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Keepsakes Unveils 'Nepotism Vision' EP + Interview

Keepsakes Unveils 'Nepotism Vision' EP + Interview

Chris Cudby / Tuesday 30th November, 2021 12:42PM

Aotearoa's music community might be relatively small, but (as the UTR team were discussing amongst ourselves this morning) that's no excuse for Nepotism Vision. That's the suitably scathing title of the new four track release from Keepsakes aka Ōtautahi Christchurch-based producer James Barrett (co-founder of HAVEN), launched digitally and on vinyl 12" over the weekend via UK imprint South London Analogue Material (SLAM), along with a highly covetable t-shirt design. Originally set to tour nationwide in July before the Delta variant emerged locally, Keepsakes has a full suite of NZ summer festival appearances locked in as dancefloors begin to open up under the new traffic light system. He shared valuable insights into the new EP, creating music for international club contexts from his southern HQ, Canterbury's thriving community of similarly uncompromising electronic dance artists and more — experience Nepotism Vision and scroll downwards to read...

Chris Cudby: Hi James — you co-run your own imprint HAVEN but have released your new EP through South London Analogue Material (SLAM). What's your relationship with that imprint?

Keepsakes: Hey Chris, thanks for having me! Ansome and Ossian, who run South London Analogue Material, are two of my oldest friends in the European techno scene and were among some of the people I first connected with when taking my music outside the borders of Aotearoa. After doing a couple of digital-only releases on Sequel One and Green Fetish Records those guys hit me up around 2015 and we eventually pulled together my debut vinyl release in 2016 just before my first European tour. That particular EP is a bit of a collector’s item these days and fetches a vastly overinflated price for the vinyl version on Discogs.

They’ve always championed the harder, distorted side of techno which obviously suits my productions to a tee. But beyond that over the past five years we’ve all had a lot of fun touring together, with some crazy times at their label showcases, and have spent a lot of time hanging out while we were all based in Berlin. It just made a lot of sense to finally push through the follow-up record with those two after focusing my releases on HAVEN the past few years.

Is there a specific 'brief' you followed for Nepotism Vision?

There was no particular direction given to me from the label at all, but they do of course prefer things on the heavy and crunchy side so I knew that making something weighty and scary would be right up their street.

Conceptually-speaking I knew making something acerbically hard and distorted would suit the cynically-minded vision I had for the record though. It was all written right at the start of the pandemic in April 2020, which I think definitely comes across in the track titles as they are all a bit obsessed with decline and apocalyptic thinking.

I think a lot of the negative effects of Covid have been compounded by things like nepotism, corruption, and the myth of meritocracy — there’s no doubt that, if other countries had more competent people been at the helm, their body count would have been an awful lot lower. But even beyond the pandemic humans are showing a complete inability to think beyond their immediate circumstances and the people they surround themselves with, which is something that’s really accelerated due to the political climate and the ascendancy of social media over the past few years. If things keep heading in this direction, there’s no doubt things will get worse.

How's the recent transition to Ōtautahi Christchurch as a base of operations been for yourself and HAVEN? Do you plan to head back overseas once borders open up again?

It’s been great! The scene down here is generally very supportive, even across different genres and party crews which creates a lot of cross-pollination. It’s of course smaller than what’s going on in Europe, but despite that there’s a lot of cool parties and artists regardless — Ebb, Texture, Keanu Raves, Foxtrot, Mr. Meaty Boy, Percy The Kid, Junus Orca, and Azure are all people really worth checking out if you like to dance! Really across Aotearoa there’s been an explosion of new artists that have come to the fore in the few years I’ve been overseas. It’s great to see all these young artists finally get some more time in the light as most of the more established older generation of techno-adjacent DJs have been stale for a long time, overly protective of their space, and probably don’t even know the meaning of the word innovate.

Really the only thing holding back the scene in Aotearoa is the lack of venues. It’s a shame that in each of the major cities there’s only a few options if you want to hold a small-to-medium sized dance party, it takes some of the excitement out of things when you find yourself returning to the same place week-in, week-out. In Ōtautahi having Flux and Hide has been a god-send though, the scene would not be as strong without them. But I do miss having a dirty basement to party in — there were the Hazchem parties that ran for a few years that met that urge, but unfortunately they were shut down a few months ago.

