Origins: A exclusive series of extensive interviews with some of bass music’s most inspiring pioneers and originators. Following interviews with Fabio & Grooverider and DJ Q, our next Origins interview is a deep conversation with one of drum & bass jungle’s most singular individuals: DJ Krust.
With a career that dates back to early UK hip-hop culture and late 80s chart exposure in Bristol crew Fresh 4, Full Cycle co-founder and all-round pioneer Krust takes us back to the foundations of hip-hop and b-boyism: Originality, creativity, authenticity, discipline and the art of being able to create something out of thin air. Whether that’s a dance move, a painting, a track or a lyric, you never re-tread old ground and always aim to set new benchmarks.
This is why we’ve had to wait so long for his latest album. Kirk Thompson wasn’t going to put anything out into the world until he felt it fulfilled those old b-boy ideals that inspired him in the first place…. Until it sounded like the most honest reflection of who he truly is. 14 years – and many other disciplines, practices and learning beyond music – later and he’s arrived at that point: The Edge Of Everything.
Released on Damian Lazarus’s Crosstown Rebels, The Edge Of Everything is a dramatic, daring slab of electronic explorations, each one mischievously bending, mutating and melting the jungle template to make space for essences of techno, ambient and even cinema. In many ways, it’s such a futuristic sounding document that it seems at odds with the Origins series. But to understand how Krust arrived at this point, and how we’ve all arrived at this point in time as humans, we need to look back and understand where we came from.
In fact, due to the poignant timing of the call, we took things right the way back to 1605 and the gunpowder plot. Old school. Read on and listen to Krust’s own Origins playlist on Spotify below.
Today is November 5. Guy Fawkes night. With everything going on, and how broken politics is, what are your thoughts on this?
That’s an interesting one! I’ll answer it like this… We’ve acquiesced ourselves, thinking people have our best interests but they haven’t. These people are no more qualified to govern people than you or I are.
Yeah. One year someone is the head of education, the next they’re head of agriculture and they’ve got no experience in those sectors
Exactly! And we ask them to do it. And then we complain when it doesn’t work? No shit Sherlock, we’ve just given up our control and freedom to people who are not interested in taking responsibility of us. The system is not fit to govern us anymore. Whether that’s politics, banking or globalised business. It doesn’t work and the people in control of those systems know this and they’re trying very hard to hold onto them.
They are literally at the edge of everything!
They are! They’re struggling to keep the genie in the bottle. It’s not working. Look at this new lockdown – everyone is fed up. The first lockdown people understood what we needed to do and put up with it. But now people have had enough, they’re just sick of being controlled. I’m surprised we’re not kicking off more. You’d expect riots. But it’s just a lot of moaning and people wearing masks. We’re being pushed further and further, it’s like obedience training. Slowly and slowly they’re to see what they can get away with.
This has been a concern and theme for you in all your work for a long time. Themes like Coded Language, Hidden Knowledge, Cloaking Device. A lot of your work has been based around suspicion of institutions, paranoia and trying to find other perspectives hasn’t it?
I think in the beginning it was simpler than that. It was like ‘here’s another way to see reality’. Why study one degree when there are 360? We live in an infinite universe; people thinking differently shouldn’t be a threat. It should be welcomed, and I should welcome your point of view. I use titles to ask questions, to make people curious or to get them talking about things which maybe they aren’t comfortable talking about.
So having Hegel referenced at the start is no coincidence. He was about rationalism over idealism right?
Yeah exactly and also it’s a set-up. It’s the same intro, build-up and drop that makes you think it’s going to be another typical drum & bass album. I want people to hear it and think that’s what’s in store. I want them to think that I’m going to follow formula and go with the flow and not stand out and just sound like the rest. Then boom… The track completely flips and a much wider picture is revealed. That’s why I used Hegel Dialect as the intro. I wanted to highlight the problem. We’ve forgotten that our only role on this planet is to be ourselves and be true to who we really are. How constraining must that feel? To tie yourself down and limit yourself to fit in with expectations and benchmarks set by other people?
I was going to say that must be frustrating from an artist’s point of view but as human beings I think that’s a also an issue
I’m not dealing with musical concepts, I’m dealing with the human concepts. I’m telling the human drama but it just so happens I’m good at telling it through music. Going back to Hegel, that is a really important part of the story because instead of softly introducing these new concepts to you, I wanted to go BAM! Within 8 bars it’s like a car-crash, straight in your face. You’ve landed somewhere else, you don’t know if it’s the middle of the tune, the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s jolted you because you thought it was going to be another Soul In Motion or Cloaking Device. The cues you’re looking for don’t happen. Hegel did write a lot about rationalism, but his main tools were used to manipulate people, their senses and what they believe things should be. This is what I’m asking with that track: what do you think art should be? I want you to see the music from the point of view of a film and to do that I need to come to you with a totally different perspective.
You’ve said this in a previous interview about unlearning the rules. Is this the closest you’ve been to doing that?
