What have Instra:mental, Kid Drama, Heart Drive, Jon Convex, Module Eight, Binary Collective and Mikarma all got in common?
There’s one man at the helm of each one; Damon Kirkham.
An undisputed unsung hero of drum & bass and more than likely one of the hardest working in the scene, Damon has had more aliases than you’ve had hot dinners, with each one adding a new dimension to his quite ridiculous back catalogue.
Creating one successful moniker in itself is an impressive feat in an age in which virtually anyone can be a music producer, so to do it with seven is pretty astonishing. Better still, he does everything himself with no support, from writing to mixing down and even releasing it on his own labels in some cases.
We wanted to find out a bit more about each of his projects and how exactly he manages to fit it all in, so we tracked him down and delved deep into the mastermind of Damon Kirkham…
1999 – 2001 / 2006 – 2011
Together with Alex Green (Boddika), Instra:mental’s refreshing style of stripped back drum & bass earned them a reputation as pioneers of the autonomic sound and, more importantly, one of the most important duos in the history of the genre.
“When we first started Instra:mental in the late 90’s we did very well very quickly but, as we were young, fell off the rails as soon as we got a taste of the money. We binged a lot and it all came crumbling down as quickly as it had risen. It was a whirlwind couple of years. If you cane it too hard you fall apart and that’s exactly what happened to us. We would catch wind that someone had rewound one of our tunes at a Metalheadz night and it went straight to our heads. It ended quickly.
“After that, loads of people told me to stop chasing the music dream and that I had fucked my one chance. But I’m a very stubborn person, so I stuck to it and after working a few shitty jobs, Instra:mental came back in 2006.
“It was then when we really came into the ‘Instra:mental sound’, with a blend of drum machines and influences from a few different genres. It opened up lots of doors for us because it was a different sound that people weren’t used to. It had a very electronic, warped style to it and because it caught the ears of people outside of drum & bass as well, it allowed us to skip on the fringes of a range of different genres.
“If you listen to the likes of Deep Blue, Omni Trio and Foul Play you can hear the broken half tempo stuff, but nobody really jumped on it, people went for the more obvious things like neurofunk in the mid 90’s.
“We didn’t really think about doing something different, we just wired up some old drum machines and did something we wanted to do and it kind of spiralled from there. But the sound took a long time to take hold… I remember playing gigs to around three people in the early days – the dance floor would empty as soon as we started playing. It was pretty disheartening, to be honest.
“People would come up to us and say ‘this isn’t drum & bass!’ But gradually, we started to see those same people on the dance floor next time we played and the crowds grew week by week. By the end of it we were playing big festivals.
“Then things got quite difficult when I met a girl and had to break some of my time to put into the relationship. It’s pretty much impossible to dedicate 100% of your time to something. My girlfriend was from Australia so it got quite awkward as I would have to go over there for months at a time. And as more money started to come in, it also began to feel a bit like a business which made it less fun, and it eventually got to a point where we decided to call it a day.
“The Instra:mental days were good, but I like to see each part of my life as a chapter, and that was a really good chapter that we kept pure and never watered down. It’s good to look back and have that. The other day I had a scan back through all the Instra:mental tunes and it really does stand the test of time.”
2011 – 2015
Instra:mental’s illustrious second spell came to an end and Alex Green forged Boddika, while Damon also explored a new alias. Jon Convex was born.
“While I was away in Australia, Alex started Boddika, so I had to start my own alias when I got back; I couldn’t have kept releasing under Instra:mental because there were always two of us, so it would have been weird and confusing for listeners. I came up with Jon Convex and got to work. I had sold my half of the studio off to Alex which meant I had to buy loads of new gear. It was a massive learning curve.
“As Instra:mental, Alex would do a lot of the mixing down stuff and I’d be playing synths and jamming, so when I became Convex, it gave me a chance to work on the engineering side of things which was really helpful for me. Now I don’t have to rely on anyone, I can do everything myself which is really handy.
“In terms of the name, my best friend, who died when we were 17, was called Jon, so that’s a nod back to him. Convex comes from a character called Barry Convex, a character from Videodrome. I grew up living above a video shop so as a kid I used to watch shitloads of 80’s horror films. When I was about 15 I’d order in all the new films and spent my childhood watching them in the shop. My childhood really shaped my music career; that’s why you can hear loads of wonky synths going all fucked in my tunes.
“The Convex album Idoru was when I got sucked into the whole techno world. It was quite fun to play techno in big clubs, but then house and techno got a bit watered down in the UK and I decided to take a step back from it. When techno and electro were blended up I really enjoyed it, but now it’s a little bit stale.
“Just after I dropped the album I went over to Australia to see my girlfriend, which meant I couldn’t tour it. Looking back, it was a mindless thing to do, but it was also quite critical that I went over there at the time. I was ping-ponging back and forth from the UK and it really crippled my career because when you’re that far away, it’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ I didn’t realise how much damage it would do, but I wouldn’t take any of it back. It was just another chapter.
“While Jon convex may be dormant, I’ve still got the Convex label going and I’m leaning more towards the electronica side of things. I’ve got some artists coming through doing some really cool stuff, with a few exciting releases lined up for the coming year.”
2011 – 2015
The coming together of Damon, dBridge, Consequence and Joe Seven, whose end product was a dystopian album created solely on hardware which they pushed as far as it would go.
“We had all worked on Exit and the Autonomic style before and Cam and Joe were living in London, we originally did a white label 12″ called Sin Skin as The Binary Collective then over the years following we pieced together the album.
“The initial plans were to have a short film, maybe an animation for the storyline that made up the album but it was going to be too much work with everyone involved with their own projects and lives.
