Kamixlo wears his heart on his sleeve - Features - Mixmag

Kamixlo wears his heart on his sleeve

Kamixlo’s industrial reggaeton changed the course of UK dance music. Seb Wheeler hears how he’s poured his heart into debut album ‘Cicatriz’

  • Seb Wheeler
  • 29 January 2021

Kamixlo’s industrial reggaeton has pulsated through UK dance music since the release of breakout club banger ‘Paleta’ in 2015. Visceral catharsis at 96bpm, it combined the young artist’s love of heaviness and abrasion with the Latin soundtrack of his childhood growing up as the member of a first generation Chilean family in the heart of Brixton.

This blueprint sent shockwaves through the scene: DJs and producers rapidly adjusted the tempo of their sets and tracks, while ravers flocked to see Kamixlo detonate his hits at subterranean club nights and the parties thrown by his crew, Bala Club.

He quickly forged links with the Latin diaspora involved in experimental club music: Venus X, the godmother of the scene, was an early supporter, asking Kamixlo for one of his first edits to play at her legendary New York party GHE20G0TH1K. He fell in with Staycore, the Swedish crew co-founded by Dinamarca and guested on their debut radio show on Berlin Community Radio. And his work drew parallels with the music coming out of the NAAFI camp in Mexico, whose members began to include his tracks in their DJ mixes.

Read this next: Meet Bala Club, the young collective who refuse to play by the rules

In the UK, his piledriving strain of tresillo ushered in slower BPMs and a wider array of rhythms on dancefloors as he and peers like Felix Lee (the influential artist behind the cult Endless party where Kamixlo learned to DJ), Endgame (host of the long-running radio show Precious Metals which gave Kamixlo his first NTS slot) and Katie (well-ahead-of-her-time vocalist and producer fka Uli-K) forged a new outsider dance music movement which continues to produce visceral art and influence artists in adjacent scenes today.

Half a decade later and Kamixlo’s signature sound provides the foundation of his debut album ‘Cicatriz’, an explosive body of work that he’s poured his heart and soul into, the title of which is the Spanish for ‘scar’. The LP is dedicated to his late grandfather, a committed left wing activist who opposed Pinochet’s regime and taught Kamixlo how to play music, and channels the highs (meeting Aphex Twin, playing around the world, flexing with Ciroc) with the lows (fake friends, the pressure of being DIY and an alienating music industry) of his recent past. ‘Cicatriz’, he says, is also the place where the split personality of previous EPs ‘Demonico’ and ‘Angelico’ finally meet in a power surge of joy, pain and total release.

‘Cicatriz’ is an album-length evolution of the Kamixlo sound. How do you think your music has progressed since you released your EPs?

With the EPs, I'm super proud of them, but I felt restricted to just showing the bangers or whatever. It was quick satisfaction, which I love, but I feel like with the album it was cool because there was no limitation on how many tracks I could include so I got to really go wild and just make songs that were just a bit more absurd or a little bit more chaotic. I've really showed what I've been wanting to do and also how my sound has changed over the years and what I've learned. My sound's evolved quite a bit but I have a lot of the key things that were present in my old EPs.

The tracks on the album have the Kami sound but the songwriting has definitely progressed. What things were you trying out on the LP?

I've always done a thing where I've tried to fuck up my samples beyond recognition but this time I didn't want any actual vocals on there, I was just really trying to warp the vocal samples into more like a secondary instrument, something more atmospheric because I don't know if you've noticed, but my songs hardly have synths or melodies, it's always been more like beats and bass and stuff but with this I wanted to use the vocals more like a pad or a melody. I'm still on the same software that I've been using forever and the same laptop. The songwriting process was different but the techniques are quite the same.

Where do you get your samples from?

Most of the album uses literally a split second of [a 90s pop vocalist] and I stretch it out and warp it. If you pitch it down, [the voice] sounds like a demon and if you pitch it up [the voice] sounds crazy.

I like that you’re still making music on the same set-up. But you can tell there’s a more mature thought process behind the tracks and it’s out on PAN so it’s mastered really nicely.

Obviously releasing on PAN was sweet because they took care of a lot of stuff like that. We got most of the tracks stem mastered which I had never done before. They master each stem so it sounds fucking ginormous. One of the first songs I got back was 'Poison' which is more just like my older stuff, more like a club track. But that was the first track I heard and I was so gassed because it sounded so hench.

