WORDS

In Conversation With IMANU

With the switch from Signal to IMANU at the end of 2019, Rotterdam producer Jonathan Kievit envisioned a new musical identity that broke free from the signifiers of purely technical drum and bass, and moved into more experimental, expansive soundscapes. What he didn’t envision was the club-less, festival-less, disparate setting we found ourselves in with 2020’s arrival.

As resilient as the scene itself, IMANU has only used this to his advantage, firmly establishing his new name within the hearts of music fans regardless of genre tags with apparent ease. The output has been commendable, with three EPs on VISION, collaborations with drum and bass heavyweights like Mefjus, Icicle and Black Sun Empire, as well as the stunning Re: IMANU remix EP featuring Skantia, Buunshin, Herzeloyde, ATRIP, Bop and Kimyan Law.

Not many artists can rejig their whole musical identity with such impact and fluidity. As we move into what will hopefully be a year of progress and positive evolution for the planet, we can expect to see the very same for IMANU, as is clear from our latest catch up with the producer here on UKF.

How’s it going? It’s been a little while since you spoke to UKF. 

All good thanks, I think the last time was when I announced IMANU, so over a year ago.

How have you found the transition since then? 

Very good, I’m really happy with how everything is going. I feel like the new name and new sound have only done me good… well mostly done me good. A lot of people are waiting for me to make music as I was as Signal, but I won’t so sucks for them haha.

You recently put out the Re: IMANU remix EP on VISION. Am I right in saying this was the first time you’ve allowed yourself to be remixed? 

It is the first time as IMANU that people have officially remixed me, there’s been some bootlegs though. As Signal I think there’s been two remixes, Vorso and Lockjaw both remixed my track Indirect.

Was there any reason that now was the time to do this?

I released three EPs in 2020 and these were all quite important to me, so I just wanted to hear how other people that I like would take those sounds and make something that’s different. All the remixes still fit into the whole sound of the three original EPs. You tend to keep remix EPs for albums, but I haven’t done an album yet.

 Yet… Is this something that’s in the pipeline?

Yeah, I’m just thinking about when. I want my first album to be an absolute explosion on the world. I don’t want it to be like ‘here’s my album, see ya’, I want it to be an album that will be remembered. I’m just waiting until I have more confidence maybe, more ideas, more inspiration to create ten or more all-killer tracks. All killer no filler, but that doesn’t mean that every tune is a hard tune. A track can be killer but still be a soft tune. I want an album to do well both in the club and on the streams, that’s always the hardest thing to do.

Have you found it hard writing music with no club in mind?

I’ve actually been very productive this whole pandemic. I found it hard to write purely dancefloor tunes, but I’ve made tunes that are more interesting to listen to at home but still totally fine to play out. I’ve made a few drafts for club tunes, but it is kind of annoying that I can’t test them, although after playing years of shows you kind of have a sense of what’s going to work in that setting. It’s more like, you just want to know how it sounds in the club, especially with sub bass and stuff. It can totally change on a proper rig compared to your headphones or speakers at home.

I saw a recent Instagram post of yours and it sounds like you’ve really been writing with no restrictions lately, making footwork, house and a range of other sounds.

This whole pandemic situation has really lifted all this pressure off my chest to make music that goes off, and I’ve just been making music that I want. If I feel like making a house tune, I’ll make a house tune. If I feel like making footwork, I’m going to make a footwork tune. I can figure out what’s happening with it later. It’s actually been really nice just trying to find my new sound. You always want to be looking for something to improve on or to change, because I personally don’t want to be making the same music all the time.

Did you feel like that as Signal then?

Yeah, partially. I did have a weird phase where I went super heavy for no reason, which I also stopped doing about a year later. I was like, ‘OK I’m making stuff for that’s for the club and I would like to experiment, but it won’t help me financially and it won’t help my momentum’. I felt like the name itself was also holding me back from making stuff that wasn’t purely technical, it’s such a techy name. I’m very happy that now I have a fanbase that allows me to make whatever I want… so far haha.

I want to go back to the remix EP briefly. Did you pick all the artists on there yourself?

Yep

How did you go about that? Listening to the EP, I wouldn’t have listened to Noir and been like ‘right, Bop needs to remix this’, but it works so well. 

Well, Bop actually inspired that song in the first place. I remember I was with my friend Lewis and I showed him One Way To Mars. The sound is quite simple, but the way he does it with all the detuning is so interesting. I was like, fuck it… I’ll try right now and see if I can make a similar sound. I accidentally changed one of the oscillators from a sine to a saw wave, and that’s what made Noir. So, who better to then do a remix than Bop himself? I’m very happy that he said yes to my request. He’s an artist that I’ve been listening to for years and I think he’s super underrated.

