Popularity has forever been a bizarre concept, and often a social stigma – one that I have never really understood. The dynamics of such a variable are worryingly uneven and fragile. You only have to think back to your school days and dissect some of the characters in your own story to wonder just what it was that made ‘Tommy’ the almost illiterate thug popular but ‘Matthew’ the surprisingly intelligent and worryingly musically talented so un-popular. And me… well let’s leave me out of this and get back to the issue in hand.
Popularity within music is just as unquantifiable, and as a music journalist it would be obvious to point the finger at my peers as responsible for the popularity and success of musicians. But I’m not completely sure it is all our doing. The so-called Hype Machine is to blame but the components of the machine’s intricate mechanism is made up of musicians, retailers, distributors, journalists, socialites, mover, shakers and bloggers. A huge number of components make that machine work, not just journalists.
Kidkanevil is one of the rising figures in contemporary music, who has been dealt a short straw when it comes to popularity. For years he seems to have been the quiet kid in school, doing well, working hard, neither being the most popular nor the focus of victimization. However, more recently, upon the release of his 3rd album Basho Basho, it seems Gerard Roberts has graduated, blossomed and is now one of the most popular kids in school. One of those that has earned his place, not like the aforementioned ‘Tommy’.
Kidkanevils first two albums were in my opinion great works of music – contemporary compositions of modern soul, hip-hop and RnB, which at the time were slightly out of favor. If you go back to those first two albums now, you will quickly see just how talented and accomplished Kidkanevil really is. Working with artists as diverse as Andreya Trianna, Lateef The Truth Speaker, Jehst & Sir Smurf Lil’, Yarah Bravo, Bonobo, Justin Percival, Taprikk Sweezee, Kissey Asplund & Blu, he created two albums which, relatively speaking went somewhat unnoticed.
Kidkanevil then released Basho Basho to critical acclaim and a generally great reception worldwide that has seen him booked in far-flung places such as Japan, Switzerland and Singapore. Basho Basho is an instrumental album that is geared more towards the beat movement of future bass that is so en vogue at the moment.
I caught up with Gerard to discuss his new-found popularity and success, his other project Stateless and all things Kidkanevil related.
Hi Kidkanevil, can you tell us your name, age and city of birth?
Dr Lao, 2600, Tokyorkshire, Leeds era.
Where do you currently live?
Tokyorkshire, South London era.
Growing up in Leeds, you spent many years honing your craft as it were. Do you think moving to London contributed to your recent rise to ‘fame’?
I think it helps, yeah, seems like it. I don’t really leave the house much either way, though – so it’s hard to tell.
Does either city make for a better inspiration?
Better is the wrong word really, just different vibes. I find inspiration in both. I do think London has a unique sense of urgency about it though which can be equally invigorating and exhausting.
It could be said that, although you are now on your third album, success and acclaim has only just come your way. Why do you think that is?
From my perspective it’s just been a gradual building process. I’ve never really fit anywhere that easily I guess, so it takes time. Everything prior to Basho Basho was practice to me, finding my musical voice and learning my craft, Basho Basho is the first time I’ve felt happy and comfortable with my work. It actually feels like my true debut. But in terms of some kind of recognition, I think it mainly comes down to it just being a better piece of work than my previous efforts. Its release coinciding with RBMA didn’t hurt either!
I’m quite surprised at that, as in actual fact, your earlier two albums have a much more accessible kind of sound, centered in RnB and Hip Hop with some interesting collaborations. Why do you think they slipped under the radar?
Well the first album was a pretty low-key release on a new label, I guess. Mostly old beats straight out the MPC. The second was more of an EP to me, I don’t really think of it as an album. I made it really quickly just for fun and practice to be honest. I think after that I felt like I’d got to a point technically and musically where I could make some kind of attempt at a serious album, something I could be proud of. I have mixed feelings about my earlier work, I’m a pretty severe critic of my own stuff. So I really put everything I had into the Basho Basho album in the hope that I might actually like it a bit, haha. Which I do actually, so that’s a relief! None of my releases have ever had a significant budget behind them either, so it really comes down to whether the music is good enough to make an impression. I’m just getting to a point now creatively and technically where I think my music’s getting there, and Basho Basho was the first installment of that journey. Everything prior to that was like the training level. Gotta get your ass wupped a few times before your ready to fight Bison.
Basho Basho is an instrumental, electronic, beat driven album – which on paper you would assume would be much less commercial. Yet, it is what has been the success of you. Do you think this is strange?
