Swingin’ It: Krystal Klear

In the past four or five years, with the broadening tastes of the dancefloor mentality taking in bass music of all kinds – from classic garage, dubstep and turn of the century garage, to techno, house and r’n’b – the UK has been a breeding ground for the innovation, revival and amalgamation of a myriad of different styles, resulting in a strong identity of anything-goes experimentation, both in the booth and behind the boards. Of late, it seems that a number of djs and producers are increasingly incorporating the sounds of boogie, disco and r’n’b to the mix, as they explore the brightness of melody and authoritative production techniques these disciplines afford. Whether it be 2000F & J Kamata’s 2009 release ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’, Joker’s Timbaland-leaning ‘Solid State’, Deadboy’s DJ T€ARJ£RK£R side-project or even the recent chart bothering sensibilities of house producer Tensnake, it seems that the sound of the late-seventies, eighties and early-nineties are continuing to enthrall the bass music community.

This is where Dublin-raised but Manchester-based producer Krystal Klear steps in. Having just released his debut release on Cooly G’s Dub Organizer label, 22 year old Dec Lennon is pricking up ears with his mix of boogie and new jack swing taking in the colourful synths of early nineties Teddy Riley, the straight-up boogie beat of the BB&Q Band and his own flair for real instrumentation in the studio.

With current and forthcoming releases taking in labels like Eglo, Hoya Hoya and his much-loved All City Records, it seems the young talent has caught the attention of a good few taste makers over the past few months, so we were more than pleased when he agreed to not only supply us with an exclusive mix, but also talk to us in depth about his love all music made between 1980 and 1994, his hand in the development of Manchester’s premier club night-come-label Hoya Hoya, and his addiction to melody.

First off – what’s your background in music?
I’ve been involved in music pretty much most of my life; when I was 12 years old I started playing guitar and getting into alot of rock and metal music, directly from the influence of listening to Nirvana when I was 10 years old and, as I grew up and got older, obviously what I was listening to, my sounds progressed like everyone, listening to different sounds and different genres, and through that naturally, the creative side of me, in terms of making music, changed also. For example when I started listening to hip-hop, Dilla, soul and alot more of that kind of thing between the age of 15 and 16 I started to have much more of an interest in how that music was made, and I wanted to make some of it of my own – and it was really I think, just a huge curiosity – I bought an MPC and spent a good 2 years not really understanding how to use it properly. It was just when I was around 17 that I started to get the hang of actually using equipment, and I made the decision that it was something I wanted to progress with, get involved with and study and learn how to use equipment and make music in different ways.

And you say you make music from 1980 and 1994 as Krystal Klear, but what is it about that music that you’re attracted to?
I think that for me, I’m a real melody junkie. Music to me hits me hardest when its got alot of melody, and if the melody hits me in the right way, I guess my interest develops quickly and for me, growing up, whether it was metal or, y’know, grunge or hip-hop or electronica, it was always that the underlying music that was always on any mix CD or any cassette tape was boogie. It was something I just loved generally. And I just found that the music that I particularly love was made between 1980 and 1994, and to be honest, all those groups and musicians and the records in particular that I favour from that era… it was all about the funk you know what I mean? Without sounding too much like DâM [Funk] it was all about just like slamming basslines, kicking drums and dope melodies, and when they all came together it set a dancefloor on fire. But I think everybody though… y’know, it could be me wanting to play only grunge music from 1988 to 1994 y’know? It’s like for me, the music from that period, even metal and stuff, I preferred to anything else that came through. It really hit me alot harder whether it was Van Halen, to Slayer, to The SOS Band, to Chemise to whatever it was y’know… I was listening to Teddy Riley to Father MC so, I think it was the way things were done, the sound that was developed in those years… I just favoured alot more over anything else.

