Truancy Volume 95: Korma

Hailing from the rainy Pacific Northwest, you may not have heard much about Korma aka Tommy Mertens, but get ready for that to change. We’ve had our eyes on him for a while now and others are starting to take notice. Last month he released his Bootlegs EP on Hush Hush Records full of remixes and edits that showcase his audible agility. We got a chance to speak with him to hear what the future has in store and he also graced us with a mix for the latest edition of our Truancy Volume series.

For those of us that don’t about you, tell us a little about yourself. “My name’s Tommy, I’m 21 and I live in Redmond which is about 20 minutes outside of Seattle. I had to do this for my Red Bull Music Academy application – ‘say five fact interesting facts about yourself’. It was hard because I just don’t think about myself like that all the time. I went to Bellevue College for music production for a quarter or so but I wasn’t feeling it. I should go back to school though, I’ve been thinking about it.” What would you want to go back to school for? Music production again? “I could do music production again if it was actually relevant, the class I was in was just too basic, maybe business or cooking. They’re totally at the opposite end of the spectrum but that’s what’s been on the horizon.”

Cooking, huh? If you Google ‘Korma’ it’s an Indian dish, what does the name mean? “At first I didn’t know it was an Indian dish. It was the name of an old Skream tune, I thought it was a cool name and was sort of disappointed when I figured out it was a dish. Only about half the people I tell really know it’s a dish.” More people know it’s a Skream song? I didn’t know it was. “It’s actually a pretty unknown Skream song. The other half just thinks it’s a word. It’s nice that it’s a bit ambiguous.”

How long have you been producing for? Your Soundcloud used to be a bit fuller than it is now. What happened to most of the tracks up there? “I’ve been producing for 4 or 5 years, since I was a junior in high school. When I first started producing I would just upload all my stuff on Soundcloud but now I’m a bit more careful about how I curate it. I’ve reined it in a bit. I did do a free download of a D Double E remix recently, which is a bit of a rarity for me now.”

First time we ever met you was at a weird underground pizza party in South Seattle. Can you tell me a bit more about that? “My friend Tony Miller who runs Datafruits hit me up about that and that was before I really played out a bunch. There was 2-3 people in a basement – not even a basement really, no insulation, or floor. I brought my Technics out for that and played an all vinyl set.” So you’re not spinning all vinyl as much? “I just use Serato now, vinyl’s so expensive it’s not really viable. Moving it around is tough and it’s so heavy that if you’re going to play for more than an hour it’s not worth it. There’s nothing local in Seattle for vinyl, so it’s hard to get ahold of newer tracks. Shipping is expensive to Seattle, getting it shipped out, sometimes it doesn’t show up and it doesn’t have tracking. MP3’s also tend to be much more exclusive.” We once got a record that had a huge chunk out of it, like someone had taken a rock and just scratched it. “I think it’s cause we’re from the US and people get mad that we’re buying the good records!”

What else happened to get you connected with Hush Hush? “Another DJ at KEXP, Sharlese, helped me get into contact with Alex. This was about a year ago when I went to a Ben UFO show at Q and hung out a bit with Allen who I met at the Datafruits party. I had just got my friends old ID and met a ton of people that really helped me get to where I am now. I think this was 4/19 last year, after Ben UFO. I kicked it with Allen’s friend Liz who introduced me to Sharlese later that night. After we met, Sharlese was hitting up Alex the whole time like “you’ve got to play this kid on the radio!” That’s when I knew that Seattle would be supportive.”

Describe the Bootlegs EP you recent put out. How did it come about? “It’s seven R&B remixes of popular stuff with varied production and my own style. I’m not sure if it’s something I’ll do again but it’s fun. I was just uploading R&B remixes on Soundcloud and Alex heard a couple he thought were cool. He asked me if I wanted to do an EP so I wrote up a few more tracks after that.” Is there a back and forth or what? “Alex is generally pretty positive, he’s never said anything negative about anything that I’ve sent him. He wanted little changes for the end of some tracks but he’s never really been harsh about it. Maybe it’d be better if label heads were more blunt. I’ve never sent something to someone and they were straight up like “change it.” It’s not something that I would really hate if I knew the person had good taste in music and knew what they were talking about. It’s obviously not something someone who runs a label wants to do.”

Is it hard to not have that, do you feel like sometimes you get a bit inflated? “As an artist you kind of just have to be self-aware enough to know what’s gonna fly and what’s not. I feel like you can go back and forth on a track, like I hate it I love it, but I think I’m at a point now where I can know if it’s good or not. I know the rhythm I want to do before I even put it down, I hear it in my head and know it’s going to sound good.”

What sort of equipment are you using to record? Any hardware? “I do everything in Ableton and then master it in Ozone. I don’t use any hardware. That’s a world that I need to start exploring because I just use pretty basic digital stuff. It’s cool but it’s obviously an unneeded expense. Tape decks would be something I’d like to get, rolling your track through a tape recorder so it sounds more analog-y. On that French Fries release “Drums / Traxx” you can hear it hissing. Sounds like shit from the 80’s and they’re using 808s and all that hardware. I’m not sure I could incorporate that into my sound, I’m just trying to push into the future and be a bit ahead of the sound. I’m inspired by visuals, I see something and I try and visually represent it with music. “Skyline” was inspired by shit I see on Tumblr.”

