US artist Kallan HK seemingly came out of nowhere.
First came her debut release Slow Motion on Viper in 2017. Dispatches on RAM, ProgRAM and Reid Speed’s Play Me Records followed in quick succession. But, as always, years of hard work had gone in beforehand as she worked her way up the local circuit in her hometown Atlanta and around the Southern United States before those hits started to roll through. In fact she’d been grafting since she discovered D&B out of pure happenstance in 2012.
Anyone who listens to Kallan’s tracks should be able to spot quite quickly why she’s been such a commodity. Her style is smooth with a little bit of cheeky funk tech in spots and grounded in the old school fundamentals. Whether she’s new to you or not, she certainly knows her stuff. But is she taking these label hits in her stride? Nope. Ms. HK may seem cool and collected on the decks but her reaction to her first tracks on RAM was, as she describes it, “surreal”.
Now with her new singles Flight Path and Future Shock out and doing the business on ProgRAM since their release last month, Kallan is showing no signs slowing down. Perfect timing, then, to get the skinny on how it’s all come to pass, how she found her style in the highly competitive modern age of drum & bass and how she continues to create those songs that makes the labels sing. Spoiler: she’s an old school D&B head trapped in a millennial’s body.
You kind of fell backwards into raving and D&B culture. Can you explain how you initially got into it?
Right, so I got into dance music around my junior year of high school. I was 17. At first I liked other genres but I had yet to really discover D&B. When I turned 18 I went to London with my parents. I actually snuck out of the hotel one night because I wanted to see the legendary Fabric Nightclub. I didn’t even know who was playing, but I tapped someone on the shoulder to ask what kind of music this was and they replied “FUCKING D&B mate”. I was hooked!
That’s got to be the best way to discover it, right from the source. So did you get hooked into the London scene from there and then sort of go backwards to the U.S scene?
No, I didn’t really make any connections that first trip. I went home to Atlanta and started listening to D&B non-stop. A few months later I started mixing around at home on a shitty little controller and then a few months after that started DJing out.
Once I got even more into the scene I realised if I really wanted to make a career out of this, learning production was a necessity. So I spent almost all my free time watching any videos, master classes etc so I could to learn the craft.
Wow so totally self-taught to start and you started DJing really soon after being introduced to it. That must have been interesting
Yes there was about a year gap from when I first heard it until when I started DJing. My first big show was around NYE 2013. It was mostly around the south to start. The out of state gigs didn’t really start to come in until after my first release was out, although there were a few.
How was DJing around the south at first? A lot of people from across the pond might now realise there’s even a scene there to speak of.
Atlanta used to be hot for D&B. For me, aside from that Fabric show that was all I knew. Just to be accepted by the community and be given the chance to play was a huge blessing in my eyes. I have nothing but respect for the Atlanta scene and I know all the promoters there work night and day trying to grow the D&B community there.
That’s wicked. So when did your first releases come out?
I started dabbling in production around 2014 and 2015 and my first release came out on Viper in 2017. I know that may seem like a big gap between starting to produce and releasing but I really wanted to make sure my tunes sounded as I heard them in my head before I sent anything out. Early on in my career someone gave me great advice: “wait to send out tunes to a label until you have played your tunes alongside theirs and can clearly tell that they are of the same quality,” so I waited until I was completely confident in my abilities to start reaching out to labels. It seems to have been a good move.
That does sound like good advice. That leads to the question of style as well. Since you were largely self-taught, how was it to try to develop a style or sound for yourself, especially one that big labels would respond to?
I had some close friends who are also producers that I would send tunes to and they would give me constructive feedback. Basically saying yes this is good, or hmm maybe wait on that one (laughs). I would also toss my own tunes into my DJ sets and if the crowd stayed consistent or gained energy I’d take that as a positive. If they slowed down I’d take that as a negative.
Back then did you have an idea what you wanted your sound to be? Or was it really more experimentation at that time?