As you mentioned, obviously Teddy Riley is quite an influence with all the new jack swing that you make, and according to Wikipedia the definition of new jack swing used to be ‘a new kid on the block that’s swinging it’. Do you think that’s a good summation of Riley’s music and in turn, your music as well?
Well I think that for the time and place that Teddy was making his music, it’s definitely a firm representation of himself because he came out using alot of new methods, alot of different styles with a different syle of drum patterning… – he was flipping the game and y’know, Teddy Riley was that guy, creating a sound that was the definition of new jack swing.
It is a perfect example of him and the sound that he was making because at the end of the day he was there, he started this, and he was the new kid on the musicians block, in the producers circle, working from a studio in Washington Heights, with queues of people coming up to the door looking for tracks, so I think that’s definitely the best representation of himself. But in regards to me, I don’t think that’s got anything to do with me. I don’t think I’m doing anything particularly different in that regard, but i think that’s definitely the best representation Teddy could have ever had.

So how long have you been listening to disco and boogie, because it’s always been there. People may not necessarily have been making new disco, but disco music has continuously been played out, and it seems to be that round about now with people like Tensnake who’s threatening the charts and that sort of thing, that people’s interest in it really seems to be peeking again.
Yeah I mean, like when anything strikes the pan, y’know, the second time round whether its house or any kind of genre, it’s definitely tough to put your finger down as to why. But for me, I’ve been listening to it for years. When I was 9 or 10 years old my dad was bustin’ out Junior ‘Mama Used To Say’ or Jocelyn Brown or Evelyn King, and it gave me an introduction to what boogie really was at an early stage. In terms of the way it’s hit the scene as it was, or the dancefloors now, I can only put that down to – and in no way do I mean this negatively – I just feel like dancefloors have been in hibernation for a little while, I feel like for the past few years its been orientated around mellow sounds and just nodding your head music really. And for what that is, it’s banging, I mean it is all banging, but I just think that’s how it was, and I‘m a culprit for that. I’ve spent the last few years just standing and chilling out and nodding my head in clubs as opposed to just busting loose and dropping some moves or whatever, and I think that people now want to get up and they want to dance, and the fact that now most genres are cross-blending anyway… And y’know, with the arrival of Serato and the fact that everyone can mix at anything at any given time I think it’s opened that possibilty and people now are expecting to get down and have a good time when they go you know what I mean? I think that’s a factor as to why dancefloors are filling up to this stuff now, as opposed to how they may have 5 years ago.

What you’re using to make your beats, to me I think there’s a nice analogue sound there, but can you give us an overview of what it is you’re using to produce?
I use a bit of everything – I use some software, I use some analogue synths, but there’s nothing too special that I use over anything else. Everything I own anyone else could too. If anything the one thing I do use is a pair of shit monitors! (laughs) I use VST’s, I use live instruments, I use microphones for recording drums or percussion or whatever, so I really try to mix it up to make it as interesting as possible for myself in the studio when I’m making tunes y’know – I don’t want it to be a mundane process and I think that making music is like doing a painting in a sense in that you wanna be creative and you don’t wanna hold back and just sit back and work on something on your laptop.

Yeah I think that carries over into the music, again, with the melodies that you’ve been mentioning before, but there seems to be more of a musicianship there than the sort of quality banging dancefloor music that is well made, but can be easily broken down. It just seems there’s more there with some of your tunes.
Well it’s just like all the 80’s producers… If you listen to any solid 80’s boogie funk track, the thing you pick up… In fact if you just listen to any BB&Q record, and try to not acknowledge the vocals but just listen to what’s going on – there’s just so much going on. To begin with there’s a banana’s drum melody that’s not just kick/snare. You’ve got like electro-toms and hi-hats that are different, the sequences are different, then you’ve got slight arpeggiators coming in over pads, with brass synths on top and then this bassline that only cuts at certain points within 4 bars – there’s just so much going on and for me I think that’s why I love it so much because I do have a short attention span and that kind of music has so much going on, it kind of feeds that problem I have and that need of something to come in to keep me occupied with it.

