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“That Bittersweet Quality”: Kowton & The Kelly Twins Discuss Genres, Idle Hands and Chocolate Biscuits
Posted by Oli Marlow on April 8, 2013

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This piece was originally intended for use on the fabric website to help promote the Idle Hands takeover of Room Three on Friday 12th April where both Kowton and The Kelly Twins (SR Mix #34) are performing. Naturally, owing to the familiar nature of the subjects, our interview ran over; tangentially as well as time wise, so we thought to archive the latter section of the interview here…

As a prefix, you should read the original article in full over on the fabric Blog.

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Joe Cowton, who makes music as Kowton, is one of those local Bristol bodies to release on the Idle Hands label whose uniquely skewed take on 4×4 music has seen him venture far afield purely on the strength of his music. Three releases deep in their partnership he’s since released music on labels like Signal Life, Keysound, Livity Sound and his own Pale Fire and collaborated with another local hero, Peverelist, for a release on Hessle Audio. But even more recently he worked alongside his colleagues at the Idle Hands shop, The Kelly Twins, for a track on Red Bull’s Soft Rockets project.

Sean and Dave Kelly are, as their DJ moniker suggests, identical twins, but they’ve risen to local prominence more off the back of their vivacious sets and impossibly deep record collections than any sort of lookalike gimmick. They’ve played all across the board for as long as I can remember, deftly expressing their passion for boogie and disco as much as blunted hip hop, electro or classic techno in clubs or on the radio. They’re just that type of a DJ partnership. Instinctive, they really can strike a mood with whatever selection of music they choose to bring for the occasion.

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Sonic Router: I remember when we first starting talking and I first saw you guys play out, you could play across the board at all these different sorts of things. Now, especially with Ben UFO, Oneman, Jackmaster, Hoya:Hoya and Jon K and the way that those guys play, it does just seem to be like open season… like people are all the more open to being led through all these different kinds of genres, moods and records when they go out…

Sean Kelly: Yeah I mean without getting too deep into it, I thought about that recently. I think it’s just the way people consume music that’s had a lot to do with it. If you go back years ago, people used to buy albums on CD or whatever and it used to be that you’d like to hear a cohesive whole of one type of thing. But now people are just getting snippets of music, snippets of certain things from YouTube or wherever, all across the genres so I think people are a little bit more in tune with that aesthetic where the music is all over the place. But it’s still quite difficult, I mean me and Dan went through a period where it was almost too much and we’d play a set and it was almost across every tempo you could imagine and across every genre…

Dan Kelly: It was like a challenge…

SK: Yeah but nothing was mixed, there was a lot of rewinds…

[All laugh]

SK: I dunno, I mean it was fun but over the last few years we’ve just tried to reign it in a little bit more and focus our sets based on the nights that we’re doing so if we’re doing a garage night we’d play some old ruff garage, some grime , some house… I wouldn’t necessarily turn up there and play disco and boogie, as much as I’d like to…

DK: It’s tempting, but we’ve never had the balls to do it just yet.

SK: But yeah, people are definitely more in tune with that eclectic approach. And again, I think you can play across the board but everything’s got to have that sort of vibe about it. You can’t just be disjointed for the sake of it.

DK: I think it’s got to come with a certain amount of honesty as well. We play across the board in that way just because we love all those sorts of records.

Kowton: But you can tell when someone’s just like “oh shit, I better start playing disco now” when it’s the in sound or whatever. I think with what you do, you can tell that you’ve got another hundred records or whatever of that sound that you could play, rather than that “oh yeah, I found it on Beatport” kind of thing…

DK: Recently we did a few radio shows on Passion here in Bristol where we tried to show off our record collection in that respect. We themed them so they were two hour shows, all vinyl. I did a particularly dystopian analogue electro one and we did a hard techno one and there’s a few more to come. It is pretty much an exercise in digging deep…

K: The electro one was absolutely brilliant.

