Exploring the collective mindset of Kolectiv

Photography: Andy Commons

They started as a foursome, they spent several years as a trio, they’re now a super-tight duo… But Kolectiv will always be a collective.

It’s not in the numbers, it’s in the spirit and ethos; everyone playing to their strengths, operating like a fine-tuned machine and complementing each other. This is how Kerim Serter and Simon Cordell work and the proof is in the output; over the lockdowns they wrote 30 tracks and every single one of them has since been signed by some of the most respected labels in the game: Dispatch, Sofa Sound, Intrigue and Rebel Music who have dropped the first EP in this slew of Kolectiv goodness this month: Political, a four track EP with old Diffrent Music sparing partner Mauoq.

Best served ice cold, Political is every bit as tense and stark as the title suggests. Laced with detailed drum work and shrouded in hurricane atmospherics, it’s the latest in a long line of glacial grooves from the London collective. A line that goes back to the early 2010s and was stripped back and laden with dark soul years before the sound became one of the strongest flavours in drum & bass like it is today.

Now with a year’s worth of releases locked and loaded, they’re preparing to write their debut album. We called them up to find out more…

Sounds like you had a productive lockdown. What have you learnt?

Kerim: What I’ve learnt from all of this is just to try and be positive and try and control my own environment and not focus on the things I can’t control.

Simon: Yeah I’ve learnt not to pay attention to what anyone else is doing. The best thing I can do is focus on being the best I can be.

Kerim: Someone wrote in a social media D&B group “how do I get more likes, views and listens on my mixes? It feels like no one is listening so I don’t have the get up and go, I just want to stop.” I read that and thought “wow, you’ve got into this the wrong way round!” You have to do something for yourself before anyone will listen. I’m privileged that we are asked to do mixes or podcasts and there’s an audience there who will be happy to listen to it. But I literally do the mix for myself! I get hype. If I video these sessions you’d laugh. I’m doing all the gunfingers, I’m leaping around, I’m buzzing. THAT is why I do it. If anyone listens to it and enjoys it after then great. I replied to them and said “Be happy we live in a world where you can go into your room for an hour or two and play tunes.” We have the time and the privilege to do that. So many people don’t. That might sound like a proper hippie cop-out….

It’s true! We are lucky!

Kerim: Lucky to have the kit, the technology, the music, the time… Underground music isn’t about getting likes or plays or attention.

Simon: That’s what kept me going through the lockdowns. Every time I felt no motivation or felt sorry for myself then I’d have a word with myself. Like “What are you doing you dickhead? You’re able to go in the studio and make music, which is what you love doing the most in the world. So go and do it!”

Finding inspiration is hard when you’re low though. It takes a lot to do that.

Kerim: It’s about finding positives isn’t it? And it is hard. We’ve been brought up in a culture where we look for the negatives. Especially online. I’ve thought about this a lot as a father. If you train your brain to look for the negatives and the mistakes – which is what has happened to us as a society – then you end up being scared of making any mistakes or doing anything because you might mess it up. You end up compromising any creativity, expression or artistic merit. Art isn’t right or wrong. It’s just expression of a feeling. But to approach it thinking “I could be told I’m not right, or this is rubbish” means you’re not excelling in your own creativity. It isn’t a healthy way to grow up. I grew up this way, Simon has, you probably have. It’s inherent in the education system and it feeds into other aspects of life.

Including drum & bass…

Kerim: Yeah. It’s in everything and it’s a huge mental shift that society needs to get beyond.

I think the most contented or fulfilled people I interview are the ones who – as you mentioned Simon – don’t focus on what others are doing but just on themselves and they carve their own sound. When I go back to your early bits on labels like Flexout and Different, you were on that stripped back, dark soul sound years before it became a dominant sound. You’ve stuck to your own musical lane and not given a fuck in that way.

Kerim: I hope so. It’s super important to regularly remember why you got into this in the first place. It keeps you grounded. For me, I was a DJ but I came in when productions were starting to get DJs more bookings so I started making tunes and I found I really liked that too. You have to focus on the little things.