It was totally experimental! I have always been someone who enjoys all the subgeneres of D&B so that made it even harder to figure out who I wanted to be as an artist. I still play pretty much every style in my sets but once I really started getting into production I definitely started gravitating towards a certain sound. I love sci-fi films so I take a lot of my inspiration there. I like to think of what I do as dancefloor but with a bit of a tech and underground vibe. I’m not sure my tracks fit into one specific category but that’s how I like it. It’s pretty much whatever I am feeling when I am in the studio.
So how did the meetings and eventual signing with RAM come along?
RAM had always been a goal of mine, as Andy C was an inspiration from very early on in my career. My manager knew this as well. I had two tunes I thought would be good for ProgRAM around January of last year but I was so nervous I didn’t think they were ready. My manager actually sent them before I could say “wait” (laughs). I was so stressed for the next few days, and then I remember him texting me at like 8am in the San Francisco airport that they were interested in both. I yelled “oh my God!” way too loud for that early in the morning. Got a lot of stares but I didn’t even care at that point. So Much Pain and They Live released in July of 2018 and that was definitely a surreal moment for me. Then to see them both make the RAM annual was just insane.
That’s super quick to be on Viper and ProgRAM right away. Must have given you whiplash.
It’s pretty surreal but I have always been such a driven Type A person. Sometimes when I get worried about not having released in a while I have to make myself step back and appreciate the achievements I have made. It’s very easy to get caught up in what’s next.
What do you think it was that RAM responded to in terms of your style and production?
I think they responded to the originality and unique style of the tunes. I really just make whatever I am feeling at the moment. Flight Path, for example, reflects my love of aviation. Whenever I take off on a flight I get such a rush and ever since I got an iPod I always timed a perfect ‘take off’ song to the flight’s actual takeoff. Weird I know but that’s how it happened. I was like “wow I should capture this rush I get in a D&B tune,” and thus Flight Path was created. So I guess I’m trying to say I never create a tune to be popular or to fit a certain label. ProgRAM seemed to like what I was feeling on the past four tracks I released with them and I’m very grateful for that!
So when did you move to LA and what inspired you to do so?
I moved in January of 2018 I love the vibe and my manager was happy for me to be out here because there are so many amazingly talented people to be surrounded by here. LA has been absolutely amazing. I love how driven and hardworking everyone is here.
You talked about Flight Path a little bit but how has it been to put your most recent tracks together? What are you noticing about the evolution of your style now that you’re starting to dig in with ProgRAM?
I love that ProgRAM is a label where I can truly express the deepest, weirdest ideas my brain comes up with! I am loving the deeper tech stuff lately, hence Future Shock and also the more melodic styles like in Flight Path. Recently putting a tune together starts with an inspiring moment, whether it’s a life experience like with Flight Path or something interesting that I watch like in Future Shock. I take in that inspiration and then build on it.
So other than the obvious ones like Andy C and the Viper guys, who would you say are your biggest influences?
Definitely from the beginning legends like DJ Hazard, Bad Company, Ed Rush & Optical and RAM Trilogy. I love the old school! I try to draw from the old school sounds as much as possible. I’m addicted to throwbacks.
Your sound definitely draws from some of the founders, especially when it comes to drum loops and snare progressions. What do you think draws you to some of those original beats and sounds?
I just love that they were made over 20 years ago but still go off! D&B is one of the only genres I find where tunes remain so timeless. And also let’s be honest production is difficult as is so the fact that they made it happen without all the modern technological tools is just beyond impressive.
Since you’re one of the newer producers out there, have you found that anyone has given you grief? Sometimes it seems like old school rules in drum & bass so what’s your experience been with that?
Ahh yes I definitely have. I don’t like to comment too much on this because I don’t want it to be the focus of my work in a scene I love so much. I’m a believer that in order to grow, we should all be lifting each other up but I’ve definitely heard some comments like, “well you weren’t even around back when it started.” I was born around the same time D&B started blowing up so while that’s true I feel like I’ve done my research and I know the history, so let’s judge me for what I am responsible for, not on things out of my control. Trust me I would do just about anything to have been there for the 90s D&B days.
Do you have any tracks you’re working on right now that you want to talk about or anything in the lab or any shows coming up? Any styles you’re really feeling in the studio?
Yes I have a vocal tune that I’m super excited about coming out on another big label. It should be out around the fall.