KONTAKTE, a two-piece instrumental band hailing from London, England, offer a rather unique experience, blending different musical styles into their records, from late 70s German electronica to the early 90s shoegaze, balancing between electronic and organic instruments. We had an interesting chat with them to discover the inspirational journey leading to their latest record “These Machines”, and how the band’s sound matured through the time.
Before we get to talk about the new album, can you first tell us a bit about your background and how the band was formed?
Kontakte began primarily as a recording project in 2005. I had been throwing together some demo ideas, always with the intention of it becoming a full recording, gigging band, but things needed to develop gradually and naturally and as always with these things, it does takes time. We played our first shows in the summer of 2006 and had a very busy live schedule to begin with. A debut single release in 2007, a few lineup changes and in 2008 it was time to think about getting serious with the recording side of things when a demo found its way to Drifting Falling Records in Texas, USA. The rest really is history as they say…
We’ve come some way since then that’s for sure. We’re now at a stage where we can confidently release our own music and take control of all our affairs so to speak. It sheds another light onto the whole creative experience to have seen this new album be conceived from the very first note that was written to finally releasing the album via our own label.
You described your music before as “cinematic noise”. How much is the visual side important to the music, and do your tracks give you a specific image in your mind?
I think music has always been indebted to its visual counterpart, and by that I don’t mean the ‘pop’ video that these days seems paramount to releasing music; but the actual visual interpretation of sound, the visual image that music conjures in your mind when writing, recording, playing and listening to music.
When creating music, a visual can actually help you construct a track. It’s the way that a track can inspire images and motifs or snapshots in your imagination. This is a very encouraging, inspiring and natural thing. So in that sense, the visual side of things is very important to our music.
In the past we have worked with filmmakers to create videos which are often the obvious way to align a created visual with its musical counterpart, and we’ve been fortunate to receive some fantastic pieces of work.
For our new album this hasn’t happened as of yet, but this has absolutely no bearing on our intended presentation of the music.
It’s an interesting question because more often than not, bands are expected to create videos these days. But we’re not filmmakers; we’re musicians. And I think this is simply down to the pressure we have given to us currently because YouTube and its social media allies have become such a huge platform to share music that we are led to think that videos should and need to be a part of the ‘album package’.
As much as videos can and should present a much warranted visual ‘aspect’ for the music, it really is the music that in this instance is the most important thing.
What do we want to be asking people to do these days—listen to our music or watch our music? With this project the most important visual aspect is undoubtedly the artwork that accompanies the album; in fact a different visual accompanies each and every track. Included with the album is an artwork booklet with some fantastic experimental photography by Russell Moreton. We hope that when people listen to our music they will find themselves immersed not only in the sound but also the juxtaposed image.
Being featured as soundtracks to some online independent projects, do you have the desire to expand this experience and do music specifically as soundtracks?
Great follow-on question! This is the other side of the coin. To be given a visual, and asked to create music to accompany it, is a challenge I would love for us to be set. I actually think Kontakte, as a music making entity, would excel at such a challenge.
The collaborations that you mention have always begun with the music existing first and someone with a visual mind contacting us to say that they think the two would work well together. For us to write music as a soundtrack would be a definite natural step forward for us. Who knows…? Watch this space!
You have just released your new album “These Machines”. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?
There isn’t any particular one thing that inspired the album as such. We find making music to be a very autonomous exercise so, in essence, once the ball is rolling, it generally picks up its own pace and inspires itself to become the finished article. We did soon realize that our use of electronic instruments and sounds was going to have a big impact on the record. That has been the most natural progression with us having been taken from a 4 piece to a duo within the space of one album. Deep down, Kontakte will always be a ‘guitar band’, but the use of electronics throughout our time has always been evolving from day one right up to the point we are at now with “These Machines”. The title itself is a comment basically on how we became almost at one with the machines whilst writing the album. Whether we were immersed amongst our synths and drum machines or had our heads rammed for hours into computers, painstakingly obsessing over the tiniest of details, we were always working with a machine of some sort. It’s a very utopian/Kraftwerk view of things I guess that has become almost intrinsic with modern life and making music in the 21st century. These machines are hard to get away from, we are obsessed with our gadgets. We’re close to a point where we will soon not be able to live comfortably without them.
But the best lesson we did learn is that these machines are not infallible. During the making of this album we somehow managed to destroy three computers entirely, and in fact the iMac I bought specifically to record this album on has not been the same since we pressed ‘Save’ for the very last time!
What were the unique things you encountered during the album’s composition and recording? Plus getting more experience now with your third full album, how did that affect this process?
Well, the most unique thing we encountered was right at the beginning and finding ourselves as a duo. It just so happened that as we were all set to start writing, both of our personal lives were in a state of flux and turmoil, which, looking back on, is easy to understand why this album has taken a little longer to appear than at first hoped.
I specifically remember a day in March 2012 that we had set aside to write. I had just been made redundant from work so was feeling a bit jaded. I turn up at Stuart’s and he’s standing there with his 9 month old baby in his arms screaming at him and he tells me he’s just been made redundant too! It was a bizarre situation where we were both stressed to the max, having financial headaches, yet we were both determined somehow more than anything to sit down and write new music almost as a way of catharsis. In the space of one week we had come up with raw versions of about half the album, literally from scratch. It came from nowhere but that deep down desire to create some new noise. At that point we had no real idea of where the album was going to take us or what it should necessarily sound like, we just let it evolve naturally until there was enough material written for the music itself to tell us what it wanted to be and how things were going to develop.
Once things had panned out and settled down personally, we started to record in the summer of 2012 and continued to write, re-write, trash things, write more and so forth until it all came to fruition in February 2014 and we stood back and looked and realized we’d reached the point where we couldn’t throw anymore at it.
