VENUE: Yes 24 MUV Hall, Mapo-gu
TICKET PRICE: ₩46 000 (Pre-sold)
For myself and my core group of friends, Mount Kimbie – the name under which British musicians Kai Campos and Dominic Maker have been releasing genre-defining and defying electronic music for the last decade – holds a pretty significant place in our hearts. We were introduced to the band when the brother of a friend of a friend shared a flat with them in London somewhere around 2010 and returned home with a vinyl copy of their first album, Crooks and Lovers, complete with a circular coffee-stain on the sleeve. That record ended up getting played to death over the next couple of years, ripped copies circulating like electrons being exchanged between atoms, and it became the go-to soundtrack for everything from pre-drinks to post-seshes, days at the beach to road-trips across the country. It’s one of a handful of albums I think I’ve listened to a little bit too much; I basically can’t listen to it any more, because every time I put it on my brain starts anticipating the next bar and filling it in before it’s even had a chance to reach my ears.
Kai Campos and Dominic Maker, the two halves of Mount Kimbie
Which is a pity, because Crooks and Lovers really is a special record. Released on Scuba’s legendary bass music label Hot Flush Recordings in 2010, at a time when the UK dubstep sound had exploded into the mainstream and rapidly been incorporated into the global commercial dance music scene, Mount Kimbie’s demure, understated debut album came across as the perfect polar opposite of the garish bombast of producers like, say, Skrillex, whose influential (for better or worse) EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites was released that same year. On Crooks and Lovers, Maker and Campos grabbed hold of all of the traditional sonic signifiers of dubstep – cavernous sub-bass, whipcrack percussion, shuffling garage beats – and turned them inside out, crafting a tender, patient record that couldn’t be further removed from the whomps and roars of dancefloor dubstep, and yet at the same time still felt curiously reminiscent of it, like rave tracks filtered through a thick fog of half-forgotten dreams. Together with artists like James Blake (one of their frequent collaborators) and Burial, Mount Kimbie helped to carve out the hazy genre boundaries of what music critics would come to call “post-dubstep”, inspiring a legion of imitators in the process.
‘Before I Move Off’, from debut album Crooks and Lovers
To Mount Kimbie’s credit, though, they didn’t stay within the confines of the genre they’d help define for long. Their second record, released on Warp in 2013, saw the duo breaking new musical ground, incorporating vocal performances from both themselves and ginger chanteur du jour Archie Marshall (King Krule), jazzy percussion and guitar and keyboard sounds which leant a more natural, jam-band feel to their output, a trend that became even more apparent on their latest outing, 2017’s Love What Remains (also on Warp). Personally, I’m a little ambivalent about these changes; from my point of view Cold Spring Faultless Youth and Love What Remains are both fine records, but very far removed from the Mount Kimbie I fell in love with (I must have listened to Crooks and Lovers hundreds of times; I listened to Love What Remains twice when it came out and I haven’t gone back to it since). Nonetheless I have a great deal of respect for them for not resting on their laurels and instead actively trying to push their sound in new directions. I also had a suspicion that their post-Crooks and Lovers material, especially the tracks off of the new album, probably worked better live than they did on record, a hunch that the gig proved to be correct.
I’m actually pretty happy with my terrible phone camera this time around, feel like it captured the feel of the show quite well.
The venue was the Yes 24 MUV Hall, located roughly halfway in between Hongdae and Hapjeong stations (prime Korean hipster real estate, in other words). What it lacked in decent and affordable drinks (the bar carried exactly four alcoholic options, all priced at 7000 won or over) it more than made up for in space, atmosphere and sound. Red brick walls enclosed a space that felt at once intimate and roomy; I never once felt crushed or crowded in upon despite the hundreds of people around me, a feeling that’s sadly (but understandably) hard to come by sometimes in Seoul. And even before Mount Kimbie took to the stage it was clear from the sound quality of the warm-up indie muzak being piped over our heads that the system was either extravagantly expensive, lovingly maintained, or both – every note was crisp, clear and rich (note: there were apparently a couple of warm up acts that played before Mount Kimbie – local artists Mogwaa and Alter Ego – but their sets were already over by the time we arrived). The audience was comprised primarily of foreigners, most of whom seemed overjoyed to be there, and the people overall were far chattier and friendlier than I’m used to them being in this city; by the time Mount Kimbie took to the stage to whoops and whistles from the crowd I’d had more small-talk than I’d had in months.
