Klose One interview: My understanding of music through DJing
Klose One spoke to Marko Kutlesa in depth about DJing, the pressure to produce, transitions in style and much more ahead of his summer gigs.
Last updated: 20th Jun 2017. Originally published: 25th May 2017
Ruairi Kennedy aka Klose One is simply one of the most exciting DJs the UK has produced in recent years. A Londoner born and bred, he has absorbed three decades of the city's sounds, including reggae, bashment, garage, grime, jungle, drum n' bass, dubstep, house and techno, and formed an amalgam that is distinctly British and just as distinctly his own.
Like Ben UFO and other UK talents he has fought to establish himself as a selector first and foremost, bereft of the propulsion expected efforts in music production usually grant such endeavours. A full summer of dates at some of the finest festivals on the circuit attest to him having succeeded.
He first came to regular attention through his early association with the Urban Nerds brand and stints on several of London's pirate radio stations. He has since held a residency on Rinse FM and been associated with Loefah's Swamp 81 crew. He has dabbled in music production, recently finding a niche within music making which comfortably enables his skills as a DJ to be put to good use; the One One One project, a live based collaboration with German producer Claus Fuss, debuted on vinyl and in the live arena in 2016.
Technically superb and ever innovative, Klose One's sets would be recognisable to fans of more linear house and techno, but underlying the familiar rhythms lie his influences. Stripped back techno can suddenly erupt with dubstep basslines or the rhythms may evolve seamlessly to incorporate breaks, African drums or soca, expertly programmed by a man who has spent years at the turntables honing his own sound.
Hi Ruairi! You OK? Where abouts are you in London?
Hi! I'm good, man. I live in Stoke Newington, so north east. It's very nice.
What areas of London do you most regularly find yourself playing in?
It kinda varies. The hotspots I suppose are Shoreditch, a few clubs round there and there are a few clubs in Peckham. Then there are big ones like Fabric which are always staples. But there's not really one particular part of London. I definitely play out of London more than I play in London.
Are those the same areas of London you're most likely to be found partying in or kicking back with your mates?
Yeah, pretty much. It all depends on what's going on. I know London quite well, I travel round quite a lot. I don't have a specific area that I go out in. There are a lot of good bars and restaurants where I live so I do spend a lot of time hanging out round there.
Are you a public transport kind of guy?
So no big bags of vinyl for you to cart round to gigs then?
Very rarely. On occasion I do a vinyl set but that'd be a special night and I'd bring out the double wheeler trolley. Most of the time it's USBs and laptops these days but I have a huge vinyl collection at home. I do love playing it.
Have you cut back on your vinyl buying habit since you found yourself playing more in an electronic mode?
I've found myself buying in a different way. I'm still buying quite a lot of records but I don't suppose you have the need to buy every new tune that comes out that you want to play. I tend to buy stuff that I have been playing for a while, that I know will stand the test of time and will hang around in my record box. Then, if I do a vinyl set I know they're there. Or I buy stuff that only comes out on vinyl. There's still quite a lot of that.
Are there any particular genres that you maintain and interest in and that you collect on vinyl that perhaps you don't get so much of a chance to play out at regular gigs?
Yeah, I collect dancehall, soca, reggae and bashment quite avidly and stuff like that. I have 1950s jukebox at home that's full of dancehall and bashment 7”s which I rarely take out. That's what I buy probably more than anything else these days for home listening.
Before you became known as a DJ, which DJs, clubs and scenes inspired you?
What, growing up?
Well, yeah, but perhaps more when you'd just started to DJ but before you became known?
Well, I've been DJing pretty much most of my life, since I was 12 or 13, so I've been trying since then and following the various scenes. I started with house and garage and went on to jungle and drum n' bass, then hip hop and dancehall for a while. I put my foot into everything for a bit and gone into various different scenes that were happening in London at the time. Much of the time the city's had a direct influence.
Like, the other day I was having a conversation about the influence of the record shops themselves, how the reason I started collecting dancehall and bashment was that the nearest record store to my house when I was growing up was Dub Vendor and that's all they sold. Then you'd go into town and buy your garage from Uptown and your drum n' bass from Black Market. Each shop had its own scene about it, so if you went into the shop you'd end up buying a piece of that scene.
Thinking about some of those genres – bashment, reggae, jungle, drum n' bass, garage – a lot of that music is not really built around the 4/4 rhythm. Have you perhaps surprised yourself by moving into the style you have now where that 4/4 rhythm is often quite prominent?
I suppose playing house and techno you can reference a lot of other genres while still staying with that. I find that quite interesting. I like my sets to still hold a UK sound, a London sound specifically, I play a lot of stuff with breaks in them, grime influences, but within the house and techno format. That's where it comes full circle for me, where I can reference other stuff I've played previously or been interested in, without being a multi genre DJ.
And is that something you're specifically aiming not to be, a multi genre DJ?
Well I was that for years and that's where I got my first big bits of exposure, when I was working a lot with Urban Nerds. That was very much multi genre, party kinda style. And I do love doing that stuff. But I think it excites me more to be part of a scene that is understood all around the world and which can relate to a lot more people. Within that you can really push your influences without jumping from genre to genre, making it work on the dancefloor a bit better.
It's something you have to find a balance with. I do love to do a party set once in a while, throw a bit of everything in there. But as far as the stuff I play on my radio show goes, and in my club sets, it's a lot less all over the place than it used to be.
If you could travel back in time and be at a night during a period in which you were too young to go clubbing, where would you go?