Beyond the DJing and partying I’ve also been having fun collaborating with some local artists down here. I’ve been making a bit of music with Ebb, and we’re also launching our party series ‘RUIN’ fairly soon — the first one was supposed to be in October, but lockdown put an end to that. I’ve also recently been making music with my friend Henry of Dog Power and Leather Image fame — which has been extremely productive and creatively inspiring so far. The music there has actually been pretty next level so I really can’t wait to get that one out in the open!

What's it been like making music aimed at club contexts, when clubs have been only open intermittently for the past year and a half?

I think for me I haven’t found it that difficult because you’d rarely hear the kind of music I made in clubs and parties in Aotearoa before my stint in Europe, so I was used to making my brand of techno without the direct inspiration of the club context anyway. I’m also fairly introverted at times so I don’t really need the energy of other people to get excited about making music, it’s generally been about my own sense of satisfaction I draw from it. In a sense it actually made working on music easier, because the distraction and pressure of a busy touring schedule was taken away so I got to focus exclusively on making music. Having a clear mind and all that time definitely allowed me to get deeper into sound design and track ideas which I think has made me a better producer over the past year and a half.

It has also led me to begin a couple of new projects with all the spare time and attention. One is still pretty club-centric and will be launching in 2022, and the other is my project with my friend Henry I mentioned earlier — which is not really club music at all. I’ve also been making a bit of experimental and ambient music here and there — one track came out last year as a backing track for my friend August’s spoken-word project based on a book he wrote, Notes From A Pandemic. I’m not sure how much of this would’ve happened if I’d still been busy DJing most weekends!

Do you see the audience for your music as primarily a global one?

For sure! I don’t really believe in limiting your musical vision to one particular place, especially not in the internet age. Your surroundings are always going to influence what you do, but there’s so much more to gain in both a creative and material sense if you can think outside the borders of your nation. The thing is in Aotearoa there’s always going to be a ceiling that you’ll eventually hit, no matter how big the audience for your music is here. At that point you either start appearing in adverts for supermarkets or mobile phone companies, or you think about how to appeal elsewhere.

The audience for what I do is primarily a European one, so in a sense my music’s spiritual home is there. But really there is a sizeable audience for techno in most countries these days and since its inception there’s been a global impulse to the movement.

Festivals — I know it disappointed many that Catacombs didn't go ahead. You have an appearance lined up for Hawkes Bay's Nest Fest, what kind of live experience can summer festival-goers expect from your set? Do you have any other local live sets planned for the near future?

People can expect the usual mish-mash of cross-genre rippers that I usually play — I’ve always incorporated a lot of electro, breaks, ghetto-house, EBM and more in to my sets, even more so in recent years as the harder techno sound has gotten a tad uninspired. But techno always remains the base tying it all together.

I’ve got a reasonably busy calendar over the summer so there will be a lot of opportunities for people to see me play! Beyond Nest Fest I’ve got Twisted Frequency in Takaka on New Year’s Eve, and Welcome to Nowhere Festival near Whanganui on Waitangi weekend, plus a few more in the works that I can’t talk about quite yet. I also had another national tour coming up before the lockdown hit in August, so that will also be getting slowly rearranged over the coming months — including a few HAVEN and RUIN events up and down the country. With the border opening to Australia in January I should also be heading over there during the summer — we had plans to do this in September but they’ve of course had to be delayed.

Could you please talk about the qualities you consider to be important for a HAVEN release (and why)?

With HAVEN I primarily look for a combination of interesting and original sound design and ideas, and dance-floor effectiveness in the music I release. It’s all coloured by my personal taste of course, but you can’t deny when you get sent a huge banger that’s also doing something new.

The main thing people get wrong when they send me music to consider for the label is their ideas and sound design — yes, all those classic sounds from the '90s are fun and still get a crowd going, but what’s the point in it existing if all it does is tread ground we’ve seen before? People need to use the plethora of tools out there to expand the possibilities of musical expression, not wallow in comforting nostalgia.

If anyone out there wants a hot tip for what will definitely prick my ears right now — I’m super interested in the combination of classic UK grime and dubstep sounds with harder techno. It’s something we got a bit of with the Peder Mannerfelt EP we released last year and that Ebb does extremely well too, but generally it’s a super untapped vein of potential that I’d like to hear a lot more of!


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