There’s the Skantia remix of Nonplus which has been hyped for a little while now. Wasn’t that an original track to begin with? 

Yeah it was. He told me he’d made a tune that sounds like Nonplus but he wasn’t going to put it out. A year later VISION came with the idea of the remix EP and I thought I’d ask him to see if he would turn it into a Nonplus remix and he did. It worked out well for both of us. There is also Buunshin who is one of my best friends, so it made sense for me to have him on the EP. Two of the remixes are not drum and bass as I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a six-track drum and bass EP. I recently started talking to this guy ATRIP on Twitter and he ended up hitting me up with a couple of tracks, and I thought he could do a really cool take on Monchou. There is Herzeloyde as well who makes beats, hip-hop, house and everything really. I gave him the grimiest tune I had to offer and he went at it. I’m very content with all of it.

Did you feel responsible in some way for making your drum and bass fans aware of talent outside of the genre?

I don’t feel responsible for it, but I do feel like it’s good to give that to people. I kind of don’t like genres that much. I just think people should hear good music, and Herzeloyde for example makes good music. Him remixing Whatever It Takes not only helps him put his name in the drum and bass scene, but it also helps me as my name is attached to his non drum and bass tune.

Maybe this is a controversial question, but what is your relationship with drum and bass like at the moment? 

I think I’m quite vocal about this on social media, but I think drum and bass is in a horrible state. Who’s to blame? The Brits haha? I don’t know man. There’s a couple of artists that are making really cool stuff consistently and I do find weird, sick tunes here and there when I’m scouting around. I feel like complaining about it doesn’t help though, does it? I’ve just got to make good stuff myself instead. I want to hear weird and new stuff, and I’m happy that there are people out there doing it.

There are all these young kids – I mean I’m also young myself – but even younger than I am, 17-year-olds making crazy stuff. I guess they haven’t been shaped by the drum and bass scene yet. They have all these crazy ideas and with just a little bit of guiding they can make the most amazing music. This has happened to artists like Gyrofield who has been murdering over the last year, and she’s just turned 18. I’m very excited about all those people.

What else have you been listening to over the last year outside of drum and bass or electronic music?

I’ve been listening to quite a lot of punk, rock and metal. It’s not inspired me directly, but I just really like the music. Stuff that has been inspiring me heavily I think would be artists like Flume. I guess I can kind of call him a pop producer? He is by far the most creative and sick pop producer, there’s no one who comes close for me. You could say Skrillex but I don’t want to call him a pop producer. Flume though, he makes music that is both interesting for ‘normal’ people and for all these nerds. I know that everyone I respect in music loves Flume and it’s very difficult to do that. Massive props to him, I definitely see him as one of my big inspirations right now. SOPHIE is another one, she makes wicked, weird stuff. Cashmere Cat and Arca as well. I don’t know what to call it really, just cool electronic music that is weird and sick.

You’ve always had a fairly close relationship with the internet and social media as an artist. How are you finding it at the moment?

Discord has been really important to me as it’s the only place I get real social interaction now. I have calls on there almost every day, and it’s just been really nice to meet all these new producers. Even through my own Patreon I’ve started making all these new friends and just have lots of people to talk to. Having like-minded people to talk to is really important, especially now when everyone is lonelier than ever. Discord is a nice community without distractions, unlike something like Facebook where you’re distracted by everything else on there.

You have Cooking with IMANU on your Patreon. Tell us more about that.

Yeah, so I’ve done two bits for that, although it kind of died down because my kitchen sucks. I did it in my parents’ house but after the first two videos COVID got real bad so I stopped going to my parents except for important stuff. When stuff is at least okay again then I’ll get back on that. It’s funny, because who expects to see cooking videos on a fucking music Patreon? But I just love cooking and I love food. I watch cooking videos every day and it’s just nice to cook and eat healthy.

What’s your favourite dish you cooked on there? 

The first video was my take on Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. I made sure to first get it approved by some Italian friends to make sure I got it right. I was only using traditional Italian ingredients, but I added a couple extra ingredients to add some protein and flavours as the original dish is very simple. The second video I was making a Carolina Reaper hot sauce which was honestly pretty tasty, but also quite dangerous. I’ve made the hot sauce more often, so I guess that’s my favourite of the two.

You can add that to your IMANU merch line… How have you found things with DIVIDID at the moment? Seems to be rolling out quality releases at a steady pace still.