I'd run Bala Club for five years so it was kind of refreshing to not have to focus too much on where to get it mastered or talking to people for artwork and stuff like that. It was cool to be able to focus just on the music. I'm super proud of it.

Read this next: Kamixlo's pile-driving club music is making an Impact

Is there a reason why you distort the samples to the point where they're unrecognisable?

Copyright! [Laughs] It's just so fun. I get lost doing it; I spend most of my time doing that. I don't really use synths and stuff like that so I guess as far as I can [push] the sample is more fun. When I first got into producing, and this is kind of lame, but I would always want to have a sound that no one else had. I would go on Reason and use a synth but would be like, cool, but probably bare other people have used this synth. So I would always want a sound that no one had. If someone was to take a one second clip of a vocal and strip it out and warp it, what are the chances that someone else would have fucked up that sample in the exact same way as me and done it the exact same way? Also back then Reason didn't allow plugins and stuff but you could still mess around with vocals so I didn't have any cool plugins and shit like that so my thing was just to fuck up samples like crazy.

You’ve had a signature sound from the beginning. How did you create this heavy reggaeton?

I always listened to reggaeton because of my family; my cousins would always bang it out. But I was always noisy in music. Sonic Youth is my favorite band, shit like Nine Inch Nails or Aphex Twin or even grindcore and noise like The Locust, I was really obsessed with these bands. The first thing I started making was edits that were reggaeton vocals over beats they wouldn't normally go over. So that's how it started. When I started producing my original stuff I wasn't really consciously thinking of doing reggaeton sounds over industrial sounds, it was just that at that time we were DJing a lot, we started DJing at Endless parties and I just started to make what I wanted to hear at Endless. Kind of like noisy bangers that were danceable.

There's a lot of stuff that falls into that whole deconstructed realm that is played at clubs and stuff and it's cool but I feel like it's not very danceable. I'm not even a big dancer but it's not rhythmic so that's why I find it weird being grouped with the deconstructed stuff. I always just wanted to make stuff that was noisy as heck and chaotic but still fun and danceable. I like making distressing, noisy music, but I also want to make it fun.

What was your first introduction to reggaeton?

When I was a child my cousins would bang out Daddy Yankee and stuff like that. The first edit I made that got any recognition was 'RAKATA PARTY', Venus X from GHE20G0TH1K hit me up and wanted to drop it, and that song was something I'd hear as a kid. I just put it over some sped-up trap beat, I think it was a Meek Mill beat. Reggaeton has just stuck around, I'm not the biggest fan, I didn't ever think it would be part of my music as well but I guess it just naturally became part of music. Not so much anymore, though. There's a few songs on the new album with it but it's not as present in my music as it used to be.

Your sound has had a massive impact on underground club music, especially in the UK – do you pay much attention to the fact that everyone’s playing and making slower styles of music?

I totally notice that, it's quite sweet. I'm surprised our music even had an impact bigger than us and the fact that our music is listened to outside of my bedroom, in other houses and with other musicians also playing it. It's crazy to me. And the fact that it's not only heard out there, it's actually shifted the way certain people make their music. I find it pretty flattering and also at the same time, fucking crazy. I never thought my music would reach further than here.

People started playing slower types of music within the scene that Bala Club was involved in and then the influence has got broader where you've got techno DJs now making slow music. Have you thought about the fact that maybe this was one of the first times recently that a Latin influence had impacted on UK club music?

Before we started entering the clubs with our music, I didn't know shit about club music. I don't even know what it was like before we got in there. The way I started DJing was by going to Endless and I would learn on Virtual DJ on my laptop [while playing]. We would always just do metal bands and noise bands and shit like that and then over time I guess I got more into electronic music like Salem and Aphex Twin and I installed Reason on my computer and I started producing on that and even then I was kind of oblivious to electronic music. I don't know what it was like before, or if there had been a Latin influence on electronic music. If there was, I wasn't aware of it. I guess by being a current day DJ/producer, this is when I've learned most about the history of electronic music.

Your music has always been heavy. What are you going through when you’re making tracks?

