We catch up with the master of disaster himself, Matt Thomas aka King Unique.
Hi Matt, good to have you with us again. Mitch gave you a good grilling last year (click here to read) so we’ll mix it up a bit today if that’s cool. It’s no secret that King Unique in a can has been a huge hit with your fans, with the first batch selling out super quick. Is King Unique in a can the new way for labels to get a King Unique track on a budget? Does it write multiple tracks? Or does it run out after one? Has someone found a way to pirate them yet btw?
The can-sized KUs are under strict instructions not to perform any music without my consent. In the event that one should write original material all copyright therein remains vested in me. Label owners can hurry over to http://kingunique.bigcartel.com & spend the most rewarding money of their life.*
Will there be new clothing packs available? For example: will he have tennis wear? A power suit for important business presentations? Are there premium fashion brand versions for those looking for something more chic? What about a hot tub version?
Alternative clothing & accessories has been discussed at length & no, I don’t want to know what you intend on getting up to in a hot tub with an extremely small, one might even say ‘orifice-friendly’ scale play figure of myself.
In all seriousness 🙂 This really is a great piece of merchandise. What was the thought behind it?
The whole point of KUIAC (besides being cool as fuck) was to make a little joke about the way we’re all whoring ourselves out with clothing & bags & mouse mats, turning ourselves into little brands. So I thought well let’s do this properly then, go the whole hog: sell myself, in a can – the ultimate commodification. As it turned out Kath from Usagiz (who hand-makes each and every one of them) did such a stunning job with KU in a can that the joke is completely lost beneath the raw surging need to own one that over powers people who see it in person. Seriously – you can have my own personal King Unique in a can after you dig up my coffin & pull him out of my hands.
It’s safe to say you’re on fire in 2014: ‘Some Break The Shell EP’ going to number 1 earlier this year 🙂 Your 2014 rework of Yohkoh received our highest ever review score (click to see review), then let’s not forgetting the amazing remix you did for Kastis Torrau (click here to see review) too. What’s cultivated the change?
In a sentence – I let go. Somehow by 2011 ‘being King Unique’ just became a writhing knotted mass of rules & assumptions about things that I could & couldn’t do, liked or hated, enjoyed or didn’t. It finally began to almost prevent me from making music so I just stopped. And most importantly I let the stopping be unconditional; if the urge to make music hadn’t come back I was quite happy to move on and do something else. It relit after about 6 months of ignoring the industry, ignoring promos, ignoring everything that made this a ‘job’. I simply listened to podcasts without preconceptions, allowed myself to embrace music I’d previously fended off, & went out clubbing. It was a huge recharge of enthusiasm & passion for music.
Does setting yourself such high standards make you feel under pressure to only release innovative or ground breaking music? Do you feel there’s more expectation on you than other artists out there? Does the pressure piss you off sometimes? Or does it drive you?
It does all of the above but it’s not a negotiable thing for me. I began making music because it mattered – if music were as trivial as it’s becoming I wouldn’t have been drawn to it. I have to invest something into the process, either emotionally or by setting myself technical challenges. I’m always intrigued by producers who portray their working method as a keenly refined process that they’ve honed down over the years; I’m completely the opposite, I crave chaos & random chance when I make music. Wherever possible I avoid playing keyboards, I much prefer mangling audio & effects to create music so that I don’t even know what notes I’m working with and my ears can take charge. Often the first time I know what key a track is in is when it goes on Beatport – “Ah, D minor – who knew?” Producers are often urged to master a small selection of kit & up to a point that’s sound advice – I was taught sound engineering in a 24 track studio in pre-computer recording days & you had a small amount of rack outboard to work with. Then you had to get the best out of that set-up but now, after 20 years of doing this most days I’m pretty much able to use anything & get a result – so I do. Keeping myself interested & challenged is the part about doing this that is just for me.
Do you think you get the credit you deserve in this industry? For example, would you like to be on tour as often as Guy J? Could you handle the workload?
I’m not sure what the deserved amount of credit would look like really; I get flown round the world, fed & paid and put in front of people who’re excited to see me – that’s pretty good. I get messages from people who’ve been touched by my music – sometimes they don’t even want me to listen to their new track either – & that’s pretty good too.
I’ve got plenty of ‘medals’ to flash around – worked on releases by multi-platinum uber artists like The Killers, Jamiroquai, U2, put numerous records into the charts, even topped the US Billboard dance chart, scored 8 Essential New Tunes, & so on & on & on – so I’ve had all the recognition from the industry I needed. But at a personal level, where it actually counts – I’ve remixed Tracey Thorn & been remixed by Todd Terry, two people whose ‘Missing’ captivated me as an impoverished muso living on the dole in Liverpool in the 90s. The impossibility of that occurring would have stunned me if I’d known it would happen. I’ve walked around my local supermarket with a hangover & heard my tunes come on while I’m buying milk. I played alongside The Orb in Australia recently, the act that hooked me into this music. I’ve DJ’d at an eclipse. I know what it’s like to be introduced to a girl in a Tokyo record store & have her burst into tears with excitement.
