I hadn’t seen London’s A.R.Kane live before I watched them at Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona last month. Without a doubt, they played one of my favourite sets of the weekend. Aside from the sheer weight of sound emanating from just three people – guitars and feedback spilling into eachother, the voices fired upward by drum machines – the group also felt urgent and alive. Their ability to melt together all sorts of musical colours still feels intrepid and beautifully strange, just as it did when they were releasing albums in the late 80s / early 90s. Much is said with regards to A.R.Kane’s status as pioneers of “dream pop”, and while that certainly rings true with regards to their headier melodic utterances and tendency toward reverb saturation, it doesn’t encapsulate their ability to pull on the threads of reggae, jazz, pure sculptural abstraction…essentially, whatever happens to be absorbed into their rich currents of sound.
Ahead of their show at The Good Ship in London tonight (July 13th 2016), Rudy Tambala talks about his affection for feedback, drum machines, and what lies in store for A.R.Kane in the hyparchic future.
Last August, you played your first show in 20 years at Oxfordshire’s Supernormal Festival (what a wonderful event at which to celebrate your return, by the way). How has the last year been for you?
It has been a very cool year, wonderful to be at SN, lovely to be back inside of music and playing and that whole vibe.
I understand that A.R.Kane’s return started with a lineup of seven, before whittling down to three. What made you want to reduce the membership, and how did the current lineup come to be?
We tried to reproduce the recordings last year. To do that – and we never did in the day – we needed seven players: three guitars, drums, bass, three vocalists, PC running loops and samples and beats. It was cool at the time, but there was a moment just a couple hours before the SN show when me, Maggie and Andy (the three singers) went into the woods to rehearse the basic vocal parts. I had a mental block and needed it. As we were rehearsing, standing close, singing simple parts a couple nice harmonies, it clicked. I saw that this was how it needed to move forward. just us three. I had to figure how that’d work, and spent the last year experimenting with that – now we all play guitar, all sing, Andy has a keyboard, and I run Ableton for bass and beats, and I have a synth and vocoder. It’s kinda complicated but is getting easier with each show. I think we have the best sound now.
I saw you play a beautiful set at Primavera Sound in Barcelona last month. Unsurprisingly, I was particularly struck by the shrill attack of your guitar feedback in the live setting – it felt like it was piercing a hole in the sky. Could you talk to me about your relationship with guitar feedback? When did you first start to explore its merits as a musical device, and how consciously is your feedback tone shaped into that crisp, high-pitched whistle?
Thank you! I first discovered the sheer naked and violent beauty of feedback by accident when writing the song “Lollita” – I switched pickups by accident on the chorus and everything went crazy. Alex and I instantly knew that was going to be territory to explore because we loved it and trusted out instincts. I like it shrill – Andy offsets it with a warm, organic feedback, and sometimes we swap it around. Maggie is starting to develop her own noise aesthetic too. We are still exploring – I feel like something new is close but actually I always feel like that, it’s a mental disorder probably. My feedback now is way tamer than it used to be partly because I’m older and tamer, but also because I now play my guitars through a bass rig for the fat warm sound. It is harder to get the shrill feedback. But, for my art, I try.
I hear that new material is currently in the works. What’s it been like to return to writing A.R.Kane material?
There is new stuff, but I am still uncertain if it is Kane material or something else. I need time to figure it out. Right now we’re focused on live and we rotate several new compositions in the live set, see what we love most, what people like, what works alongside original Kane tracks. Writing is the most natural thing – it is all consuming. I forget to eat and drink and get too cold and have moodies, but it is such a trip. Probably end of summer – after the OnBlackheath show – we’ll think about recording.
How does the songwriting process work for you at the moment, and how does it compare to how you’d approach writing material in the 80s and 90s?
Never had any one single approach. Still do not. Alex was my writing partner – we were, at our best, like one person. We were A.R.Kane. Now I tend to write alone, although some ideas come out of jams with Andy – he has real musical talent, he’s only 22 and has so much to give already. Our styles are very different – he has a warm, finger-picking style. This is new to me; we complement each other. Also, Maggie is leading on vocals – being my sis I’ve know her a while, and she also sang backing on the best Kane material. But she has changed, matured. I now write for her style, which ultimately is moving us into a new space, which is why I am hesitant to call it A.R.Kane. My mum suggested M.R.Kane. I like that.
A post caught my eye on the A.R.Kane Facebook the other day. You mentioned that you wished you were playing in London, drowning in noise and forgetting about “all this crap we are doing” (which I take as refer to the turbulent political climate of the UK at present?) To what extent does A.R. Kane – and immense, all-enveloping music in general – allow you to disappear momentarily? Is this a prominent function of the band for you?
I guess. It is something I used to ponder frequently. The thing is I believe in confronting things head on. I don’t like escapisms. But, then the other ‘I’, loves to escape, to extreme bliss. I think immersion is like hitting reset; it provides clarity, at its best it ceases to be escape and simply becomes intensity – intensification of the present moment – and that’s where the answers are, just waiting for you to reach that bliss. To make sense, to gain meaning. To cease being caught in the trap of dualistic reactions and thinking. To get out of my head.
I’m a huge fan of drum machines in the live environment. From my perspective, they seem to propel your music without “anchoring” it too strongly, allowing for those moments where the wall of sound threatens to swallow the rhythm whole. What is it about working with drum machines that you enjoy?
It is a deliberate choice. I love live drums too. Right now, you hit the nail on the head – they have a constancy, so that at certain points, when we go eyeballs out, they stay where they are, and they are enveloped, engulfed, subsumed. That is the point. They cannot react. They have a dynamic stillness, like a beautifully crafted pot. We try to use that. I’m so glad you get that. The first vinyl album I bought was Human League Travelogue. I think it shaped my approach. Then I saw the Cocteaus [Cocteau Twins]. The first gear we bought was a digital delay, a distortion pedal and a 606. Then I met Ray Schulman and he taught me how to make beats and sample loops with the E-mu SP-12. Its always been about the machines. My son just completed his first year at Leeds College of Music – he loves FL studio and produces his trap, house, d’n’b choons – guess it’s genetic.
What other music have you been listening to recently?
Been collaborating with new dream poppers Ummagma and also The Veldt on their new EP, so getting pretty close to their sounds. I enjoyed some of the bands at the festivals we played – Explosions [In The Sky] sound cool. I really like Sky Between Leaves – I fell in love with their video OBE and invited them to support us – I think we’re due to have a jam together soon. This morning I listened to both versions of “Ceremony”. Love that song.
What does the immediate future hold for yourself and A.R. Kane?
I love that term ‘immediate future’. Have you heard of hyparxis? Well, the hyparchic future lies just ahead and above us. Some say it is the moment of creation, a constantly creative act that pours out the universe, creating our worlds, that the creation is just about to happen, now, and not in some dreary distant past. And it has a current that is pure, violent, unforgettable love. That’s the immediate future for A.R.Kane, an unknowable isness, that is what will hold us.