That Mystic – An interview with producer Kingdom from Fade to Mind

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If you often read this site or go out to the Love Bang parties, you know we’re massive fans of Kingdom, the LA-based producer who makes dark, R&B-infused electronic music that sounds just as good through headphones on your bed as it does through subwoofers in the club. His HD productions are richer than eighteen-layer cake, punctuated with literally a kingdom of sounds, from phone rings to screams. It’s super high-definition music that combines bits of rave, dancehall, diva-vocals, vogue, various strains of club music, and of course that Masters at Work “Ha” sample.

He’s also on two of our favorite labels, Night Slugs and Fade To Mind, which Kingdom started in LA with friends Nguzunguzu, Total Freedom, and Prince William as a sister label to the mighty Night Slugs.

Ahead of his two shows in Shanghai this weekend, one at the Wood and Wires festival and another at The Shelter, I interviewed Kingdom via email about the intersection of  underground and pop music, album art, and what we can expect at The Shelter tomorrow night.

But before you get into the reading, I suggest throwing this mix on, which really exemplifies exactly how Kingdom melts the underground and pop worlds together into something beautiful.

Heatwolves: For those out there who don’t know you, could you please introduce yourself real quick and briefly describe your sound?

Kingdom: You can just use my short bio:

“A leader in the new wave of American producers, L.A.-based DJ and label head Kingdom (aka Ezra Rubin) has built considerable influence with both his formidable discography and the output from his own imprint, Fade to Mind. Since 2007, his distinctively bittersweet productions—deep synths, R&B vocals, and apocalyptic drums—have coalesced into a spacious, meta­dimensional sound has become a major voice in club music worldwide. While living in New York he quickly gained a following thanks to his signature DJ sets which merged R&B, hip-hop, grime, rave, and subwoofer experiments. Critical acclaim for his early EPs Mind Reader (Fool’s Gold), That Mystic, and Dreama (Night Slugs) took him from NY to LA in 2010 to form new label Fade to Mind with close friends and collaborators Nguzunguzu, Total Freedom, and Prince William. He quickly expanded the roster to include such diverse artists as ballroom legend MikeQ and Kuwaiti­-born composer Fatima Al Qadiri. This year has seen Kingdom release a new 7-song EP, ‘Vertical XL’ (with lead single “Bank Head” featuring Kelela), and also curate and contribute production to the freshly released Cut 4 Me mixtape by Fade to Mind songstress Kelela.”

Heatwolves: In a recent interview you said “Female vocal R&B has been more or less absent from mainstream radio for about 5 years now so it’s just about to come back really strong. Our new project with Kelela is going to help with that.” Can your music become mainstream? I feel like that’s what you’re going for, especially on your solo releases, with tracks like “Let U No,” “Take Me,” and “Bank Head.” What’s your ultimate goal with music?

Kingdom: I will never do just one thing, though I do want to make pop music. My music is still experimental also. I’ve always played with going back and forth between the two. Female vocals have been pretty absent from the charts lately but it’s on its way back already. The reception of the Kelela mixtape proves that.

Heatwolves: You’re on mini-tour of Asia, with stops in Korea, Japan, and China. What promoted this? Have you played in Asia before?

Kingdom: I’ve played twice in Tokyo before and once in Seoul. This trip was prompted by the Tokyo booking first, which was a awesome show with a shop in Toyko called GR8, and then we built the other Asia shows around that.

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Heatwolves: The cover art for your Vertical XL EP was done by Shanghai-based Kim Laughton (ROM / Stockholm Syndrome) – How did you two link and what’s the story behind that album cover? Great cover art, it reminds me of the last scenes in Akira or an arms scrapyard.

Kingdom: Jude from the Thunderhorse collective recommended Kim to me, it was fun collaborating with him on that! I wanted the cover art to depict a rural / post-industrial abduction. Levitation and ancient ruins were also inspirations. I made a Photoshop mockup and Kim created all the renderings and added a bunch of the details.

Heatwolves: I read in another interview that you love driving. Why is that? What do you listen to in the car? Do you test tracks in the car? Do you have any  classic CDRs that have stayed in car-rotation through the years?