Do I want Guy’s current workload? No, I don’t miss it. I’m 10 to 15 years older than many of the people I meet on the circuit, & I’ve done the 5 day studio/2 day gig, 5 day studio/2 day gig lifestyle with major label deadlines hanging over you that had to be hit, week after week. It’s a great buzz, it really is, but it’s hard on the people around you. Being that much into your music is like going into a relationship & saying “Hi – I love you, you’re amazing, but I also have this monkey. And I fucking LOVE this monkey. I mean you’re great, I adore you – but this monkey, wow! He & I HAVE to spend time together. We just do. Probably more than I’ll spend with you in all honesty. Oh and by the way my relationship with this monkey will be the stuff of legend & will draw other people in so that they feel part of the monkey & I. Anyway, I’m off to the airport – see you Monday!” Now you can take a chance on that person being the most amazing, generous, incredible, devoted person that ever lived but that’s exactly what you’re doing – taking a chance.
My former KU partner left the music industry partly because of the pressure it put on his family life; I stuck with it & some years later my own marriage ended, partly as a result of the same pressure. No one talks about this but there’s a lot of divorced djs out there, so I can’t sing along with the ‘More is better! Chase your musical dreams!’ myth. It’s kind of irresponsible unless we acknowledge that every minute of our passion that we spend on this weird, insubstantial wordless conversation with ourselves that we call music is a minute we aren’t giving to someone who matters.
We were chatting about the old school stuff making a reappearance a few months ago. Are you trying to predict trends when making music? What changes do you see afoot?
I’m not actively chasing what’s working for hipsters but I’m really fucking excited about the rebirth of the UK as a vibrant self-confident club scene. It’s so uplifting seeing what’s going on here now, all these dudes in their 20s putting on huge house nights in cities that couldn’t even host a monthly club through most of the latter half of the 2000s. They’re discovering & reinventing all this stuff and, in the best way possible, they couldn’t give a fuck about what’s gone before. They’re hearing their music on places like Rinse FM podcasts and talking up a fucking storm on twitter about what they’re going to wear at the gig on Saturday, how far they’re travelling to see Zinc, how fucking the rude the bass is on the new Danism track. It takes a really fucking vital pulsating club scene to come back to make you realize we’ve been living in the shadow of the last one for too long. There are glorious carefree fusions of genres all over the place, the reassertion of the word ‘HOUSE’ in progressive house not being the least of it, and if you care to switch off your preconceptions there is amazing melodic, powerful groovy as fuck music being made all over the place. Minimal glitch techno don KiNK remixing drum ‘n’ bass boss Zinc – fuck yes, let’s have more of that!
Can you name some of the producers you’re digging at the moment?
KiNK, Joost Kumtome (pretty sure this’ll turn out to be an alias as the music’s ridiculously accomplished for a new act), T. Williams, some of Wordlife’s cooler stuff is fantastic, I’m loving Robert Babicz’s new direction, Shadow Child is the bomb & I’m looking forward to hearing Marc Marzenit’s album. Also big love for Tom Budden & his ALiVE label.
Which under the radar artists have the potential to become future stars?
Pedram Mershahi (Pedram, Park Hill) & Nima Tahmasebi (NT89) are both ridiculously prolific and talented & they both have albums coming this year on great labels.
We need to know what’s coming up on KU’s release agenda. Any plans for an album?
I’ve resisted making an artist album for 15 years so far – you can choose to see that either as a volcano of creativity creakingly overdue a massive eruption or as an indicator of the chances of me making one in the next 15 years. What I do have is a remix EP of ‘Some Break The Shell’ coming out on microCastle shortly, with new remixes of all four tracks. I’ve just recently remixed John Digweed & Nick Muir vs. Ian O’Donovan “Dawnbreaker”, & I’m a few hours away from finishing a remix for Grum that I think will be a big record – really happy with this one. Jamie Stevens & I spent a few days writing a track together last month that is really gorgeous – that needs mixing & signing. Other than that I have the remix queue to work through –Mick Park has just been on asking me to do something for Tilt’s album.
What’s happening tour wise?
Just got back from India & we’re already talking about returning there for Nov/Dec, hopefully tying in with a visit to Australia to cut down on the time I’m away. We’ve also had a variety of offers from Argentina recently, going to turn those into a coherent tour and book it in before the end of the year too. I have a couple of gigs imminently in the UK, Electric Edge in Coventry on the 23rd of August & Room2Move in London on the 24th so if you’re out & about over the bank holiday I’ll see you there.
Any chance of a Black AM remix?
Maybe – the rights defaulted to me a year or so back when Sony’s 10 year licence expired, and Natalie & I certainly enjoyed getting back together for ‘7 Hours’. Could be time to bring it out of retirement.
* NOTICE: King Unique in a can is static doll sized replica and does not make music. Visit http://kingunique.bigcartel.com for more details