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Branching out: Kouslin's percussive, bass-heavy club music rips up the tempo rulebook

A vital new artist presents a mix full of twists and turns

  • Seb Wheeler
  • 20 August 2020

Kouslin and Logan scored one of the biggest tracks of 2019 in 'Bad', a hefty dose of UK funky hype. Earlier this year, the London producer swiftly followed up with a set of low-tempo instrumentals for Livity Sound that'll surely pop up in 2020's Best Of lists.

Although his discography is only a few releases deep, Kouslin is intent on ripping up the tempo rulebook and joins the ranks of club music DJs and producers who juggle BPMs in order to keep things interesting for themselves as well as the people dancing to their music.

His Impact mix twists and turns through contemporary club styles and will keep you guessing throughout. It's an excellent introduction to a vital new artist and label boss (check his Le Chatroom imprint).

Congrats on your release on Livity Sound – how did you get the hook up?

Thanks! Peverelist had already been playing a few of my tunes and some of the tracks we put out on Le Chatroom, and as I’m a massive fan of Livity Sound I’d always fire over anything new I had. He was really into ‘Sharper’ and was keen to see if I had anything else, so after sending a few new tracks he liked I just bit the bullet and asked if he wanted to put them out on Livity. When he said yes I think I was just smiling non-stop for about a week! After that I wrote the other 3 tracks quite quickly, Pev gave me a lot of creative freedom so it was a really smooth process all in all.

'2020 Vision' is on a grimey dancehall / slowmo techno tip. What led you to operating in this zone and why are you into it?

I’ve always been into soundsystem culture and the influence it’s had on UK club music. One of my favourite releases ever is Harmonic 313’s ‘Lion’ with the Fox and Riko Dan versions [and] a few releases in the last few years reminded me of that sound, like 'Kidney Version' by Mosca and 'Not Modular' by Mr Mitch. I’d been playing some other slower bits like the Tarraxo stuff coming out of Portugal and some of the mutant reggaeton and dancehall tracks that Low Jack makes, but I always felt there was a gap between them all. I kinda wanted to sit somewhere in between the two world’s of The Bug’s extreme noise and bass pressure, and DJ Python’s more hazy reggaeton. I grew up listening to Hessle Audio, Livity Sound and dubstep and jungle, and wanted to write an EP that was experimental but would still have that simple structure and bass weight that I’ve always enjoyed, just at a slower pace. It’s also really refreshing that more and more producers are starting to experiment with slower tempos. It’s exciting to see what directions they take, a few people are heading towards more of the slowmo techno sound, but then you also have people doing more dancehall or reggaeton leaning stuff. Sonically there seems to be a common thread that still ties them all together though.

Why are you "frustrated with UK club music's current fixation with tempo"?

Haha! It makes me sound like such a hater but it’s more an enthusiasm for people to branch out of their comfort zone. I think for the last few years the clubs have been dominated with stuff around 130bpm and every time someone has been booked that plays slower stuff they play the warm up slot or they end up having to play faster for the crowd. I just think people need to open up a bit more to dancing to slower BPMs, there’s a few parties I’ve been to where I remember the crowd going mental to Merca Bae and DJ Doraemon tracks and just thinking, "Why is this only 20 mins every time? Let’s just dance to this all night…" A lot of people have been moving on to faster tempos as well so I don’t think I’m the only one that’s felt restricted to playing the house/techno BPM range. I know there’s a lot of people making this slower stuff, it’s definitely not new and I’m certainly not the first but I think it deserves a bit more of a push in the clubs!

What's inspiring you in terms of style and production techniques?

I’m massively into half-time drum 'n' bass and really study how guys like Homemade Weapons play with drums to give that slow/fast feeling. I try and use it in my own productions with syncopated drums and adding a load of percussion in between the beats. TSVI, Wallwork and their label Nervous Horizon in general are a big inspiration too, they really have that global percussive sound with a darker, heavier UK edge on lock.

Production wise I’m really into Lurka and Piezo and their use of layering, texture and grittiness in tracks. I don’t have a load of external gear but I have a couple distortion and delay units and I just run most things through there and resample, cut up, process and resample again. I’ve also just started using this AI based plug in called XO a lot, it’s insane for organising your drum samples and starting beats really quickly.

Tell us about your work with Logan – how did you both get linked up?

I have to shout out Jack Dat for putting us together. I was looking for an MC to do some vocals for the instrumental of ‘Bad’ so I asked him if he knew anyone that would suit it and he told me about Logan and introduced us. Logan was looking to branch out from grime and do some more dubstep and UK funky tracks so he was really up for it. From there we went to the studio and Logan just smashed out the lyrics, I think we recorded it all in a few hours. I love his energy and work rate, he comes from an athletic background and treats music the same way, he puts in so much time and effort.

When Idris Elba’s team reached out about the 'Yardie' compilation I made a track and they liked it but it didn’t feel right to put a solo track on a compilation that was celebrating the influence of Jamaican, Carribean and soundsystem culture on the UK when it’s obviously not my background. I wanted to include someone who understands that history and Logan seemed like the obvious choice as we’d just worked together and he’s always been pushing that yardie flow in his own tracks.