Probably the M25 rave era, the early hardcore stuff that I was watching as a child. I was influenced at the time by the music that made it into the more commercial side of things. That would be the kind of stuff I'd want to see because I was just that bit too young, a very exciting time for UK music, the beginning of rave culture.
And is it mainly the music you'd be interested in going back to check out or the atmosphere?
I think it's mainly the music. These days you can get loads of music from that era, I mean nothing's inaccessible these days with the internet. You can go back and research those genres you weren't around for first time round. But I think there was probably also something special about the excitement, the atmosphere, the fact that it was a new thing, the beginning of raving as we know it.
You spoke a moment ago about how your style has changed, how you've moved from multi genre into a sound that's really identifiable as you. Are there people in particular who have influenced that transition?
I suppose you could say people like Jackmaster, who have definitely gone down a similar path, having started off doing more multi genre, party DJing and have gone on to hone it into, as you say, an identifiable sound. Other people like Ben UFO, to a point.
There was a period when I was first starting to get gigs when Jackmaster, Ben UFO, Oneman and those guys were really fighting their way to be DJs and known just as DJs, just that side of it, not as producers, and not too attached to any single genre. I think as time's gone on they've all found a niche that represents where they've come from. If you're a good enough DJ you can take that to other places and create your own identifiable sound.
What's your preferred DJ set up, in terms of equipment?
These days just Pioneer CD decks. I jump between using Serato and USBs. I have a few extra bits, like I have a Remix 1000 controller, which adds some interesting effects.
Which functions or effects do you enjoy using most regularly?
I love the isolator on the Remix 1000 where you can affect the Eqs on both tracks at the same time, which I use a lot. I make a lot of little edits as well, to suit my sets, chops tunes up so they play the way I want them to play.
You're playing quite a few festivals this summer. If you could program your own night, without limitation, who would you choose to appear?
Ooh, difficult one. I suppose it depends on the vibe. Like I said, I really like the people who are known as DJs, so I'm a big fan of The Black Madonna these days, Jackmaster, Ben UFO, people who are known for being amazing selectors and technical DJs. I used to absolutely love people like Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money when I was younger, really technical hip hop DJs who I've seen play everything from reggae to house, all in as equally an impressive way.
But then I'm also a fan of watching one person play all night. Watching a real good DJ play from start to end is something you get to see a bit more at the moment, where they can take the crowd on a real journey, which you can't do in just a couple of hours. But for a while it was a real rarity. That's what I like doing myself, whenever I get the chance.
Who's good at doing that?
I saw The Black Madonna do it at the beginning of her XOYO residency and I thought that was very, very impressive. A lot of the XOYO residents have been good at promoting that side of things.
It's perhaps a little more common now for DJs to establish themselves without holding down simultaneous efforts in music production although it's still not the regular thing. Can you tell me a little about how you may have felt pressure to move into that area and how your thoughts about doing so may have changed over time?
Well it's the route that most people understand these days, a formula. I think it's much harder to build a following by just being a DJ, especially nowadays where you don't have the residency thing so much. Before, you'd have the club where you played and you would build your following from there. As word spread you'd travel out from there.
These days you need a presence everywhere simultaneously and the easiest and one of the only ways to achieve that is by putting music out. So, you're fighting a battle from the start if you haven't got anything to promote. You end up having to rely on mixes or radio shows to promote yourself and it's a lot harder to get someone to listen to two hours of you, rather than listen to a five minute song upon which they'll want to come and see you or book you as a DJ. Of course that doesn't relate at all to you being a good DJ. But that's what promoters want and that's what agents want. The whole industry is built around that formula where you release music and you gig off the back of it.
So, it's definitely been a struggle. But it's been worth it. I've always said that the amount of time I've put into DJing is the equivalent to the time that people put in sitting in a studio all day. But they are very different techniques and they are very different skills. Learning to be a good DJ, learning to read a crowd, doesn't naturally go hand in hand with being able to write a dancefloor hit and vice versa.
Over the last few years I have done a little bit of music production and worked with some interesting people who have inspired me to take some of those steps, in a way where I'm comfortable and where I feel I'm using my skills as a DJ to add to that environment. That has been a nice experience. I've got a project called One One One, which I do with a German producer called Claus Fuss, which is a kind of analog live jam situation.
That's where I think my understanding of music through DJing plays a very big part. The way we record is very much live and everything is constantly changing so it relates a lot more, I feel, to DJing, rather than sitting alone in a studio for years and years learning to be a producer. It's an interesting balance.
What immediate plans do you have for that project?
Well we put out a vinyl release last year which did really well and we've got another couple of releases due out this year. It's like a side alias. We did a live performance at Dimensions Festival last year and one at Corsica Studios as well. That was really exciting to do because that's the way the music is written, to be able to perform it live.
It makes more sense in that environment even than it does on record. So, for me, it's a nice compromise between performance and production. Every track is recorded as a live take so when you take it to the stage it seems to make perfect sense.
How do you spend your time in the periods you're not working in music?
Panicking about when I'm next going to be working! Ha! Even when I'm not gigging I do spend a lot of time at home, mixing, and record shopping, stuff like that. It's still my main hobby even when I'm not working. Barely a day goes past where I don't have a mix at home. If I'm not doing that stuff I'm hanging out with my dog, cooking, trying to keep on top of the housework. Normal stuff.
Aside from the One One One stuff, what else is on the immediate horizon for Klose One?
Just lots of festivals this summer. It's chockablock, which is really exciting. So, just keeping busy on the gigs front, travelling is always good, then getting these releases out and hopefully following those with some live stuff. But my festivals dates start this weekend so that's all that's really on my mind at the moment.