The Bigger Picture: Mount Kimbie Interviewed

“It's vast desert landscapes and sunsets…everything's a big gulp drink, everything is supersize…”

With their most ambitious album to date arriving this year, Mount Kimbie’s Kai Campos and Dominic Maker reflect on the evolution of their creative partnership, and the scenes they’ve inhabited and influenced for over a decade.

At a glance over the last decade, Kai Campos and Dominic Maker, otherwise known as Mount Kimbie, have been guided by instinct, distinguishing their own path amongst the bustle of the internet age. The British duo have come to define a more intimate strand of electronic music, translated through live performance and a wealth of cross-genre collaborations that strays from the conventional path. With each project – two EPs and four full-length albums – Mount Kimbie have pursued their ambitions with a fresh perspective, responding to the lessons that transpire along the way. Their approach remains inquisitive, savouring the influence of post-punk, techno, hip-hop and left-field electronics.

In conversation, the pair are personable and attuned to each other’s style of expression, meandering between the different milestones that have shaped their career thus far. They recall their formative years, Dom hailing from Brighton and Kai native to St Austell, a broad town situated in the south coast of Cornwall. “I’ve always loved music but I never really imagined doing music as a full time thing,” Dom admits, shifting the focus towards his early passion for moving images. “I would make skate films, that was my thing. A lot of what I was listening to was pretty much almost entirely driven by what I would hear coupled with skating. A lot of it was from California, a lot of indie-rock stuff.”

Elsewhere, Kai describes music as an all-encompassing force in his childhood, hingeing on his parents’ taste in jazz, blues and pop acts such as R.E.M. Moving into adolescence, the impact of radio became a more prominent influence, with Kai developing a scrap-book of sounds and references from broadcasting giants Gilles Peterson and John Peel on Radio 1. “They used to have their shows back-to-back on a Wednesday night and I used to stay up for hours, tape it and switch around the tape every ninety minutes.” Caught in the midst of a nostalgia trip, he continues, “I’d make a shorter tape with the best bits of each show, making these little compilations every week.”

A move to study at London South Bank University would lay the foundations for Mount Kimbie, pin-dropping the duo amongst the noise and grit of the capital. Tracing their first encounter through a mutual friend, Dom recalls: “Straight away, the reason we were introduced was because we were both into music. Off the bat, that’s what we bonded over. It was a wild time.” 

The back end of the noughties marked a transitional period for Dom, Kai and the dubstep scene in which they found themselves submerged in. At a crossroads between commercial stardom and the underground, the genre had splintered into a multitude of directions, illuminating an alternative path for artists, producers and selectors on a global scale. Upon reflection, Kai points towards the pace of online streaming as a pocket for Mount Kimbie’s alternative wash of sounds. “The idea of dubstep was a very geographically based thing. A lot of that older DEEP MEDi stuff just doesn’t make sense on half-good speakers at home. You really had to experience it in a physical sense.” Referring to the tropes of their early material, he expands: “What we found was that with our music, it’s really not club focused at all. The DJ side of that world wasn’t where we felt we could go in an interesting way, so we had to develop this as a live project.” Nestled in the nocturnal atmosphere of bass music whilst flitting between feather-light synth work and warped vocal snippets, 2010 debut album ‘Crooks & Lovers’ projected a vision of Mount Kimbie in full format, serving as a launchpad for their career to follow.

The pair’s creative process is transatlantic: Dom is sat in his kitchen in LA, whilst Kai continues to reside in London. Their relationship has been this way for the past few years, with the pair travelling back and forth when intuition strikes. For some, distance arrives with its own set of challenges. Mount Kimbie use their contrasting realities as a catalyst for creativity. “I think it’s really powerful for making the best music because we’re both soaking up different things around us and different feelings going on,” Dom says. It’s a process born from their own quirks, but also their aligning qualities. “We both have a similar intrigue by sounds that are different and trying to find a space between things. We both share an instinct to keep changing what we’re doing, and never doing the same thing over and over again.” On the flip side, the duo understand one another’s strengths, allowing their differing skill sets to flourish through their material. Dom is enthused by specific qualities in a vocal, or the development of collaboration but “just from a personal side, I’ve never been interested in the technicalities of music. The quality of the sound on the records is always down to Kai.”

Over the course of Mount Kimbie’s discography, performance has remained integral to building an identity. Hitting their crowds from all angles, they’ve played Berghain, curated an evening of music for The Hydra at Printworks, hosted their own NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert and filled countless festival slots. Casting their mind back to the start, Kai honours the stages of their live music progression. “We sucked so much for a long time,” he says. “In the beginning, the music was much more difficult to translate into a live performance in terms of the instrumentation.” Although frank, Kai looks over the spirit of his younger self fondly, “I don’t know whether it’s confidence or naivety, but there’s a lot of belief. You have a lot of energy. I’m amazed at how comfortable we were getting on stage all the time, knowing how much we sucked.” 

