Interview: King Knut

Matt Bayfield chats to our Guest Groom mixer this week, King Knut.

Posted on Mar 26th, 2013 in Features and Interviews / By Matthew Bayfield
Interview: King Knut Ahead of the release of his new ‘46 King EP’ on Fulgeance’s ‘Musique Large’ label Bearded got on the blower with Norwegian (via London) royalty King Knut to talk about proper hip-hop, psychedelia and how it isn’t like it was in the old days.

Bearded: Evening mate, what’s good?

King Knut: Yeah, not too bad, not too bad.

What have you been up to this last few hours then?

I just got in this afternoon from a music festival in Italy, called ‘Transmissions’, it’s in Ravenna on the east coast. Had a really good time: Good food, good wine. It was a great event.

Thanks for doing the mix by the way, really digging that one. As soon as I saw The Grateful Dead in the track list I was more or less on board!

Oh great man, I’m glad.

The mix was definitely not what I anticipated, are you musically trained? There were a lot of interesting selections in there for a beat maker.

Yeah, I went to Music College from 16 – 19 and then I studied classical musical composition for a while, so I have a foundation in that. I play the piano mainly. So I play a lot of band type stuff too.

That was something that struck me on the new EP actually; it had a rich vein of that seventies psychedelic vibe to it, which is a lot of the music I first started listening to.

Exactly the same here. It’s sort of strange I’m making all this electronic hip-hop really. I do love hip-hop and obviously listen to it, but seventies prog and psychedelic stuff, that’s where I’m coming from. There’s a lot of that on the mixtape; things like Magma, a French guy named Alan Renaud… What else? I’ve really been digging a lot of early Kraftwerk lately, they did lot more prog style stuff before they became this electronic thing. Early Tangerine Dream as well, things like that.

I wasn’t familiar with the Kraftwerk piece you opened up the mix with, took me by surprise actually.

Yeah that’s the first track off the Ralf Und Florian album, which I’m really digging at the moment.

I’d have had no idea it was them without the track listing to be honest.

Yeah it’s a bit more musical for them; I’m really liking that at the moment. I like their later stuff when they became more electronic, but the earlier stuff is really cool as it was… “dancier”. You know you could actually dance to Kratwerk back then apparently haha.

Yeah it definitely has a bit more swing to it. It’s like things like the title cut off your 46 King EP. It’s got that proper 70’s funk swing to it. Reminded me a bit of people like Red Astaire.

Yeah? It’s weird for me when I have to think about my own music, and why I make it. I’m not sure what the influence for me was there, but the title ’46 King’ was obviously a pun to the ’45 King’. Because it was a similar sort of sample and the sound, so I gave it a nod.

Is that usually the structure for you then, just play with samples and loops and see what comes about?

With this EP, on the more sample heavy songs, it definitely started out with finding a good sample and building up a song around that. Especially tracks like ‘Aphrodite’ which is obviously one of the more bombastic tunes or a song like ‘Buffalo.’ For that one I was listening to Captain Beefheart tunes and there were these really cool drum sounds in the intro and I thought “shit I’m gonna use them” so that just started there and things got piled on top.

It’s interesting you say about Beefheart, the whole EP has a very analogue feel to it. It doesn’t really sound like it was made in a contemporary manner.

It’s strange, because obviously I produce on my computer but I didn’t really get into hip-hop properly until I heard people like Madlib, all those guys, about 12 years ago. I was listening to hip-hop before that, but more mainstream stuff and classic stuff like A Tribe Called Quest. But when I heard Madlib for the first time, I just really love that sort of grittiness to his production and his really raw cut & paste style of edit. I guess that is the sound I want to try and emulate as well.

That’s exactly why I’m such a fan of Pete Rock. You’re EP reminded me of his productions, that whole soulful tip.

Oh yeah! I love Pete Rock, all those sorts of producers. The track ‘Stavanga’ on there? That is probably me going back to all those soulful Pete Rock & Dilla days you know?

I really liked the sleeve art of the EP too, that also had something of a 70’s vibe… Just to take things off on a bit of a tangent.

