After dubstep

Pub date September 21, 2010

MUSIC Dom Maker and Kai Campos met a few years ago at university in South London, where they bonded over the emerging wobble of what would become the biggest underground music of the decade: dubstep. Campos introduced Maker to some tracks he was producing on his computer, and in a year’s time they both started making music together. These were the early years, before the duo became Mount Kimbie and would advance dubstep beyond its typically rigid hopscotch game between ferocious bass and synth rattle. Mount Kimbie got down on simple software, played around with some loops, sang a bit, and ventured out of their bedrooms to suck the life of countryside and alleyway sounds into hungry recording devices.

“I started using the computer because it was the only way I could record my music on my own,” Maker tells me during an e-mail correspondence. “I tried numerous times to start a band, but nothing came about. I thought I would try it myself, and I was surprised that some of the material came out sounding so electronic.”

That desire for a band’s musicality transferred over to Mount Kimbie’s unique approach to make songs that reside on the fence — surely now a sad, rotting wooden fence — separating dance hits and pastoral folk. The duo passed a demo of original beats around and caught the attention of Paul Rose, a.k.a. Scuba, head of the independent British label Hotflush Recordings, who signed them even though they don’t produce the sort of face-melting dubstep that incites one-hand-in-the-air frenzies. You can absorb Maker and Campos’ sounds while swinging in a deserted beachside playground. I’d say that it’s music for trains and spaceships, grottos or mountaintops. But hey, that’s just me.

Last year Mount Kimbie dropped the EPs Maybes and Sketch on Glass, both on Hotflush, two stunning odysseys into the future of digital sound. Maker’ and Campos’ efforts have culminated with this summer’s excellent full-length debut, Crooks and Lovers (also on Hotflush), an electronic soundscape prone to the sort of expansive emotional wandering that you typically hear only in dusty blues records.

“As we have progressed as Mount Kimbie, both of us have become more interested in looking at [different] ways of recording and creating sound than just through the use of software synths,” Maker says. “The album is very sample-based, along with a lot of our own field recordings and recorded guitar and vocals.” This amalgamation of live and digital sound taps into electricity of a listener’s nerve endings. Finally, some of the nebulous forms of technological feeling whirling with me — cultivated by years of video game playing and Internet surfing and everyday 21st century living — are affirmed, even vindicated. I’m one step closer to naming them.

There’s something urgent about Crooks and Lovers: It navigates a nebulous emotional tension so present in this age as we use gadgetry to bridge our loneliness and exuberance. “Tunnelvision” opens the record with a foreboding ambient noise. As if to spirit us away to the other side of that warp hole, the humming bass empties into a floral guitar riff marked by layers of scrambled vocals and softly burping electronics.

“[“Tunnelvison” is] made up almost entirely of material that we field recorded in a wind tunnel in the small village that I live in by the sea in Brighton,” Maker says. “It is interesting to work with sounds that have more feeling of place.” This sort of topography of emotion carries over throughout Crooks and Lovers. In “Before I Move Off,” a collage of bleeping keys washes over heavy percussion and a dreamy string melody. The songs continually build in a repetitive momentum toward release. Tension expands, contracts, and lets go, rotating in a feverish order.

Some songs linger within introspection. Round synthesized cords and off-kilter drum patterns enclose “Ruby” and “Carbonated” into an abyss that feels more like a great open sky than a frighteningly deep hole in Guatemalan soil. These cuts are matched by outward expressions of joy: “Mayor,” maybe the only banger on the record, lets the sub-bass erupt in helicopter jolts of energy over whirling keys that burst in gasps of smoke. But dubstep’s integral wobble is toned down here, a softer and less obnoxious gyration of energy that fits into the song’s methodical momentum. And always the fissured vocal cuts emerge from the shadows, coded and manipulated and barely recognizable, but striking — a reflection of our own inchoate inner gurgles of sound-patterns unable to organize themselves into the right words or shapes to let us express what we feel.

None of Mount Kimbie’s singles on Crooks and Lovers stand out with the same level of warmth and power as say “William” or “Serged” on their previous EPs. But the record is cohesive, meant to rise and fall in a full listening experience. It’s the sort of record that connects with common personal experiences, and then stretches them outward. After listening to it a few times — and it is a record that has immense replay value — I understand a bit more where Mount Kimbie is coming from and how they fit into today’s electronic music landscape.

If Burial is the fettered graveyard of the dubstep alter-verse, then Mount Kimbie is the haunted hillside where spectral ghosts, fleshed robots, and strange wisps of ephemeral life make their retreat during an indigo dusk that could just as easily be dawn. There’s something utterly enchanting there. Field recordings of everyday noise and mechanical grind weave slinky shapes around digital drum patterns that limp and leap and do windmills around sampled chirps and spherical bleeps. It’s a soundtrack for dissolution: the rigid lines between human and computer, sentience and thingness, city and nature, all melt away into the gushing blood that pumps through the sewer arteries beneath Mount Kimbie.

If my rampant speculations offend, then let me add that the loose framework of their resonant topography is very open to interpretation. “Mount Kimbie is a fictional creation that is just made up from two different names, both are part of the track name of a song by another band,” says Maker and Campos. “It is quite nice to be under a name that has no meaning and suggests nothing. We are not fans of being blatant with meanings.” And so the sun sets over the old town of dubstep. What’s next?


With Dntel, Asura, Mary Ann Hobbes and DJG

Sat/25, 9 p.m., $10

Mount Kimbie with Dntel, Asura, Mary Ann Hobbes, and DJG

Public Works

161 Erie, SF

(415) 932-0955