Kingdom: Living in LA for three years has drained that love a little bit sadly. Driving becomes just part of every day life. I think I romanticized it a little in NY because it was so novel. I still like longer trips though and driving in the suburbs. I listen to Electrik Red’s album “How to be a Lady” and some old CDs I used to DJ off of, and “The Claw” CDR, a Fade to Mind CD of live improvised collaborations between me, Nguzunguzu, and Total Freedom.

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Heatwolves: Speaking of driving, you live in LA now – can people make a decent living playing strictly music like what you and the Fade To Mind Crew play in LA?  Do you work a day job too? Do you DJ in LA or out of LA more? I’ve been to a Night Slugs party but never Fade To Mind – what are your nights like?

Kingdom: You can make a living doing anything if you try, work, have something interesting to say, or something that people wanna hear. I DJ more outside of LA more, in NYC, Canada, and Europe. We have built a solid scene in LA though. Our parties are dark and foggy, loud club music, cute people.

Heatwolves:Will that Masters At Work “Ha” sound ever get old? Or does that get a special pass?

Kingdom: It gets a special pass.

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Heatwolves: Your tracks always sound really polished and hit hard, even the earlier releases. What do you produce with now, and what did you produce “That Mystic” with?

Kingdom: I use Ableton Live, and I’m also recording from some keyboards and drum machines. All of my Eps before “Vertical XL” were all made on my 12” Macbook in my living room. For Vertical XL I set up a studio with more equipment.

 

Heatwolves: What is this Moleskin “Turnt On” track on your XLR8R innovator mixtape? Shit is crazy. Also, this is an “Innovator Series” mixtape – what exactly is your area of innovation?

Kingdom: Moleskin is a great new producer from the UK. I’m not sure what the innovator thing is for the mix series but I think I helped bring R&B and club music together in a new way around 2008. I was playing UK club music in NY before most people got into it there, mixing it with rap and R&B and dancehall I was hearing on local NY radio.

Heatwolves: I heard you have a ton of edits for shows that you don’t release – how many do you think you’ve done total? What do you make edits with? Can we expect a lot of those at the Shanghai show?

Kingdom: Yes, edits are my lifeblood. Total Freedom makes a lot of the ones I play at the shows too. I’ve probably made hundreds of edits, its hard to keep track, they are temporary objects.

Cassie – All My Love (Kingdom Edit)

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Heatwolves: What’s the worst experience/craziest story you’ve had at a gig, e.g. stolen bag, gang fight on dancefloor?

Kingdom: Shitty speakers and empty dancefloors… We’ve all been there.

Heatwolves: What are your top five female R&B songs? And also your top five favorite Hip Hop songs.

Kingdom: I truly can not play favorites. I would prefer to list some that are on my mind lately:

Tink “Somebody Else”, Schoolboy Q “Collared Greens”, Jhene Aiko’s part on Drake’s “From Time”, Asap Ferg “Hood Pope”, Kelela “Enemy”.

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Heatwolves: What’s next after this Asia tour?

Kingdom: Back to LA, doing the Nguzunguzu “Skycell” release party there on the 8th, and working on my next release for Night Slugs in my studio.

Heatwolves: Finally, what do you wanna say to peeps in Shanghai who haven’t heard of you yet?

Kingdom: If there’s Soundcloud in Shanghai they should listen to some stuff to get them ready! http://www.soundcloud.com/kkingdomm and http://www.soundcloud.com/fadetomind

And even better, head over to iTunes and buy his excellent Vertical XL EP and download the Kelela mixtape for free.
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Don’t miss Kingdom DJing at The Shelter on Saturday, Nov 2. 2013 with support by Mood Supply, Beardslap, and yrs truly. It’s only 60RMB – you’d be a fool to pass this up.

 

 

 

 

 

CRNKN interview – Skid Row and the post-trap era.

This interview originally appeared in edited form over on Shanghaiist. Thanks to Rachel Gouk for getting that published. I’ve attached a few photos from the event last Friday, courtesy of Money Shots photography. Outstanding party with about 400 peeps through the door and a overall vibe of “let’s rage.” Here’s CRNKN chillin backstage just before his set, lookin hella determined after driving to Wuxi to DJ at an amusement park the night before then jetting back to LA fourty-eight hours later. For a twenty year-old, this kid is super focused. Full unedited interview below.

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We’re living in strange times, where fiber optics, cracked software, and the MP3 have led to an era where music genres collide, transcending race and place. These postmodern conditions often and with increasing frequency result in similarly weird blends of styles that are discussed using words like “twerk,” “ratchet,” and “turnt up.”  Such is the case of Trap Music,” the latest fad in another fad called EDM (Electronic Dance Music). In more tangible terms, trap music blends dubstep, southern rap instrumentals, gunshots/broken glass, rave sounds like synths, and slurred or shouted rap lyrics about sin. This is the sound of music festivals in America in 2013.

 

Enter CRNKN, a 20-year old from New Hampshire who happened to drop out of college and start producing electronic music around the time Trap was taking off a few years ago, acquired some fame from this, and has since distanced himself from The Trap and waded into other styles. His music, both original productions and remixes for artists like Die Antwoord and Major Lazer, is danceable, colorful, and playful like Studio Ghibli cartoons. He’s rocking Arkham this Friday along with Conrank, Mau Mau, Shanghai In The Trap, and yrs truly. I talked with him over Skype about living a few blocks from Skid Row, parties in Dim Sum restaurants, working construction, and what’s up on Friday night.

CRNKN: How’s it going?

Heatwolves (HW): Chillin in the kitchen, making cookies. Heavy cooking today. It’s 10AM in LA where you are, what are you eating for breakfast?

CRNKN: I have not eaten anything yet.

HW: Chinese breakfast, that’s one of the best parts about being here. Like after the show we’ll hit up the noodle restaurants and get pancakes on the street.

CRNKN: Sick, looking forward to it.

HW: Who are you, to people who don’t you?

CRNKN: I’m Gabe Baer, also known as CRNKN (“crankin”), from a little town on the East Coast in New Hampshire and I relocated to LA about a year ago.

HW: I saw you went backpacking and then you went broke, and that’s when you started producing music because you were broke?

CRNKN: Yeah I quit school and went on this really long backpacking trip and came back, didn’t have a job or any money. I wasn’t going to school so I had a lot of free time and I started producing when I wasn’t working a boring retail job.

HW: Where’d you go for the backpacking trip?

CRNKN: Central America. Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, and Nicaragua.

HW: I’ve been out here a long time so I’ve missed this whole EDM thing back home, but it’s huge. Are you an EDM artist?

CRNKN: I make electronic music, I don’t know if EDM is the best way to describe it, because that’s beginning to stand for repetitive music that isn’t very creative.

HW: So what kind of stuff are you playing in your sets?

CRNKN: I play a lot of different stuff in my sets; everything from ASAP Ferg, Mr. Karmac, Gesaffelstein, a lot of Bromance stuff…these dudes from Austrailia “Peking Duck,” I play a lot of their stuff.

HW: I read that you also play basketball?

CRNKN: I do play basketball. Pretty much every day.

HW: In LA, you play street ball or what?

CRNKN: [laughs] No, I’d get destroyed. And it’s pretty dangerous. I live right near Skid Row.

HW: What’s Skid Row like, for people who don’t know?

CRNKN: Skid row is this section of downtown Los Angeles where lots and lots of homeless people now call their home. There’s one street called San Pedro like three blocks from my apartment, and it’s literally just tents and blankets, and if you drive through there at night it feels like you’re in The Walking Dead, because there’s people stumbling through the streets, walking up to your car…it’s pretty crazy.

HW: Do people die down there?

CRNKN: Yes, people die down there.

HW: Damn, ten minutes from your house. Have you ever been robbed?

CRNKN: No, but the other day a hobo tried to steal my vitamins which was pretty dumb. I was walking back from Target and I’d just bought some multi-vitamins and he snatched my bag but I pulled it away and hit him with it then I ran, but that’s the only time in a year that someone’s tried to steal something from me.

HW: Just on the street like that?

CRNKN: I’ve never been anywhere in my life where you can be in a nice area with businessmen and Italian suits and people driving Teslas, and a block away there’s people dying on the streets. I don’t mean to paint it in a negative picture, because LA is really cool but it’s really strange seeing that kind of stuff on a fairly regular basis, especially coming from such a small town it was a pretty big culture shock.

HW: And you live in a building with a lot of other DJs, Who else lives in your building?

CRNKN: Kastle, Dillon Francis lived here but he just moved out, Dave Nada, LA Riots, AC Slater, Sabo…

HW: Wild. Do you have a car?

CRNKN: I don’t have a car but I’m moving out of downtown soon though which will necessitate that. Here you can walk everywhere or take the metro.

HW: Why the move out from downtown?

CRNKN: I like downtown a lot, I like the creative thing, but it’s also gross here, and I wanna have a dog and this isn’t a good place to have a dog. LA is weird, very strange. How many people live in Shanghai?

HW: About 20 million

CRNKN: That’s more than twice the size of LA. All of LA County is just 8 million and it’s still the second biggest city in the US.

HW: Have you been to Asia before?

CRNKN: No but China and Japan have been on my top go-to list since I was a little kid, and I’ve been slowly knocking countries off that list.

HW: I guess Japan is higher on that list because you’re an anime fan? What are your top three anime?

CRNKN: Yeah…I am a big fan of Japan, but like I said China’s always been in the works too. Top three anime…well, since I grew up watching it I’d have to go Dragon Ball Z for number one since I’ve been watching it since I was five years old. I take that back, anything by Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away/Princess Mononoke, those would go in number one, then Dragon Ball Z second, then Rurouni Kenshin for number three. All classics.

HW: I see you have a track out called “Akira,” classic anime.

CRNKN: Fantastic movie. I wish I didn’t have to put that song out cause I really liked it and I wanted to finish it and use it for something, but I lost the project file and I had that version saved so I just put it out otherwise it would have just sat on my computer forever.

HW: Interesting track, it’s kinda different from your other stuff.

CRNKN: Yeah pretty much everything I’m making right now is really different from my other stuff. The other stuff was fun when I was making it, but I was following a path everyone else is going in. And I realized I was doing that because that was cool and what people wanted to hear, and then I realized that that’s not why I started making music. So I just went back to making what I wanna hear and what I like listening to. And if people wanna listen to it that’s cool, and if not then that’s also cool. Just make whatever I wanna make and not be labeled. It’s still gonna be dancey but not necessarily gonna be the same thing every time.

HW: I saw a fan comment on the Akira track “if I paid to see you played this, I’d be mad.”

CRNKN: Yeah, and the thing is a lot of people have been mad at my sets lately because I stopped playing Trap. I still play some but I used to play all Trap sets because that’s what I was doing. I play a lot of different stuff and a lot of older fans have been pissed, but I made a point to say odds are I’m probably not gonna play the Trap anthem that you’re looking for me to play so don’t expect it. But for every trap fan I lose I gain one fan that’s really into what I’m doing now and excited about my other stuff.

HW: For people who don’t know, what is Trap?

CRNKN: Trap is the white-kid amalgamation of electronic music and southern drug rap, like Gucci Mane/Juicy J.

HW: That’s what’s popular in the States right now?

CRNKN: Yeah it’s really popular. That and big room house.

HW: Are there nights in LA where it’s all Trap, all night?

CRNKN: There were but LA is one of those fashion-forward sorta places so people get over stuff really quick here. And most of the people here are really in tune with what’s going on with electronic music, so it was really big here, but it’s tapering off because people have heard that a hundred times. So there’s a lot of deeper nights here now, like Dirtybird and those kinda vibes. New York is the same way. People were really stoked on trap and just got sick of it, but the rest of the states like the middle and the corners are all really into it still. Like the biggest shit ever.

HW: So house/deep house nights are popular now?

CRNKN: Well, for the people that are in-tune with what’s going on. And a lot of DJs are getting tired of trap. Not to say that it’s a bad thing but no one’s doing anything fresh, so a lot of people are hesitant to align themselves with it because they don’t wanna go down with the ship when people stop being creative which is sort of happening. That’s why I don’t wanna align myself with it because I don’t wanna align myself with shit that’s not creative or pushing the envelope.

HW: So what’s the next big thing then?

CRNKN: I don’t know, I’m really hoping that the next big thing is the US takes a break from really heavy shit and gets more into stuff that’s music-driven and vibey, instead of..you know. That’s what I’m hoping. It’s like that in the rest of the world, everyone is over big heavy music and we’re the only one’s still really stoked on it.

HW: I saw you DJed with Oneman (British DJ), how was that?

CRNKN: It was actually a really cool party, in Chinatown in NYC, in this Dim Sum restaurant, and it was this random-ass location and I was like “oh man this show isn’t gonna be great, it’s in the weirdest spot ever” but it was tight, super fun. It was sort of an underground show; really fun cause I don’t get to play stuff like that very often.

HW: How was Oneman’s set? What are the big differences between US DJs and UK DJs?

CRNKN: His set was good, a lot of hip hop. US DJs, we’re all about playing hits, and the UK DJs are a little less about that and more about cultivating a vibe. We’re about playing hit after hit until people are super tired and they go home. Not to say that’s it’s just us that want that, but that’s just the thing right now. People just wanna go in and be all that they can be while they’re at the show.

HW: Yeah people are wilding out, they’re dying. What do you think about this?

CRNKN: People are dumb. My gf and I talk about this a lot. At Electric Zoo in New York, two girls from the college I went to died, and it’s sad, and I don’t wanna sound insensitive, but if you’re gonna go get fucked up at a festival, you should learn how to do it the right way. Don’t be an idiot, drink some water. I feel terrible for families of the girls, but be responsible. It’s like anything; if you’re gonna operate an excavator you gotta know how to use it or you could smash someone’s car or something.

HW: Have you driven an excavator?

CRNKN: I have driven an excavator. I’m from a really small state and that shit is a lot more normal there, and my dad works for a construction company and I’ve worked construction.

HW: No shit, I worked construction too.

CRNKN: Construction sucks. It’s real work. It builds character but it’s hard. I don’t think I know a single person in LA that I could see doing construction. It’s hard.

HW: Do you go out much in LA?

CRNKN: The simple answer to that question is no. The longer answer is that I’m not old enough to go out here in LA yet. I’m only 20 so I can’t go out technically. I go out to things I can go to, like I just went out the Mad Decent block party, and went to HARD a month ago, and stuff I can go to, but more often than not I skip some of the smaller things. I’m kind of a homebody.

HW: Have you ever been to Low End Theory?

CRNKN: Yeah I’ve been a couple times, once Flying Lotus ended up playing as a special guest. No one knew that he was playing. He’s sick.

HW: About how many times a week do you play shows? Do you play any residencies?

CRNKN: Generally like two days a week, like every weekend or every other weekend. No residencies probably because I’m not old enough to go to the clubs where they have residents. I’m going on tour on October 17th with Bro Safari, so I haven’t been playing many shows, a little slow period before I go on tour.

HW: I’ve never heard the Bro Safari. Seen the name.

CRNKN: Yeah he’s got a really big US pull, he plays all the big festivals here.

HW: How long are you gonna be in town and what are you expecting?

CRNKN: Just the weekend, really quick four-day thing, really only two days in Shanghai. I’m not expecting anything. In the US I know a lot of the clubs, and I’ve played a lot of places. But when I went to Australia and Russia, I had no idea. It’s always different and it’s interesting to see how shows go.

HW: You played in Russia?

CRNKN: I’ve played in Russia, Isreal, Austrailia, China…the list is slowly growing.

HW: What was the club like in Russia?

CRNKN: I played in St. Petersberg and Moscow, and they were both awesome, but that was back when I was pretty thick into the trap thing, so they were trap shows. People were really excited.

HW: Friday’s gonna be good, Arkhams a dope venue, the lineup is dope. The other dude Conrank is a sick producer, does a lot of stuff with Chinese pop stars, Mau Mau that dude’s dope, I’m gonna open. Anything else you wanna say to the peeps in Shanghai, what can we expect?

CRNKN: I play a lot of different stuff, so if you’re not feeling something that I’m playing, I guarantee I’ll play something you’ll like at some point in the set, so there’s a little something for everybody and I super stoked to see what China’s all about.

HW: So we can expect a lot of your own productions [in the set]?

CRNKN: Yeah a lot of my new stuff, maybe 8 – 10 songs, and the rest is stuff I’m really into right now.

HW: Looking forward to it.