Dom Maker and Kai Campos’ musical partnership has made them one of the UK’s definitive electronic acts, but recently it’s been rare for the pair to be sat in the same room together, let alone the recording studio where much of their acclaimed music was made. Surrounded by beaming lights, colourful cables, the quiet mumbles of a Formula One podcast through Kai’s headphones and walls covered with Polaroids, including one of Archy Marshall aka King Krule, the production studio in Tottenham looks exactly how you’d imagine it to.
If you don’t already recognise the names of Dom Maker and Kai Campos then you’ll surely know them by the collective title of Mount Kimbie. Notoriously seen as the pioneers of post-dubstep following a series of innovative releases that built upon the sub-bass-heavy genre circa 2010, since signing to Warp in 2012 the duo have continued to evolve, blending styles like hip hop, post-rock, techno and electronica into their heady blend of sounds.
Hailing from Brighton and Cornwall respectively, they met in the university accommodation of Southbank, London, where the pounding sounds of Corsica Studios on their doorstep inspired their experimental approach. “I remember me and Kai went to see a couple of artists and we realised that they actually played live,” Dom says. “This was a big thing to see that kind of music performed live. For me at least, there seemed to be more room to play around with in the genre,” Kai adds, noting: “I grew up without any kind of electronic music scene as I’m not from the city, so your interaction with electronic music is not based on going out. For me, it was actually magazines and radio that were my way in when I was really young, so the idea that it was intrinsically linked to clubbing was not a thing really. I think that's affected our music quite a lot.”
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Elusive and modest characters, they make the perfect pairing by holding their platform to be solely dedicated to music. Hiding in the shadows since they last released a studio album in 2017 with the odd surprise release here and there, such as 2019’s ‘WXAXRXP Session’ and last year’s limited white label ‘Black Stone / Blue Liquid’, fans were unsure if they’d ever return to the music world together in full. Dom has been producing for artists spanning Jay-Z to James Blake and Kai has been increasingly focused on DJing. Now 14 years since they formed their joint project, we are finally are due to meet Mount Kimbie’s fourth album, or third-and-a-halfth by their own designation: ‘MK 3.5: Die Cuts | City Planning’.
Neither Dom nor Kai like to reflect back on previous Mount Kimbie releases. Kai describes his work on their second album ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’ as “a bit wet”, clarifying this doesn’t apply to any of the contributions made by Archy Marshall aka King Krule.
While he describes himself as “hyper-critical”, there are exceptions: “‘Made To Stray’ just hits me every time, however. I just love it. I'll always be grateful for having that from that record.” Dom nods in agreement. The upcoming album sees them return to unfinished work and reshape it, delving into a catalogue of unused beats to be resurrected into the new sound of Kimbie.
For a few years now they’ve been separated with Dom residing in LA and Kai holding the fort in London. And just like the rest of the world, the COVID pandemic added an extra element of separation with no clear sign of touring returning, let alone making music in the same studio. For producers who work solo, the process of making albums in lockdown was spurred from the advantage of everything being put on pause. For Mount Kimbie, it was a problem, until the idea of making an album that was different to anything they’d done before came about. “We were talking about doing some sort of collection of music, whether it was an EP or like a mixtape, but then the idea of it being two distinctive things together came up,” explains Dom. ‘MK 3.5: Die Cuts | City Planning’ is the result of their distance. Dom and Kai have worked separately for the first time as Mount Kimbie on their own halves of the project. Each side is notably different: the sample-heavy side of Dom’s ‘Die Cuts’ juxtaposes the textual explorations of Kai’s ‘City Planning’, showcasing their individual artistry rather than working in harmony as we usually find them.
“We really didn't share much of it until it was pretty much done,” says Dom, with Kai continuing: “I didn't really wanna hear anyone else's opinion about it as I knew what I wanted to do, and then anytime somebody had an opinion about it, it kind of threw me off a little bit. I just wanted to really dig in.”
Reuniting in July 2021, Dom and Kai took a drive to Joshua Tree, California, to do some recording in a more traditional Mount Kimbie format. This “fun writing trip” became the perfect opportunity to finally get around to listening to each other's sides of ‘MK 3.5’. Kai describes the trip as a “full stop on the whole thing before going onto some new new stuff.” Dom adds: “I remember being like ‘shit, we should listen to the album’, because we hadn’t at that point as it was still in the mixing stage. It was great to listen to together. We were like, ‘good job, man’, ‘pleasure doing business’.”