SK: I think Dan said the words, “I’m going in” about 20 times during that show…

DK: “I’m going innnnnnnnnnnnnnn!” [laughs] Yeah I enjoyed that one.

SK: It’s even more funny considering that the average Passion listener is the 30-40, maybe older, Caribbean old ladies who normally love slow jams and dancehall and Dan’s just on there taking them on a Drexcian journey and blowing their minds…

DK: A drivetime dystopian special for all the taxi drivers out there…

[All laugh]

So what’s in store for Idle Hands as a label? I mean, obviously that’s more of a question for Chris, but with your guys involvement in that… I mean, Joe, have you got more stuff coming on Idle Hands?

K: Heh, I’ve been promising Chris a record for about two years now but I haven’t actually done it. Chris’ been doing the Outboxx album at the moment and there’s that Rhythmic Theory thing which is pretty peculiar…

SK: I was sat with Chris the other day actually and, obviously I can’t divulge whats coming, we sat down and listened to the next run of releases on Idle Hands and it’s just getting stronger and stronger. Chris has got a really good ear and even though it’s quite varied with what it does it’s definitely got a vibe…

K: Increasingly so almost. Rather than it being, it’s just a house label or whatever… I mean it never really has been, but you can hear all the jungle and the hardcore and all the rougher bits that Chris likes coming through. It’s always very dub orientated, like not in a “Praise Jah!” sort of way, but more in when you listen to it you can hear the air and the space and…

DK: All the tracks lend themselves to a real soundsystem. It’s that sort of thing where it’s supposed to played loud.

K: It feels like a real representation of where things are at from the shops kind of view too. Like now, the shop feels more stable, the label feels more stable and everything feels like the time to be considered and feel where it’s all going from here.

SK: It’s strange because on one side it feels like it is very considered and on the other it’s not. I know for Chris, having the record shop there and being so involved in that sort of business really does lend itself well to running a label. So many people, they do think it is as simple as finding some tunes that you think are good and putting them out. In an ideal world it would be that simple but there is a lot more to consider. If you’re pressing vinyl it’s about what are the vinyl crowd are gonna buy y’know?

K: And I think it’s the presentation of it all, the timing of things, everything that you realise working behind the counter. Like maybe don’t put a record out the week before Christmas or put a summery tune out in February. I mean it is all quite obvious but…

SK: …I’m always surprised by stuff though. Just as an example, we got the DJ Sottofett and Madteo thing, the Sex Tags bit, and it’s just this low slung bit with Madteo talking absolute filth over the top of it; but that record flew out!

K: I think in working on the counter you get a real insight into what people are feeling. Regardless of the internet hype of things and blah blah blah you actually see that when you get the new Kaseem Mosse record in, you’ll sell forty copies. It becomes that simple.

DK: Things like internet hype and that, you realise that it doesn’t actually count for all that much when you’re behind the counter. Even to the extent where you listen to things and you think, well, that’s pretty out there, like Sean was saying, that Sottofett thing, it’s not an obvious dancefloor banger and yet it’s interesting, people wanna own it and they’re willing to pay the money to have it on wax.

K: Absolutely. I think just chatting to people over counter you kinda get where people are coming from and you can maybe start to pick up on where things are headed a little bit. Things like the Om Unit side of drum & bass, there’s a real feeling that now that’s got a lot of momentum behind it but when you look online or look at the number of nights that are actually hosting or playing that stuff, there’s not really that much out there.
I think it’s an interesting point in running a label having actually worked in selling records…

SK: You can never really guess what people are gonna buy. You can always assume, I mean going back to the shop something’ll come in and you’ll be like “that is obviously gonna sell loads of records” and sometimes it just won’t. But I’ve seen Chris do it before, I mean there are those periods in the shop – like it’s a small independent business, no one’s becoming a millionaire off the back of it – and I’ve seen Chris do it on a slow week, just turn around and be like “Ok, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna sell these records to people.” People will come in and he’ll completely and totally engage them…

K: I think quite often you find yourself in the strange situation of being like, I know these records are good; like, objectively, these are good fucking records. And it’s it not a question of taste because obviously you can be like, “your taste is bad,” but when you’re trying to sell a record that is obviously great and they’re like “have you not got anything like this..?” and you’re just like, “Argh! How is this happening?”

