For Kane West, Goofing Off Is Reaping Serious Rewards
PC Music’s dark horse started off spoofing Kanye. Now, he’s breaking down dance music and gleefully piecing together the wreckage.
My first encounter with Kane West was at short-lived north London club night Eternal last year. Playing as part of an unofficial PC Music showcase alongside smaller acts from the label’s roster, his set followed the misshapen Evanescence samples of club music producer Spinee and the upbeat Eurotrance leanings of labelmate Danny L Harle. Against this backdrop, I was surprised by Kane West’s music: it felt like it had more in common with the gritty grooves of old school Chicago house than the contorted pop that’s usually associated with PC Music. One thing Kane West’s music does share with the label is its wicked sense of humour, with daft vocal samples and OTT flute solos laid over jacking house rhythms and gnarly basslines. And, of course, there’s that choice of artist alias.
You can read all sorts of things into that name, but Gus Lobban—the brains behind Kane West, and one third of Anglo-Japanese pop band Kero Kero Bonito—says that there’s not much of a grand statement behind it. Perhaps the moniker is “more bait” than other pun-tastic club producers like Joy Orbison and Lindsay Lowend, he admits when we meet in the centre of his hometown, the Bromley suburb of south-east London. Like anything even vaguely associated with PC Music, Lobban’s tracks have been dismissed by some as a conceptual prank: a critique of house and techno rather than a celebration of it. But from Aphex Twin to Legowelt to Todd Terje, dance music has always had an eccentric side, as recognised by Montreal techno institution Turbo Recordings, who put out Kane West's Expenses Paid EP this summer—his first post-PC Music release. For all his goofiness, he's an artist making some of the grooviest house music around right now.
Growing up in the commuter belt just outside of London, Lobban started making “wack GarageBand electronica” after discovering iconic electronic acts 808 State and LFO. Pretty soon he was exploring music from the weirder end of the dance spectrum: Chicago house records, acid tracks, and Sheffield bleep’n’bass. He cites leftfield dance music legends Maurice Fulton and Ceephax Acid Crew as major influences—artists who understood that you can still be serious about your music even if you don’t take yourself too seriously. In early 2014, he started the Kane West project with an irreverent remix of Tiga and Audion’s “Let’s Go Dancing”—dubbed “Let’s (Not) Go Dancing”. It wasn’t the first time Lobban had made dance music, but it was the first time he’d hit upon an aesthetic that unified his ideas.
Lobban has played Kane West sets at Berlin’s Panorama Bar, at Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art, and before heading out on a US tour with Kero Kero Bonito in support of Skylar Spence, he performed recently at influential London clubnight FWD>>. If anyone at these nights had their preconceptions about Kane West and his associations with PC Music, they disappeared on the dancefloor. “[People] really get it,” Lobban beams, “They just roll with it, no hang-ups. But that’s what dance music should do—it should cut through all that.”
When you drop your song “Mexicans” in the club, there’s this big collective moment where everyone in the crowd starts laughing.
KANE WEST: If you don’t have fun at the club, you’re missing the point. People think that ‘fun’ has to be a joke, but having a laugh doesn’t mean that you’re taking the piss! Kane West is much closer to Maurice Fulton’s MU records or Tiga covering “Hot In Herre” than it is to the Beatport top 10. Highly regarded acts often do silly things.
There’s a big thing in house and techno scenes where people fetishize analogue hardware, but you use a lot of cheap keyboards in your production, right?
You can make great records on anything. I really think that if you have a good sense of groove, it doesn’t matter what you use. Sometimes people don’t use their heads – if someone used a crappy drum machine and turned it into a great record, instead of thinking “I’m gonna use the same drum machine as they did,” you should think “What else can I turn into a great record?” I like trying stuff that not many other people use. The TR-808 is a great piece of kit [for example]—it’s nice to play and it sounds good—but it’s more interesting for me to try to make a great dance record on something else. On the “Cat vs. Dog” remix, I remember one writer saying “I can’t tell what drum machine this is.” The drums are from a cheap Yamaha DD-50 drum pad—that’s the nice piece of vintage gear I used to make that.
You made an aesthetic decision to use those sounds, too. Using silly sounds is better than falling back on the same classic piano house tropes or rip-off Larry Heard basslines that a lot of other producers use.
In a creative situation, it’s easy to grab the first thing you think of. You might dance to a certain beat, so that’d be your go-to beat. But it’s important to realize that the people who first made that beat weren’t thinking like that. They were thinking in a much more open, creative way. It’s useful that certain sounds mean certain things, but that’s not all there is to it. There’s a lot of potential in dance music that’s unpolished. A Maurice Fulton or Ceephax record will sound totally weird and gritty and broken, but that’s why they’re exciting! They’re not safe or polished—they’re crazy, exciting, and wild.
I always felt that Kero Kero Bonito relate to a suburban English experience. Does it surprise you that you’re selling out shows in the U.S.?
Our biggest fanbase is in American cities—we have more fans in L.A. and New York than we do in the U.K. [But] there’s a massively British edge to that album [Intro Bonito] that I think got kind of ignored. “Small Town” is a really British experience—I don’t know why American kids would relate to that. Drinking cups of tea, really? It’s a bit of a cliché, but they say that American audiences aren’t trying to second guess everything all the time, so maybe they’re not trying to guess the dark subtext of that song. They’re just down for the pop.
You’ve gone from PC Music onto Turbo, an established and respected dance label. Do you see more of these PC Music crossovers happening in the future?
Well, that just proves that PC Music is not just one thing. I wanna release on as many cool labels as possible. I wanna get everyone dancing with this music. PC Music is as valid as Turbo. I’d love to do something on [Four Tet’s label] Text. That would be dope. Or Ostgut Ton—I mean hey, I’ve already played Panorama Bar. I’ve already smashed Panorama Bar. People should watch out!
What’s next for Kane West? I hear you’ve made some tracks with vocals on?
I’m gonna do everything, but more intensely. There’s gonna be a Kane West record that’s like the teachings of the heavens—it’s gonna be totally mystical, it’s gonna be like a worship record. Ultra tracks, ultra pop, ultra mystic worship.
The same vibe as The KLF making an ambient album?
The KLF were good, you know. The Ancients of Mu Mu had it down. You don’t hear them talked about much. They were cool because they actually made good dance records. They weren’t fucking around. I mean, they were kind of fucking around, but they also made good dance music. You don’t make a record like “3AM Eternal” accidentally.