Stream: Korma – Skyline (Mumdance 26th Rinse rip)

You didn’t get inspired by the Nissan Skyline? “I’m sorta into cars but I never thought about that. I was going to change the name but then I sent it out so I couldn’t change it.”

You just turned 21. Had you played any other shows before you were 21? “When I played at Q Nightclub it was 2 days before my 21st birthday and I had to get escorted everywhere which was pretty shitty, especially since I was playing with Total Freedom. He wanted to meet me which was obviously cool but sort of a hassle for the security, after that I had to stay in an office and just listen to the crazy sub-bass. I was just sitting there with the people who run the club.” Recently you’ve been doing Dial Up at Q with a couple other people. How did that come about? “Dial Up is a free Wednesday night at Q, it’s run by Allen (DJ Hojo) and there’s a Dial Up crew. We just try and book really interesting artists and play out every Wednesday.”

How would you describe the scene in Seattle? Are you guys getting a lot of people to come out for Dial Up? “It’s hard for a lot of people who live here to really pickup on what’s actually happening in the UK. Electronic music is a totally new thing for people out here. Obviously Dubstep happened, then Trap happened for that sort of person and now we’re in an in between state where we don’t know exactly what they want in terms of electronic music. It’s a smattering of house and garage whatever people hear on Soundcloud and they don’t know the roots of it. We’re booking a lot of outside acts, there’s just not a strong scene of young people writing music except for the Structure crew and some of the Hush Hush guys. Seattle’s kind of in the dark, even Texas has a stronger scene. LA also knows what they’re doing. Seattle’s sort of in between and we’re just starting to figure that out.”

Is it important to have that link to the outside scene then? You’ve got a couple of Neana and Milktray edits in your mix. “Definitely, there’s a Twitter/Facebook community of grime producers & DJs like Shreikin Specialist, Grovestreet, Riz La Teef and Milktray but unfortunately none of them are in Seattle. There’s a strong American underground dance music community as well with Sugur Shane, Club Chemtrail, Track Meet, Tomahawk Chop Squad, J-Cush and Mike G. Still none of these guys are in Seattle though.”

Is it still strange to hear your music played out? “The first time I had a tune played on Rinse was a Scratcha DVA breakfast show. You’d send him your Soundcloud on Twitter and if it was hot enough he’d play it. One of my tunes got played on there, it was like 4 AM for me. This was about 2-3 years ago. I knew it was possible then so it wasn’t as much of a deal for me later.” Recently more so, yeah? “Mumdance, Slackk, Bok Bok and Strict Face are playing them as well. It’s cool to have that support from other producers that I respect.”

How would you describe the mix you’ve done for us? “Pretty eclectic but I tried to keep it relevant. There’s some hip-hop and a few throwback tunes. I’ve got a fair bit of production on there too. It stays club oriented.”

Anything coming up in the future for you? Any shows? “In the summer around June I’ll have a Car Crash Set release. My label Team Aerogel that I run with Poor Sport is doing a compilation sometime in the summer. I’ve Got that Datafruits EP coming out in May, mainly grime but there’s gonna be a ballroom / vogue track with this dancer / vocalist Koppi Mizrahi. A Track Meet EP which I’m definitely excited about. Next show is April 25th in Olympia, at the Cryptatropa. The Structure crew has also got a show 9-11 PDT. Some remixes here and there.”

Truancy Volume 95: Korma by TRUANTS

Ciara – Ride (Korma remix)
Kingdom – Corpse
Sugur Shane – Outta Sight Cunt Juice
Vissacoor – Spectral Evidence
Korma – Bring It 2 the Runway ft Koppi Mizrahi
Hysterics – Pleasuredrome
L-Vis1990 – Ballad 4D VIP
French Fries – Yo Vogue
Future – Turn On The Lights
Korma – Springblade
Neana & Ra’s Al – 42 Dunjunz
Mumdance & Logos – Wut it Do
Sugur Shane – Work This Pussy 2013
Chief Keef – Citgo (Commune remix)
Curtis Vodka – Hey Girl
Miss Modular – Reflector (8 bar)
Gucci Mane – Trap Back
Art of Noise – Moments in Love (Bmore quality remix)
Kakarot – Port Harcourt (Shriekin’ Specialist’s Orchestral Maximalism Conga VIP)
Youngstar – Formula 2
DJ Snoopy & Lil Mama – Hand Clap
L-Vis1990 – Not Mad (Helix bootleg)
Korma – Skyline
Skepta – UFO
D.O.K. – East Coast
Bok Bok – Charisma Theme (Bok’s Own Remix)
D Double E – Bad 2 the Bone
Bok Bok – Silo Pass (Sir Spyro remix)
Cassidy ft R. Kelly – Hotel (DJ Milktray edit) (Tom Lea backwards edit)
Korma – 2017
Sadie Ama – Fallin (Korma remix)

Photo Credit: David Oh

Korma’s Bootlegs EP is available for free download from Hush Hush Records here.

Tim Willis

In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country, twitter @timwill_is, personal: