Krust is back.
The jungle and drum 'n' bass veteran from Bristol has just released his first album in 14 years, the sprawling 'The Edge Of Everything'. It's out on Crosstown Rebels and was picked up by label boss Damian Lazarus after he got word that Krust had a long player ready to go; the two reconnected after being industry acquaintances for years and now the end of 2020 has been gifted a cinematic journey that takes the listener right to the very heart of who Krust is right now, via references to philosophy, Black studies, afrofuturism and film scores.
And Krust's been on a personal journey that's a little longer than the length of 'The Edge Of Everything'. Having won a Mecury as part of Roni Size's Reprazent (Krust has credits on the album and played in the live band), helmed the pioneering Full Cycle records alongside Size and concocted scene classics like 'Warhead', as well as put out three albums between '99 and '06, Krust had well and truly become part of the UK's electronic music canon. An innovator able to play shows across the world and be hailed a hero in his South West hometown. But toward the late 00s he realised a lot of what Krust had become was artifice and he quit the game to rebuild himself emotionally and creatively.
He studied neurolinguistic programming, started a lifestyle coaching agency called Disruptive Patterns and a CBD oil company called Amma Life. Piecing himself back together, he began to dabble in music once again in the mid 10s and 'The Edge Of Everything' is a totem of everything he's been through and all he is yet to accomplish.
His In Session mix runs parallel to the album, a kind of bonus level, and it's a sleek, technical blend of d'n'b that burrows into the deep. Let it soundtrack the interview below, where Krust breaks down where he's been and what it all means...
What have you been up to for the last 14 years?
I had an awakening that was quite profound. I realised that I hadn't really paid attention to myself or what I was doing – I was on autopilot from 14 years old to 37 years old. Just music, music, music and I'd gone from being a tea boy to owning a label. It was a time to reflect on who's Kirk Thompson? What does he do? What does he think? That was time for me to wake up and remember who this guy was. I started studying, started reading and trying to figure it out and through that I learned about the mind, consciousness, creativity, marketing, business and spirituality and I just started talking to people. They'd come up and be like "hey you've changed" and I'd say "well I've been reading, I've been meditating, I've been drinking water" and I could just see there was a little spark in their eye and I'd talk to them more and they'd make a little change and it just kind of grew and eventually I created Disruptive Patterns which became a vehicle for coaching creative concepts for people in the entertainment world who might have had the same issues: they might have burnt out or become stuck. The common thread was the mind; how people think. I went to schools, universities, [had sessions] with individuals and that was great. It felt like DJing without the decks; I was standing in front of people and having fun but explaining these really deep concepts about the mind and personal development. But from my perspective as a guy who grew up on a council estate and despite the obvious lack of education and my own self doubt I was still able to come through that.
One of the things that was really prominent through Full Cycle was that I kept hearing "How did you become a DJ? How did you start a label?" and at the time it never really registered until I had a break and stopped and thought about it like, "fuck, how did I go that?" I didn't go to a music school, I don't know anything about business, I don't know anything about any of the things that were becoming commonplace in the world that we were making music and touring in. Music colleges were rife. Ableton, Logic and Reason were rife but when I started none of those things were there. It was trial and error, Cubase, a black and white monitor and a sampler. So I needed to answer that question and that process was really enlightening to me. I was inspired again. Like, “wow, maybe the music business isn't shit! Maybe those people aren't cunts, maybe it's me!” I started to ask what I liked about the business and making music and so I said to myself, "just do that!" I found my love for it again and one thing lead to another, I made a couple of records, people started to take notice, I spoke to Ronnie [Size] about doing Full Cycle again, which we did for two years, but it was a bit like going back with an old girlfriend. I had to do my own thing.
I was going to do a 12", then an EP and then it was like, if I've been away for this long, do I really think an EP is going to suffice? Well, no. So what would? You have to give your audience an experience that is equal to something that is going to be seismic. I was always trying to create an experience that would have an affect on the audience and who they are.
The album sounds like it was made for 2020. It's euphoric but also dystopian. It feels like a reflection to what's going on at the moment.
That's just how the world's always been. In modern times, because of technology, we can be connected and we can have this 24/7 [lifestyle] and there isn't any breathing space. When the internet arrived in the 90s, we realised that CNN could be 24 hours and you could watch it anywhere in the world. I admit, when I went on tour, the first thing I'd do whenever I got anywhere was put CNN on. I would just watch CNN like I'd watch MTV. But what I started to realise is that I was being indoctrinated. I remember one night I was sat at home, smoking weed, watching CNN at 7am, stressed! I'm like, “why is this happening?!”
