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In Conversation: Kessler

What a year it was for Kessler. The Rotterdam-via-Belfast artist released a flurry of EPs and remix singles spanning liquid drum & bass, emotional 2-step and screwface breaks on Born Sleepy, Spilt Milk Records and Yellow Island amongst others; fine tuning his signature ethereal, UK aesthetic in the process, and cementing himself as one of the most exciting up-and-comers on the electronic music circuit.

It’s 6pm in Belfast and 7pm in Rotterdam when we sit down to chat ahead of the release of his Ambivalent EP on Bristol mainstay Shall Not Fade. Kessler season begins now.

How long have you been in Rotterdam now? With the pandemic halting life as we know it, have you had time to explore the city?

Just over a year now. I love it, it’s a cool city. There’s lots of creative people here and there’s always something happening, at least there was pre-lockdown. In those four weeks I went to so many great events in cool spaces. There’s a good buzz about the place.

I’ve been able to explore other parts of the city during lockdown, and other cities too; you’ve got The Hague here and Amsterdam as well. It’s been nice to dander about and check them out. It hasn’t been the worst lockdown in the world. I think if I was back home in Belfast, I might be a bit more depressed as I already knew everything that is to know about the city. Here, everything is new. It’s all fresh.

When did you start producing your own music? You studied music, didn’t you?

I first started playing guitar when I was about thirteen and caught the rave bug from going to Thompsons and Shine and started producing when I was about seventeen. At the start I was making a lot of house and disco edits and then I started the Kessler idea, where I wanted to make it a little bit darker and a bit more intense. I struggled a bit with what sound I wanted to make, I didn’t want it to be completely random. I’ve finally found a bit of cohesiveness in the last two or three years and I think I’ve found that signature sound.

I actually had a minor heart attack a few years back; I had this condition and was bedridden for two weeks. It’s when the sacs around your heart fill with fluid and you get really bad heart pain. That’s when I started making music on my shitty Windows laptop, making some crap house beats. That’s what kicked it off.

How do you approach creating music? Your sound can float between anything from breaks to techno and garage, but it all unites under this real UK feel. How has your approach changed over the years?

I’ve never really had one particular set of artists that have influenced me and my style, I’ve always been a collector of all different types of music, not just electronic. I would probably listen to jazz, r&b and hip hop a lot more -always wondered where the breaks and ethereal vibe comes from myself!

I think it’s mainly just down to copping a lot of music and subconsciously being influenced by a lot of DJs I’ve listened to when heading over to festivals like Dekmantel and Warehouse Project and local club nights like Twitch. It’s just a big melting pot of influences. I remember at the start I was making a lot of 4×4, but now when I try I just get bored. I’m definitely more into the off-beat, alternative rhythms.

What are your earliest memories of rave in Belfast?

My foot in the door would have been at Thompsons and their Misfit nights. Then, as tastes change, I started going to Twitch and obviously Shine was a huge influence as well. The first time I went to Thompsons I was fourteen or fifteen, so that would have been the very first.

Twitch always had crazy acts. Ben UFO, Joy Orbison. Those were the nights were I was like wow, this is what DJing is about. I got into throwing parties firstly through my Footwork night and then with Vertigo, Lingala Sound and Dsqo, becoming more interested in nights that were less numbers focused and more focused on booking people that we were feeling in the process.

Do you think you’ll go back to throwing parties again?

I was actually planning on starting an event series here in Rotterdam before the pandemic hit; I had the artwork done, the pages set up and date booked for sometime in May.

About a year before I left Belfast I stopped doing parties, so I definitely came over here with the attention of starting again. It’s a good way to establish yourself in scene that you’re not too familiar with. As soon as things open again I’ll definitely look into that again, and potentially a label as well. That’s always been something that’s been on the back burner for me, but I think for now I just want to focus on producing for a bit.

If you could pick two Belfast producers/DJs and 2 Rotterdam producers/DJs to keep an eye on who would they be?

I remember when I first arrived in Rotterdam I went to this free party in the South. There was a DJ there that caught my attention called Gamma Intel. He was playing all this sick breakbeat electro stuff, a Drexciya vibe. I was coming up for IDs like every two tracks, I felt like I was sixteen again. He’s been on my radar ever since. There’s also a DJ here called Nala Brown. She’s a sick selector. There’s so many cool DJs in Rotterdam.

From Belfast, Matheson has been doing his business. I’ve been loving what he’s been putting out. Nyla, too. One of his recent releases, I was like fuuuucking hell. I put it in one of my Rinse mixes. Up the Irish boys!

You have a release coming out on Shall Not Fade, when did you make the tracks and what can we expect to hear from that?

The majority of those tracks were made at the start of lockdown. They were meant to be a part of that album I mentioned earlier, but I decided to postpone the album until later this year. All the tracks on the release were originally made to flow into one another, so that’s why I wanted six on it.

The idea behind it is detailed in the title: Ambivalent, meaning mixed feelings. I’d be feeling shit one day, fine the next, stressed the day after that. The songs themselves are full of mixed emotions; whether that’s intense or chilled out. There’s a track on there called Vrieselaan, which is the name of the street I live on. I think that’s probably my favourite track on there, it was the first track I made in this house. It’s happy at the start and then becomes a bit ambiguous before there’s, like, this outburst of rage right at the end.

The rest of the release has a bit of a UK aesthetic. There’s one garage track and another that I would call a mix between drum & bass and ambient techno. It was meant to be two tracks, but I pieced it together to create this ten minute long sequence with a crazy ambient build up before it kicks off. That’s one that I can’t wait to play out.

Kessler’s Ambivalent EP will be released by Shall Not Fade on 22nd January. Cop it here.

21st January 2021