Having first made a name for themselves as a Kraftwerk covers band performing at conventions, Kinetik convincingly emerged from the shadows of their heroes and began their own creative rhythmic electronic journey, releasing their debut album, Refined, in 1997.
A smattering of memorable gig appearances (where their towering banks of live equipment often dwarfed the band on stage), a few distinctive singles, a remastered and extended reissue of Refined, and then, in 2002, the single Marconi taken from their then forthcoming second album. Modem Times finally appeared five years later, proving the wait was worth it (it won our coveted !DSO Recommended! award). The problem was the band were exhausted by the experience and had had enough of Kinetik.
Can they summon up the enthusiasm and energy to go on, or have their adventures in the digital ether come to a natural end? And do they really shop with John Foxx in the Bath Waitrose? Rob Dyer thought it long overdue to explore the Kinetik story with all three members: Colin Jordan, Shirleyann Davies and Andrew Slegt...
Q: What has the Kinetik journey been like so far?
CJ: A long roller coaster of a ride with many ups and downs! We've all had many fantastic experiences together and learnt so much over the last thirteen years. Kinetik has had a lasting impact upon our lives in ways that none of us could have foreseen when we started out.
SD: It's been great! We have done so much music we are happy with and met some great people along the way.
AS: Very interesting, challenging, frustrating when plans fall apart and rewarding when breaking new ground sonically and visually.
There's always one or two tracks that sound so like Kraftwerk that I feel the comparison is still valid. Do you mind that or do you really try not to sound like them?
CJ: Considering how the band started out - covering Kraftwerk songs at the UK conventions, the well-respected German band was always going to be a major influence on our work and it's inevitable that there will be similarities and comparisons will arise. Considering the status of Kraftwerk in the music industry, being compared to them can and should be taken as compliment! Other bands have taken that Kraftwerk influence to its ultimate extreme, reproducing the band's tone colours and song arrangements to a remarkably fine degree. Whist there's nothing inherently wrong with such an approach - many people enjoy listening to such bands, I've always felt that such a direction would be too limiting for Kinetik.
Of course, there's much common ground between Kraftwerk and Kinetik - both of us are aiming to produce a purely synthetic form of rhythmic music. I like to think of it being a distinct 'genre' of music, in much the same way that Rap or Heavy Metal can be considered musical genres. There's plenty of room for both of us, whilst leaving the bands free to maintain their own separate identities. I do like to hope that on the whole, we've managed to put our own distinctive signature on our own music whilst maintaining much that existing Kraftwerk fans can appreciate and enjoy.
AS: I'm not that bothered anymore by the comparisons. It's very flattering to be put in the same light as your musical heroes, but we certainly don't strive to be or sound like them. It's just a coincidence that a lot of the machines and methods that help us to make our sound are now similar to what other musicians use, so there are bound to be a few mirror images of the electronic soundscapes.
SD: I personally don't think about Kraftwerk much, so I am not likely to have that influence. I think it is a comparison we will always have to live with having been a Kraftwerk covers band at one time.
How hard was it to complete "Modem Times" and just why did it take so long?
CJ: If I'm honest, I'd have to say it has been the most frustrating musical project that I've ever been involved in. We started planning the album way back in 1997 - 1998. I remember saying in a radio interview that we were hoping for a 'pre-millennial' release. Well, in the end, we managed to do that, but it wasn't quite the exact millennium I had in mind when I made that comment! Seven years is far too long a time to produce an album. We used to joke amongst ourselves that however long it took us to complete, at least we'd have Modem Times out before Kraftwerk's next album. But when Kraftwerk released Tour de France Soundtracks in 2003, that joke turned a little sour!
But a lot has happened in our lives during the seven years the album took to produce, both good and bad, and we're not the same people now that we were back then. Each of our lives have changed drastically over that time. We all have different vocational and emotional commitments now that have to be considered. In some cases, this has meant that finding the time to devote to Kinetik activities has not been as easy as it once was.
Many people don't realise the large geographic distance that separates Shirleyann and I, and our colleague Andrew. When there's 200 miles between you, the logistics of working in the studio or rehearsing for live performance can sometimes be pretty difficult. Andrew in particular is a very busy person, so sometimes, the opportunities for his involvement can be few and far between. Another reason for the delay is that back in 2002 - 2003, I was becoming dissatisfied with the results given by our analogue mixing equipment. I wanted to incorporate a lot of new digital equipment into our studio, and that took time, and of course, lots of money and preparation.
