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A Quietus Interview

Escape To Nowhere: King Cannibal Interviewed
Frances Morgan , December 9th, 2009 08:15

Frances Morgan talks to one of The Quietus's artists of the year, King Cannibal, about the dog-end of existence and being abused by sound

On King Cannibal's Let The Night Roar, nothing is quite as it seems. Beats hit like they could break concrete, then bounce back, elastic and airborne. A cavernous building fills with light and sound. Bleak skies flash and crackle with sudden stars and monolithic cityscapes shrink to ant-hills. Girls with machine-gun voices flank you like an army on lone walks home and metallic scrapes, cuts and drones spar with insistent bass. There are sirens, demons and samurai; always something else, just around the next bend, just within the next layer of sound.

Heavy music does not often keep you on your toes like this, but King Cannibal, the current pseudonym of South London DJ and producer Dylan Richards, breaks out of the tempting, coccoon-like bass depths that many of his dubstep peers inhabit and straight into the more savage corners of the imagination, with a collection of ten tracks that twist drum & bass, dancehall, techno, industrial noise and horror soundtracks into an infectious mix. A fascination with dark subject matter – dystopias, gore, evil – is common currency in extreme music, but Richards' compositional surety and inspired choice of vocal collaborators ranging from Jahcoozi's Sasha Periera to veteran Jamaican MC Daddy Freddy and introducing new French dancehall duo Face-a-Face inbetween, means that there's a lightness of touch and a weird sense of mischief about this missive from the dark side.

It's hard to believe that Richards' self-assured offering is his first full-length as a solo artist, but as we meet at Ninja Tune HQ, he describes the process of making it as “finding my feet and trying to think in terms of an album, which I'd never really thought of...” It's good to hear that work is underway on the follow-up already.

So what does the idea of an album mean to you?

Dylan Richards: Initially it meant that I can't have any filler, everything's got to be a bit deeper in that it's not just a track for the dancefloor, it's got to have another aspect to it and still work cohesively with the other tracks on the album. I think if I'd written it with the dancefloor in mind, I wouldn't have tracks with one minute of noise, or with things happening in the middle, and they wouldn't be the strange tempos that they are. I had ideas that I never got round to doing – I wanted to have inserts of ambience and things like that.

I can hear elements of that, though – 'Onward Vultures', especially.

DR: Yeah, those pieces of ambience ended up being in the tracks themselves. When you have a track which finishes with 30 seconds of droney sounds, and maybe starts with another 40 seconds of it, you don't need something ponderous inbetween tracks, like you get those hip-hop albums where you have to skip every other track because it's a skit...

I like drone music in principle more than I can actually listen to it – I love the idea of Sunn O))) but I can't listen to their music because it goes on for too long and nothing happens, so I incorporate those ideas into my stuff. A lot of the songs on the album took so long to make, every time I listened it it I'd add another element or small detail, just to keep my own ears interested, so they've ended up being quite layered. Not so it sounds overly dense or like things have been forced in, but maybe I'll take a small part out and put something in its place.

There's a lot of detail that you pick up if you listen closely; a sense of micro and macro going on. You've got these shifts of perspective that are quite disorientating. Are you doing that intentionally?

DR: Not really! I mean, before I started making music I was doing mixes both on my own and with a friend, Buddy Peace, who's now doing a lot of hip-hop stuff, and those mixes were always really detailed. It was the idea of hearing stuff you'd missed the first time round, and that's what carried on into what I do. There are a lot of tracks that I hear and I love, but they get a groove going and they just ride it out for five minutes...I used to be a really big fan of drum & bass and that's something that killed it off for me. If you listen to the early stuff, maybe 'Terminator' by Goldie, if that was to be made now, that would be seven different tracks because there are so many different ideas in there. I wanted something to hold people's attention.

What's it been like playing these tracks out?

DR: Before the album came out it was really hard for certain tracks. 'Arigami Style' always went down really well – although it's quite a dense track it's still quite dancefloor-oriented.”

Admittedly I listen to a lot of noise and extreme music, so perhaps I enjoy being messed about with by sound. There's a lot of music that aims to put you on an even plateau, and that in itself can be exhilarating, but I also like these harsh contrasts and polar opposites.

DR: The darkness on [the album] is something that for a lot of publications and a lot of sites it's quite easy to single out, but compared to a lot of stuff that's out there and a lot of stuff I used to listen to...every Friday night when I worked for Cargo distribution, the two songs I would play at the end of the day were Whitehouse, 'Wriggle Like A Fucking Eel', and Throbbing Gristle, 'Very Friendly'.

I was reading a post on your blog about some dubstep artists who were making some interesting doom-influenced music, in contrast to the more melodic stuff that's currently popular.

DR: Well, initially dubstep was quite meditative and hypnotic and as more people got into it and picked up on it, the easiest way of playing it out was to make it harder. Now people like the Planet Mu guys are taking a more melodic approach to it. But those two releases I mentioned, the Black Magick Society and Neurosis Orchestra, they're finding a way of...I don't want to say that the heavier stuff is regressive, but it's quite formulaic, especially to me anyway, and they're finding a way of bringing the darker side back into it in a more interesting way, even if it is taking ideas from other areas.

We were talking a bit about films earlier – what kinds of films do you like, and how do films influence your music, aside from samples?