For each track it's quite different. Some tracks are made out of the blue, some tracks I make when I'm happy and motivated and there are some tracks I just made when I'm feeling like shit, really. When I first started making music I would always try to capture [my emotions]. I'm not very vocal about emotions and feelings and experiences that have happened to me; I feel like although it's club music, what I make, there's some personal, emotional attachment. Some of the songs are eerie because I've tried to make them as painful as possible. For example on 'The Coldest Hello' there's a super high frequency sine that just goes on throughout the whole thing that makes it painful to listen to. That stuff is a sonic interpretation of what I'm feeling at that very moment. If it's a fun banger song, I probably made it when I was in a happy mood and that's the process, if it's a long droney song, a not so happy song, like 'Destruction' that's on the album, that's probably when I was feeling like shit. And also some songs are just made up completely out of the blue and don't have much deeper significance. My brain is kind of hard to pinpoint, emotion-wise and happiness-wise and depressed-wise. My brain is never in a stable place where I can make a whole project with one emotion or one thing in mind.

The album was made during a turbulent time in your life. Would you like to expand on that?

The album was made over the last three years and the last three years have been super shaky. I've gone through some experiences: like seeing people really close to me almost lose their lives and I lost my granddad who was the most important person in the world to me, he taught me how to play music, he encouraged my music. That was just as I finished the album last year. And also some friendships completely falling apart. I feel like the last three years of my life I was fucking cursed, something bad happened to me on a monthly basis. It's not like, "poor me, this is my emo record", everything just happens to have happened while I was recording this album and that's why I feel like I can't really separate the album from those experiences, you know? To me it's just like one big mess.

There's other traumatic experiences that I haven't really focused on in my life and I guess a lot of the album's themes and title reference that quite a bit. The thing I always keep trying to say is that those are just my personal experiences, the album itself doesn't need to be tied to that stuff. I hope when people hear the album, they make their own interpretation, their own memories. I hope people can make good, bad or whatever memories with the album. It's bigger than just my experience. It's music that I'm proud of.

Were you finding comfort in making the album?

There are some songs on there that were made during a trash, trash time. Maybe there was something comforting when I was making them, maybe it was a bit of a distraction. But the main thing was at the end when I finally finished it and I finally spoke to Bill and PAN like, "yeah we're gonna drop it," at the end I felt like, oh wow, damn maybe this fucking awful, chaotic last few years were building up to a moment like this where I'm like, sick! I'm about to do something that I've wanted to do since I was a kid. Music's been my life since I was a child. So if anything, now it is a bit more comforting. Not saying that all those situations were worth it; I still hate everything that happened but I guess the little compensation from God was that, hey, you get to drop your first ever album! I just emotionally and mentally have had things that I've had to deal with since I was young and if anything it's a reminder to take care of my mental health and a positive of releasing the album is that I can do things and I should stay positive and stick to working on music rather than losing myself in a pit of depression.

Read this next: Kamixlo bares all on 'Cicatriz'

I’m sorry to hear that your grandad has passed away because I know he was a massive influence on you. There’s that anecdote about how he played your music at a family gathering – it’s the sweetest story. Was he an activist? Can you tell me more about him?

In Chile when the arsehole dictator Pinochet overthrew President Allende, who was a socialist, my grandad was a heavy activist out there, he was a musician, and he did a lot for the community. When the dictatorship was happening, when the coup [against Allende] was happening, they were trying to fucking kill him, he was on Pinochet's hit list, him and a lot of other activists, to the point where a church in Chile actually had to sneak my mum out of the country and then they had to sneak my grandad out of the country and they came to the UK as refugees. Ever since then for the Chilean community in London he's always been an amazing person with the most amazing morals and on top of that also being an extremely talented musician. Me and my siblings and my cousins, he taught us all music and he was the most moving person, he always gave encouragement and stuff to chase the music stuff. He's like so sweet, literally just before he passed he said at his funeral to play my record. I laughed so much because it's not really appropriate for a funeral, and he was like "I don't care, play Kami's record!" On the physical version of the album it says "dedicated to Raul Valencia." I dedicated the album to him.

So one of your tracks was played at his funeral?