Fast forward to today. What 'The Edge Of Everything' is really talking about is that there's no more breaks. There's no more casual spaces between the news and events. That's not to say that back then events weren't happening, it's how they were being reported that's different. Now it's every second there's an emergency. It's constant. How do you operate in that environment. What do you think that's doing to human psychology? We haven't worked out what the internet is really for. We haven't even mastered social media. And now, on top of that, we've got AI, machine learning, augmented reality, deep fake – you don't even know if you're talking to me right now, I could be a simulation!
For me, the reason why I began doing my talks and workshops was that I was complaining about the state of the music industry. I just said to myself, “you're part of the problem! Do something about it. You've got experience, you know how to make music, start sharing it. Start giving people some information so they can start making some informed choices.” So 'The Edge Of Everything' is a story about the abandonment of rules. If you listen to the project, it's completely unrecognisable as a standard dance music album. It doesn't have any of those normal cues, none of those normal arrangements, but yet it's still entertainment, it still holds your attention, you still don't know what's going to happen – you can listen to it 50 more times and still find more in there.
Where else do you have those type of experiences? In the cinema. I based the whole project on film, cinema, storytelling. How do you capture people's attention? What's the meaning of it? It's ambiguous because you have to fill it with your story. You have to put your experience into it, because it's not an easy listen. But it's like a great movie, you have to go and see it two or three times.
Going back to that breakthrough you had – was it a psychedelic or natural one?
It was a breakdown! [laughs] But I reframed it as a breakthrough. So let me explain: How I grew up, in a council estate, my dad left home when I was eight years old. And an eight year old doesn't have a concept of the real world, doesn't understand what's going on. Somehow I made it my fault that my dad left. What I've realised is that Krust is the vehicle that I used to hide who Kirk Thompson was and because I wasn't getting any love at home from my dad, I needed to go out into the world and prove that I was loveable, because I didn't feel loveable, I didn't feel worthy. And when I was doing that, Krust became this vehicle because what greater way to get love – sometimes three times a week – from complete strangers than to become a DJ? And thousands of people would be cheering for the rewind. Imagine what that's doing to my ego! It was amazing, it was beautiful for years and years. What was going on that I wasn't really aware of [was] that as soon as I came off the decks, boom, I'd be back [to that feeling of unworthiness]. What I was doing was not sustainable. So I created a coping mechanism for my own insecurities so this vehicle was beautiful, it worked, but one day I found myself standing in the corner of a Full Cycle party and I looked around and thought, “wow, is this it? We've done it all, we've been around the world, we've created this beautiful label, I'm supposed to be this great DJ and I haven't felt emptier in my life.” And that was a real shock: I'd followed everything I thought you were supposed to do to create success but I totally ignored myself. So that was it, the final split and it became really obvious that unless I stopped and figured out who I was, my future was not going to be good. It was very bleak at that time.
If you'd met me back then I was an upbeat guy but really deep down I was not happy at all. I was low, tired all the time and I couldn't wait to leave and get home and be by myself. But I didn't grow up like that, I was a lively person, I'd been around lively people, and so that was the shell and when it broke open I had this awakening, this realisation that I could not exist in that state. The new idea was just a sparkle of an idea that wasn't fully formed but I could see the potential in it, so I pursued that. I stopped looking at all the bright shiny things thinking they were of a benefit to me.
There are now a lot of conversations around mental health in the music industry and wellness has become a huge industry. But you arrived at that a lot earlier.
I didn't really have a choice to be honest. I've always been a bit more aware than most people. I've always been on the cutting-edge in a sense. It wasn't a career choice by any means. It was something that happened and after sitting down and really thinking about [my life] it was like, I've got two choices: either I'm going to be a 50-year-old unhappy DJ and that's going to be the limit of my life or I'm going to dig my heels in and solve this problem. I've inherited many good things from my dad and one of them is stubbornness. I dug my feet in and knew I was going to solve it – I didn't know how – but I knew I could do it. I knew I wasn't supposed to be here to just fall apart. That wasn't going to be the end of my life. I've had a few moments where my future has been crystal clear: watching Wild Style aged 14, crystal clear that I was going to do what those guys were doing; going into a recording studio in London when I was about 20, it was crystal clear that I was going to start making music; when we decided to do Full Cycle records, crystal clear. When I sat in my house and I had the thought about who I was going to become, it was obvious.