Yeah it’s good. That was all handled by Musique Large (the label) actually, I wasn’t involved in that. The history of this release is a little strange actually, I never intended King Knut to really end up anywhere. It was about 2006 / 2007 maybe? I just made a few tunes, put them up on Myspace, which was still big back then… I didn’t even know there was a beat scene or anything like that, and then a friend of mine who knew Jay Scarlett, who runs Amp Soul Generation, she put him in touch with me and he’s been really supportive since day one. So has Fulgeance, who’s label is putting out the record, and suddenly I just found myself in the situation where music which I had no intension of putting anywhere public became part of this scene that was going on, so I started touring, putting on gigs all over Europe. Most of the songs on the EP were actually conceived back then, but due to personal circumstances I wasn’t able to follow it up. Then Fulgeance got back in touch with me again few years ago and asked if I’d released any of it yet and that’s how this EP came about. I think the ‘Stavanga’ track was actually started in 2003, something like that? But everything was remixed and so on in the last year for this EP.

It’s definitely a good thing it’s seeing a release. As much as I like a lot of the modern stuff it’s all very “clean” and dreamy feeling, “Cloud rap” as they call it. I like the fact that your EP had a bit of that old school punch.

I find that with a lot of modern music, not just beat music. It’s all so textured and layered and dense, overstuffed. I’m a musician as well so I do like a musicianship to the music, not just endlessly laying up pads and arpeggios in some midi sequencer. I find that really boring. I also like music that makes a bit of a “cool” statement too. All the best producers seem to have for me; Pete Rock, Jay Dilla, right up to Timbaland, they have that big, grandiose impact to their stuff.

I’m with you there. People like Just Blaze, they just have that added bombast. Maybe it’s because I started getting into hip-hop around the same time as you, but all the production around the turn of the century; people like Scott Storch and all the G-Unit productions, they were all made for that immediate impact. It was all about taking it “up to 11”, whereas this new thing is all a lot smoother round the edges.

That’s why people like Jay Dilla & Madlib are so special for me, because they always maintained this fine blend of all of those things. Like when Dilla was working with Slum Village he did all those really dreamy, soulful beats and then later on he was getting a lot closer to Madlib with the scratchy cut up samples based beats he did.

Before this EP you also helped on the early XX releases too didn’t you?

Yeah way back before they got big, it’s sort of strange. I was playing a gig in Kilburn, and there were these dark clad teenagers hanging around, then they got up on stage, they didn’t have any drums or anything back then, it was just bass, guitar and Romy singing. I thought they were absolutely amazing so every time we were doing a gig I’d try and book them too as my support, this was around 06/07 again. It ended up I produced some demos for them in a rehearsal space in Stoke Newington, I produced the ‘Teardrops’ cover they did. But then they were signed and you know the rest. They were really good to work with too and we really bonded over the music we listened to, we were all really into Fleetwood Mac and 80’s Tina Turner, but then we were all also really into Aaliyah and her work with Timbaland and modern hip-hop stuff.

Speaking of musical interests and such was the mix aimed at representing you as a whole or more where you are now?

I’m a big fan of mixes that don’t have a specific purpose, like as a promo tool etc. So I try to put my interest and inspirations in there. For this mix I just recorded loads of songs from vinyl and then just started putting them together and seeing where it went. It’s kind of about the flow of the mix more for me; you can move and change quite drastically through styles if that link is there. It might be a little dubious, maybe if it is just the same key, or to do with the actual feeling of the tracks. I like it to almost have a narrative. I’m not such a fan of things that just go four to the floor and stay there for the duration of the mix. It’s the same with a lot of beat tapes to be honest; they just get samey after a while.

I find that with some of Dilla’s more hastily cobbled tapes, so I’m glad you said that. It just becomes a bit of a white wash after forty minutes. MF Doom’s instrumentals are always interesting, but again an hour solid and it gets exhausting.

It’s funny you mention Doom, because I love his beats too, he’s got an almost wilfully naïve style to his production. He’s not trying to hide the fact he’s using really bad drum samples and so on. It’s usually just a really odd loop with strange cut up drums underneath.

There’s one beat, it’s used on the track with Mr Fantastic on ‘MM.. Food’ (It’s ‘Rapp Snitch Knishes’ ED)…

Yep the one with just that electric guitar loop over it?

Yeah it’s just a really badly clipped sample looped over and over. At first it sounds terrible but once you’ve heard it you can just hear it all day.

Yeah that’s the secret! That’s what I think is pop music, just that one element that makes it stay in your brain and you can’t stop hearing it all day.

Check out King Knut's Guest Groom mix HERE