Abbas Ali catches up with the eccentric East London DJ and producer for a quick chat about the childhood influences, Radio 1, and why new album Wild Romance is the best thing he’s ever done.
You’ve got quite an unusual mixture of influences with the rock and rave. What are the essential components of the definitive Kissy Sell Out sound?
I used to say that I made “glossy electro with Eddie Van Halen on guitar”, but now I think it’s different. Now I think it’s “electro speed garage with a bit of Vivaldi!” (laughs). I like that phrase because it’s a bit tongue in cheek. Even though everything (I do) means the world to me, I don’t really take everything terribly seriously, because I think, for God’s sake, there’s more important things than music, really.
What were your childhood influences?
I just like lots of little things from pop music. I’ve always been a bedroom guy who taught himself how to do, didn’t have any friends who were into the same kind of stuff, then one day got spotted. That’s why I encourage other artists to develop your own thing. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something. If you believe in it enough, and it’s good, then it will happen.
So my influences growing up were like, I liked grunge, then I got into the repetition in darker, more experimental soundscape stuff, like Swans. I love repetition, I love the fact that it makes you feel a certain way, it takes you on a certain journey. Times have changed now, but previously that was completely missing in dance music.
How has your life changed since the release of this new album Wild Romance and the last one, Youth (2009)?
The difference between this album and the last is that I’ve got a better sense of identity. I’ve become a man, I think. Part of that is that I’ve helped so many unsigned artists, helped them mix and master their records for them, and worked on the artwork for everything. What I realised is when I was touring, working with a lot of inexperienced DJs and stuff, at that point, I realised that previously I’ve always been a bit of a timid, sensitive chap. I realised that I had to stand up for myself a bit more, because other people depended on me. I couldn’t be that guy anymore, so I had to actually make sure they were happy, and they felt faith, if they needed any advice about what to do with the production, or with their DJing, they had someone to talk to. And having done that, I’m in this lovely situation where everyone’s become a family. It’s given me a much better sense of confidence, something I’ve not really had before.
Wild Romance is about that. It’s about me doing an album that just feels right. This is the album that I always should have done. But I’ve never been experienced enough.
What can fans expect from the new album?
One of the main things is that my audience actually like it. It’s made for them. It’s made for the dancefloor too. That’s a really important thing. Although 50% of the album is completely out there. It’s got classical instruments, and which I’ve played and produced and recorded myself. There’s half of that. The other half is just straight club bangers. They’ve got big basslines, they’ve got breakdowns, they sound massive in a nightclub. And that’s a wonderful feeling, because it feels like it’s not supposed to be hard to get it. I’m just doing something that’s quite pure. It just feels like it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never said that before, but I think it is. It might even be the best thing I ever do.
That’s why I’m so excited. It’s just right moment, right time I think. It’s called Wild Romance because it gives a sense of the journey that I hope people go on when they hear it. I wanted it to be a bit like falling in love, because I know my music’s always been different, it’s always been hard to classify, but it’s only now a few years down the line that I’m a bit more experienced, I understand where I fit in.
What’s your take on the whole vinyl debate?
Is that still happening? Are people still debating that one? As a record producer who’s had lots of records put out on vinyl, I like buying 80s records or acoustic record by John Martyn, or even new albums like Devendra Banheart, I love listening to things like that on vinyl because it gives them a certain vibe. Something gets lost in the translation which gives it something else, which is very hard to describe.
In terms of dance music, it’s completely obsolete. When you press a record onto vinyl, you have to do certain things, in the lower end of the key section, the sub bass gets lost, so you have to take all the sub bass out, because it gets naturally put back in by the grooves, but it means that it’s very wobbly, and it’s difficult to get right. And second, the top end has this really whispery, windy noise.
So I think for dance music, it’s completely obsolete, but I do have a place in my heart for records. I still do buy a lot of records in Oxfam and Ebay.
I still go in Oxfam in Dalston, shopping, and get the odd acoustic record. I got a copy of the now voyager remix of 'You Got The Love' by Candy Staton, which I used to love at school. I got it for 99p, haha!
You’re a DJ on Radio One. What’s your relationship like with other Radio One DJs?
I do a lot of interviews with radio stations, and they often ask me, “wow Radio One, how did you get into that?” I think it’s important to remember that I’m only on once a week at Midnight on a Thursday. Daytime Radio One plays absolutely no part in my life. Not for any particularly reason, but because it’s a completely different world.
You recently took part in Chris Moyles marathon 24 hour show for charity, where he came on your late night show, and it was video streamed live on the BBC site.
The thing about that Chris Moyles thing, I’d been pre warned that there was a good chance he was either going to not be involved in the record attempt anymore, or use the opportunity to go to bed for an hour. I literally was told that going in, so I even made two versions of the intro. So it was a completely extraordinary feeling when, especially in the first 15 minutes, I think you can see it, when there was a lot of bonding going on. My approach to him was “I know you don’t really know who I am, but I’ve done a lot of effort for you” and I just said to him, “as long as you don’t talk over the intro, you can talk over the whole show”. I think he was quite surprised at that, but that’s the way that my show works. A lot of effort, a lot of passion goes into the show, but I like it to be quite a fluid experience. I think he was as shocked as I was at all the celebrities turning up!