Mount Kimbie's Kai Campos on Bombing Live, Making Money, and Feeling Out of Place at the Club

Mount Kimbie's Kai Campos on Bombing Live, Making Money, and Feeling Out of Place at the Club
Photo by Bolade Banjo

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Last year, electronic pop auteurs Mount Kimbie released MK 3.5: Die Cuts I City Planning, a double-album zig from their usual zags in which both members—Dominic Maker and Kai Campos—effectively put together their own records reflecting what they'd been up to since 2017's sensational Love What Survives. Tomorrow, Kai's releasing a deluxe edition of his City Planning side, and Mount Kimbie themselves have a new record in the can and on the way as well. I've long loved their work and followed the music of their peers and contemporaries as well, so it was a great time chatting with Kai about the past, present, and future of his and Dom's careers.

Tell me about the decision to release two solo records as one project.
While I was making this record, I didn't think other people were going to hear it, or that I was going to have to talk about it. I don't see a big difference between working on it and working on Mount Kimbie stuff. I'd been out DJ'ing out a lot two years previous to the record coming out, so when we talked about doing some solo stuff and releasing it together, I thought I'd make some straight-ahead club music—which is not something that I'd be able to do, or something that I was even particularly interested in doing before.

For a while, I made a lot of music I wasn't very excited by. I didn't feel like my voice was coming through while trying to make this club music, and as I was getting more frustrated with what I was doing, I was making these little changes in direction all the time. By the time the record was finished, the tracks were such that I wouldn't play any of them out at a club. [Laughs] It turned into something else.

I prefer to let the record happen and follow where it's taking me. I do like to have an idea of things that would be cool to try and do, but only as a starting point from where something more interesting happpens. I always think that, at the end of the day, if you can explain your record before you make it, there's no motivation to actually make it. Along the way, how it changes, how you can't quite grasp it, and then it's suddenly finished—that's the bit I enjoy the most. I do find it to be a strange record to listen back to. I don't know what it really is.

I feel like the Mount Kimbie sound has always been pretty malleable to begin with, even as you guys have been easily categorized along other artists.
We both grew up not in a city, and over the years I've thought about why being slightly outside genre definition happens. I think it's the complete lack of scene in both of our adolescences. It led us down a certain way creatively. Where I grew up, there was small pockets of a scene, but the same people that were into interesting metal were also into drum'n'bass. It wasn't siphoned off into different groups of people. By the time you've gotten to 18 or 19 years old, you haven't grown up in a scene, so the slightly arbitrary nature of a scene itself seems like supporting your football team. Which I do! Even as I realize it's ridiculous.

Your comment about metalheads being into drum'n'bass makes me think of Mary Anne Hobbs, who was championing a lot of metalcore and nü-metal alongside her supporting more leftfield electronic sounds as well.
Definitely, and I think her life story feeds into my theory here. [Laughs]

What was an early formative club experience for you when it came to listening to dance music out in public?
It was really late. My experience with electronic music up until 19 or 20 was through media. My formative "What the hell?" moments were fleeting moments at house parties in Cornwall, where I grew up. Clubs were a no-go. The music was shit. They were a place you could go if you wanted to get into a fight. I wasn't into clubbing at all until we were in London—and there's still some sort of hang-up from me about the whole experience.

Socially, I found it to be a quite challenging environment for me to be in. The scene in London when we arrived and started going out frequently, which was around the end of 2017—which we considered the beginning of the end of what was going on dubstep-wise—that was the first time I was going to a club with the specific intent of hearing the DJs that were playing. My first experiences were random places in South London that don't exist anymore, and the ones I do remember is because they're more famous. But most of my experiences are listening at home, or at someone else's house.

It's refreshing to hear you talk about feeling out of place at the club. Back in 2014, I went to a Hessle Audio night while I in Sweden, and it sounded so fucking good—Ben UFO was DJ'ing—but I was also like, "Man, I am easily the wackest person in this room."
I watch other people at such ease with the whole thing, and I'm in awe—and it's always people who have been going since they were 14 or 15, who talk about feeling at home in the club. I'm a little bit over that now and finally starting to enjoy the environment, but I'm also fucking 10 years older than everyone else there. [Laughs] I wish this had come to me a little bit earlier, because I also can't handle not sleeping anymore.

When did Dom move to Los Angeles?
I think six years ago, but I could be wildly off. If he said it was actually ten, I'd be like, "OK!"

When it comes to the creative process between the two of you, what changed when he moved?
We used to share a studio space, which made sense financially. Also, we didn't have a lot of stuff. Even when we were making a record, it was less time than people would think where we were in the room both coming up with ideas. We treated the space as our own. Dom used to work in the evenings, and I prefer working in the mornings—so we'd cross over a lot. If we weren't sharing a computer, we'd be just showing each other stuff all the time. We'd collect stuff that the other person saw something else in, and then we'd start working on finding a unified voice to run through the material.