The recording process was straightforward enough with us both having our own home studio set-ups. We could both record together or separately in the dead of night, basically whenever and however we could get it down we could.
Listening to “These Machines” I found many new aspects to your music like using a human drummer in the first track ”Shut Your Eyes And You’ll Burst Into Flames”, which sounded really interesting. Why did you choose it for this track, and do you plan to use it more in the future?
It is somewhat ironic that after all of our insistence and belief in all things electronic that we should choose to open the album with a full-on real drum kit assault such as this.
Again, it was just one of those instances whereby the music tells you what it needs. The music is inevitably in charge and just by writing, listening, playing; you get to know the feeling of a track and learn more and more regarding what it needs in order to develop. With this track is was the simple point that no matter how hard we tried we just could not write any drum machine parts that leant itself to flow naturally with the guitars. It will become obvious when this track is heard; we simply could not alter the guitars! We tried many things but in the end we asked Stuart’s cousin, Andrew Taylor from the Scottish band Dropkick, if he could demo something for us, and as soon as it came back and we heard it, it was a no brainer. It simply had to be that way.
But for those with hungry ears, there are still a lot of electronic subtleties happening around the live kit. It isn’t just simply a drum kit. After all, nothing could ever be that simple with us!
Kontakte used to have three or four members, but for the new album it was only the two of you that composed and performed it. How did that transaction affect the band’s creativity and view? Will you carry on as a duo, or are you looking to recruit more members in the future?
There has always been a sense of flux within Kontakte, but again this has always been a very positive and enriching thing. It’s allowed Kontakte as the ‘entity’ to continue to breathe new air and constantly feel fresh. Admittedly, the heartbeat of Kontakte has always been the electronics and how they pulsate through the ‘noise’, but at every step of the way, the members of Kontakte have been integral and all have in some fashion made the band and our back catalogue what it is as a collection of music.
Upon finishing the last album we were a four-piece, when our good friend and to some extent still ‘associate’ member Ben, left the UK for a new and probably much nicer life in Canada. We like to think he was following the post-rock dream and only moved out there to worship Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Tim Hecker at an even closer distance, but the truth was more likely to be much more to do with his then future wife! So we toured the ‘Negative Spaces’ album as a three-piece and had some great times. In the autumn of 2011 we had booked a tour of Germany when quite unexpectedly our second guitarist started to fall quite ill. It got to the point where he was needing to take some strong medication which was knocking him sideways quite literally, and unfortunately he just could not physically or mentally commit to the band at that present time.
So with a lot of shows having been booked and a fair amount riding on them happening, Stuart and myself were left standing stunned in the rehearsal studio basically scratching our heads wondering how the hell we were going to pull it off, but not for one minute thinking we were ever going to pull out of our commitments.
We rearranged a few things, altered a few tracks, included some new synths and loop pedals and realized quite quickly that we could make it work and that what we had now was something that felt incredibly raw, direct and to the point, but still felt like Kontakte through and through. In fact there were a few of those epiphany moments where, as musicians, you realize that something is sounding so intensely good that you get those chills down the spine and the beaming smiles across the studio when you realize, “that’s it,we’ve got it!”, and that something new is being created from what could have been a much different and pretty tough situation.
The tour turned out to be an incredible experience in many ways and really glued together what was to become the future of Kontakte at that point.
It’s worth adding that the guy who fell ill did thankfully recover but decided that he’d had enough rock ‘n roll for his tender years. Too many long nights trying to stay awake in a Transit van had put him off more than likely!
There are aspects of now working as a duo that did make the process of writing and recording the new album somewhat easier. Logistically it has been easier to organize things as obviously there’s just the two of us to get in the room and not four, which at times was tricky. On the other hand, the workload has been huge and we’ve both literally had more to do, more to write, more to think about and more to record. We wanted this record to be a true reflection of who we are now and the fact we are a duo doesn’t mean we have ‘halved’ the intensity or the output since the last record. We are exactly as we have always have been except as musicians we’ve certainly had to push ourselves further and reach out to new things and new ideas in order for this record, and our live show, to remain as full and as vital as we can possibly make it.
For the time being I don’t think either of us imagines the personnel of Kontakte changing in any way anytime soon, at least not until we have allowed “These Machines” its due time in the sun. We would never say never I’m sure, but at the moment there is too strong a bond personally and musically, that maybe trying to add something or someone else into the mix could well disrupt the balance we’ve created.
What are your plans after the album’s release? Any other projects or tours planned this year ?
Well, we are just really eager now to get this show on the road. To coincide with the release we launched the album at the Water Rats in London. For this particular show we wanted to showcase the new album in the best possible light, so we actually played it in its entirety. This is something we have never attempted live before but such is, truthfully, our belief in this record.
The show flowed unbelievably well, and it was just one of those nights where everything clicks together perfectly between yourselves, the crowd, the sound, the atmosphere.
Our previous albums didn’t necessarily lend themselves to being played in full in an actual live setting and that perhaps is the greatest difference in what we have achieved with “These Machines”. Transferring something you write in a rehearsal room or your bedroom and getting that to correlate and translate 100% to both the studio and live situations is something of a challenge but that perhaps is our biggest success as musicians to this point. There are many ebbs and flows with the recorded album and the challenge to make that work live has been demanding and timely. But it’s just another one of these challenges which we are constantly delivering ourselves in order to keep everything moving forward. It’s the need to keep pushing ourselves and our music to enable us to reach new levels.
Beyond this we shall just be concentrating on promoting the album and playing as many shows as possible (promoters—get in touch!).
Hopefully we can get back to Europe next year and just have some fun playing the album live and above all, most importantly, do the album proud.