SK: For me, with that record shop, I work there a few days a week. Me and my brother have pretty much full time jobs and I do really dry customer service shit on the telephone which is such a weird way to interact with people. When you’re in the shop it is very personal and you do get some weird characters and, as I’m sure you know yourself, some of the music heads aren’t the most social of people, they’re locked away in basements for a long time, but you do get to interact with people in a more personal way.

Obviously you guys are playing fabric again on April 12th. What do you think it’s gonna be like in there?

SK: Er… I think it’s gonna be really good [laughs]. It was a big experience for me and Dan last time. Obviously growing up we were always buying the fabric CDs and it’s truly an honour to play there.

DK: Yeah we had a really good experience last time. It was definitely interesting. I drank far too much and had to get the coach straight home afterwards so we had a pretty strange breakfast in a café with about 20 policeman in it when me and Sean had been pretty much drinking all night; sat there all uneasy eating a £1.50 fry up [laughs]. It was a shit breakfast to be fair but at the time I’d never been so grateful to get a frankfurter and medium rare bacon, it was so good.

SK: Nah it’s gonna be vibes. I think the lineup in that room is really good. What else…?

DK: Shall we talk about the label?

What’s that?

SK: Yeah, I mean obviously we can’t go into too much detail just yet but me and Dan have got a label in the pipeline that should hopefully be coming into action in the next couple of months. We haven’t got a definite sort of time on it but it’s really exciting stuff!

DK: We’ve been chatting to a few people, got a few plans…

K: You got some good names.

SK: Yeah there’s some good names behind the first couple of releases and it’s very much what me and Dan are about. We’re taking a step away from tired 90s house sample pack sort of sound, even though that’s really popular we wanna draw on what’s inspired us so like boogie, disco, good techno, Detroit, Italo… things like that. Just drawing influences and putting it in that modern context and doing it quite tastefully. Keeping things nostalgic but without being a rehash of something that’s already been done.

K: Like looking to the past rather than just ripping it all off?

DK: Yeah, a little appreciative nod to the past whilst remaining, hopefully, in the future.

K: That sums it up well doesn’t it!?

SK: Me and Dan pretty much live in the fucking future though. Honestly Dan rings me with the most out there concepts. We’ve got about a million pseudonyms…

DK: What’s your new one Sean? Little…?

SK: Little Bo Deep.

[All laugh]

SK: Oh there’s fucking loads. But for me and Dan, we’ve always connected to music on that sort of a level. Life can be hard sometimes and it’s a pure escapism for us. I love nothing more than coming home after work and putting on some next level music and just going astral travelling and going to a completely different place. I’ll never get bored of it really and I think it’s magical that music can do that for people.

DK: Yeah, only with some music though. Some music takes me to a horrible place.

SK: But as long as it takes you to a different place, I think that’s really cool.

DK: Generally I think at the moment things are very positive for us and for Joe, the Hessle release with Pev is massive and we’re really happy with the collaboration we’ve done. So, thankyou Joe.

K: It was good fun.

DK: Yeah I bought the biscuits round to say thank you… Just so you know Oli, this entire interview has been fuelled by Cadbury’s Bourneville biscuits. Strictly on a dark chocolate tip.

SK: We don’t bother with milk chocolate. It’s too weak.

DK: We’re classy men.

I agree with you though; it’s all about the bitterness.

DK: Yeah, it’s that bittersweet quality. That’s what we’d like to think that the Kelly Twins and Kowton are bringing to proceedings…

[All laugh]

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The Kelly Twins play a Detroit Techno Special tonight on Passion Radio in Bristol between 5-7pm. You can catch them and Kowton at fabric this Friday.