After spending what seemed like much longer than it probably was bumbling around the stage in headtorches fiddling with arcane-looking synthesizers, the band (that is, Campos and Maker plus a live drummer and someone else helping out on various synthesizers – I did some perfunctory digging but I couldn’t find their names) finally began, kicking off the show with “Four Years and One Day”, the opening track from Love What Survives. From the start, it became clear that Mount Kimbie on stage was a very, very different beast to Mount Kimbie on record. Songs unfurled and elongated, stretching into what at times seemed like entirely new productions, at once more muscular and more ethereal. Maker and Campos were in a state of constant motion around the stage, moving effortlessly between guitars and synths as the screen behind them flashed with the same beautiful, cryptic imagery familiar from Mount Kimbie’s music videos: flowers, beaches, street scenes, airplanes, all with the same grainy, washed-out look, as if they’d been cut from a dusty roll of film found by chance in some long-forgotten attic.
The rose seemed to be a recurring motif in a lot of Mount Kimbie’s visuals that night.
An early surprise came when Dominic Maker took to the microphone and began singing the vocal part from “We Go Home Together”, one of Kimbie’s collaboration’s with fellow “post-dubstep” luminary James Blake. It was a bold move; Blake’s tender croon is fairly idiosyncratic, and not easily replaced. Maker made it work, however, bringing a similar degree of raw, emotional sincerity to the piece, though it’s obvious that neither him nor Campos (who also provided vocal accompaniment at several points during the show) are all that comfortable when it comes to singing. That’s maybe a little unfair; the two of them have fine voices – it’s just that their vocal capabilities don’t stand out as spectacular in the same way as their instrumental abilities do. That being said, I’ll confess to breathing a sigh of relief when, a few songs later, they chose to play recorded audio of King Krule singing “Blue Train Lines” rather than attempting to sing the part themselves. Archie Marshall has what is probably one of the most unique and recognizable voices in contemporary music and hearing anyone else sing his verses on tracks like “Blue Train Lines” or “You Took Your Time” would just have felt… wrong.
Kai Campos switches out cables on a modular synthesizer as Dominic Maker hypnotizes with the bass.
The show leaned far more heavily on material from the new album (though they did at one point play “Before I Move Off” from Crooks and Lovers, to rapturous applause and cheers). I’d expected this to be the case, and it made sense; for one thing, it’s pretty normal for bands to play newer music on stage so relatively soon after dropping a new release, and for another the driving, noisy motorik compositions of Love What Survives made for much better live show fodder than the woozy, intimate bedroom beats that characterized Crooks and Lovers and, to a slightly lesser extent, Cold Spring Faultless Youth. I was struck by how much more like a band, and less like a pair of producers, Mount Kimbie seemed on stage. Whereas on their albums, especially their earlier work, traditional instrumentation was just one element in a broader sonic palette, sharing the soundscape equally with synthesized noises and found-sound samples, here the guitar and bass seemed to take centre-stage, the rest of the sonic elements at their disposal falling into place in support around them. Mount Kimbie have definitely changed a lot since the Crooks and Lovers days, and in all honesty feel more like a particularly inventive post-rock band than they do a pair of post-dubstep pioneers. This change in musical direction really didn’t appeal to me, initially; as I mentioned earlier, Love What Remains is my least favourite Kimbie record by quite a wide margin, and I really do miss the days when they wore their dancefloor influences and aspirations a little more openly. But seeing how well the new Kimbie sound worked in a live setting I definitely felt more open to it; I could grok what they were trying to do, and their live show was so damn good because of it that it felt really churlish to hold their musical evolution against them.
Towards the end of the show the lighting scheme switched from red to blue.
Just when I thought I had them figured out, though, Kimbie threw the audience a curveball. A noisy crescendo suddenly dissipated into a long, sustained drone that just kept going – and going – and going, until several members of the audience began looking around uncomfortably and I began to wonder if one of their synths had blown a circuit or something. Just when I thought the drone would never end, Kimbie began to lay down a thick cut of gnarly, booming outsider techno, all crushing claps and splutters of static that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Opal Tapes compilation. It was a whiplash-inducing change of pace, but the duo pulled it off well, and the crowd loved them for it. They quickly settled back into more guitar-driven and mellow territory, but the rapid shift in atmosphere seemed evidence to me that Mount Kimbie still had more than enough tricks up their sleeves, and that they weren’t afraid to experiment with their sound and their show. I’d say this was probably my second favorite part of the show. My number-one favorite was their final song (which came all too soon for my liking), “Made To Stray”, easily the standout track from Cold Spring Faultless Youth and arguably one of the best pieces of music Kimbie has released over their career. I’m not ashamed to admit that I (together with my friends) sang along with every word and absolutely lost ourselves to the track’s rolling percussion and otherworldly keyboard tones. Looking around, I could see that we weren’t alone; the entire crowd seemed similarly entranced.
This was apparently Mount Kimbie’s first-ever show in South Korea, and it was a wonderfully memorable one. Hopefully, having definitely made a new fans in Seoul and will be back again some day soon!