So tell us a bit about Hoya Hoya – obviously you’ve hooked up with Illum Sphere in Manchester…
The thing with Hoya was, theres nothing really like it in the UK, at the momemt anyway, and I think just from the place that it started, to where it is now, its just been a huge development and I really have to put my hands down to Johnny and Ryan because the 2 guys have withheld so much intergrity doing what they do, that at the end of the day Hoya now fills out most weeks. It’s a great crowd, an interesting crowd, they’re up for hearing new music and it’s really gotten to the stage at Hoya that it doesn’t matter who’s name is at the top of the flyer, anybody can fill it out because the crowd have that understanding that they just want to go, they just want to hear what’s gonna get played – it’s a good time, it’s a good night with no pretentious attitude. We’re all just doing our own thing having a buzz playing tunes and it’s kinda like if you like it, great, and if you don’t well, we don’t really give a shit. I know that’s a strong attitude to have but I think if it wasn’t treated like that from Ryan and Johnny’s point of view so strongly that this is there’s, this is the way the want to have it, then it could be a totally different night and it might not be as popular. And they’ve got a tough market as Manchester has hundreds of student nights On any given weekend there could be half of London or people from around the world coming through to play sets, whether its just going to Warehouse [Project] or going somewhere else, and I think for them to still retain what they’re doing and not shove it down people’s throats, is a huge factor to its success.

Obviously you had a mix featured on Mary Anne Hobbs’ experimental show, before she left the BBC – how did you feel about the call up for that?
The Mary Anne thing was pretty mental because I personally felt like I was thrown into the deep end and I couldn’t believe how quickly these things were happening. For me it’s such a huge honour to have a mix on BBC Radio 1 point blank, but to have it on Mary Anne’s show is something else because Mary Anne is a spokesperson for electronic music. She’s got such huge repect from her peers to every listener, so for her to ask me to do it was a really really big deal and I was overcome with excitement, but then when the excitement came down I realised that “okay, now it’s time, I’ve got to do a really really good mix here”. So I thought I’d just take it upon myself as an opportunity to showcase some of my own music as I know I’m not a familiar name to anybody, so I felt I should put my own stuff out there and see how it goes down. I was really happy with how it went off and how it sounded, and the reaction it got was great so it was a turning point in what’s been going on with me so far.

So, you’ve obviously got a hand in All City and Hoya Hoya, but what is your roll there, and how did you get involved in both the labels?
Well All City is basically history to me. I’ve know All City since I was like 11 or 12 years old when the store first opened, so from being a little runt bugging Olan [manager of all City] at All City, to being a bigger runt at 22 years old and wrecking his head y’know? Me and Olan have had a huge bond, and I think it’s more just for me growing up and knowing Mike Slott, and Hudson and the guys we were releasing and just having my opinion it just developed into this thing where Olan and I would converse and organise things for the label. But I’m kinda stepping back a bit now as I want to tackle what I’m doing now. It’s more a family thing – All City is a family thing. As far as my role goes I just try and create projects and ideas, things that I think might work, and it’s like anything – sometimes a second head can be great for opinion or advice in any situation so I think that’s where Olan and I bounce back and forth.

Having kicked off the release schedule for 2 new label [Dub Organizer and Hoya Hoya], what have you got coming up next?
Apart from my religious folk record which I’m gonna try and get some Armin Van Buren techno mixes of (laughs), I’ve got a release on Eglo Records with Olivier Day Soul which is kind of a group project we’re doing at the moment called Krystal & Soul, which is kind of 80’s r’n’b crooner stuff alongside new jack swing which I’m really excited about, then a mini EP coming on All City which is kinda like my family label… I’ve got a good bit of stuff coming out and I think after that I’m just gonna try and work at as much music as possible and see how things go from there really.

Look out for forthcoming releases from Krystal Klear over at his Soundcloud page

Interview: Louis Cook