'Bad' was one of the tracks of 2019 and 'Weh Mi Come From' landed on Idris Elba's 'YARDIE' comp. How you feeling about that?

That was really cool, it was great to meet Idris and go to the BBC and do all that but I think what pleased me the most was that both those tracks were getting played by a whole load of people from different scenes. I kept getting tagged in videos of festivals and each time it was like more “techno” DJs playing it. Call Super and Shanti Celeste played it which I thought was really unexpected but the crowd were loving it!

‘Bad’ did really really well but I felt a bit boxed in after that, I’d never intended to solely make UK funky and some people only knew me for that. I just want to make percussive, bass-heavy music, so I guess that’s why there was a bit of switch up musically on the Livity EP.

The music that your sound is rooted in was created by Black artists. What can white people who are involved in this music do to be better allies?

Highlight the roots of the music you’re playing, learn about the history of it and teach as many people as possible. White people have a history of co-opting genres and erasing Black and POC innovators. I’d say look around you, are your Black colleagues getting the same media coverage, the same pay, the same bookings and opportunities as you? Are you working with other Black artists, using your privilege to uplift others? If the answer is no then it’s your duty to do something about it. I think the most important lesson I’ve learnt overall is to listen and accept the experiences and criticism you may receive. Educate yourself, there is a massive amount of resources out there. And if you’re called out, accept you were wrong and change, don’t come up with excuses and defend your actions if you have caused offence. Take your L and move on.

Fighting for equality is not something you can just do every now and then, it’s a constant uphill battle and should always be at the forefront of your mind. Most of the systems we have in place need to be completely destroyed and rebuilt so make that happen by protesting, voting, listening and learning.

Tell us about Le Chatroom.

Le Chatroom is a label I started in 2016 mainly to push music that I liked and to get artists I thought deserved more recognition out there to physical shops around the world. I’ve never been a whizz on social media so putting the records together and getting them sold in brick and mortar shops in Germany, Japan and Australia was a good way for me to get the music heard by people out there. I’ve taken my time to release stuff as the label has been more about building a good team of people for each EP not about getting lots of music out, the next release is pretty much all my mates. It took a while to come together but it’s finally on the way and it’s a really great EP, I think it being a family affair makes it more important to me. Musically it’s very percussive, drawing influence both from UK techno and in some places kuduro and baile funk. We’re releasing our third and final VA in a few months which features Amor Satyr, DJ Tess, Soreab and Cando, after that we’re moving on to solo EPs but I can’t say too much about that just yet!

Tell us about your DJ sets – how do you make it easy to move between high and low tempos, for instance?

It depends really, sometimes I’ll start around 130 because that’s what the DJ before was playing, and from there make my way through UK funky, hard drum, Gqom, kuduro and 140 eventually ending up at 160 and higher where I can go back down into half-time d'n'b or bashment and 100bpm tracks. That’s the easiest way for me as I get to play a bit of everything I like.

Recently though I’ve been practising triplet mixing a la Objekt and that’s really helped me to move more freely between tempos. When you get the right tracks you can go from 100bpm to 130ish and then 130 to 170ish which is really liberating. DJ Tess, DJ Plead and Galtier have a lot of great tracks that work for that kind of thing.

Where did you get the tracks for your Impact mix and how did you go about putting it together?

I wanted to showcase in an hour my current taste in club music so it’s quite varied in tempo and genre but the common theme is percussion, rhythm and bass.

DJing and producing sometimes feel like separate parts of my brain, so I don’t always have my own music at the forefront of my mind when selecting tracks in the mix. I tend to draw more for tracks from artists who are inspiring me or music I’ve been recently enjoying.

In this mix there’s a few unreleased tracks from artists I really rate, I love to play new music and support other producers so I really appreciate when I get sent demos. I always try and play as many as possible in my sets and include a tracklist for all my mixes.

I’ve included some tarraxo, 100bpm, UK techno, 160, dancehall and drum 'n' bass that, in my head in some twisted way, all fit together. If you were to see me play out this is the kind of selection you’d hear.

Tracklist

1. Wallwork - Detonate
2. Nicolius x Lycox - Cossa!
3. Nazar - 10,000 africans (dembow edit)
4. Doctor Jeep - CPU Riddim (Unreleased)
5. Pluralist - Body (Unreleased)
6. TSVI - Noflute
7. Toma Kami - Gymnase Chaos
8. - DJ TESS - Ruff (Unreleased)
9. Silvestre - Paga o que deves (Forthcoming Meda Fury)
10. Otik - Ghost Mole
11. Piezo - Gran Macello a Ostia (Unreleased)
12. GALTIER - TAT (Unreleased)
13. Cando - Clutch (Unreleased)
14. Loefah - Twisup vip
15. DJ Plead - Force Field
16. Pev & Kowton - End Point (Sam Binga Remix)
17. DJ Madd - Cachit
18. Ward 21 - Groundz
19. Human Resources - Steady On
20. Debmaster Ft. MC Yallah - Kubali
21. Fixate - N20
22. SUDS - Sad And Done

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