The man, the maverick, the artist who has more aliases and collaborative projects than many of us have shoes; Damon Kirkham is in full Kid Drama mode right now as he drops a limited number of specials and dubs on his Dub Access 2016 – 2019 USB.
Previously unreleased, each cut was specially made to either draw as a surprise on peers like dBridge or DLR deep in the mix or for his long-running CNVX Radio show that ran weekly throughout the lockdown era.
Now with those strange times starting to move behind us, Damon’s looking ahead with a hefty batches of newness cooking in various directions. Following his awesome atmospheric jungle project Nine Windows with the eminent DJ Trace, Damon is finishing off an album on Metalheadz and has a whole stash of massive collaborations that are nearing competition, including the long-long-long awaited return of Instra:mental productions!
On top of all of that we’re really pleased to say he’s made this crucial mix for our 1 More Mix series! Capturing the CNVX vibe and tone of the tracks on his USB, plus a whole stash of dubs from himself and his peers, Damon’s gone IN with timeless deep tech swagger. A heavyweight blend of thundering futurism, uncompromising beats and stark waves of emotion, it’s the mood and flavour that’s always been at the core of his Kid Drama project… And hopefully always will be.
Check the sounds and get to know where he’s at and what’s coming next. Like this mix itself, this one runs deep!
Blimey this is a sick mix!
That’s good to hear because I haven’t had much practice lately. I’ve been focused on the studio.
Not many gigs?
Not for a minute. It’s bizarre to be honest. I’ve played a couple of things as Instra:mental but the Kid Drama alias has always been a hard sell. I’ve got so many other aliases that I could be booked as, but it’s my love of drum & bass that keeps me sticking with Kid Drama whether there are bookings or not.
It’s weird times for everyone. Also promoters and venues. We’re not out of the strangeness we’ve had for the last few years…
Totally. Covid did a number on a lot of people and gave them too much time to think about little shit. Everyone doing that, all in isolation… It’s going to have a long-lasting negative affect isn’t it? I mean, some good stuff has come out of all of this but a lot of bad stuff, too.
One good thing is how versatile artists are with merch and revenue streams. Just like your USBs!
Oh man. Producers are like cockroaches! You can’t stop us. Cut off a revenue stream, we’ll pop back up somewhere else with another solution. We’re like rats burrowing through the shit. We’re always faced with challenges and if we don’t find a way to work and sell our art then we end up fucked so we have to find a solution.
Also, I think everyone is realising that we don’t need labels. The tools we have as artists and the technology we have means we can build up our audience and have a direct link to them. We don’t have to pander to labels who dictate when the music comes out and how it comes out. If a producer wants to release music and they have an audience who want to hear it, they can put it directly and cut out a lot of bullshit. I like that.
Mixed feelings though, surely? You’re a label owner, too…
It’s liberating from an artist point of view because I can actually show where I’m at in more of a real time sense. Sometimes I’d be on a vibe and making a certain batch of tunes but the listeners and audience won’t hear them until a year or two years later. By that time I’m in such a different head space it’s not reflective of where I’m at any more. So with my own label I can actually show people what I’m doing within a month if I wanted to.
Yeah you’re not at the mercy of release schedules.
Yeah. And I’ve also been two years ahead of where my releases are at. Because of this I’ve tended not to play my unreleased music to people, unless it’s in a set, because people bite on it. I’m keeping my cards close to my chest these days. Like the Nine Windows project with Trace. We were doing that for a few years and I didn’t send the music to anyone until we had enough tunes together to do a mix. Then bam… Here’s the mix. And people are like, ‘Fuck!’
I love the surprise aspect of that. Wicked project, too, by the way…
Thanks man. It’s always a pleasure working with Trace, you know? Both of us have similar interests and we’ve both been in the game for a long time to identify the change in trends. Lately we’ve had the hardcore revival and the new jungle thing and I loved the next step in that evolution back in the day – the ‘intelligent D&B’ side of things. Logical Progression, Good Looking Records, Speed. It was such a universal sound. You had the samples, those 808s, the soul and emotion. There’s the euphoria and the strings and so many of those influences that you can also hear in my autonomic stuff. We felt it had to come back round…
I hear that. But if I’m honest, the sound I can hear a lot of people reviving and re-exploring is that early 2000s C4C and DSCi4 sound which obviously Trace was also a huge part of!
Yeah man. I hear that. And I think what’s happening now is that there are a few things happening at once. You’ve got a lot of people returning to the jungle sound and the atmospheric jungle sound and looking at how that developed into tech-step, but you also have people getting back on that early neuro vibe and that Virus sound.
It’s interesting and it goes round in cycles in other genres, too. You hear this in house music, in techno. Everything gets repeated eventually and once you’ve seen the cycles a few times you can see where things are heading.