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The album itself incorporates two completely different perspectives. For Kai’s half of the album ‘City Planning’, he came up with a concept that enabled him to get more creative by looking into making music which has a 3D aspect. It was made with the mindset of what elements are needed to create a city, with inspiration coming from real objects including the London tube map. The multiple ‘Zones’ and ‘Satellites’ portray this thought process. “I was trying to use one idea in lots of different ways, or even like a set of notes in lots of different ways,” he explains. “So all the numbered tracks with the same name, if you were to skip between each you can notice they're all using the same idea. All the ‘Satellite’ ones come from this one set of notes that I found from recordings years ago. I was just messing around with them and then thinking about satellite towns outside of cities that people live in and commute into the main hub.” Kai had originally planned to make it one long song. “The whole record is album length, but in my head, we were not really making an album in the same way. I saw it as an opportunity to explore other ways of making a record.”
Starting off with ‘Q’, the build-up provides a cinematic introduction to this new sound, which blends their unmistakable post-dubstep feel with contemporary club-focused sounds. Dom says this is one of his favourite tracks of Kai’s, explaining: “In that moment when we first listened to it, it really grabbed me. It feels like a new horizon or some shit. It’s sick.”
For Dom’s ‘Die Cuts’, the title is associated with the printing method in which shapes are cut into material so that they can be recycled into something new. This collaging process resembles his approach to sampling. “I sift through a lot of raw material, loads of long sound recordings, trying to find little moments,” he explains.
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As well as sampling, fresh vocals come from a huge variety of contributions on Dom’s side of the album, including James Blake, slowthai, Reggie, Danny Brown, Liv.e and Nomi. The final track, ‘a deities encore’ featuring Liv.e, is a gentle ballad. Simple, yet effective, this track has a looping guitar riff played by his brother, rattling house keys as a shaker and a recording of Dom’s own heartbeat. Another female voice that is dominant on his side is newcomer Nomi. It marks the very first time she has sung on a released track, after they met through rapper Reggie, who himself features on the track ‘end of the road’. Dom feels honoured to be involved in her debut, saying “this is a big moment for her and me, because I fucking love that song.”
Jumping into the conversation, Kai mentions ‘f1 racer’ as his favourite of Dom’s. Featuring Australian singer Kučka, the track nostalgically reminds them both of times touring with her. “She was so lovely to be on tour with and it’s lovely to hear those guys work together. I think she absolutely killed the vocals and the lyrics. It’s just so catchy,” says Kai.
After the success of Dom’s production on slowthai’s ‘feel away’ featuring James Blake, it comes as no surprise that the rapper would return the favour, featuring on two tracks, ‘in your eyes’ and ‘kissing’. “I'm very close to Ty and it means a lot to me that the song's done really well for him. It's the best feeling,” Dom says. ‘in your eyes’ also features a gritty verse from the legendary Danny Brown, with the beat showcasing a classic Mount Kimbie sound similar to their 2018 single ‘Turtle Neck Man’ with its upbeat yet enigmatic sound.
Fan-favourite, James Blake reunites with Mount Kimbie for some familiarity on ‘somehow she’s still here’. Blake’s holy voice feels like an operatic scene and is bound to give you goosebumps. Dom’s understanding of Blake’s vocals comes through six years of working together, includiung previous Kimbie tracks ‘We Go Home Together’ and ‘How We Got By’, as well as the many hours Dom has spent producing Blake’s last two albums, earning himself a GRAMMY nomination. “They're both two people [James Blake and slowthai] that I love working with and will continue to work with,” he says.
As we’ve touched on, Dom has also worked separately from Mount Kimbie, establishing himself in the rap world producing for the likes of Young Thug and A$AP Rocky. Some standout moments include creating music with Travis Scott for the rapper’s Cactus Jack Dior '22 fashion show, as well as his helping hand on Joey Bada$$’ soundtrack for the Oscar-winning short, Two Distant Strangers. More recently Dom produced Maxo Kream’s ‘Cripstian’ and now Pa Salieu, who features on ‘MK 3.5’ bonus track ‘locked in’.
