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Dave Jenkins

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We Need To Talk About Kung

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We Need To Talk About Kung

 

Slow and steady wins the race…

When Juan Diaz moved from Granada, Spain to London in 2012 in pursuit of a life entrenched in drum & bass he had big dreams and ambitions.

In many ways, he’s realised those dreams. Over the years the name Kung has appeared on labels such as Eatbrain and Critical and he remains a mainstay on RAM’s sister label Program. He even collaborated with Mefjus way back in the very early days. But even now, after almost 20 years neck-deep in D&B, he still feels he’s got so much to say and so many more things to achieve.

You can hear it in his music. Recent releases on massive VA compilations such as Feral on Flexout’s X album, and Somebody on Program’s Pieces collection rattle with a subversive, leftfield flavour that’s beginning to become a strong Kung signature.

It’s deep but grizzly, dreamy but curmudgeonly, polished but scuffed and bruised; there’s a barbed soul to his latest output which is partly down to him being a stoic scene soldier living miles away from home for so long, but also down to the recent time away from raves we’ve all experienced.

The best snapshot of where Kung is at, however, is his Aegis EP. Out now on Jon Tho and Vowel’s SRVLNC imprint, it harbours some of his best work to date. Slightly offkey and tense but harmonically soothing, it sounds in a world of its own. To put it another way, there’s a reason his music is regularly selected by Noisia for Vision Radio and the EP has been supported by the likes of Skankandbass and Inspected.

Marking the start of a whole new exciting chapter – arguably the chapter he always dreamt of as a hopeful 25 year old moving to the UK 10 years ago – Aegis is the sound of a marathon man hitting his stride and knowing he’s got plenty more energy for the rest of the race. Time to limber up…

You’re from Spain but based in London, right?

Yeah, I’ll have been here for 10 years this April.

D&B brought you here, didn’t it?

It did man. I’d been doing things for a while in Spain, but the scene wasn’t as strong. I had played every club and was as known as I can be. There wasn’t much competition and I wanted to come over and step up.

Totally. Breaks always had a massive following though over there, right?

Well the biggest parties were techno. I lived closed to one of the biggest clubs in my city and grew up checking people like Jeff Mills but then I got heavily into the breaks scene. The Costa Del Sol was huge for breaks because of the amount of British people there and it’s still huge now. D&B over there is a fraction compared to that. So I came to London, my girlfriend came with me too, and for the last 10 years I’ve worked at a Pret in the mornings then have the rest of the day to make music.

Okay so around 10 years ago was when you started to get releases, that’s probably not a coincidence.

That’s right!

Even collabs with Mefjus!

Yeah crazy, right? That was the beginning of me thinking ‘okay maybe this is me for life.’ That collab was before I moved to London, a year or two before. Then I came over here and I became good friends with Aeph who was making D&B at the time but makes film music now. We were both really into Lifted Music and connected over that and rented a studio we shared. Big shout to Aeph, by the way, I have a huge respect for him.

Wicked. So was that around the time of Devils Finger on Eatbrain?

Actually in the first six months of having a studio with Aeph I wrote that release. At that point everything was going extremely well, that release did well, and I was having lots of gigs. But then I developed a health problem with my nostrils and had really bad sinusitis. I couldn’t manage many flights in a row or it would blow my head off.

Oh man – heavy head pressure!

Yeah really really bad. So painful man. That was a very hard moment. It felt like my dreams were broken. I had to take some time away from music for a moment and I’d say, looking back, that was when my sound changed and I went a little deeper and not as hard.

Ah okay yeah you can hear that around your releases around 2015/2016…

Yeah. Before then I was heavily neurofunk because that was where the scene was at in Spain. I think it’s down to soundsystems. The parties were much smaller back home and we heard the music on shitty speakers. That influence my idea of frequency range. But when I moved here and experienced better systems that was big eye-opener for me.

This was around the time of Mayan Audio releases wasn’t it?

It was. A lot of people were surprised I’d moved from bigger labels to a smaller underground label but Mayan were amazing and very inspiring to work with. They gave me total freedom and encouraged me to sound how I wanted to sound. I’m very grateful for that.