The holy grail is to pursue a sound that’s timeless or not part of any trend / subgenre I guess. Then it doesn’t matter how long it takes to come out…
There is that and that’s a good thing because I’ve got projects and collaborations that date back years which still need completion. Me, James Submotive and J DLR have been working on some mad shit. Like old school Virus vibes. I’ve had the Trace thing which has been really inspiring. Now me, Trace, Loxy, Rhyme Tyme, J:Kenzo and my mate Garvo are working on a tech-step thing.
For me, because I wasn’t old enough to be doing things back then, I want to do that type of sound with people who have pedigree.
Amen! To be honest I thought you were part of Cloud Lord for a while. Didn’t surprise me that Krust and Need For Mirrors were behind it, though..
Haha yeah I love what they’re doing. They sound so fresh! That’s what I’m talking about with sounding original. This is Krust doing his thing, where he should be and where he’s happiest. And of course Joe is working with one of his biggest inspirations and you can hear him pushing things in the direction of the Krust era he loved the most. It’s exactly where I was with Trace. I’m very happy to be releasing music from their Cloud Lord project.
Would you say you’re very happy when you collaborate, full stop? You’ve listed a whole bunch of sick things. Do you prefer collabs than working solo?
It depends man. I only work with people I rate and respect. Like-minded studio heads who love the gear and get involved. And don’t have egos. I don’t like working with people who are precious about things. If something sounds shit then everyone in the room should be comfortable with that being said.
But I definitely love a good collaboration. I’ve done stuff with Darren dBridge obviously. There was Binary Collective with Consequence, dBridge and Joe Seven. Then Module Eight with Skeptical, Loxy, Resound and dBridge. And of course Heart Drive and Instra:mental. So yeah I’ve always been doing things like that. The stuff me James Submotive and J DLR have been doing goes back five years now. We’ve tested them out and they sound banging. They just need finishing. The thing is time… Submotive is in and out of Thailand a lot with Goldie.
J’s got Sofa Sound
Yeah man, he’s smashing it. But that’s Bristol for you – always too much going on!
How about the Instra:mental reunion stuff? That’s just a DJ flex for now, or are there productions en route?
We did make some tracks back in 2018. A batch of very dark electronica. Obviously inspired by Autechre. We got some of the Nord Lead synths – Nord Lead 1 and 2 – which Autechre used on their earlier albums and went in the outboard stuff. We almost set a release, but then we thought we’d write some newer bits and re-visited the autonomic sound. More inspired by Boards Of Canada.
It felt more like the Instra:mental people would want to return. A little more digestible and some added nostalgia. For DJ gigs, Instra:mental has been a really important part of what I do in recent years so it’s important to come back with something special. And then we can go darker or deeper. We want to come back right and set up a label and – like I was saying earlier – take things into our own hands release-wise. That’s how it’s going to be for me with all my music. Except my album on Metalheadz.
Yeah it’s going to be very different and nothing like the other stuff I’ve been making and playing. This is 166 vibes, very dusty. The whole thing plays as a start-to-finish album. That’s how I’ve always loved albums and something I wanted to do. I don’t know how many other people care about albums like that.
You’d be surprised. I speak to new-gen artists who still love albums and really appreciate the concept and context of an album.
That’s it. An album is so much more than a collection of tracks. And I know they’re digested in a different way now and you can pick your favourites and make your own playlists but the really inspiring thing about an album – for me – is how you wouldn’t necessarily like all the tracks but you’d persist with it.
This is partly because you’ve spent £15 on the CD. It’s partly because you’re too stoned to get up and skip the track, too. But also because that’s how it was with albums wasn’t it? Like the Future Sound Of London albums. They play like a film. You don’t want to break the flow. And eventually the tracks I liked the least to begin with would become my favourites.
Same! So about the USB… What’s your relationship with the music? These were made for the club, right?
Mostly yeah. You know, if I got a little b2b with Darren then it’s nice to have something he won’t know and just slip it in. There’s always that one-upmanship and love of drawing shit on each other so he’s looking over like, ‘What’s this, then?’
So a few of them are from that type of mindset. But I also wrote a bunch of things for the radio show me and Sarah did every week during lockdown, playing for two, three sometimes even four or five hours. Doing that every single week was like a full time job. I needed to dig for different things and make new bits in the week so I had something fresh to play. I needed that.
It’s always been that way since hearing Groove every week on the radio. Hearing it and having it in your head for ages. Then either getting it years later or it never comes out. I love that idea; making tunes that don’t have to come out. You’re intentionally writing music just for yourself. Something special.
Yeah not everything has to come out!