I didn't tell my parents because it's like, 'Paletta' at a funeral?! That's super inappropriate! But he's just sweet. I wasn't able to go to the funeral because I had been booked in Russia and in the last few days I was with him, he said "you can't miss Russia!" My granddad loves Russia because he's a lifelong communist, he was like "no, you can't miss it, you're going for me!" I missed his funeral and I don't know if they played the song in the end! But he is a sweetheart, he had everyone's back. I always hear stories of people's grandparents being racist and problematic but my granddad was so progressive. I'm blessed to have had him; losing him is the shittest thing that's ever happened in my life. But I feel like all of what I consider good traits of mine are because I was in a family with such a good person.

What have you learned about making music or working in the music industry since ‘Paleta’ and Bala Club blew up?

The main thing I've learned is to take care of your mental health. Especially when I was doing gigs, traveling and not being too much of a mess. I'm putting less importance into the reception of my stuff. I've always been like, "I don't give a fuck about what people think when I drop the album" and I don't give a fuck about streams. But the main thing I've learned is to not take the whole music industry too seriously. I think it does take itself quite seriously, but I'm just making music, I'm not entitled. I feel like I should be paid and respected for the work I put out there but I'm not too precious about my music or the way I'm perceived. Just chill, prioritise your health.

Did Bala Club end amicably?

Yeah we’re all homies. But that was when my mental health was at its worst. That's when I decided that I can't do Bala anymore because, love to everyone in Bala, but I was doing the majority of the admin work. Everyone had creative ideas that they were throwing in but booking venues, booking flights, talking to radio stations, talking to distribution, that was all me. I couldn't take it at that point.

Did you ever get management?

No it was literally all us. Even distribution, I had to seek that out, no one did it for us. It was an ordeal and that was a big part of what pissed me off about the music industry; we were making so much noise, like on radio and in clubs, everyone was playing our songs, our SoundCloud was super big, we were really prominent in the UK club scene but platforms wouldn't cover us or book us for their events. Management and distribution companies wouldn't pay us attention or bigger clubs would not take us seriously and it was a piss take. I saw new labels that were coming out and they would get distribution right away. They'd get radio shows, they'd get features, and I was like, this is bullshit.

Why do you think that was? Did people not get your sound or were prejudiced about who you were?

At the time, because we had built ourselves and didn't have any connections to anyone who was popping but we still had a following, I feel like no one could really claim us. No one could claim they had built [what we did]. No one could take credit for us so therefore no one really wanted to give us proper resources. We tried. We got good distribution but we could never afford physical pressings or even PR. But at the same time we're not music business people so we didn't know how you go about that. I guess we weren't very business minded. It was so frustrating. We're still really happy we did Bala though. It's like the proudest thing I've ever done.

Read this next: What's it like when Aphex Twin plays your music?

‘Paleta’ was officially released five years ago. How have you seen the evolution of your career since then?

There was the fun time where everything was popping and we had the radio show, the label and were throwing parties in London every other month. That was just the funnest time of my life. The thing is I haven't released music in so long so I haven't really put too much thought into where my career goes now or even focused on the stuff we do or have done. But that's another thing: analysing that too much is another thing where it's like, Oh, damn, what if this next project flops? What if I don't get booked? I try not to think about that too much.

Pre pandemic I was like, I'm going to drop the album and tour off this but the pandemic kind of fucked that up. So as of right now, I don't know where my career goes. I don't how the music industry goes. It's all up in the air. To be honest I just want to play shows again, I don't care where. I don't put too much thought into the future, I think it will be good, I'm super happy with the way the album stuff is going. I'm just happy to have new music out, people have been really sweet about it and it seems like people genuinely like it. And that's all that matters to me. All that's missing is playing shows.

How did you feel when Aphex Twin played your music?

That was pretty shocking. As a kid I used to listen to 'Come To Daddy' and 'Windowlicker'. We'd watch that on TV. Back then we were into nu-metal and stuff like that, I didn't like electronic stuff, but 'Come To Daddy' is like a metal song. As I got into producing his stuff was the main thing I heard, he was my introduction to electronic music and a big influence on me actually being like, cool, I can make electronic music that's not a basic formula, you know? I was pretty shocked. I don't know what time he played, I think it was at Primavera, but I got like three different texts from three different people who were at the festival like, "yo Aphex Twin is playing your tune." I think I was half asleep or something and then I saw videos and stuff. I was like, wow. That was fun to me, super jokes, super full circle. I actually met him, he was really nice.

'Cicatriz' is out now via PAN

Seb Wheeler is Mixmag's Head Of Digital. Follow him on Instagram

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