Then came Jailbait on Critical Music…

Oh that’s a funny tune. I was in such a strange place. I had a friend who I invited to come over and stay with us, but it didn’t turn out like we expected it to. It got very toxic. And he was here sitting on a sofa bed just behind me where I’m sitting now and I was so angry with him just making that tune in my headphones. So Jailbait has a lot of weird memories for me. It still gets nice comments and feedback now but it was the quickest I ever made a tune man, just like two days and it was done.

Thrashing out the emotions!

Haha yeah I really was. But that was a cool moment for me because I’d loved Critical for so long and it was a big ambition for me.

Critical Music · Kung – Jailbait [BINARY:CODES LP]

And of course being on Program…

Yeah man. Jim the Ram manager has always been super supportive and gives me a lot of freedom and I’ve been on Ram too with a few VAs. That was the dream when I came to London – to be on Ram Records. So I’ve kinda ticked that off the list. I’d love to have a full single on the main label but who knows that the future holds?

I don’t know, but the present holds Aegis… That’s an animal skin right?

That’s right. It’s like the armour of a Greek god. I picked it because I feel like my music is my armour. It’s how I feel. I don’t post on social media. I don’t know how to let people know much about me. I don’t reveal much of myself except what you hear in the music.

Yeah you’re quite an enigma. The music does the talking!

It has to because I don’t have the skill of being able to post about myself every day or thinking of things post. I’m just not good at promoting things, I want to spend that time making music. And that music is what represents me.

I’m gonna go as far as saying that Aegis represents you better than any previous release so far. Hued is exceptional in my opinion…

Thank you so much. I’ve been doing things for so long but still feels like I have so much to say. Sometimes I worry I miss my moment and, as a drum & bass fan, I don’t listen to much drum & bass because I don’t want to sound like anyone else. I’ve been through that stage if you know what I mean? With this release I really wanted to do something very different. I was very conscious about every element on this EP to not sound like anyone else or anything else.

Were you listening to anything in particular during the time of this release?

I’ve been listening a lot to Model Man. That guy is my favourite. He expresses his feelings so well. Overmono are sick and a lot of Donda by Kanye West. He’s my idol and he touches that switch for me every time. He never follows the same path. His use of church organs and gospel chords, for example, is so sick. That’s very inspiring man – that’s what I want to do; bring elements that aren’t into the genre but work so well.

That’s the original melting pot vibe this whole music was founded on!

Yeah man. And when you listen to the guys like Pendulum and Ed Rush & Optical they had something to say and it was worth listening to. It stood out from everyone else. That’s what I want with my music. For people to understand I’m saying something. And that special flavour so people know it’s me within the first few bars of the tune.

That’s the ultimate goal for any producer, right?

It is and it’s very hard to achieve because even after all these years I’ve found it a challenge to articulate the pure idea that’s in my mind. I’m waiting for that invention to be made where it translates your idea onto the DAW. There are so many filters between your brain and the speakers. The computer, the software, the headphones, even the room but I’m getting there and I’m happiest with my Aegis EP.

What comes after it?

Lots. During lockdown I made a lot of music. When the first lockdown came I was six months without work. My girlfriend was stuck in Spain, I was here by myself for six months and made that EP and another 20 tunes. Some tunes have come out already on Program, another one coming in March, but more from that batch of tracks.

Was it hard to find inspiration? I imagine, without your partner, it was quite isolating and lonely…

It was but I enjoyed the luxury of having time and money. I never had that before. I’ve been working full time since I was 17. The first week or two I was worried, I had a bad cough and thought, ‘Oh no I’m going to die alone miles and miles from home!’ It was creepy times. But then I realised it wasn’t that bad and I got on with it and made the most of it. This EP was a result of the time too because no one was thinking about bangers and we could be more experimental. I think that’s had a long-lasting effect on drum & bass now.

I agree! It’s an exciting time and we’re hearing lots of interesting new sounds because of it. Most importantly for this interview, it’s an exciting time for Kung and SRVLNC are a sick label…

I got so much time for Mike Vowel and Jon Tho. They are super passionate about the music and it’s inspiring. I’ve released on some dream labels and I’m very grateful that I have, but I’m always looking for exciting new things to do and people to work with. And these guys have definitely given me a different perspective, so a massive shout to SRVLNC. Also, I have to say, when I came to London my dream was to be on UKF and now here I am talking to you. So yeah, it is an exciting time. Thank you.

Kung – Aegis is out now on SRVLNC

Follow Kung – Soundcloud / InstagramFacebook

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