I appreciate that the long delay in completing the album left many people frustrated (myself chiefly among them!), but I hope that the final results speak for themselves. Modem Times in 2007 was a much better and polished production than it would have been had it been released some years earlier.
AS: How long have you got .......? No, there were a number of factors that contributed both negative and positive to the duration and completion of Modem Times. But in the end, it has now seen the light of day and we are very proud of the result. So much so, that the album has become the new benchmark which we have set ourselves, for new Kinetik output in the future.
What inspires your songwriting?
CJ: Our experiences in life, our surroundings, and whatever else interests us. It can be technology, environmental issues or whatever.
SD: Lots of things can count as inspiration. It's probably not a good idea to think too closely about it, in case the inspiration leaves you! However, as far as I'm concerned, travelling (especially at speed) sometimes causes me to come up with some lyrics or a small section of music. Also, if I'm awake in the wee-small-hours I'll often think of some new music too.
AS: To quote an old Mars Bar ad: "Work, Rest and Play". It's as simple as that! Each project we do tends to start with a sketch, whether that sketch is a drawing or a sound, a rhythm, a journey, a conversation and even moving experiences.
You mention that environmental issues sometimes inspire you. Was that behind your participation at the Burning Issue gig? Can you explain why you felt it important to do that gig?
CJ: At the time, we were based in West Wales. Near our studio were three refineries and a power station. Our first studio album, 'Refined' was inspired by all this industrialisation right on our doorstep. But when Pembroke Power station proposed to burn the controversial fuel Orimulsion, there was a large public outcry. The fuel is notoriously filthy and can produce micro particles that can severely affect the health of any residents nearby. I actually experienced breathing difficulties first-hand when they tried a trial burning. We felt that we had to make our voice heard!
A good friend of mine, Max Fairbrother formed an Orimulsion Action Coalition to protest against the plans, and in order to help raise public awareness, I suggested an idea of putting on a live event with local bands taking part. Of course, I offered Kinetik's services for the gig. It just seemed so appropriate and fitted in well with the industrial themes we were exploring for the album. And of course, it was in aid of a cause we all supported.
The event took place in November 1995. It was actually our very first live performance and went remarkably well, despite all of the first-time nerves. I made a live recording, and this was subsequently issued as a limited edition live CD, sold to raise funds for the OAC. Andrew was drafted into Kinetik just for that gig, and enjoyed himself so much that he never left us!
AS: The involvement of Kinetik at this special performance was important, as the issues raised actually had some connection musically to the material being developed and played at the time of this event. It was also the live debut of Kinetik from the cocoon of its previous format (as Elektro Kinetik), playing original music as opposed to the tunes of other artists.
Which other artists do you admire?
CJ: I admire all artists who can use a synthesizer creatively. My own personal heroes are Jean Michel Jarre (BIG respect for recently performing Oxygene completely live - AT LAST, after waiting for 30 years!), Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Mike Oldfield, etc, etc.
SD: My tastes in music are very wide. I love Karl Bartos, Nash The Slash, classical baroque, Andreas Vollenweider, Thomas Dolby and I'm also getting into really raw Scottish/Irish music and also more ambient stuff like Brian Eno. I also admire Pete Fountain and Monty Sunshine (clarinettists) greatly.
AS: The list is too long these days, I find the more you get into your own music, the more you also discover other artists, electronic or classical, minimal or orchestral.
How do Kinetik songs come together - what's the process of bringing ideas to fruition?
CJ: It varies. Some ideas are meticulously worked out beforehand. Others arise through hours of experimentation in the studio. Andrew and I will often spend complete days just playing with the equipment. It's a chaotic, long-winded and perhaps unconventional way of working, but eventually, new sounds are created and those in turn suggest new ideas, structures or song experiments. As the hours pass, eventually the ideas are honed and refined until eventually, a new, polished piece of music is created.
SD: There are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes I will have the germ of an idea we can work on. Sometimes Andrew will come down to us with notes and ideas. Sometimes Colin will work on things on his own. Sometimes we'll all sit down with a cup of tea and slice of cake and work on something together!!!!
AS: The three of us come to the table with ideas and then its usually a combination of any two of us hammering out the ideas and sculpting them into a framework of sound.
Which is your favourite Kinetik track and why?
CJ: If I limit myself to the last album, then I'd say Sine Language. It has an inherent simplicity about it that works really well. If I think back a bit further, then I'd probably say In-Novation (originally done as a 'demo' using two Novation Supernova instruments, that I helped to develop) and Into the Ether, an instrumental piece issued on the 'Marconi' CD single that further developed some of the themes of 'Marconi'.
