London-based producer David Kennedy pushed the boundaries of detailed dubstep under his Ramadanman moniker and defies all genre with his latest alias, Pearson Sound. A founder of the perpetually on-point label Hessle Audio, alongside Ben UFO and Pangaea, he has helped launch the careers of forward-thinking artists – amongst others, Untold and James Blake – as well as crafting his own startling dance floor music. Ahead of headlining in Sydney and performing at Let Them Eat Cake on New Years Day we catch up with the mysterious artist to talk about the changing shape of his music and importantly, who would win in a fight between him and his label mates.
Your music has been categorised as everything from dubstep to future garage and UK funky, but for our readers who don’t know can you describe the music you produce and tell us a little bit about how got started?
I think listening to genre classifications or the latest style of music name that is being used can be tricky, I’ve never really described my music as anything – I’ve left that to other people. I find it quite hard to describe what I make, but I guess, based around tempo some of it’s house, I’ve made straight edge-dubstep. Now though, I’m not sure – it takes influence from house, garage, and jungle. Basically a UK orientated sound. I’ve been making music for around ten years now and only in the last five years I’ve been releasing and Djing, basically where ever anyone wants me.
Here in Australia we were slightly late to the dubstep and grime scenes, but what were FWD and DMZ nights like in London and how did they influence your music?
I would say they are very formative on my productions. Because they were physical parties it was something you had to experience by being there. Some of the parties weren’t even announced until a few days before hand and there was always this incredible excitement when they were – both FWD and DMZ had a really high standard of sound and a really impressive bass frequencies in their sound systems – which was the integral part of dubstep music. So for a young producer to be at those clubs it really blew you away to hear sound so powerful and it made you realise that there were certain frequencies you could add to your music that when played on a really large system would sound amazing so it definitely influenced my production and introduced me to frequencies of music that you would never know existed if you were just listening to music at home.
What was your interaction with pirate radio like? So much electronic music is circulated through the internet, what was it like just discovering it through radio?
Radio was a very important part of the earlier dubstep scene and spreading it internationally. Rinse FM, one of the more foremost pirate stations had an online component that people could lock into from around the world. There was also the Bear Files, which doesn’t exist any more, but it would chronicle all of the sets played on pirate radio so you could download them, recorded by some very dedicated people and that would make it easier for people. But for me, I wasn’t living in London at the time, but I would try and download the archived shows and you could hear the freshest tracks and music that hadn’t even been released yet and it would get really exciting – trying to track down what this new music was, and who had made it. It was definitely very important in the development of the scene.
Do you still find London an inspiring place to create music from?
I’m from London – I’ve lived here most of my life – and its such an exciting city to live in. Obviously, it’s downside is the stuff that makes you annoyed every day or whatever. But it’s my favourite place in the world. There’s so much going on, there are so many different types of people that live here, and it’s such a creative place, I think it’s impossible for to get inspired. I’ve got a pretty good set-up where I’m not too close to the centre but I’m not miles away either. I never want to escape to the countryside – I find London very exciting.
You said in an interview that ‘some of the best music is always open to personal interpretations’ –
I said that?
I think in the Red Bull Music Academy interview.
Oh, right – in the filmed interview?
Yeah, everyone looked very hungover.
(laughs) It was a really early start. And the participants have a particularly gruelling schedule for the two weeks they are there. You’re sort of shuttled to a lecture, to the academy, to going out to all hours and trying to write some music, and it all starts again. But for that morning, everyone was in a bit of a slump. Not me, though I think I’d had a good nights sleep, so me and Benji B decided to play some loud music to wake everyone up.
Everyone was kinda clutching coffee cups and then you’d play a track and see everyone perk up a little bit.
I think if you’re giving a lecture about music, people want to hear music rather than just talking for two hours. And you can never assume what people have heard or listened to. I mean you could be talking about the most famous dubstep tune in the world and maybe half of the people you’re talking to may have never heard it.
I mean that quote stood out to me in the interview, how do you approach making your music with the listener’s personal response in mind?
I think I like music with ambiguity. What I said at Red Bull was that I like music that doesn’t show all of its cards. I mean, if you call a track ‘happy’ it already sets up what someone’s reaction is supposed to be like, so with my music I try and have a bit of ambiguity to it and some people interpret my more musical stuff as more melancholy and some find it euphoric and I think that’s captured in what I name my tracks or present them, they’re never done in one particular way.