“I love sampling which is something that is obviously massive in rap music, and a lot of that kind of music's being made in LA,” Dom continues: “One of the earliest Kimbie tracks was the song ‘Adriatic’ which ended up being sampled by one of the producers for Chance The Rapper, so there's always been a little bit of like a crossover between the two where that stuff to me comes very naturally. I feel like I can express myself a lot within that genre.” Dom thanks James Blake for opening these doors into the world of rap, saying: “I think James is massively important to that. I mean he's probably the only reason that it happened. He's always listened to my shit that I’ve been doing outside of Mount Kimbie. One time he was working with Vince Staples who suggested working together, and now I’m addicted to this.”
Many of these possibilities surprisingly happened in lockdown, and the inability to be face-to-face with a collaborator added its challenges, although Dom notes that the spare time it afforded was helpful in allowing him to space to “zone in on it and get the job done.”
Kai initially felt the pressure: “When it all got announced,” he says, referring to the start of the pandemic and lockdowns, “for everyone working on creative stuff it was like, ‘okay, no fucking excuses, you better make something really good now.’ I don't really want to do it if that’s in my head, but there's also the guilt of having so much free time.” Originally aiming to make a club-focus Kimbie record, he questioned the point of it all. “I just couldn’t get into that headspace as it just felt like this weird, unromantic way to make music by prepping for this time for clubs to reopen.” He continues: “It's just a fucking horrible way to think about making music. You really want to be doing it because that's what you want to do in that exact moment.” Dom elaborates: “Yeah, like feeding off the energy of it rather than the ghost of it.”
Clubs have become a natural environment for Kai. In 2018 he mixed their very-own addition to the legendary ‘DJ-Kicks’ series, featuring cuts from the likes of object blue, Aleksi Perälä and Actress, who collaborated with Kai on his first Mount Kimbie track made without Dom, ‘AZD SURF’. Since then he’s been DJing regularly, rarely playing Mount Kimbie tracks but sharing their style through the essence of other musicians' work. “You're making creative decisions all the time, so even within 10 minutes you have to achieve a really nice focus state that is so pleasant to work in,” he says. Working in a dynamic and improvised way seems to thrill Kai, but it is daunting representing Mount Kimbie on his own. “It’s really crucifying when it's shit as it's only you up there,” he says, and there was an adjustment period for fans to get used to his way of presenting Mount Kimbie behind the decks. “It was horrible. It was a period of just disappointing people which isn't fun. Having people come up and be like, ‘what the fuck? Are you gonna play any Mount Kimbie?’” Playing tracks that he would want to listen to if he was out clubbing, Kai continues to own his impulse and is now receiving a great response, recently launching fabric’s Autumn-Winter season with a night he curated featuring experimental and techno heavy-hitters such as Marcel Dettmann, Rødhåd and object blue.
As this double album is unlike anything they've ever made before, the conversation about performing live is tricky. Used to rehearsing with their band and working with them in the studio, this time, Dom and Kai haven’t even worked with each other. Kai discloses that “there’ll be some events and shows with this record, but we are not quite sure what they'll be like just yet. There's some plans for almost like exhibitions, where we’ll be doing our own thing with that opportunity and that space, and bringing other people in and performing in one way or another.”
Thinking back to their description of their second album and their efforts working separately, I nervously ask if they’ll ever perform their older tracks live again. “A hundred percent, we will definitely be on stage again, in the not-so-very-distant future,” says Kai, with Dom adding: “We’re also going out with newer shit soon, more Mount Kimbie facing stuff.”
Even when working apart, Mount Kimbie forever stay connected, and remain linked as one of electronic music's finest duos moving forward. “Kai’s been there the whole time,” says Dom. “It’s like having an extra family member,” adds Kai. “There’s an unspoken understanding.”
Mount Kimbie releases their double LP ‘MK 3.5: Die Cuts | City Planning’ on November 4 via Warp Records, pre-order it here
Becky Buckle is Mixmag's Video and Editorial Assistant, follow her on Twitter
Cover image: Kai Wears: Jacket- Stussy; T-shirt - Noah; Trousers - Nicholas Daley; Shoes- His Own / Dom Wears: Jacket - Snow Peak at Mr. Porter; Jeans- Levi’s; Trainers- His own