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LISTEN + Q&A: Karenn Share New Track, 'Strawbs'
Christian Eede , October 23rd, 2019 13:07

The speedy cut is one highlight of many on the duo's upcoming debut album which they discuss further below

Last month, Karenn, the hardware techno duo of Blawan and Pariah, announced their debut album, Grapefruit Regret, which will arrive on November 8 via their recently-launched label, Voam.

Premiering above is that album's fastest cut, 'Strawbs', which paces along at 150BPM with the snarl and machine grit of much of the duo's recent work, such as the Kind of Green 12" that kickstarted a busier than usual year for them at the top of 2019, as well as the output of Blawan on his own Ternesc label.

'Strawbs' is one highlight of many on an album that's packed with out-and-out bangers (as evidenced also on lead cut 'Crush The Mushrooms'), and that, most importantly, doesn't take itself too seriously.

Catching up with the duo below, they were keen to put forward their view that techno shouldn't get lost in over-conceptualism, with the album's title itself simply emerging from something as literal and "mundane" as Arthur Cayzer's, AKA Pariah, regret of ordering a grapefruit for breakfast while working on the record over the summer in Berlin.

Keep reading to find out more about the duo's sudden flurry of activity in 2019, their desire to continually change up their live hardware set-up and their debut experience of playing Belgium's traditionally EDM-focused Tomorrowland festival over the summer.

The album came about from what’s described as an “intense studio session” in Berlin, so did you go into that session with the intention of getting a full-length debut Karenn album from it?

Arthur Cayzer, AKA Pariah: Yeah, that was definitely the intention. I booked a month in Berlin and we just did it.

Jamie Roberts, AKA Blawan: [laughs] Very simple fucking answer, man. This sort of thing has been a bit of a pain in the arse for us, because we’d been trying to work on something like this for a while but it didn’t quite feel like we were ready. There were a few things going on with our respective projects and our personal lives, and it all got a bit messy. Our focus wasn’t quite there for a while to really come out with something that we felt would be strong enough as a full-length album. How many times did we try to get something we were happy with, three times was it?

AC: Well, last year, I came over to Berlin on a couple of occasions for two weeks or so each time. We just weren’t getting anywhere.

JR: For me, it’s been a real exercise in focus because we just weren’t there for a while. I can only speak for myself but there was a lot of stuff going on so my focus wasn’t there, and it was making an album impossible to finish. The right time came around, and within the first few days of this particular session, we knew that things were working out and decided this was the time just to get it done.

AC: I think we did maybe 15 or 16 days straight at some point which was pretty brutal, but good fun as well.

Release-wise this year, as Karenn, you guys have been more active than ever with the Kind of Green 12", this album and the first Voam Club Archive 12" of live recordings you put out over the summer.

AC: The seal kind of broke at the beginning of this year because we had a studio session quite early on where we ended up producing the tracks that made up the B-side of that EP we put out earlier in the year. We did another three tracks, I think, in that studio session, and after that we felt a lot more confident about what we were doing because last year we really struggled. After we’d got that done and had started setting up the new label to put it all out, it felt like a fresh start. Setting that up gave us an excuse, with the live recordings, to do something that we’d been planning to do for ages and had just never got round to before now.

I remember a very old interview you did for Resident Advisor where you both discussed your live performance set-up and the ongoing process of swapping in hardware and taking other things out. It was obviously a very long time ago but you mentioned that you wanted to strip it all back a little to make things less complicated so were you ever successful with that?

AC: Stuff has been stripped back in the live set-up. It’s very different in the studio because we don’t use a set-up that we have to travel with, but the approach is similar in that we try to keep things as simple as possible. We’re about to switch everything up again, not in terms of adding loads of stuff but just in terms of swapping some things around. We’ve had the same set-up for a couple of years for our live shows but it’s got a lot simpler. It’s almost like a synth and a drum machine each - well, there’s a bit more to it than that - but it’s a lot less than it was in 2014 which was everything and the kitchen sink.

