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Who – or what – is Mount Kimbie, really?
“That’s a hard question,” muses Dom Maker. “The hardest. It’s…”
“It’s hard to say,” chimes in Kai Campos. “It’s an unspoken thing.”
Unspoken, or barely even there at all? The duo’s first two EPs – Maybes and Sketch On
Glass, both out in 2009 through Hotflush – seemed like explorations of spaces so private
that all within earshot were turned instantly into voyeurs. The experience was less like
listening to music and more like eavesdropping on the machinations of a lone mind –
albeit a lone mind surrounded by and retreating from millions of other minds.
For these were releases ushered into existence in Elephant and Castle, south London –
a place where, as Kai puts it, “you can get a bus to anywhere in the world”, but is still,
ultimately, “the shittest place you could ever live”. You imagine the area doesn’t become
any more endearing when you’re forced to sleep within the walls of an old mental
“That’s where we first met,” explains Kai, originally from Cornwall. “South Bank
University turned the old asylum into student halls. The ceilings were still ridiculously
high to stop patients hanging themselves, and there was a brick wall about an inch from
the window so they couldn’t leap out.
“It was a cold, joyless, concrete building – the sort of building where you’d drop a pen
and the sound would just go on and on in an echo.”
Echoes are important to Mount Kimbie.
“We were rehearsing at Dom’s place in Brighton with James Blake once,” Kai explains,
referring to their prodigiously talented friend and sometime live collaborator. “We went
down to the beach to get drunk. We walked home singing through this 50 metre-long
wind tunnel, and there was just this incredible reverb.
“A couple of months later we went back with some mics. It was a freezing evening –
people kept coming down and there’s us, three weird guys in the middle of nowhere,
singing harmonies in a wind tunnel! A lot of what we got that night features on the new
Armed with found sound snips and a siege mentality, Kai and Dom set about turning
London’s ambience into rhythm, its chaos into coherence. Traces of influence remain –
the hard-earned spaces of Burial and The Bug vie with the berserk melodrama of Xiu Xiu
and Grouper’s sad-eyed glow, D’Angelo’s pervert soul gets cleansed in the intimacy of
Phil Elvrum’s Microphones, Angelo Badalamenti’s swollen ‘Twin Peaks’ atmospheres
find a cradle in Madlib’s lax lope – but what emerges as ‘Mount Kimbie’ feels so pure in
its of vision it’s surprising to learn its roots lead back to a trance club at the end of a pier
in Bognor Regis.
“My first experience of electronic music was at sixth form,” explains Dom, who hails from
the south coast holiday town. “All my friends would go to this club called Sheiks. They’d
play the Tiësto rave mix of Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’, and I’d see girls I knew from
school going in all tarted-up with their mums. It was fucking gross.”
It’s perhaps too easy to see the music Mount Kimbie make now as a retreat from both
siren-strewn London mess and the rank, tyrannical mob empathy of Tiësto’s trance
brain-sucks. What seems sure is that the sound of Mount Kimbie’s music reverberating
around Sheiks’ main room come Friday night would blow many Bognor minds. This is
music made in and for stranger, more private places: emerging from train journeys,
“dimly lit garages full of hefty spiders” and the guest rooms of that old asylum, to exist…
In terms of attitude and approach, Mount Kimbie exist alongside those other auteurs in
the vanguard of the post-dubstep diaspora – like Joy Orbison, Actress, Untold and
Ikonika, Dom and Kai were drawn closer to UK clubland by the bass rearrangements
seeping from nights like FWD> and DMZ. And like those other producers, their sound –
their electronic response to the dubstep moment – is very much their own: sceneless;
untethered from etiquette and genre codes. They float through dubstep and hip-hop,
jazz, techno and ambient, post-rock, UK garage and film scores. But when the question
comes to place Mount Kimbie’s music physically, we’re forced to return to that earlier
question – who – or what – is Mount Kimbie, really?
There are two minds at work here – if you were to scrawl a Venn diagram with Dom on
one side and Kai on the other, ‘Mount Kimbie’ would be the overlap, a territory where
their tastes and empathies interlock and resonate. Kai’s first year in London was “bleak”
– he didn’t have any friends, and broke up with the girl he moved from Cornwall for. How
important was it for the two of you to meet at that point?
“Crucial,” reckons Dom, immediately.
“We’re still feeding off the same things we were when we started,” surmises Kai. “Still
responding to that first year or two in London, I guess.”
It’s an interesting statement – in Mount Kimbie’s emotionally murky and ambiguous mix
you can hear all the sensations you’d expect such a “crucial” coming-together to
provoke. Relief, first of all: then joy, curiosity, surging confidence and – as well as all that
– the memories of the old search and its solitude. Agitated, evasive, enigmatic and wry,
Maybes and Sketch On Glass seem like transmissions from that found place, the fluid,
moving, living part of a city that gets trapped inside a human along with the artificial light
and dirty air.
Every track on Mount Kimbie’s new album is unreleased and entirely new, yet it’d be
strange to imagine them torn from that locale – this is, after all, the quietly momentous
sound of their own memories.
“Most music that speaks to me is a mixture of different emotions and contradictions and
that’s why it’s music,” reasons Kai. “That’s why music is important – it can convey those
contradictions in a way you couldn’t ‘say’ with words because it wouldn’t make any
sense. It gets to the core of being a human being. That’s what life’s like. A mixture of