I’ll never forget one incident. It was early days for us, we were playing Trocadero for Vampire Recordings with Storm, Groove, Raiden and a few others. We were like “What the hell? This stellar line-up and us!” But it was dead in there. Like 50 people maximum. I remember stepping out for a smoke and standing next to Raiden. We introduced ourselves and he said “I’ve been listening to your stuff. You know what your problem is going to be? You’re ahead of your time…” I didn’t really get that at the time but then around six years later when the stripped-back minimal thing became huge we’d actually moved away from that. When we were doing it there was no big interest in it at all – years later, it’s the biggest thing ever. So yeah, we do stick in our musical lane, but we do our own thing and we’re always developing. Our new tunes now have a lot more drum work in but that’s because Simon is so much better in the studio. We tried to make those tracks back in the day but couldn’t make them work so that’s why we made minimal tunes!

Simon: There’s no point making the same tune over and over and over again. You need to develop as an artist or you’ll get bored.

And what better way to explore and develop than an album. I think you’ve started working on that, right?

Simon: Yeah. We’ve got quite a clear concept for what we want to do with it. We don’t want it to be just a standard collection of tunes. We want it to be heard as an album and for it to move in a certain way with different non drum & bass tracks linking things together.

Amen! Are you putting away special tunes?

Kerim: Not really. The working title is Stream Of Consciousness. The thought of starting out with what we think, and then tying it all together as it goes along, is really exciting. We’ve made a few non-D&B things but have never released them. We like to play instruments; Si is great on bass guitar and drums and I play the keys. So we want to get that across in the album. We’re not just producers, we’re musicians and we don’t make things with stock samples or do paint by numbers productions.

And by the way, I’m not calling people out who do produce like that – a banger is a banger. But I think people should know how a tune is produced. Or if it’s done in a technical or unique way then people should know about that.

Simon: When I make a track completely from scratch I get a personal sense of satisfaction. Whether the audience knows how I created that is kinda irrelevant. It’s how I feel about the track. One of the tracks on our CIA EP last year, Hollow Point… All the drums were recorded in here, there’s one tiny little sample in it but everything is made from scratch from instruments and hardware and I do feel very happy about that.

Nice. So it sounds like you’re going into the album with a very open mind but a pretty firm plan. You’ve scheduled the writing time…

Simon: It’s more that we’re nearly at the stage where we’ve got 12 months of releases ready to go. So once they’re done then we’ll have that breathing space to write it.

Wicked. You’ve worked really hard over lockdown. You’ve given yourself time and you’ve reached a stage where you’re ready for an album in your lives…

Kerim: Yeah I think we are. Simon as the main engineer is especially ready! He’s always been the main engineer. That was our roles. I was the DJ and creative person, Simon was the engineer and Sam collected the samples.

I was going to ask about you now being a duo…

Kerim: We were a quartet when we started! Barney, Reflect, was with us. He was this friend of Sam’s and he found some amazing samples. So our first EP included him, but he wanted to focus on hip-hop so he went his own way. Then Sam basically left because he couldn’t give us the time we needed in the studio together. We all had to do the hard work together or it doesn’t work.

For me, a lot of that work is the drier side of the industry. Finding opportunities, doing the social media, networking and promotion. Some days I’m just a glorified PA for Simon. He does all the hard work. We then put gig money or some of our wages into kit. This is the thing; we really do really work as a collective and play to our strengths. The original idea was to be a collective and have different people coming and going but it is just now down to the two of us and we collaborate as fairly as possible. I’m a classic producer in the way that I get people together to do the things I can’t do and delegate. That’s the dynamic. When Simon’s on a synth and he’s twiddling a knob I’m there to go “Stop! That’s the perfect sound!” Because he’ll go off down a rabbit hole and we’ll lose that sound. Now Si’s getting better at noticing these things and I will just be doing socials and bookings.

You’ll be the manager!

Kerim: Haha. Yeah! He’s got so much natural talent. But that’s our dynamic.

Simon: In any group there’s no point in everyone’s talents being in the same area. You can’t complement each other that way.

Kerim: That’s it. We’re just two different peas in the same pod, trying to get shit done!

Amen! Any final thoughts?

Kerim: I want to big up some people. I want to big up Ben at Rebel Music. He’s been so supportive and worked so hard during lockdown. Out to Creatures as well. Even though he’s like a little bro and can annoy us, we love him. And out to everyone basically. Love to the whole scene. Everyone’s been smashing it. I know there’s beef and drama and negativity but on the whole a huge majority of us do stick together and collaborate in meaningful ways. That’s something very special we have in this music. I think we all appreciate it a lot more after this last year…

Kolectiv & Mauoq – Political is out now on Rebel Music

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