SD: It's probably going to sound immodest, but I still like to listen to the WX11 Wind Synth pieces like Over & Out and Haven's Lament which I composed myself. Of the more up-tempo stuff Tranz Mission and Marconi continue to please me. I can still listen to these and enjoy them.
AS: At the moment it has to be Dance Machine as the chords are rather excellent, and learning to play and operate the bass parts of the song for the Burning Issue concert was my initiation into the trio of Colin and Shirleyann and Andrew as Kinetik.
Would you be content as a studio only band or is performing live important to you?
CJ: Live performance has always been an immensely important facet of Kinetik - that may seem ironic, since we actually haven't performed live since 2003! But as a band, every live performance presents you with a unique opportunity. We've always made a point of performing absolutely live, with all our instruments being used on stage. This gives you a freedom to improvise and to adapt the structure of your songs in a way that would otherwise be impossible to achieve.
For me, that's where the fun is - when everything goes right, it's an experience that is impossible to compare to anything else, being able to communicate with your colleagues and react spontaneously. Every time we play live, we'll perform our songs a little bit differently to the last time. How do you improvise if you're just miming along to a backing tape or a computer?
AS: Both are equally important. The studio time can be both exciting and monotonous. Live is when you go out on stage and hope everything you have slaved over in the studio works and you get the chance to play your sounds to other ears. The most disappointing aspect of Kinetik live is that we don't seem to get the opportunities to play live. And we so much want to!
How much of a challenge is it to play live with all your equipment and is it worth it in the end?
CJ: It entirely depends upon how well the event is organised. We've actually taken a great deal of trouble over the years, reducing and modularising our stage equipment in order to minimise the risks of using so much gear live. You should have seen us in the early days, when we needed four hours to set up and used miles and miles of cables! However, streamlining our stage gear counts for nothing if you turn up at a venue and are not given the 'luxury' of a proper sound check or are expected to shift all of your connected gear over to a new part of the stage just before playing. That's just asking for technical troubles!
Sadly, it's now all too common for acts to just sing over a backing track on stage. Such bands do not require their instruments to work properly, or to even be plugged in. Usually any keyboards present are there just for show and unfortunately, many promoters now see that as the norm. Their chief concerns seem to be making money from the event, not providing satisfactory musical experiences for either the band or the audience. At the last event we did, we even had one of the other bands ask us if they could borrow one of our keyboards to pose with on stage! That says it all, really.
This situation really saddens and depresses me. It doesn't seem to bother some people, but personally, whenever I've seen bands 'perform' in such a way, I've always felt cheated and a little bit let down. I don't want Kinetik fans to feel like that. Because we perform live so rarely, whenever we do play live, I want to make it an extra special event for both the audience and ourselves. We're well overdue for a gig now. I'd love the chance for us to perform our new material in front of an audience, but of course, past experience has made us somewhat selective. Hopefully, sometime soon, we'll be able to put on a show where we've been given 20 minutes to set everything up properly. As long as we're allowed to do that, I know we can deliver the goods.
AS: Big challenge .... full stop! Bigger challenge when midi signals go the wrong way or not at all. The Kinetik live show has grown with all the equipment and headaches to recreate the studio sound live and loud. The result is always worth it but we have looked at other possibilities of less is more as the technology to do this comes onto the market.
Technical set-up aside, you go to great lengths live to create a visually interesting show. Who creates all the projections you use and who decides what they contain?
CJ: In the early days of the band, we very soon realised that the sight of just three musicians standing still behind their keyboards can appear very boring from an audience's point of view, especially if they happen to be concentrating very hard on what they are doing! Ever since I started playing electronic music in the early '80s, I've always wanted a strong graphical element to accompany and complement the music.
We use two types of visual elements for our live shows: Sometimes for a song, we'll just play some appropriate video footage. Wherever possible, we'll shoot and edit this ourselves. Sometimes, we'll request footage from somewhere else. For example, for the song 'Trans Continental', Andrew ended up writing off to various train companies all over the world.
For other songs, we'll use computer graphics. These are generated live with the computer exactly synchronised to our sequencers on stage. That way, if we speed up or slow down, the computer can keep up with us and the visuals will not go out of sync. I designed some special software to make this possible, and I'm also responsible for writing the programs that display the graphics for each song. It's a long laborious process preparing it all, but worth it, as I think it's very effective. Often, the others might have a few ideas for the visuals, but sometimes, they leave it up to me and are usually happy with what I produce.