You’re a Black working class artist, what advice would you have for people from the same background who are looking to get into music or the creative industries?
Master your craft. If young people want to get into any creative endeavour, I would find someone you can apprentice under. Music colleges are great and they should supplement you being an apprentice, not the other way round. They teach you old information by proxy, they're not businesses so they're not on the cutting edge. If you worked as an apprentice for a business you're actually learning in real time. It's a totally different beast to theory. The reality of the world now is that business models are changing almost every day, you have to be super on it, understand platforms, be knowledgeable and be around people who are great at solving problems. That's the skillset: understand how to solve problems in real time and you get that by being in the environment. So study around people who are in the game that you are in, learn as much as you can from them, then if you want to pick up some books, go to college, by all means do it.
A quote from the album press release states “the making of the album is 80 per cent psychology, 20 per cent mechanics to strive for authentically unique and original music.” Can you explain that concept?
The 80/20 rule is something that’s used in business. [How it applies here is that] the majority of people I've worked with over the years are very proficient in what they do and so we would call that the 20 per cent mechanics (those people who know how to use Pro Tools or Logic or Ableton for example). But the mechanics is not the problem, the 80 per cent psychology is the problem. You could see someone who is very proficient, perhaps the 5th best in the world at what they do, and they just mimic number one. It looks like number one, it sounds like number one, but there's just something that’s not quite right. That's because it's a copy, it's not original. And the human mind can spot it. By the time people come to me, that's what we're working on. What's that 80 per cent that is missing? Why aren't you comfortable in yourself so that you can be recognised for who you are? We don't care that you're really good at sounding like someone else, the real story is who you really are, because when you figure that out, then you start to fly.
How the quote applies to me is that in my career it wasn't always smooth sailing. I had the tracks that nobody liked, the tracks that failed, and it wasn't until 'Warhead' when my career took off to another level. But even then, for eight months it cleared dancefloors. It was a really painful eight months! But as an artist, you either follow your path or you follow someone else's. And we were at the beginning of this new phenomenon called jungle and I had this idea but I knew it wasn't going to be popular, people weren’t going to like it, so there was the human dilemma. What do you? Do you appease everybody and try to be popular or do you listen to your instincts and do what's not popular. Do you go with the 80 per cent and get guaranteed bookings and success or do you go with the 20 per cent that is unpopular but who stick to their guns and eventually become recognised for creating art that is authentic and original. Everybody goes through it, because it's internal. It speaks to what a person's blueprint is and what they're willing to do to get significance in their lives.
What do we all want? We all want to be recognised for what we do. Some of us do the 10,000 hour route. You learn your craft, learn your trade and you become the person you want to become. It's not about chasing the money. The significant part of it is real because it makes you feel fulfilled. You were right, you had an idea and you executed it and it worked – people liked it, danced to it, paid for it. And that's way better than just copying somebody because you think it's going to make you popular.
The sample at the end of 'Seven Known Truths' which talks about how one culture can become dominant over another reminded me about a conversation we had on Mixmag.net recently about the the gentrification of jungle and how over the years it's got a lot whiter. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, I never understood why they changed the name from jungle to drum 'n' bass. I mean that's obviously made a certain group of people feel more comfortable. But it does nothing for the culture. The name was organic, it explained the vibrations and the deep psychological aspects of what the culture is about; it is not talking about a specific race of people, it is talking about the way that the mind works. And if you understand psychology and the deeper aspects of it and how creativity actually works, what you've actually done there, you've killed the culture by just changing the name, because just on a vibrational level, different people will be attracted to it because of the name.
The people that are attracted to it, because of the name, aren't vibrating on the same frequency as the creators that made it. So now you've changed the culture quite deliberately, because you were uncomfortable with what the word jungle, and its connotations were.
Now, we go deeper into that and what happens to all the people who found liberation in that, like myself. One of my best friends who came up with me is DJ Die. He's white. But he still felt the vibration frequency of the word jungle. He was an originator through that. For him, it didn't have the same connotations and the same meanings, it just was a vibration that he felt and that he tuned into as well. And so you've got a new generation who've been denied that because of someone's idea about what that meant, and how it made them feel, what it represented to them. The deeper aspects of it has always been the energetic level. You know, if you study language, you study epistemology, the history of language and the study of words, you understand how to use words cleverly. How to just change one word and how that dramatically changes the meaning. So it's very interesting, what's happening, and how people are reacting to it.