“The artwork was by the guys at Graphic Surgery who do a lot of the Delsin records sleeves.”
2013 – current
The alias currently attracting most of Damon’s attention. With a recent EP just released on Exit picking up praise from all over, Kid Drama has lots more in store in the future.
“Jon Convex was going really well but I got quite bored with that style of music fairly quickly and everyone seemed to be doing it. I wasn’t having as much fun, and then I would go and play an Exit night as Kid Drama, surrounded by mates, drawing exclusive tunes trying to shut each other down, and it reminded me that there’s a really strong community feel within drum & bass which I really enjoy.
“Techno seemed to become a bit of a business, which is fair enough, but I’m in it for the community spirit and fun, and that’s really what drum & bass is all about.
“Kid Drama was a nickname from school because there would always be some kind of drama surrounding me, I’d never do anything the easy way, and I still don’t… It stuck with me and it ended up being my alias in Instra:mental; it’s what I was referred to in interviews so I thought people would notice that name from the Instra:mental days and would want to check out the tunes from Kid Drama. It’s a pretty ridiculous name when I think about it…
“Even though the Kid Drama name has been around since the Instra:mental days it’s still quite young so I’m slowly growing it. I’m not gigging as much at the moment so I’m making the most of it by stocking up on material so that when I do get on the road I can keep things ticking over.
“I would love to sit down and write weird, really out there stuff as Kid Drama but you do need to think about the money side of things to an extent, so I’ve tried to make it a bit more accessible.
“With the EP I wanted to cover ground and wanted to cover all the basses of drum & bass, hence the name ‘Covering Ground.’ There’s a couple of steppers on there which I wouldn’t usually do. It’s got a really good reception so far so I’m happy with that.
“I’ve got a Kid Drama mind map printed on my wall with stems going off all over the place. I’ve got collabs with Synkro, Om Unit and Fracture lined up, then I’m thinking about doing an album…”
For Module Eight, Damon clashed heads with dBridge, Skeptical, Loxy and Resound to form a drum & bass powerhouse. The end-product of the quintet was Legacy; an LP released on Exit which took the drum & bass community by storm.
“Me and Skeptical had a few things we hadn’t finished off, the same with Loxy & Resound. I can’t quite remember how it exactly all came about but it was pretty much a case of chucking all of our collabs into one big project and adding some new bits to it over time.
“Resound would say he had another sketch on the go and chucked another loop in, then Skeptical would say he’d also added to it and so on. Then before we knew it we had an album’s worth of material ready to go.
“As there were so many of us working on it, it all came together quite quickly and it was good fun, but at the moment it’s a bit dormant because everyone has their own individual projects going on.”
2014 – current
Heart Drive is the futuristic coming together of Damon and long time collaborator dBridge; a platform on which they have released five podcasts showcasing the finest in autonomic music.
“Heart Drive was essentially a continuation of Autonomic, as that brand was just sitting there dormant. Darren (dBridge) didn’t want to resuscitate Autonomic so we started up Heart Drive.
“There was always only ever going to be six Heart Drive podcasts, and we’ve just released the fifth one, so there’s one more to come. After the sixth one I don’t know what the next phase will be, but the sixth podcast is something to look forward to…
“It’s going to showcase a lot of the Heart Drive album which we have written. I’ve been putting off doing the mix downs for ages because I’ve got too bloody much going on at the minute! Darren has been hounding me to do it for a while…
“There was a big gap between the last podcast but we don’t just want to put podcasts out for the sake of it, we always want to showcase a good range of music we’re putting out, which is why we take our time.
“I seem to get lumbered with mixing down a lot of people’s work, even people who have been in the game for a long time. A lot of people hate it but I quite like it, I’m a bit of a nerd so I like it. The shape of my current studio is very good; it plays the sound exactly how it is, so when it comes to mixing down it’s seamless.
“Me and Darren are quite obsessed with anime stuff so the cube is meant to be almost a heart, where emotion is stored. That’s the idea behind it. We wanted it to be quite futuristic.”
2015 – current
As things stand, the Mikarma project is just one album… an album which was a result of heartbreak and a serious intake of valium.
“Mikarma started as my wife had just left me so I was going through a tough time. I came back to the UK from Australia and stripped my entire setup and kitted it with nothing but 90’s equipment. I then wrote a whole album absolutely fucking sedated out of my mind.
“I ate valium throughout the day to the extent I don’t remember writing the album at all. When I listen to the album back now, it sounds like someone else’s work because I can’t remember writing it at all. It wasn’t like I was sitting down to write an album, I just smashed it out over a month in a sedated state, barely leaving the studio.
“I wanted there to be a running theme throughout the album. You have to listen to it from start to finish to appreciate that. It was quite an emotional time for me; I was very sedated and quite depressed. I restricted myself to just two synths and some other gear, replicating a true 90’s setup.
“With different aliases I like to use different bits of kit, and with Mikarma I’ve got a rack of different effects units, so I’ll just switch that on and write stuff using that as Mikarma. I’ve stripped my equipment right down recently so I just keep the core things I really love using.
“In Instra:mental we were obsessed with buying new kit all the time, so we had racks and racks of stuff, loads of vintage synths and stuff like that which was really cool. But now I’ve learned to restrict myself which means I get a lot more work done. You spend more time just wiring up kit than actually making music otherwise.”
“There’s an infinite amount of collabs coming over the next year which are all gonna trickle out at some point. There’s one lined up with Abstract Elements and Fracture, which I’m looking forward to getting out there. Om Unit also hit me up the other day and said he wanted to do a collab, then I realised there’s something we started on about three years ago which we’re going to bring back.