The computer we use is a very obscure 8-bit machine dating from the early '90s called the SAM Coupe. For a while, I actually worked at the company that made them, so I have a good working knowledge of the machine. Compared to computers of today, its graphics are very primitive-looking, but that style actually suits our music very well.
When we play live, the graphics are operated just off-stage by our artistic colleague, David England. He's a great guy to have around and is also responsible for designing most of our Kinetik CD artwork. Really, he should be regarded as the fourth, unseen member of the band.
AS: Colin is the instigator of Kinetik visual accompaniment, but its like most things we do - all the ideas are put on the creative table and we put the jigsaw together between us. Some of the visuals are planned beforehand. Others can be the result of some incident that we can utilise.
There's a matter-of-factness about your lyrics. Are you always serious about them or is there an element of self-deprecation or humour?
CJ: Some people seem to think that we take ourselves a little too seriously. I can assure you that is not the case! If you'd ever seen us rehearse or record with Andrew, you'd know what I mean. There's actually a lot of humour present in our music. For example, the title track on the last album Modem Times is VERY tongue-in-cheek!
AS: We write what we feel and if it makes sense to us then it should communicate what we are trying to say, either on a serious or humorous matter.
Do any of you have other solo or other projects that you have or would like to pursue?
CJ: I found the whole experience of producing the last album so gruelling, that I actually haven't touched an instrument for a year and a half! At one stage, I was going to embark upon a solo music project inspired by a trip to Antarctica in 2005. This project is currently on hold, but it's certainly something I'd like to do sometime in the future. The whole Modem Times album left me so emotionally drained that for my next project I really wanted to try something drastically different.
So instead of music, I've been channelling my creative efforts towards a novel I'm writing. I'm currently about halfway through and it's been a very therapeutic process for me. I now find myself looking forwards to eventually rejoining my Kinetik colleagues on our next new project - whatever that might turn out to be.
SD: I am currently tentatively putting together some ideas for original clarinet and Yamaha WX11 Wind Synthesizer stuff. This will be backed totally electronically and I'm hoping it works out well. Hopefully I will be recording something by the end of the summer. I am also quite keen on learning the bagpipes - something I've wanted to do for a while!
AS: The three of us have all got interests outside of Kinetik and always will have. Kinetik is the sum of our combined talents. But we all have other goals to which we are drawn.
What is the current status of Kinetik? Has it met the end of its natural life or could it rise again another day?
CJ: We always intended to take a break at the end of the album. Nobody should read anything sinister into that. In the past, we've always found that at the end of a project, we tend to work better on the next one if we've had a chance to recharge our batteries in the meantime. For example, after we did the big EMMA concert in 1997, our equipment remained packed away for six months before we could bear to touch it again.
Currently, the plan is to leave off all Kinetik activities until the end of 2008. By then, we should all have completed our respective solo projects and can think about what lies ahead for the band as a whole.
We already have some tentative ideas for our next project, but I'm keen to avoid the lengthy delays that plagued the release of the last album. As I've said before, seven years is far too long to make an album. I don't want the next Kinetik CD appearing when I'm in my 50s!!!! It's something we definitely need to sort out before starting work together again. That may mean a change in working methods, or perhaps some changes to the band line-up. Who knows?
Of course, in the meantime, if we receive a tempting offer to participate in a live event somewhere, you might see Kinetik re-appear sooner than you think…
SD: Because it took so long to get Modem Times out, it seems to be a question we are asked quite often. We have done so much we are proud of with Kinetik there is no way we will let it die……… but it is also important that the three of us take a break once in a while to 'do our own thing'. One of the reasons that it is a good idea for us to occasionally have 'time out' from Kinetik is that it's important that we continue to function as musicians in our own right.
AS: The pause button on the Kinetik hard disk recorder has been engaged since the completion of Modem Times, but the answer machine is always on. It is definitely a case of watch this space - or should that read 'MySpace'?
Finally, I have one question specifically for Andrew: Is it true you and John Foxx both shop in Waitrose in Bath? Have you ever stopped to chat about the marvels of electronic music or the rising price of butter?
AS: Mr Foxx and I do have chance meetings at various locations in Bath. We usually exchange pleasantries, talk about John Foxx music, various concerts by himself or other electronic musicians and future plans. As yet, we have never had the time to compare shopping lists either for best value crusty loaf or virtual drum machines!
With many thanks to Colin, Shirleyann and Andrew - Kinetik.
Kinetik on DSO:
Music Reviews - Kinetik
Gig Reviews - Kinetik
Official Kinetik website: http://www.kinetik.fsnet.co.uk