Another of the inspirations behind the album, was a “profound trip into ego death.” Can you elaborate on that?
To create great art you cannot be comfortable. For me, what would have been comfortable is to make 10 tracks that sounded like 'Soul Emotion', True Stories, 'A Future Unknown', that's comfortable, It's easy, I could do that. And what's going on in my mind is first of all, for me that's boring. For my audience, that's boring. So what can I do? What's going to satisfy my need as a creator and as a pioneer and as an artist? And the only answer that I could come up with is to make music that blows my mind. I don't care what anybody else thinks. And so what's the process of doing that? Well, you have to do lots of research, like what is it that you're going to talk about? There's a process of research around people and things and objects that are unusual or different, that spark conversation, that tells stories, that lead your audience off the beaten track, to discover something about themselves. I made a commitment that I wouldn't do anything that didn't have meaning . And so I didn't want to make music for the weekends, I didn't want to just be involved in projects that didn't really serve any purposes or didn't take people to that next level. The tradition I come from is around really sending the message out to the community about what's happening. I came through the whole Smith & Mighty Bristol camp and even though Bristol music's got this rep for being different and bubbly and party, there is a certain message in that, there's a message of cohesion, community, love and respect and it's woven into the fabric of the music, because that's woven into the fabric of the community. And so I felt great responsibility to follow in those same footsteps. And so that's why I felt comfortable doing the talking, because I'm not trying to change anyone's mind.
So the idea about what the album needs to be about is going to that next level. What is that next level? So that next level isn't found in the ordinary world. So where's the underworld? You have to start doing some different things, right? You've got to start meditating, you’ve got to start taking certain substances to start changing your response to the environment. I use sleep deprivation; I stay up for two or three days at a time. I was taking psilocybin, microdosing, and a few other things. I had to dissolve the thought that questions me saying, "Oh, do you want to press that button? Do you want to make that bass sound?" And that voice has to go into the background because that's the voice that tells me to play it safe. That's the voice to saying "just do what you did already, you know that works." And I'm like, no, where I need to go next in this project is somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere so radically different that when I'm listening to the music, I'm like, “who the fuck made that?”
I'm trying to move away from negative self talk and through that I was using a lot of the processes that I teach. We have this thing [via Disruptive Patterns] called Wednesday Workouts where we have a morning ritual, a conditioning cycle. And it's really about, what's the first thing you do when you wake up? What is your process? What are your rituals? What's your journaling about? And what's your diet? We really look at those processes to optimize one's experience on a day-to-day basis. And once you programme that in for long periods of time, you're creating new habits to support this new behavior. And I've been doing it for 10 years. But the more you do the work, you gradually want to do more, and you see more, you have bigger visions, you have more things that you want to achieve. You have to figure out a way to get over the [negative] self talk because the self talk wants to keep you safe. Your subconscious mind has many parameters. One of the parameters is to keep you safe, right? It's unconsciously doing that. The challenge with this primary directive is it gets confused when it thinks about the definition of safety. Clearly enough to the subconscious mind when it comes to breaking free of the herd mentality, making music that potentially is unpopular, the subconscious mind thinks you will be thrown out of the herd. Being thrown from the herd means that you cannot eat, you will die. But the subconscious mind doesn't get that it sees that as a total threat of its existence. And so what does it do? That's what the self talk is. "Don't go down that road, do not press that key, do not listen to that person telling you to be free, and use your intuition."
Tell us about your In Session mix.
I'm always trying to tell stories. So for me, I'm trying to listen to the pieces that really work well in a story that I'm trying to tell. And so I want people to go on a journey. So you know, either it starts with a car crash, and then there's recovery, and then euphoria at the end, or there's an event that creates intrigue and mystery. I'm trying to figure out what that is in, even in a mix. Even in six, seven minutes of a piece of music. It’s really about, how do I get a person to have an experience? How do I get you out of your ordinary world, into the underworld to reject some things around you and bring you back so that you can have this “A-ha!” moment? And so that's my philosophy. I want people to go on a journey of self discovery.