Dylan Richards, the artist formerly known as King Cannibal, refines and strips down his once brutal sound palette for his new album ‘Kill The Lights’ under his newly minted ‘House of Black Lanterns’ alias. Employing subtlety and restraint over brutality and noise, Richards weaves sonic tapestries rich with detail and dripping with underlying menace, darkness and sci-fi/horror tendencies, in the process creating one of the most thought provoking releases so far this year with.
Following strong offerings from Call Super and the debut HoBL EP ‘Truth and Loss’, ‘Kill The Lights’ – released via Fabric‘s new in-house label, Houndstooth – shows this year’s breakthrough label going from strength-to-strength. With forthcoming releases planned from shady mancunian duo Akkord, the debut album from Throwing Snow and Augustus Ghosts’ Snow Ghosts project on top of the well-received, long-awaited studio return to of techno legend Dave Clarke, on his new collaborative undertaking with Mr Jones under the ‘_Unsubscribe_’ moniker, Fabric and Houndstooth are clearly in it for the long haul.
We took to Skype to ask Richards a few questions about the album, Houndstooth, in-ya-face-dread and the break up with Ninja Tune.
How long was the album in the making before its release? Were you working on it before you hooked up with Houndstooth or was this project specifically for them?
I think the oldest material goes back to 3 years ago, which was much the same with some of the stuff on the King Cannibal album. It was kinda tightened up when they came on board as they went through and picked out what they liked and we both decided what would make for the best album, then I wrote a few more bits for the album, the last track being ‘You, Me, Metropolis.’ But some tracks were written in bits and pieces over a three year course.
So this album was in the making whilst King Cannibal was still alive and kicking?
Yes, certainly so. After the King Cannibal album I was approached by an A&R to do a major label project, he hooked me up with Catherine Pockson (of the Alpines) to work on some ideas – this was the time that Skream remixed La Roux and majors were courting Magnetic Man. He had an idea to do a bass project more in keeping with the Bristol sound of the late 90s, as they were going to just go straight pop. So I was working on this project and whilst I didn’t really feel all the instructions from the A&R chap, I still thought it was a valid idea. I went to Ninja with it and they thought so too, but didn’t want to put any time in on shaping it with me. It is very very difficult to make a radio friendly album like that on your own with little resources so I just wrote whatever it is I wanted to.
As bass music went further in to the charts (and this was even before the U.S took hold of it), it got less and less inspiring. I was inspired by Instra:mental’s early 4×4 tracks, so I started listening to records I like, a lot of the Trax stuff – a record like Phuture – ‘Your Only Friend’ has so much darkness in there and artists like Monolake… It isn’t a stretch really.
Understated darkness though…
Rather than in-ya-face-dread…
Heh, well – that has never been something I really tried to ever do on my stuff; I just like those tones and are naturally drawn to them I guess.
So Ninja stopped supporting what you wanted to do then?
It felt like maybe they had certain ideas when signing me that had then changed. Also I was looking at the other artists I was playing next to and feeling like I had less and less in common with them. Djing after Toddla T wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, and it felt like I was getting more and more pushed right to the end or start of their nights. I started getting really sick and tired of fighting for my music at that point – it was a struggle.
What did they want you to do?
I have no idea and that was the point. All communications were about what was wrong, what they didn’t like – but never anything about what they actually wanted. I’m guessing that’s because they didn’t actually know.
Ahh – very un-motivational?
Well… I mean there are things I could go in to, but it’s probably best not to!
So as well as the practicalities we have mentioned, were there any other reasons you decide to kill off King Cannibal? In my opinion the sound you were pushing is still fresh and relatively unexplored. By that I mean the meshing of tech step, dubstep and dancehall. Not many people are exploring that apart from maybe The Bug, but your sound was pretty far removed from that.
Some things best exist as ideas and concepts, the practicalities of it don’t always work out. For shows I was playing often with a lot of people like straight up dubstep and whilst I could lean things that way it just resulted in a skewed version of what I originally wanted to do. It is hard to write music without feeling like enough people understand it to make it viable. Like, first and foremost I write for ME, but the market that it was getting to was a small one.
I’m not saying that is dead forever, I’ve often tinkered with the idea of making it more of an arts-based project and doing really heavy modern classical stuff or just straight up DnB.
Modern classical along the same kind of lines that Roly Porter (of Vex’d) is making?
Yes, I guess that kind of thing.
I guess they suffered the same types of feeling that you did with their Vex’d project, being lazily lumped in with dubstep…
I’ve spoken to Jamie about it once, and from my memory he had similar thoughts – it was ages ago though.
So how did you hook up with Rob Booth?
So, with things not to my liking with Ninja I spent a fair amount of time hanging on and just writing, before having to force their hand and get out of the contract. I started talking to Jon Convex – swapping tunes and stuff, and we started planning to release the House of Black Lantern’s album on Convex Industries which gave me a big boost. By that point it had been a long time since I’d had anything out or been asked for material.
He had things come up and I was talking to Rob who had just started work heading Houndstooth (although the label name wasn’t even decided at this point). It seemed like a punt but I mentioned that I had all this material if he wanted to check it out. They were very responsive to it all, and I’m happy to say that 3 years or so later the album is done and out – there were times I didn’t think this would ever come out at all!
Did they allow you complete freedom, final cut as it were?
