does it come naturally? “I’d say it occurs naturally, for whatever reason, in that I don’t just sit down and think “right, I’m going to compose something really dark”. All of my favourite music has a deep melancholy rooted within it, whether it be an Irish lament or a Todd Edwards vocal arrangement. I think the best music can be majestic and powerful whilst maintaining a sense of longing and vulnerability that the listener connects with in their own way, regardless of genre.”

Do you mainly look to the reggae and bashment scenes for vocals, or do they play as large a part in your work as your Bristol dubstep heritage? “I really love reggae and dancehall, it’s been around me all my life and living in Bristol we’re often lucky enough to have it presented in an authentic way at proper sound system events and of course the legendary St. Paul’s carnival. I love the energy of dancehall and bashment vocals, in the same way I love the energy of grime, and I enjoy experimenting with that energy alongside slightly unconventional musical accompaniment.”

I love that you remixed Poly Styrene. Are you into punk and new wave more broadly, or were you interested in the track purely for the vocals? “I made the link with Poly through Mark Stewart (of The Pop Group), whilst I was living in London for a brief time.  It was an honour to have the opportunity to do a remix for her and I was very sad to hear of her passing. Punk music, like hip-hop and reggae, is deeply rooted in Bristol culture (with Mark Stewart being one of the main exponents of that influence). Again, my parents were in London around the time of the whole punk movement and a lot of that music was in the house when I was growing up.”

Your choice of samples, vocal and otherwise, is always interesting, and you’ve got a pretty heavy back catalogue of remixes. What makes a track or vocal stand out for you? “As I said before, it’s got to have that melancholy. Often I’ll just take ‘cuttings’ of a vocal, find the best bits within it and re-arrange it. It’s interesting how you can manipulate a very standard pop vocal into a moody, even haunting melody.”

Stream: Kahn Promo Mix For SubDub 

One of your earlier EPs was called “Altar”, and to me there’s a slightly spiritual feel to “Tehran”. Beyond music, what else inspires the way you write music? “Unrequited love, mostly! It’s hard to say really, certain moods bring on different memories which go on to influence the way I’d write on any given day. I’m not a religious person, but I find a lot of my favourite music throughout the world is deeply religious. Again, it’s just an energy which I connect with. Music that is written in a devotional way is unashamed and blissful, and though I may not believe in the God it was meant for I can still appreciate its beauty.”

Around the time of “Helter Skelter/Like We Used To” you were working with the same musical palette as a lot of your peers but producing tracks that were more subtle, although equally visceral. Where do you see yourself fitting into today’s musical landscape, so to speak? “It’s an interesting time for me at the moment, I’ve found myself getting a lot more excited about my other projects Young Echo and Gorgon Sound.  I’m not really following a lot of what’s popular in the clubs right now to be honest. All I’ve really been buying and listening to recently is old reggae and old grime. I suppose a lot of the music I grew up with in clubs over the past few years has become stale in a way, but I think it’s too easy to slip into complaining that things aren’t as good as they were in the past. I personally feel excited about what’s to come musically, especially from Bristol. There’s kids producing stuff that don’t care about fitting into genres and out of that, new and innovative music can be made.”

Where do you see the Young Echo Collective in a year’s time? Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do? “Well we’ve got a full length, collaborative album coming out on Ramp Recordings later this year which we’re all really excited about and the radio shows are becoming bigger and better every time we do them. We formed the collective and started the radio show just over a year ago, which was born out of a lot of us collaborating with each other and drawing influence from each others work. The radio show has gone from strength to strength whilst remaining really fun and improvised and we’ve been lucky enough to have some great guests. Personally, Young Echo is a place where I can be a lot broader with my musical output and it gives me a sense of direction. It’s so inspiring working with all the artists involved.”

Stream: Peaman – IDK (Kahn Remix) (Unreleased)

The Young Echo Collective seems to work regionally, being mainly focused on the Bristol scene, is that right? Do you think it’s important to cultivate local scenes or are you hoping to expand nationally or even globally? “We are all either from Bristol or the surrounding area. I think it’s important to support the younger artists coming through, no matter what area you’re in. For us it’s not really a ‘scene’ though as a few of us have known each other since we were young teenagers so we’ve all just grown together as musicians and that’s what helped bring the whole collective together rather than us setting out to make a ‘scene’. We’ve been getting tunes and mixes for the show from all over the world, we never plan the shows around a playlist or anything so it’s always very improvised which I think allows for the variety of music that we end up playing on the show.”

Do you think it’s important for new producers to work independently? In terms of releasing material, touring, etcetera? “I think things are becoming more and more independent for artists, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. The internet has had negative effects on the music industry as we know it, but if it allows for musicians to be more in control of their music and deal directly with the people listening then that’s positive.”

What’s your opinion on the so-called oversaturation of the music industry at the moment or are you more in the camp that argues, the more the merrier? “I don’t think it’s over saturated necessarily, a lot of great music was made by people who could only get free software and write beats on their mum’s computer. That said, the internet and the level of music technology at the moment has meant that literally anyone can just watch a ‘How To Make Dubstep’ video on YouTube or download a bunch of tracks from a torrent and a cracked copy of Serato and call themselves a DJ. I’ll leave the bickering to the forums, but ultimately the real talent and inventiveness will be noticed and stand the test of time.”

Stream: Gorgon Sound – Find Jah Way Radio Rip (Peng Sound Records)

What’s the difference between Kahn and Joseph McGann? So far I think all I’ve seen is the “All I Can” snippet from the FACT mix you did – will you be working more with your own vocals in the future (if  those are your own vocals?) Do you feel you really need to separate the two projects? “Yeah, that is me singing. It was a fairly last minute decision to include that track in the FACT mix, and indeed to put it under my real name. I suppose the real reason I wanted to use my real name was so that people might realise it was me singing, as most people only know me as a producer and DJ. I thought I may want to separate the work I’ve done with my own vocals under a different name but I’ve already got so many aliases! As well, it’s important to me that people know I write a variety of music so by keeping it under the name I’m most known for it allows me to disperse any idea that I only make one type of music.”

Lastly, it’s an obvious one but we have to ask: can we expect more from Kahn this year besides touring? “I haven’t had a proper vinyl release since October of last year but I have a lot coming out over the next few months. The touring side of things is taking up a lot more time than it has done before so finding the time to write is slightly trickier right now, but that said there will be a lot more of my music being released this year. Keep a look out on my SoundCloud and Facebook page for more information over the coming months.”

If you’re Bristol based check out the single launch party for the Gorgon Sound release, and lucky Leeds heads can catch Kahn at the Outlook Festival launch party on April 28th.

Tabitha Thorlu-Bangura

Camberwell based ricecake enthusiast. twitter

2 thoughts on “Interview: Kahn”

  1. My guitar teacher was like 40 when i was 15 wore leather pants and would hit on me and palyed songs to me and sung about me being his princess and such. I never went back! He also worked for my parents before he opened the guitar shop!

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