A journey in and of itself, the grungier tones behind 2017’s ‘Love What Survives’ marked a turning point for Mount Kimbie, steering them towards more vigorous eclecticism. “It was quite a conscious change of direction in terms of the way that we made the record,” Kai pauses…“When we’d come off the back of the shows, there was certainly a push to bring the live music feeling and energy into the album-making process.” Tightening their execution with frequent collaborators – now full-time band members Andrea Balency-Béarn and Marc Pell – Mount Kimbie grasped the full textures of indie-rock, weaving intricate electronics throughout their setlist. 

The split venture that encompassed 2022’s ‘MK 3.5: Die Cuts | City Planning’, offered a fresh landscape for the duo, exploring their dual affinities for RnB, rap and, in a more direct fashion, dance music. Throughout the last couple of years the duo have focused on their solo ventures; Dom immersed in production sessions for the likes of SZA, Jay-Z, Arlo Parks and Rosalía, whilst Kai strengthened his position within club spaces, now helming a residency at Rinse FM. With a project that tested their format of creation, Mount Kimbie have bounced back with a renewed sense of confidence collaboratively, as individuals, and now as a quartet. As we speak, Mount Kimbie are gearing up to launch their latest LP ‘The Sunset Violent’, a potent snapshot of their time spent in the American Yucca Valley.

A detour from London’s slabs of concrete and brooding overcast, ‘The Sunset Violent’ places Mount Kimbie amongst the expansive desert. In response, the outfit are bold in their strokes, spilling their melodies across a breadth of acoustics and distortion, breaking into moments of clarity when the tide settles. Thematically, Dom refers back to the surroundings of California: “The thing that I always think of is scale. It’s all low rise housing, vast desert landscapes and sunsets. It’s where you start getting the huge big trucks that everyone’s driving; everything’s a big gulp drink, everything is supersize.” In its entirety, the project runs off adrenaline, whether that be in the luminous flecks of ‘Shipwreck’, the rich escapism of ‘A Figure In The Surf’, or the rough edge that cuts through ‘Fishbrain’ or ‘Yukka Tree’. It’s a resilient record, one that reflects on the turbulence of finding oneself. “It was a feeling of being pretty rudderless when I was younger. In a very sincere sense, I was just trying to figure out life in a very chaotic way,” Dom shares.

At the centrepiece lies ‘Dumb Guitar’, a sweeping listen imbued with nostalgia and self-indulgence. Guided through an 80’s-tinged LinnDrum, the track finds balance between weight and stillness, combining Dom’s shapeshifting tones with Andrea’s gentle command. Placing himself back in the studio, Kai recollects, “as [the track] leads into the chorus, there’s a chord that builds into it, it’s a really cheap trick. It’s a very clichéd, pop writing thing to do. I was really enjoying it but I was also like, is this really embarrassing? Is this stupidly dumb?” Hence the name, perhaps. Kai takes note of what the process taught him. “If you’re feeling embarrassed about the work you’ve done, it’s probably because it’s resonating with you on some level that means it’s quite genuine. It did feel quite on the nose in some ways, but it was exciting to do something like that. It’s very straight ahead.”

‘The Sunset Violent’ captures a sense of growth for Mount Kimbie, a succinct body of work that comes full circle. Inviting long-term collaborator King Krule back into the fray, there’s a magnetic bond between all three that somewhat echoes their parallel trajectories. Speaking of their relationship, Dom zones in on influence, “the task of sitting down and trying to write lyrics for the first time was really difficult for me. Using Archy’s work as a marker to try and live up to in terms of trying to conjure a world, that was very inspiring.” Connecting the dots between their early work together up til the current day, he addresses Archy’s involvement on the record with warmth and reverence: “It feels great as part of this bigger narrative now.” 

The year ahead will take Mount Kimbie across the globe. They’ll hit up Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and New York on the Dumb Guitar World Tour before Dom returns from his stateside sojourn to London. They are yet to discover how ‘The Sunset Violent’ will come to life on stage, a process they’re keen to get stuck into. Equally, they recall the tumultuous nature of touring early in their journey. Now, they’re seeking new ways in which to savour their time abroad. “I want to travel in a different way than I have before. I want to be really present in a new city, experience things in this place instead of sitting around waiting for the stage time.” As our conversation draws to a close, there’s a heightened sense of anticipation. “We’ve got plans to play lots of shows. Although the skeleton and framework is there for what we’re doing this year, one thing just leads to another.”

As they welcome a new era of their artistry, Mount Kimbie wipe the slate clean once more. “Hopefully it’s something that’s really rejuvenating in terms of playing lots of shows together. Hopefully that energy goes into more writing and seeing where it takes us…”

Mount Kimbie will release new album ‘The Sunset Violent’ on April 5th.

Words: Ana Lamond
Photography & Art Work: T-bone Fletcher

-
Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.