There were certain things they wanted, like Rob really pushed for another juke track as he liked Truth & Loss so much.
Hence ‘You, Me, Metropolis’?
Yes exactly. But we both worked on whatever would make for the best rounded album. I had spent so long asking Ninja to be involved, it was great to finally get input.
Tracks like ‘Murder Us’ or ‘So… Embrace The Minimum’ both embrace the 4×4 patterns, warm filtered reeses, dub techno stabs and the spring reverb effects that are still so prevalent on ‘Kill the Lights’ , with that in mind are the comments saying that House of Black Lanterns is a fairly big departure from King Cannibal actually true in your eyes?
Well, I don’t think many things in life can be sectioned off so easily, people, relationships, ideas – they all change, but it is slowly over a long period of time. I guess the difference is that this material is less aggressive, it is less ‘smash you over the head with a brick.’
I could never really listen to the King Cannibal album all the way through; I wanted to write a more rounded album that I could look forward to listening to. If I’d done ‘Shot You Down’ or ‘Names’ as King Cannibal I probably would have got some funny looks!
Has moving to Berlin affected your sound at all? Whereas before the DNA of London’s bass-culture ran through the veins of your King Cannibal work, there is a lot more emphasis on the minimalism and dub flecked tendencies of Berlin techno on ‘Kill The Lights.’ Was this intentional?
It is odd. The Berlin aspect has worried me, as when I was writing this material the cliché wasn’t to stop making dubstep and make house music – there was a period of people moaning about it on twitter – I didn’t want to be seen as a guy that packed up his studio, went to Panorama bar and then “found house music”.
Apart from ‘Beg,’ all the 4×4 tracks were written in London or Brighton. I’ve not been out to loads and loads of clubs but there is a lot of good music from here that has influenced the album. But I mean – I’d heard of Rhythm & Sound long before I’d heard of Hardwax. I find Berlin a funny place and not one I enjoy as a musician really.
You know you can’t escape the question of darkness in your work so here it is…
Haha! I’m that ‘darkness’ guy now?
You are the go to gloom merchant, where do these inclinations come from?
Well… I’m a grumpy bastard firstly! Probably due to listening to late 90s DnB too much as well! But yeah, not so much for the King Cannibal stuff, but for this I was going through a number of difficult things in my personal life. I lost hearing in one ear for a period of time, I had some difficult family issues going on, I broke up with my ex-partner, label issues – I mean there was just a year or more of one thing after another, so I just had to push all of that in to my music. I decided to write about how I was feeling, like most song writers tend to do.
I’ve tried to write happier sounding things but emotions are rounded and to write something just purely happy seems a bit odd to me, I’ve always tried to balance things a lot more. I get nervous if a track sounds to ‘happy’ as maybe I am guilty of equating ‘happy’ to ‘cheesy.’
I used to lurk on the DOA forum back in the day, so have seen first-hand your evolution in sound design…
Ah okay – yeah, people often call it sound design too. That is one reason why the King Cannibal album was the way it was, I wanted to use drum & bass sounds but wasn’t confident enough in production to make a DnB album. it is such a cut throat genre, I mean, you can have a great song, but if the mix is shit then the whole things is branded shit. So, I figured – hey if I do my own thing, people won’t be able to compare it to other people’s mixdowns. That being said, I think I read recently that you should be trying to write something that sounds ‘new’, not something that sounds ‘good’.
You have worked with a fair few vocalists on this album, firstly, were you one of them?
Reluctantly as a result of getting frustrated on not knowing enough vocals or having to wait for people – it was a real throwback to the Chicago house sound.
Do you enjoy the collaborative effect of working with external people?
It can sometimes actually make things more difficult. When it comes to live shows how do you have this music performed when it draws on people living in 3 different countries?
The stuff you did with Juakali is very reminiscent of some of the stuff Spaceape has done with Kode9. Is this spoken-word-dread the type of thing you were expecting when working with him, or did you envisage something different?
The original vocals on ‘Like A Warrior’ had singing parts to them and by pitching his vocals down I probably placed him more in to the Spaceape realm than he actually is. They are both very different characters but it was what I wanted from him and I stripped things down as much as I could.
The thought of Spaceape wasn’t even running through my mind at the time, but I can see why there have been comparisons and much of that is my doing. Sorry Jua!
Is it difficult for you to strip stuff down, seeing as you come from a more maximal background of music?
Oh no, I mean – there is still loads and loads going on, in fact the session sizes and sounds used vastly eclipse the King Cannibal stuff it is just they are different, less impactful type of tunes and so need to be treated differently. I’m all about detail in production.
So no 8-bar grime from you in the future then?
Sometimes I feel like I’m one of the few people of my age who didn’t grow up liking 2-step which has come to light recently, especially by the Boiler Room which is a bit of a haven for it.
What’s next for you? What are your plans for the future?
Seeing what comes naturally and avoiding peoples input on what should make up the next body of work. Whilst I do welcome feedback it isn’t actually feedback if there isn’t any material yet. If I sit down to write something with a goal in mind, I instantly want to go the opposite way and it doesn’t provide very good results.
Immediately though I’m planning a full visual show and trying to get a good live show in place. I’ve got a few 12″s lined up with Hypercolour and Apple Pips alongside a next Houndstooth release which has some pretty exiting contributors!
Words: Al Kennedy
‘Kill The Lights’ is out now on Houndstooth – head here to pick up your copy.