It’s been cool, we’re not releasing too much but I like that. We’re just releasing whenever we think that something worth releasing comes around. We’re not looking at it as a strict monthly thing or anything. If there’s nothing that we want to sign, then nothing is getting signed. I think last year we put out six or seven releases, and we’ve already got two lined up for early next year, and there’s a third or fourth in the works. We’ve been finding very cool talent and underrated people, young people from all kinds of backgrounds which I think is important. I’m stoked for them to have their spot in the scene.

It must make it feel like less of a chore releasing music with that mindset. 

Yeah, my main focus is obviously my own IMANU project and I wouldn’t want running a label to take over my whole life. I’m very happy with the way that stuff is being done right now.

You had a couple of tunes as IMANU on the recent DIVIDID USB. This is the first time releasing under your new alias on the label, right?

Yep it is, we’re going to do it more often though as these sold out in about 20 minutes. We’ve been getting so many messages from people begging for more. Everything that was on the stick is not going to come out anywhere else. That’s how stuff is supposed to be though, it’s only fair. If it’s exclusive, it’s exclusive. It means that next time we’re going to have to do more sticks.

Do you feel like the label is evolving with your sound as an artist?

I mean, my taste has for sure changed. I guess some stuff that I might have signed in 2019 is not stuff that I would have signed in 2020. I’m not the only person on the label though. There’s three owners and an assistant, and all our opinions matter. The direction also changed with the artwork. The first year we did everything in that same style with all the dots, and that was all from the same designer who is really good. We realised though that it was more important to focus around the artist in the end, so we allowed them to choose what they want as artwork. That plus my taste is changing, so it’s definitely been an evolution.

In an earlier UKF interview as Signal, you were chatting about the travelling from touring was affecting how you look at life. How has it been now that the complete opposite has been occurring? 

It’s made me realise how few people I know near me. In my city I know like three people which is crazy. I never really realised it until I stopped travelling, I used to meet people everywhere and now not at all. I’m also realising how much more free time I have now, because you think a gig is one hour of work but really, you’re travelling maybe 12 hours to get there and back. Say you do that twice a weekend, you get back on the Sunday and you have no energy and you’ve basically lost three days. That’s almost half a week. I now have so much more time, but of course I would love to have shows instead. I do feel like a few times during this pandemic I’ve been on the verge of a burnout now that I’m basically only doing music and gaming every day, but I wouldn’t know what else to do really. I’m also kind of addicted to making music, I just want to keep doing it. At some point I guess I’ll get burnt out and then I’ll regret not taking breaks.

When you started IMANU did you see having live shows as a big part of it?

Yeah, because I wanted to slowly start playing more non drum and bass stuff in my sets. It was looking real nice as Memento came out in May and I was supposed to have a tour in Australia and New Zealand around the same time. That EP has one non-drum and bass tune. I then of course had the other stuff scheduled for later on which would have been played at the festivals. That’d have been a nice way to slowly start playing more of those kinds of tunes, but that obviously all fell apart. At the same time, it gave me more time to make non-drum and bass music, so I guess it didn’t really make too much difference. I feel like now I can come back even stronger and I’m very excited for what this year has to bring.

Is there anything you can tell us about what’s coming next?

I’ve got a tune forthcoming every month for the first quarter of 2021, so I’ve got five or six tracks coming in that period, depending on if one of those gets finished in time. Of those, only two are drum and bass. There will be tunes on UKF, a remix for Apashe, a remix for SLANDER on their label, plus lots of collaborations and remixes with big artists not in drum and bass. That’s really exciting to me. I get to bring them to my scene and myself to their scene, and from that only beautiful things can happen. I think right now my most anticipated tune is a house tune, so I think that just means people are reacting to the change quite well. 

Is that the first time you’ve released something at house tempo?

I think it will actually be my first house release ever, well official release anyway. I did start making house when I was 14/15 but that never came out. This will be the first proper house release of my own. I’ve always liked the tempo, anything between 115bpm and 130bpm is just nice and there’s a lot of possibilities musically. Other than that, I’ve also got two other tunes in that tempo that I’m working on so I’m looking forward to that.

Awesome, look forward to hearing it. Anything else you wanted to mention or shout out?

I want to give a shout out to everyone who supports me on Patreon, as right now that is my income so I’m very grateful for the people supporting me there. I also want to say thanks to UKF for the interview and my management team for doing all this work doing a pandemic. I’m very happy with everyone I’m working with right now.

Re:IMANU is out now on Vision

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