In 2011, Los Angeles-based DJ and producer Kingdom dropped a pair of EPs that existed in a strange musical space. Neither releases seemed particularly fitting for the club, but they didn’t seem totally out of place on the dancefloor either. Sure enough, a Saturday night gig last February at Le Bain in NYC proved that Kingdom’s strangeness can work in chic, rooftop clubs, even if it’s atypical of such venues. In one instant the music was darkly eerie, channeling John Carpenter. In the next, the music playfully deconstructs house music with jagged drum patterns under a diva sample and stuttering bass. Either way, the floor remained consistently packed.
Like it or not, Kingdom and his new label Fade to Mind, which features such acts as Nguzunguzu and MikeQ, are pushing the boundaries and definition of club music. Intrigued by the new label’s already signature sound, we hit up Kingdom in hopes that he would let us know what drives him and his Fade to Mind crew to create such dark and strange soundscapes.
Writers tend to put Kingdom under all-encompassing umbrella term of “bass music.” Do you feel that’s an accurate label?
I don’t think I would necessarily call myself “bass music.” I don’t think that name is very accurate because it’s named after a set of low frequencies that specific music contains. I would say some music contains those frequencies more than others, but I wouldn’t say that there should be a genre named after that. So I don’t really know about the whole “bass music” thing. However, it is important to me that my music does activate the sub-woofers and also is present in the club, like the kick-drum and the sub-bass. That is definitely what motivates a crowd. So, I do like to make music with bass. (laughs)
How long have you been a DJ?
I started DJing in 2005, so not that long ago. I started getting interconnected with the Night Slugs people around 2006, and I played the second Night Slugs party ever that they had in London in 2008. At the time I was just going over there, hanging out with them and played their parties a bit. It’s really grown from there.
What were some major influences that really formed your sound?
I have always been a big fan of the origins of house music like Chicago house and early techno. Also, I’ve always been into a lot of R&B and hip-hop stuff. I moved to New York when I was 18 so I was exposed to a lot of stuff like Dipset and the dancehall culture there. I’m also a huge fan of UK grime, bass music and garage from that part of the world and that stuff has definitely been influential. So it’s kind of a combination of all of those
A lot of Dreama, as well as some other Fade to Mind stuff, is pretty dark and eerie, what draws you to that sound?
There is often this idea that to make people dance in the club you need to create music that rises and rises, has epically big breakdowns and ultimately be maximal in that way. So I think it’s just much more interesting to experiment with a wide-range of emotions and see what kind of effect a more melancholy or bittersweet emotion has on a club atmosphere or even in a “bass,” urban R&B” context. It’s just a different vibe. I don’t know exactly why we are drawn to it but I think it’s just the vibe we are on. This is what has really drawn my crew and I together too. We are all more into that moody more dark sound. I just think it creates a really interesting atmosphere in the club.
Simon Reynolds wrote in Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture that a lot of techno has gone down darker roads after Britain’s acid-house phase due to serotonin levels depleting collectively. You mentioned being influenced by R&B but what about dance music, did you grow up off stuff that was particularly darker?
Yeah, definitely. When I was younger and I would buy a new R&B album or a new rap album, I was always drawn to that one cut that had a more atmospheric or darker sound to it. I was always attracted to the one with a more minor-key sound or more dissonant sound. I think I am also just more interested in things that have a little more noise or dissonance in them. Those tracks that seem like there is just a little bit something wrong. So I think it all connects into the same type of category for sure.
Kingdom intrigues me because it seems to be existing in numerous musical spaces. You tend to find a middle ground between hip-hop/R&B and and this sort of UK-funky, house sound. Is there a specific goal or sound you are going for with Kingdom?
There isn’t one specific sound but those are things that I am definitely influenced by. There is definitely a certain emotional resonance that I want to create that is often times less about the beat-pattern and more just about the “right” feeling. Like combining interesting sets of sounds from different sources. My crew and I usually joke around about this, but it’s kind of true that we all want to make music that is some combination of being sad, sexy, and scary. We also want it to be club-ready too, though.
Is putting out “dance music” a priority or are you just going for interesting sounds?