JR: I was talking to somebody about this recently, about how when you over-complicate things, it’s often just because you’re not fully sure of what you want. It’s the same with everything in life, but doing something simply is often the hardest thing you can do. That period for Karenn, in 2014, came about just because we weren’t quite sure what we wanted. It meant that we were just taking everything on tour with us because we wanted all this choice. We’re a lot more sure of everything now and know that we don’t need to bring so much stuff on the road with us.

That habit of switching things around, and adding in new machines to replace already used ones, is that just connected to an element of getting bored or feeling too comfortable?

AC: It’s less to do with getting bored but we just want to change the sound palette. For example, my main synth in the live show, I’ve been using it for the last two-and-a-half years, and it’s really good but I feel like I’ve reached the end of the road with it and I can’t get anything more out of it than I already have. When we listen back to recordings of the sets, it can become more obvious that the sound palette is staying the same so we just reach certain points where we feel like it’s a good time to make some changes.

I guess some producers or live performers might tap into a set-up and sound that they really like and decide that’s their ‘sound’, but alternately, you see Karenn as a constantly evolving and developing project.

JR: Yeah, I think that should be anybody’s goal in music. To me, that makes no sense at all when people say ‘I’ve got my sound’. You might have for that period, but where’s the fun in just repeating what you’ve already done. I think that’s always been a thing for us, always moving forward.

I see an element of humour within the album, particularly in the titling for example. I imagine you’re conscious in some way of not wanting to fall in line with a certain strain of over-serious techno in terms of how things are presented?

JR: Yeah, I hope that speaks for itself. Me and Arthur have never been about that anyway and I think or hope that people can see that. I guess things got quite aggressive over the last couple of years, so bro-y, that we just wanted to do something that was so obnoxiously silly with the record and that came out in certain ways.

AC: Although it was quite intense in the studio while working on the album, it was also really good fun. The record, when I hear it, demonstrates that. The title of the album, Grapefruit Regret, is very literal and the story behind it is actually very boring. It literally just came about from regretting ordering a grapefruit while I was in Berlin. I’ve made that mistake.

JR: [laughs] Perfect, man. I hope that captures us in a nutshell, something actually very boring and mundane.

You guys obviously played at Tomorrowland over the summer on a stage curated by Nina Kraviz. I just wanted to ask you about that because it’s obviously a very different setting, and mostly a different audience, to the clubs and festivals you’ll often play at?

JR: Arthur, just be careful what you say, yeah. [laughs]

AC: It was fine… I met Paris Hilton. Again, the story is as boring as the one that gave us the album title, and it’s made even more boring by the fact that I didn’t actually realise who it was until I’d walked away. I was just in a queue for some food and she was behind me, and she just struck up a conversation about having to wait in the queue…

JR: Yeah, so there was that, and there were people playing frisbee on the dancefloor while we were on, so we obviously walked away super-inspired.

Arthur, a quick question for you, I know your process of working on music by yourself is a little longer and less hardware-based, so what is it about Karenn that makes things more immediate for you. Is it just that simple element of having someone else to bounce ideas off?

AC: I think I feel like I have clearer objectives working with Jamie. It’s something I find very difficult to work out on my own, to get to a place where I feel like I know where I’m taking something. Working with someone else helps a lot.

Jamie, obviously the switch to hardware has been really important to your development as a producer over the last five or so years as you moved from your early productions towards the records you’ve been putting out on your own label [Ternesc] since 2015.

JR: Definitely, something I want to mention on that subject - I’ve discussed it before but feel it hasn’t been given enough importance - is that our project, and my whole solo thing, most, if not all of it, owes loads to The Analogue Cops. If it wasn’t for these two Italian guys, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. I met them nine years ago and they completely changed my world. Their whole attitude to music and how they produce it, I learnt everything from those two. With the live project, we wanted to do what they were doing because we thought it looked fun, it sounded cool, we liked their whole ethos. We owe them a lot.

Karenn will release Grapefruit Regret via their Voam label on November 8