DR: When I was doing mixes, as much as a good collection of tracks is nice, I wanted to have more narrative to the mixes, or a vibe that brought the whole thing together. Now it's my own tracks, the same sort of thing permeates that. I love horror films, but more the 70s ones, a lot of Italian giallo films, and American things like Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers. Something like Don't Look Now is almost a drone film in that it's just suspense, all the time, just waiting for something to happen. There's a such a mounting dread, almost in the celluloid it's cast on, which you don't really get anymore. So a lot of the stuff I watch is older things and Eastern cinema as well – there was a movement called Pink Film [a Japanese exploitation genre without a true equivalent in the West, which included such evocative titles as Female Prisoner Scorpion and Slave Widow]. Although consciously at the time I wasn't putting the two together, one of my friends recently did a short AV mix of some of my tracks and cut them with a lot of those films and a lot of samurai films from the 70s, and it actually worked really well with the sound.

When you watch a film do you always listen out for the sound design?

DR: In modern films I do, yeah. I mean, I hate Saw and stuff like that, but the sound design on even the worst films now is amazing. Like, Transformers is a terrible film but because there's such a huge amount of money there the sound design is amazing. Which is horribly sad [laughs], because someone like Michael Haneke doesn't have a need for these amazing whizzing sounds, so they're only ever going to go with these stupid blockbusters, which is a shame.

In the film, sorry, in the album, there are a few 70s horror things, and a couple of Eastern ones. A lot of the songs, I might take a break from making them or I make them over a long period of time, then I'll watch a film and the atmosphere of it will end up reflected back on the song. With 'Aragami Style', I took a break and I watched [2003 samurai film] Aragami. I mean, that's very obvious, that one, but if you're not too up on those sorts of films you won't know that.

The vocal performances on the album really stand out. How did they come about?

DR: I'd always wanted to work with vocalists and it seemed a natural way to increase my musical vocabulary. A whole instrumental album can be a hard task. So I just drew up a list of people I wanted to work with [on 'Murder Us'] and the person who made it from that list was Sasha Pereira from Jahcoozi. The first time I heard Modeselektor was a remix of one of her songs, 'Black Barbie'.

I drew up other people that I wanted to work with. Some of them I didn't end up doing because they'd just been on the Bug album, and it's quite an easy comparison to make; I could be seen as being similar in certain ways. So it was just about looking out for who was new and exciting and interesting for people to hear. Face-a-Face [the Parisian female dancehall MCs who rap on 'Virgo'] come from a friend of mine, Ebola, who does Wrong Music with Shitmat; he'd just remixed some of their tracks and I saw one of their videos online. They haven't had a release out yet, other than mine. They're trying to get their stuff together. They've got a guy who produces who's the only English speaker – the girls don't speak any English at all.

And the last vocal that came together on the album was the Daddy Freddy one, 'Dirt', which was originally just an instrumental. On the 12-inch of 'Dirt' there's the original mix; it's a lot more spacey, and I re-edited it for Freddy.

What was it like working with him?

DR: I had this track that was finished, and I liked it but it seemed more like a B-side, like a creeping track rather than a dancefloor one. I sent him that and I just lengthened out certain passages to make it easier for him to write over. Then we went into the studio and were only there for about an hour and a half – he did three vocal takes, the main one, one vocal layer, a second one and a couple of introductions. It was really easy! He's played to the particular track and then it was me working that track to meet his vocals. It's good, it's like the game where you fold up a piece of paper and someone draws a body part and a head. It's not a track that Freddy would have done on his own, and not a track I would have done on my own, so that's when working with people is really good. Even if it's just one small part of the track, it sheds a new light onto it for me, and it's worthwhile.

Are there other vocalists you'd like to work with in the future?

DR: I've just started doing the second album, and it's more that I'm thinking about it track by track. At the weekend I'm going to record with Spokes, who are on Counter and who are a post-rock band. The one I'm going to do with them is like a techno track where I've done the first part and they're doing their version as the second part, and then when I get back home I've got all the parts and I'll be trying to make it sound like it's not two tracks welded together horribly in the middle.

You recently did a remix for Frankmusik – kind of an odd choice, maybe?

DR: Right now in the current economic climate – 10 years ago someone like me could do what I was doing and make a sustainable living off it, whereas I can't now. So it's not that I'm being forced to do these commercial things, but it pays money and I enjoy producing, whatever that may be. I wouldn't throw away pop music as being rubbish – there's some interesting stuff out there. It's a good opportunity for me to work with something that's fresh to my ears. I'd rather remix something that was different than something that sounded like my sort of thing already. It was the first time I'd tried to do a drum & bass track and I was really happy with the results.

I'm always interested in working in lots of contexts. Before I was making electronic music I used to be in punk bands. I don't want to limit myself to what I'm doing right now. The way I work is about different processes and using different sounds, so it's only natural that I want to do stuff out of my immediate field. You can get some producers who make one thing, and they think that if they change that style people won't be able to hear it and know it's them. But I think a good producer can do lots of different things and you can still hear their sound, or their process, in it.

Are you inspired by sounds around you?

It's not something that's overly conscious for me – I think I'm more influenced by going to shows and hearing other people's music that I haven't heard before and seeing their approach.

That's interesting because I get such a strong sense of place from your music, whether that's London, or a particular building or just a space.

DR: I think it's more influenced not necessarily by London but the London way of life – the dog-end of industry, the crappier bits . . . South London is not the nicest place. The lyrics that Sasha wrote for 'Murder Us' are all about wanting to get out of your surroundings. There's a lot of escape about the album.

Escaping from what? To where?

DR: I haven't thought that far ahead! Just trying to get out of wherever you're stuck.

King Cannibal will play a headline show at Plastic People in London tonight for just £3. Click here for more information.