I don’t think I’m operating at a level where the ingredients that make something ‘commercially accessible’ or not really come into play. It’s more about just making something dope. There’s also a sense of it being a real beat maker era right now, which hadn’t fully bloomed when I was dropping my early shit. It seems there’s more of a movement and fanbase for just beats now, so I think Basho came along at a better time. There’s more of a space for me now I guess, something like that. I tend not to think about this stuff too much! As soon as a project is done I’m onto the next one and try not to look back. My only game-plan is to keep getting better at my craft and art, in the hope that one day I’ll fulfill whatever potential I may have.
What was the catalyst for the creative redirection in your music?
Oh man, I don’t know. It just felt like the right time to get serious if you will. I wasn’t that aware of a redirection as such, its just natural progression and development from my perspective. The first 12” I ever put out had a short beat on there called ‘Advance Math’ for example, which sounds not dissimilar to the Basho stuff. I always intended to do an instrumental album too, actually my first album was gonna be, but then I kept getting opportunities to work with people I didn’t want to turn down. I’m not sure I had the confidence at that point to go ‘No, this is gonna be instrumental’. I felt ready this time around for some reason.
I view this all in a very long-game frame of mind. My only real interest is to create something truly great one day, and to do that I have to learn and grow, and that’s what you’ll hear if you listen to everything I’ve released so far. I just follow wherever the inspiration leads. Perhaps it wasn’t so much of a redirection in my mind as an arrival at the next stage; I’d been working to get to this point. In terms of a catalyst though, the most direct influence for the Basho album was Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman Of The Dunes. It just clicked with my mood and imagination perfectly. That was the core reference point so I didn’t get too lost in my own bubble.
Can you tell us about Stateless, who makes up the band, the idea behind it and the direction you want to take it?
Stateless approached me years ago originally to do some cuts, but then the singer Chris heard my beats and started writing songs to them. Which was pretty novel for me coming from a hip-hop background. Next thing you know we’re signed to Sony with a 5-album deal, stuck on the shelf because they didn’t really get us. That first album just sounds really compromised and confused to me. I contributed what I contributed to it, but I’d never listen to it, it’s not me. I put it down to a learning experience. Shit was 4 years old by the time it even came out, crazy. So it’s a bit of a fresh start now with the new Ninja Tune album, which I’ve been much more heavily involved in. Stateless was always about potential for me, and it seems like we’re finally starting to fulfill that, which is a good feeling after all the crazy industry shit we’ve been through. It feels good to finally make the album we wanted. I’m really proud of it, definitely some of my best work personally.
Where does KidK stop and Stateless begin?
Depends which beats of mine Chris runs off with! There are two sides to the Stateless process I guess. There’s Chris writing to my beats, and then there’s Chris and Justin writing songs that we later produce. With my own stuff I just get lost in my bubble and do whatever I feel. It’s two separate projects really, but there is cross-pollination. I learn a lot from those guys, they’re all crazy talented.
I hope you don’t mind me saying, but it sounds like Stateless is the bridge between the older KidK sound and the newer more beat driven sound. Would you say that’s fair?
I don’t mind! I’m not sure really, like I say I tend not to think about it too much. I think they’ve both just evolved naturally. Some of the beats on the Stateless album actually began as demos for my second and third albums, but ended up gravitating to the Stateless project instead. I guess it’s all a bit too messy in reality to draw too many clear conclusions from. So maybe, I dunno!
What’s next for KidK and Stateless?
Stateless’ album Matilda drops in February, with remixes from Rustie, Midland, Dark Sky, Om Unit, Falty DL, Blue Daisy and Slugabed so far, followed by touring and all that shenanigans. With regards to my own stuff I have a Raymond Scott beat tape album about half way finished, an EP with Foreign Beggars, a heap of remixes and a pretty special collaboration project with Daisuke Tanabe in the works, who is one of my favorite producers. Then I guess I’ll make a new album.
Finally, What are your 5 desert island albums, and 5 tracks?
Man, there’s no way I can do tracks, too hard!! I’ll take a shot at albums thought this will have changed by tomorrow I’m sure. Ok…
1. Slum Village – Fantastic Vol. 2 – Probably my favourite full album of Dilla’s production. I will never get bored of it, ever. It’s just so unbelievably good, genius. Changed the way I heard beats.
2. Arvo Pärt – Für Alina – The most beautiful piece of music in the history of the universe!!
3. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury – Finest street poetry, incredible minimal beats, pretty perfect really – too many sick lines.
4. Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz – my album of the year, magnificent.
5. Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach – Money Jungle or Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain – One of these is my favorite jazz album, but I can never choose. I’ll smuggle them both in, f*ck it.
Make sure you also check out our Slices feature with Kidkanevil taken fromSlices 3-10: