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.
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.
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.
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)
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”.
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?
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.