I don't think we even attempted to do the remote working thing when Dom went to L.A. By the time he went, we were pretty burnt out from touring and were quite happy to take a year off from doing anything linked to the band. What's happened since then is that I'll go to L.A. and we'll work fairly intensely for a month, and Dom will come to the UK—more frequently than I go out there to him, really. The biggest difference now is that the music we're sharing with each other is just literally further away from each other. Which, in a lot of ways, is actually more interesting.

Sometimes there's moments of not fully understanding where the other person's coming from, because we're in culturally quite different spaces when it comes to writing stuff. But the end result and the process of getting there has become more interesting. The record we've just finished is, in a way, the most collaborative music we've ever made. It really feels like there's a space in between the two of us that wouldn't have existed otherwise.

I'm always interested in talking to musicians about the financial realities of what they do. What's that experience been like for you and Dom?
There's so many ways to look at it. Off the bat, you kind of have to be fairly grateful for the time that we were able to establish ourselves in. There was zero real money to be made in selling any records, really, and touring becomes more expensive and complicated even though it's supposed to make you money—but at that point we were able to live on not very much money and not feel any problems with that. [Laughs] I still don't.

I think we've been fairly...I don't know. We haven't had particularly large outlays that we've needed to keep up with. We've been pretty modest. We've always treated it like a business in terms of having an accountant and being quite sensible with paying tax, stuff like that. We've been managed by the same people for the whole time we've been around, and they've also been fairly sensible in terms of making sure there aren't any huge surprises. Without taking too much out of the pot—neither of us have bought a house or anything like that—it's been gradually...there's been moments where it's been uncomftorably close to not being viable. But every time that's happened, something's come in—a sync, some weird commission—that just keeps us going.

For whatever reasons I don't even want to think about—I have mixed feelings about the whole operation—we've always done quite consistently alright on streaming platforms. It's a certain type of music that's quite suited to getting into the whole murky world of playlisting. There's an element of it that is just the genre—the nature of that music and what those platforms promote. That's allowed us to not have to rush into doing stuff that we don't want to do. It's a mixed bag. I'm very grateful to be able to pay rent every month and have this studio space. There's plenty of other people I know that have done an awful lot better than us.

Sometimes when I speak to other people about Mount Kimbie, people seem to have an idea that we've gotten quite wealthy from it, which is definitely not the case. [Laughs] But, again, that's relative as well. The fact that I haven't had to do a lot of things that I don't want to do, that is perhaps what is being wealthy is. It's nothing to complain about. But it's not "Buy a house" money. It's "Keep the lights on" money—which, I personally need, so.

Avey Tare of Animal Collective said something similar to me earlier this year. He was like, "People always assume that we're rich, but we're not." I think sometimes people assume that, if they love your music, you must be a millionaire.
And someone like Animal Collective, that's a name that's very well-established—almost like the figureheads of a scene. So you put them at the top of this triangle of that scene and think that the money must be up there at the top. They have a certain cultural weight, which you would think translates into money, and I think there's something a little similar to us. There's stuff that came out after us that was influenced by us, stuff that's on the charts that's doing well, that's actually making money. [Laughs]

The time in which you guys were coming up was a huge moment for UK bass music. What are your memories of that time?
It feels more like a scene now that I'm looking back on it. You can create a timeline, a beginning and an end, but while you're in it, it doesn't feel like that. It was also our first interaction with the music industry in any way. At the time, I was really young, so my experience was thinking, "This is crazy. You finish some music, put it out, everyone likes it, you do something else, people like that more." It's not that it was easy, but it felt like it was. The whole thing didn't seem too challenging.

We were all off doing our own stuff as well, if I'm thinking about James Blake, Darkstar, Joy Orbison, lots of other people. We were crossing paths at festivals, occasionally on the same lineups, and there was always a bit of a gap between us and the DJs. From about our second gig on, we were on lineups with the Hessle guys and Joy Orbison, and we were like, "It doesn't make sense to be DJing. We need to be playing live in some way." We were trying to figure that out for some time.

We bombed a lot. I remember one night, playing after Joy Orbison at some club, and we bombed so hard that—it was 1 or 2 in the morning, and we were in a place that wasn't used to live acts with a convoluted setup—you could feel the energy in the room go out. I remember thinking, "If I was here, I wouldn't want to see us playing." Even if it was being done well, I wouldn't have wanted us to be performing there. So we tried to break out of that healthy and financially well-off UK club scene. We needed to play trad venues where we went on at 9 or 10 in the evening, with an opener. We made an effort to do that, and it worked, and it also had a massive influence on where we went going forward.

But in the beginning, we were separated in what you'd call "that scene." I still see so many of those people from that time. We have a good time remembering stuff, and I do look back on it with some fondness. It was incredibly exciting to be entering into this thing that didn't have a lot of cynicism from anyone involved. Everyone was interested in what everyone else was doing. From the outside, though, if you were reading about it, it was more crystallized as a scene than it was being in it.

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Jamie Larson