Kai Whiston is an emerging UK producer whose sound is defined by ominous, unsettling mechanical textures utilised by a spirited attitude, with how breezy or animated the pace can be. This makes for a sound which is hard, but not out to get you. Instead it feels like an invitation to a party, with the most gloriously exciting oddballs. Despite just being 17 years old and only having really been on the scene for the last year, he's already managed to put out the gnarly 'Houndstooth' and 'Threads & Strings/Rubens' EP's, the glacial but springy 'Broody' single and most recently produced some tracks for Aristophanes' new mixtape 'Humans Become Machines' which also featured big name producers such as Grimes and DJ Paypal. Whiston recently played some shows with Aristophanes and we were lucky enough to chat to him when he hit Leeds' Headrow House, where we talked about what he has in stall for the future, the electronic scene and balancing school with producing.
Contact Music: You played London last night how was that?
Kai Whiston: Yeah it was really good last night, it was actually my first ever show, so this will be my second. But yeah, it was really good. I think I made a couple of fans. Everyone was here mostly for Aristophanes, but I had a few mates down and it was really good.
CM: Were you nervous with it being your first show?
KW: I was actually bricking it until I walked onstage and you sort of forget there's a crowd there in a way because you're just staring at your laptop and just get lost in the zone, but yeah, I was sh*tting it.
CM: Your sound is fascinating. It's really dark and menacing, but at the same time is playful and you can dance to it. Is this something you aim for?
KW: Yeah, definitely! Especially on the playfulness, I love to mess around. I've got a new project coming out in May and I'll be playing pretty much all of that tonight. But it's definitely focused on playful bangers that also have that haunting scariness to them. I just like having fun, I just wanna make music you can have fun to, I feel like in my particular scene, you get people doing a lot of serious topic matters, which is all great and stuff, but I just wanna be the guy to be like 'f*ck it, it's not that serious.'
CM: Who are some of your influences?
KW: Obviously, Iglooghost, my man. Death Grips, went to a Death Grips show last year. They have that sort of presence onstage where you're getting drawn to them and going crazy. All the main big, I could just list them all off, electronic acts like Hudson Mohawke, Rustie, you know all those sort of giants. I feel like you could just name so many underground producers, but they're just really good at their craft and I love to listen to them.
CM: We actually interviewed Iglooghost a few weeks ago, and he said pretty much that same for that question!
KW: Oh did he actually say that?! You might get a lot of that, we're like twins or something. We're from the same town, a really small town called Shaftsbury, it's in Dorset. Very small population, very small town. I hope he's okay with me telling people that (laughs). We've sort of got to create something out of nothing cause there's just hills and grass.
CM: Does that kind of background help, just giving you something to do?
KW: Yeah, I think that's the best way to make sh*t when you're completely f*cking bored, you got nothing else to do. That's when the best sh*t happens. You know, inspiration drawing it from nothing, then you can make something that's quite unique. I think you can see that in me and Iglooghost. If you looked at our houses where we live you'd be like 'what is going on?', countryside hills and all that, but you can still make something energetic and crazy.
CM: Whenever you put out something new it always seems to top what's come before, especially with your newest song 'Broody' being your strongest yet. Are you always trying to top the last thing you've done?
KW: Thank you! Always, or at least go in a different direction. I think people might be a little bit surprised with the new EP. It's still in the realm of crazy electronic music, but I would say it's more banger infused that last time. With 'Houndstooth' a lot of drums were getting lost, which was cool, which was what I was aiming for, but I think I took it up lots of notches and hopefully you'll hear it tonight.
CM: What else can people expect from this new EP and when can we expect it to be out?
KW: It's being released by a super top secret label, I can't talk about. But it should be May and everyone should be surprised by it. It's gonna be rocking, honestly. I don't know the details and I probably can't tell you but hopefully around this summer, hold me to that. If not, I'll drop something anyway.
CM: What got you into making music in the first place?
KW: Making music was like something I stumbled across on YouTube, because I was always big into computers and technology, I'm just a nerd, I always have been, had my own computer since I was 8. I've learned photoshop and animation and all that, as nerdy kids do and I stumbled upon music. I always had a background in music, like my Mum loves music. She was always a big raver. I've always had a love for music. My first love was probably punk and you can probably hear that from the menace. Electronic music was still new to me but as I got into learning it, I also learned about Aphex Twin and all the OG's in the craft and you just get stuck into it. That must've been when I was around like 12ish when I started doing that, then I started making proper songs when I was 14, cause back then I was making dubstep remixes (laughs) just trying to have a laugh with the new technology I'd learned. That's when I got into it and now I'm stuck, I can't stop.
CM: There seems to be a strong, fresh scene orientated around weird beats, with the likes of yourself, Iglooghost and Slugabed. Do you think there's something of a movement in the works?
KW: I think so, there's definitely all these little sub-labels and I think we just came out of the 2000's which was filled with gritty hyper-dub, and I suppose dark, moody stuff and mine can definitely interpreted as that, but it's gotten a lot weirder I think, just because of experiments I think, more things working out. You've got scenes like PC Music and Slugabed's label 'Activia Benz' who's always putting out fresh stuff. They've gone a bit quiet recently, but their catalogue's amazing. And so many producers just trying to stand out and having fun with it, that's definitely what I do, just try and have a laugh.
CM: You're pretty young only being 17 years old, but a lot of upcoming producers seem to be around this age. Do you think electronic music is currently in the hands of young people?