I think so. I needed to unlearn more rules, I needed to be kicked down again a few times and learn from that and not to take it personally. I’ve since realised I was carrying a lot of misinformation from who I was and that stopped me expressing myself as a full being rather than Krust who’s an identity I made up to cover my insecurities about feeling inadequate, abandoned as a child, unloved. Krust was vehicle to get adoration and love and feel whole but it could never be. It couldn’t last, it collapsed and that’s how I had my breakthrough; Krust wasn’t my best reflection of myself, it was a coping strategy to help me get through life.
Wow. So you’ve found stuff about your history?
Oh for sure, loads. Everything I made before The Edge Of Everything was made through fear energy. Fear of not enough, fear of not being accepted, fear of not being loved. All unconsciously. It wasn’t until about six years ago that I started to get my head around a different perspective of my life’s experiences that I could write truly and freely as Kirk Thompson. The album is one of the best pieces of music I’ve made because I’m at peace with who I am. I’m at peace with what I do. I don’t care about anything besides the fact that this album has to sound like me and feel like me.
It’s the most honest reflection of who you are. But still, even with everything you wrote through fear energy over all those years, it didn’t sound like anyone else. It wasn’t conservative.
No. And I thank hip-hop for that. B-boyism is my true religion. I mean this in the truest, spiritual sense of hip-hop. Not the bombastic, ego-centric, economic sense but the original foundations; originality, creativity, authenticity and discipline. That’s what this music is founded on for me. When I learnt those principals I translated them in jungle. But I think I embody this even more within my work. Take 7 Known Truths, for instance, I totally rewrote that track seven times. Every time it sounded too close to something I’d previously done. The b-boy in me told me it wasn’t good enough. It’s like I’m saying to myself ‘it’s no good Krust, you’ve already come to the dance wearing those shells, you have to try better.’ Treading old ground isn’t b-boy, isn’t hip-hop. After seven iterations, I finally cracked it. It’s like knowing it’s in there but trying to find out what tools I needed to bringing it into reality.
Interesting. 7 Known Truths is the track that always pulls me out of the experience and makes me going ‘what the fuck am I tuned into?!’ I didn’t know if it was it’s position on the album but it’s a stand-out moment every time I have the album playing.
I had a lot of resistance within myself to take the track that far. I knew it would mean a departure from my own safeties and insecurities. There’s a poem I think about a lot which relates to this. It’s basically… I said ‘come to the edge’ and the guy said ‘no’. I said ‘come to the edge’ and the guy said ‘no’, I said come to the edge and he did so I pushed him… And he flew.’ The protagonist is afraid of what he doesn’t know. But, as he’s falling, he realises there’s no bottom and his fear dissipates. And as soon as that happens? He flies!
Nice. That’s a shared weakness of the human condition. Procrastination is fear of the unknown. It’s a coping strategy…
Yeah and that’s the story I’m telling. I’m 52, I’ve got nothing to talk about other than the human condition now. No one wants to hear about my trainer collection or my record collection, I’ve talked about breaks and cutting and scratching. I can talk about technology but that’s so common place so I’d rather talk about the human mind. Be that through talking and discussions or through music.
You took a while off to explore lots of other disciplines and ideas. Were there ever points when you thought you might not get back to the mindset where you’d want to write another album?
I go through cycles that last around 5 – 7 years. They’re all the same; I have these phases of interest where I consume, consume, consume and digest it all then gradually I experiment and I pour it all out in my own way. So at the beginning it was Fresh 4, then it was Full Cycle, then it was Represent, the next was Disruptive Patterns, the next was CBD oil. I’m very aware of these patterns and the incubations I go through on each one. It’s problem solving; what can I do with my time that would fulfil my creative ambitions? What can I do that will leave me feeling satisfied I’ve done something with meaning? How can I challenge myself and grow? They each feed into each other and the projects overlap and inspire each other. Actually I just got off the phone with a company doing something mind-blowing in a whole other field. So I’m just tinkering around. I’m always tinkering and exploring things. So, in answer to your question, I knew I would do music again but whether I’d do a traditional album again, I wasn’t sure.
I think it’s interesting that it’s being released on Crosstown Rebels. How did the link come about?
I think Damian Lazarus had read some of the posts about it the album that guys like Bryan Gee and Doc Scott had posted. I sent him the album, we spoke a lot about it and I thought it was a good fit. Damian’s vision for the label reminds me of the same spirit and excitement we had with Full Cycle. He was firing ideas at me and I found that inspiring. I’ve been riding solo for many years and it was good to feel part of a team that understood me. It was always in the back of my mind; can I give this project the energy and creative expertise it deserves? Me on my own? No I can’t. I enjoyed the process of this release. Being in Zoom meetings with a whole collective of talented people all sharing ideas. I’d missed that side of the process and it was great to be working with like minded spirits who were up for the adventure.
I wondered if it was scary to pass it into other people’s hands?