That’s right. Quality control. The minute you put an artist and title to a piece of music it starts to age. That’s why I don’t give a tracklist. It’s dubplate stuff. And I still remember what it was like for me as a fan of the music… Recording a tune off a pirate station with a hanger in my hand, trying to get the best signal. I went into a record shop in Guildford with this tape and they laughed at me because it was pure airwave static but I was so passionate. Like, ‘Listen for the sample!’
Did you ever find out what it was?
Honestly, I never heard that song again until four or five years ago! It was on Candidate Records – Persons Unknown – Assassin (Enter the Dark Side Mix) I learnt it was Foul Play on Omni Trio’s label. From 1993. Beau Thomas taught me that actually. He gave me some old DATs of his Intense stuff and it was in there.
Wow. Was it as good as you remember?
It’s even better! Finding out it was made in late 92 and hearing those early tech-step vibes blows my mind. It’s got that dirty reese bassline in there and a lot of tech step sounds. It was a one off under the radar tune that was way ahead of its time. We had the same with tracks for autonomic. Deep Blue did some b-sides which, when we listened to old records later on, sound like they could have been a very early blueprint for the autonomic sound.
Bringing it back round to albums, those were the tracks that would wash over you on an album to begin with. Blueprints for the future.
Yeah, totally! We just didn’t realise they existed until years later.
Tell us about the mix.
I wanted to base it around what’s on the USB and tunes from friends of mine. People I really click with over the years and have no stress… Submotive, Jubei, SP, DLR. No egos. Just people I love working with and having a laugh with. So yeah playing their tracks, a few collaborations…
Lots of exclusives
Oh yeah but I’m not going too far-out. I’ll save that for when we talk about the album.
Does the album have a release date or is it too early to say?
Tiny bit too early to say but the album is like 98% finished. I’m thinking about doing it live as well. There’s a track with Goldie on there. Track with dBridge, track with Loxy. Vocals from LaMeduza, too. It’s very different to anything else on Metalheadz.
I can’t wait to hear this! Did you say 90% done?
98%! Just a few final minor tweaks. It’s been years and years in the making. I’ve started and scrapped it a whole bunch of times but eventually I built a palette and started sketching – a lot during lockdown – and started making things. I was doing my radio show, I was out of the clubs, I was listening to my influences every weekend and doing a lot of digging and thinking and it all pulled into what I have now. I pulled the tempo back a tiny bit… just to make sure even more people don’t play my music.
But I’m not writing it for people to play in clubs – this is for me, it’s written with playing it live in mind, it’s what I want to hear from a drum & bass album and the way it morphs from one thing to another thing and each tune morphs and evolves. I look forward to taking a few machines, a sampler and a few FX and playing it in clubs.
Different context when playing like that, isn’t it? DJing restricts you a bit in that way doesn’t it?
Yeah. And hopefully that will lend itself to a more eclectic line-up. Like when I was playing as Jon Convex I’d be alongside people like Machinedrum, Jimmy Edgar or Dark Sky. Those nights when the vibe can go up and down. Not so restrictive.
That is a drawback of D&B. It’s been its own island and had its own rules which has created a unique culture but also a barrier. I’d love to see line-ups like that.
We had some amazing line-ups with the autonomic nights at Fabric. RIP Shaun! He was backing it and right behind us. We had a list of artists we wanted to play and we’d go ‘okay how can we make this one work?’ We had James Blake’s first ever live show. He turned up with a PC and plugged straight into the auxiliary. No soundcard! We had Jimmy Edgar live with a synth and a vocoder. It was mad. It was an eclectic scene with lots going on.
It was a special moment in time. To bring us back to the start of the conversation, though, when do you think the autonomic revival will happen?
I’ve wondered about this. But I think to make things like that work you need a lot of people all pushing together and throwing things into one big movement. That’s what creates consistency and hype. One or two artists making a sound just gets lost in all the noise. But everyone working together to push something, with no egos? You’ll get much further. It has to be selfless. It has to be for a bigger cause. And right now I think there’s too much celebration of ego to do that.
There are collectives doing things with that mindset though aren’t there?
Yeah you’re right. I love what J is doing with Sofa Sound and how he’s developed a collective. I also love what Teije Lenzman is doing with The North Quarter in the same way.
These are examples of collectives doing things with a bigger picture in mind. Everyone banding together saying, ‘Right let’s do this!’ And all shouting about one thing. That’s how it used to go with some of the most influential labels in this history of this sound. I know it’s idealistic and it wasn’t all perfect back then but that fundamentally that’s what all of this is founded on: Like-minded people getting together and sharing a love and a vision. If there’s one thing I want to see more of in the music right now is people dropping their egos and seeing the bigger picture. That’s how things move forward…