I mean that’s interesting since your output is mostly EPs and singles – is that the reason you’ve never put out an album?
I’ve never really felt I’ve had something to say. I feel that the way albums are perceived and consumed you have to make sure it’s cohesive. I mean, I wouldn’t want to just put together ten tracks and call it an album, I feel like needs something more substantial than that. I’m not really sure if I will put out an album, but I don’t have any plans at the present.
Can you tell me a little about Hessel Audio, alongside Ben UFO and Pangaea, what work goes behind your label, and who does what?
We all share tasks, such as finding new music. We all get sent a lot of demos and so we’re all in the A&R side of things. Kev does all of the artwork and Ben does a lot of promotion and I do a lot of the admin sort of stuff, so it’s very much a three-man operation. I mean there isn’t a huge amount to do, we don’t have a office or anything, but when we gear up for a release it’s kind of all hands on deck to make sure it gets out.
Importantly though – who would win in a fight with you Ben UFO and Pangea and has it ever happened?
(laughs) We all get on really well actually and I don’t think we’ve ever come to blows. Sometimes things get a bit tough if you’re on the road a lot with a hectic schedule and you can bit a tired or grumpy. But I’m not sure who’d win, Ben’s a bit taller a skinnier, Kev looks like he could throw a good punch though. Maybe Kev would beat us all up.
While we’re on the fighting tip, who do you think won the 2008 Mary Anne Hobbs 3-way-battle between you, Blackdown and Geom and who do you think would win in a 2012 rematch?
A rematch (laughs) – I’d forgotten about that actually. There was this large and maybe slightly embarrassing thread on a dubstep forum where we were getting involved in some name-calling and I don’t think I was very serious about it, I never too it to heart at least, but in the soundclash I don’t think Mary Anne Hobbs ever even decided who won. But I haven’t seen those other guys for a while, so maybe a reunion battle would be in order. We all came with very different stuff, Blackdown mixed down vocals and Geom played all his own stuff and I did a bit of a mixture so it wasn’t really a prepared soundclash.
How do you balance working as a DJ, producer and managing a label?
There was a time it was pretty hard to get it all balanced. I was Djing so much that I was neglecting a lot of other duties because I was away so much, but I’ve calmed things down a lot and made things a lot more manageable. When you’re Djing you can burn yourself out quite quickly and when you’re your own boss there’s no one telling you to take some time off, so you have do it for yourself.
As a DJ you get to travel the world playing music, are you ever shocked by the audiences that turn up to your shows?
I think a lot of the time at gigs people don’t have any idea who you are – I mean, lots of people get brought by friends or regulars at the club. I think at any gig it would be really interesting to see who is there for the DJ and the people who are there for other reasons. But it can be really interesting to meet people after shows. Some people want to tell you their life story, or how you fit in to the wider musical picture, or people telling you your music has influenced what they make. One of the most random gigs I’ve ever played at was in Japan and we were playing at this sort of ski-lodge in the middle of no-where and there was this strange mixture of, well, actually there were loads of Aussies there, and Japanese locals and it was this bizarre mix of drunk Aussies and Japanese dudes. It can be strange to find out who shows up to your gig when you’re on the other side of the world.
You first toured Australian in 2010 when you were still going under the alias Ramadanman, what was the experience like?
I think it was at a time when music in the UK had changed quite quickly and over there the dubstep scene was just getting started and I don’t think what I was playing was what people had expected. There were a couple of occasions, more so in New Zealand I think, that people were expecting something different. Whereas with this tour, we’re aligned a bit more differently and I think there has been enough time since the music has shifted to what it is now. It should be interesting to find out, I still had a really good time last time, I played a few interesting places along the way. I got to do a bit of sightseeing in Australia too.
You’re playing Let Them Eat Cake and headlining in Sydney, what can we expect from your tour this time around?
I’d like to see what people are into now. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Australia it would be interesting to drop a few bigger tunes and see how many people know them as well as stretching people’s taste with a bit weirder stuff. I’m just going to bring loads of music and hopefully I get a longer set to be able to explore it. I don’t really plan my sets at all, I just bring a lot of music and see what I feel like playing at the time, which I think is more spontaneous that way.