KW: I hope so, considering I'm part of that category (laughs). A lot my favourite artists are young and are up and coming and then, you've always got to pay respects to people that are quite older, like early 30's, but still dropping amazing music. But yeah, people like me, Iglooghost, Sam Gellaitry, he's like super young, he's like 19, I really enjoy his music. Yeah, a lot of young people are doing really well and I think it comes from growing up in a new era where you're on Google Chrome with 50 tabs open (laughs) and everything's mental and you've just got to f*ck things up a bit. That's how we learned it. Obviously, software and everything is improving and improving. I don't use any hardware like modular synths, I'm all on the laptop. That's helped, laptop music's been a great thing for young people.
CM: You're quite a fresh face in the scene, but you're already making a name for yourself. What advice would you give to anyone starting out in music?
KW: I worked on my sound until I was happy with it, but I think more importantly try and make a sound you enjoy before all of the industry b*llocks, before climbing up ladders and networking and all that shit. Make sure you're putting out music that you want to hear and also you think other people would like to hear. Filling that empty void where like 'aw, I have to make art' that's what I do it for. I wake up at 2 in the morning with a feeling that I have to make a song right now. I suppose other than that just never be afraid to get rejected and just put yourself out there. With the label I'm coming on, I knew that they had a sort of interest in me and I got basically everyone that had some sort of affiliation, about 5-7 people, I emailed them all at once, shoving it down their throats. They liked it, so that was good. You gotta really put your work in, you learn overtime. It sounds clique, but practice does make perfect.
CM: Your music definitely doesn't give a f*ck, but at the same doesn't try to push people away.
KW: That's definitely what I go for, 'not giving a f*ck' music.
CM: You produced a few songs on Aristophanes' new Mixtape, 'Humans Become machines' which featured artists like Grimes and DJ Paypal. How does it feel to see your name alongside some huge artists like that?
KW: I'm blessed with the opportunity. Obviously, I've been a big fan of her for a long time as well, so getting into contact with her and working with Jam City, DJ Paypal is on there. You know, all these people I look up to, the greats. I'm definitely interested in doing more production work in the future for other artists, bringing them into our world. I think it's worked really well, worked really well so far. Incredible to be along those list of names, I hope I can move better from it.
CM: Anyone else in particular you'd like to work with?
KW: A lot of vocalists. I'm not very good at producing collaborations. Usually got to be in a studio with them.
CM: Did you work with Aristophanes in a studio?
KW: I did send it to her, it did well. Kind of shot myself in the foot there (laughs). She is a vocalist so it is different, I always love a way a voice flows over my music. That's why often why, especially in my house when I do stuff, there's an acapella on every track or some sort of voice stuff. I can't really get away with that anymore, there's more attention on me, therefore more chance for lawsuits (laughs). There are still vocal elements in there, I just disguised them, quite well I think. I just love the way the voice sounds over it. But when there's another producer who does the things that I do, makes music from synths and samples, it's like, I get very control freaky, I'm probably horrible to work with (laughs). I'm not against working with producers, just has to be the right setting and the right people.
People I'd like to work with, Novelist, AJ Tracey, all those UK MC guys, they're really cool. Still need to make a beat with Igloo. Don't know why that's been a long time coming. Hopefully when his album's all done with. Slugabed as well, he's a great mate of mine. There's something coming up in that realm, I can't talk about. Anyone, I'm down for any unusual pairing. I'd love to work with some RNB people, see what happens. Get in a room and just sort of have fun with it. As long as their concern is to have fun and make something great at the end, then I'm completely down with it.
CM: You've done radio shows and podcast highlighting other artists. Do you think it's important to be supportive of other artists?
KW: Yeah, I think so. Especially if you're a bigger guy, I'm not on that level yet, but a lot of people get their starts out doing that sort of radio show, emailing around, emailing their tracks around. I think it is good. With my stuff, I usually like do what I could see existing in the same realm as me and my music. I definitely think it's important to highlight music other people haven't heard before in those sort of settings, just to bring more interest. I think that's something that's got lost a bit in DJing, is playing songs you wouldn't hear and you want an ID for. I think it is important for sure.
CM: Other than the new EP what do you have planned for the rest of 2017?
KM: Finishing school this year, hopefully (laughs). That'll take up some time, but honestly I have so many tracks in the bank. They're all just demoy and stuff. Working with other artists, towards the end I'll maybe get working on an album, that'll be ideal. Yeah, working on an album, just keeping myself busy.
CM: What's it like balancing school with being a rising producer?
KW: It's interesting, I'm pretty sure everyone in my school thinks I'm like Diplo or something (laughs). When I said I was coming to Leeds, everyone was like, because people don't get out of Dorset, 'oh oh, cool you do DJ stuff', I was like 'yeah, but probably not what you're thinking' (laughs). There are some people that do know my music and they say 'gives me a migraine, but I can see how people could like it', which I take as a compliment.
In terms of work, I'm a pretty sh*t student. My grades aren't necessarily dire, but I'm not good with homework, not good with coming in, in the mornings. Your usual teenage stuff.
CM: Have you ever used 'sorry I was working on my new EP' as an excuse to a teacher?
KW: I actually worked on that Houndstooth EP as I started sixth form last year and I don't know how I balanced the two, I just got lucky, very lucky. I'm putting music first as for right now. When exams come, I might have to step back a bit and say (sarcastically) 'alright this might be important, somewhen' but you know, I'm just bad at prioritising, but yeah. It's difficult, but I manage to do shit at it anyway (laughs).
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