Yeah I had to think about it, but it had got to the point where it had to come out. I’d planned to release it in January but something came up, then I planned for a release in June but then covid hit so I waited and I was patient for once.
You’ve always been patient. You were happy for your music to stay on dub for years!
I guess. But I’m also lucky to have been very prolific so I didn’t mind things waiting on dubplate for release. At V and at Full Cycle we’d have music lined up for years so you’d have to wait for things to come out. At the time records took longer to build, too. Warhead took years to blow-up for example. But now things are promo’d for a week or two, they’re out and then that seems to be it.
Impatience is another problem with the human condition
I think the system is a problem. Music has become the commodity. The music was previously an event. When Dillinja dropped a record the whole world was on pause. The anticipation, the fall-out, the influence. In the movies things are built around one massive release. You have the first trailer, the second trailer, the trailer for the trailer. Then after the event you have the editor’s cut, the extended version, the alternative version. They maintain the value in the actual creation itself and make an event of it. But in music we’re giving this shit away. It’s like ‘FREE with Kellogg’s Cornflakes this week: Krust’s new album!’
That’s the event now. Somehow we’ve allowed that to happen. We’ve not been precious with music and its value. And it’s so easy to set up a label and launch as a new artist that it’s easy to confuse people’s interest in you as a career. Just because you’ve made some big tunes, that’s not a career. Stick to it for eight or ten years and then say it’s a career. That’s not to devalue anything anyone has created but it’s important to recognise the difference. Go to the Saatchi gallery, you won’t see the work of a painter who’s only been in the game for six months.
Yeah Skream posted about this. Your career doesn’t start until five years
Minimum! What other apprenticeship can you become a professional in six months? You can’t do that to be a nurse, a doctor, a mechanic, a pilot. You can barely get a driving licence in six months bruv!
On the flipside – there’s raw talent that changes the game. You guys did that. Bryan heard that when he signed you.
Yeah but there was a good nine years of practice and learning the craft before we even became known.
That’s the same for a lot of people coming through now though. We only see the tip of the iceberg, right?
True. I do think it’s a myth that anyone just bursts through, though, and that you still have to do your 10,000 hours at a very minimum. You don’t know who you truly are until at least 10 years into your craft and I do think people should hold back on what they’re creating and work on what they want to sound like before they’re putting it out into the world.
This is what stops people from sounding like who they truly want to be. That’s why we get a lot of copycats and identikit records because people are more comfortable hiding behind someone else’s sound. And because of this, we have a lot of inauthentic music who are just doing the bare minimum to get recognised and get space on the bills.
Then on the flip side the true artists who are actually breaking ground don’t get the spotlight because they don’t fit in with the status quo of the music and ‘the norm’, which is what mainstream audiences have been conditioned to hear and enjoy. They think that’s the actual culture to the point where they’re sent something that’s actually authentic they reject it. There isn’t enough critical analysis or appraisal of the artform because the whole thing is based on hype and short-lived popularity. There are two people types of creative people in the world. We all start off the same; we’re different, we develop our own tastes and our own thoughts, we might dress differently. And you’re teased for it, right?
It’s not nice is it? So now do you fight that and remain true to who you are and say ‘fuck you’ to fight and go through it and people accept you for what you do? Or do you crumble and assimilate to the norm? And there’s no judgement there about people who do, it’s just where they are on their journey. We all want to express ourselves but the ones who take the harder route don’t have anywhere near as much security and in times like these people go for the sure bets. They want families, security. Promoters need to fill their clubs. Artist need to sell their records.
We’ve lost the risk factor, which is what the whole thing was based on.
Exactly. Being the risk can pay off eventually, if you’ve got the ability to be uncomfortable for long periods of time. Going back to Warhead, it cleared the dancefloor when I first played it. That hurt! But I did it again and it cleared that dancefloor. And the next one, and the next one. A lot of people would have given up on it by then but I knew it was going to work. It took eight months until people got into it.
That’s mad. Can you remember the first time you dropped it?
Not the specific place but the look on this one guy’s face I’ll never forget. It was like he wanted to kill me! He was probably just high and coming up on something and I played this cantankerous tune and it took him off his vibe. I was getting similar reports from other DJs but we all still persisted with it.
I’ve always loved that about how a lot of seminal tunes were broken. Final thought… Do you think we’ll return to more of a risk-taking model because everything is so broken now?
I hope we see some more risk taking. There’s potential to see it. Artists have realised they have more autonomy and control. The power is in the artists’ hands again. People have learnt how to build their own audiences and market themselves and become more entrepreneurially minded. People don’t have to wait for a label or a booking or an agent to spur them into action – they can do things themselves. We’ve realised who our audiences are and what they want. These last six months have accelerated this and made us adopt technology on a whole new level and that’s inspiring. We are creators, this is what we do, we make stuff out of nothing – in a way nothing has really changed, we still have to be on our feet, have to think of new ideas, have to rise to new challenges. That’s where it began, it’s how we adapt that to the modern times. That’s exciting.