With Fade to Mind, I think we are trying to keep it really open and let it grow organically. Nguzunguzu have been friends for a long time so it just made sense for us to combine our sounds or just work together. We do play this music out in the club. I know not a lot of people do, and that some of this stuff is maybe a little more challenging to play out in the club but if its mixed with other stuff, I think it can really work. It’s just not “easy DJ club music” sometimes, you know? However, MikeQ, who we also recently released, his stuff is firmly rooted in house music and stuff like “Jersey club,” “Baltimore club,” “ballroom house” and other low types of beats. His beats are actually 130bpm, four-on-the-floor, and are very club-ready if mixed with other tracks. So in that sense, we do have that release which is a little more club. Also, there is a lot more stuff that will be coming out that has a more club-ready, dance music sound. What we really want to do is release dance music as well as music that isn’t for dancing.
The Fade to Mind sound has already established a specific sound even though it only has a few releases. That being said, it just doesn’t always immediately seem very danceable or like it would work in the club.
It is a little bit of a concern for us. We are all DJs and we are all a part of a larger network of DJs that we collaborate with and hang out with a lot. So it is very important to us to make music that people can use when DJing. Right now, we are just taking it step by step. When we hear records that really give up that emotional resonance that we want, we put them out. Looking towards the future, though, I really want to put out and make more music that will make people dance and is DJ-friendly music.
Well on that note, what makes good dance music to you?
Personally, I can dance to anything, especially if its a song that I have listened to a couple times where I can kinda get obsessed with whatever beat pattern it has laid. Even with the Gremino songs that have this strange syncopation and a really slow build, I can dance to. If I know the track and I love it, then I can dance to it. I know other people like that too.
However, I don’t think there is any narrow definition to what makes good dance music. I like to dance to a wide variety of stuff. It does come back to the bass question, though. The way that bass is mixed and the way bass sounds and what bass tones are chosen can have a lot to do with why people dance to it. It’s a bit of a science and I don’t think its easy. When you dance, it’s an emotional response to a sound. And since everyone’s personality tends to be different, then what one responses to can be pretty different as well for each person. For me, it’s not one thing.
Why did you decide to start Fade to Mind?
Well my friend, DJ Prince William, from Dallas– who just relocated to LA– he had kind of been suggesting it and talking with me about it for awhile. I was pretty busy DJing and producing and releasing records at the time, though. Then Nguzunguzu was making all these new tracks and I had just moved to LA where Nguzunguzu is located, so we started collaborating. And I was just hearing all the new stuff they were making the very day they would make it, and it made me feel that our collaborative vibe could totally congeal. Plus, this other DJ known as Total Freedom was based in LA, and so all four of us just had this vibe that really started to work well. The crew already had the Fade to Mind name so it just made sense to me to also create a label to release all this great music. Then Prince Will, who has worked with a lot of different artists and rappers, his job often times as a producer is to bring people together. He’s a facilitator. So he really helped us make it an official label. Then to just see Bok Bok go from throwing a little party in his neighborhood to creating a label and putting out all of his friends music, and then organized a visual identity for the label, really inspired me to do something along those lines but with a different angle. I am also a visual artist who does most of the cover art for the label, so creating that visual identity for the label was really important.
Fade to Mind has already done a lot of stuff besides putting out music. Is that also a part of the label’s mission?
We put on events, put out music, we are doing some clothing here and there. We are doing some videos with some other people who are in the crew who are going to be creating visual output for the label. There will definitely be more stuff like we did with The Table at the New Museum last year in New York City. Also, Nguzunguzu and I have started doing this live performance thing called “The Claw” that came from the New Museum event. It basically entails all of us around a table and we all have turntables, samplers and drum machines and then we layer the loops and samples. Stuff like that we will definitely be continuing to do.
What’s in store for Kingdom and Fade to Mind in 2012?
I am working on a bunch of new tracks right now, so I think I am probably going to have a new EP for Fade to Mind as well as another EP for Night Slugs in the next year. There is also this writer named Dave Quam [Massacoormaan] who has a blog, and he has sort of switched over to producing lately. He is super prolific, so we are going to put out a new EP by him. There is also more music coming down the pipe from Nguzunguzu and MikeQ. Also, we’ve made a lot of bootlegs and re-edits, so we are going to start compiling some of our bootlegs and maybe release some on vinyl or limited edition CDs. Lots of things are coming.