Kuedo: a certain sentiment
By, Sep 27 2011
Since first emerging in 2004 as one half of dubstep pioneers Vex’d, Jamie Teasdale has taken an artistic trajectory which has fascinated me just as much as it’s confused others.
I remember firstmeeting him in 2006 and being genuinely surprised by how humble and different he was from the music he then made as Vex’d. While Vex’d beats were abrasive and in your face, heavier than slabs of concrete, Jamie was soft spoken and a fan of genres and ideas that I’d never have suspected.
In the late 2000s, when it became clear that Vex’d would never fulfill the promise of afollow up LP to their classic Degenerate – though 2010’s Cloud Seed retrospective made for a good substitute – Jamie started on a new path. First under the name Jamie Vex’d, carrying with it the last vestiges of the project in his own way, and then as Kuedo, transforming his artistic persona across several EP releases and now his first solo album Severant, released on Planet Mu this October and the starkest departure yet from his previous sonic aesthetic.
Severant is surprising, beautiful and mesmerising, an album that will jolt old fans while recruiting plenty of new ones. It’s a bold move artistically speaking, one that explores concepts dear to Jamie and fuses them with musical inspirations both modern and old – notably trap rap, ’80s synthesizer sounds and juke – into a whole that’s surprisingly approachable. Curious to understand what had led to such a radical change, I spent two hours on the phone with the now Berlin-based Jamie, discussing futurism, alien drum patterns, the emotional juxtapositions of trap music and finally being free of musical scenes.
Who is Jamie Vexd/Kuedo? Are they the same person?
“Yes they are. They’re both me, Jamie Teasdale, writing music of a certain sentiment”.
How did you get started with music?
“As a child it was in and around my life. I was making it and playing it on instruments and I also made music on an Amiga when I was a teenager. I didn’t take it as a serious endeavor until I was about 22 though”.
Was there something in particular that made you want to take it seriously?
“I didn’t see any other kind of life. I also worked as a studio engineer, which is separate to the creative endeavour for me anyways”.
Which came first, the technical or the creative side?
“I think I found my creative confidence later in life. I went for the technical side as more gainful employment and later realised I might be able to do more creatively. I realised I might be able to actually offer something that way. I always had that ambition but felt morecompelled to act on it later in life. Even when I started making and releasing music with Roly as Vex’d, I took care of the engineering and mixing side of things. My role you could say was more of a managing approach to all sides of the project whereas Roly did a greater amount of the creative drive for it. So for the last few years I’ve been putting all this other stuff, especially the technical, audio stuff, out of the picture and focusing on the creative to have a genuine artful creation. That’s been by far and away the most challenging, rewarding part of making music, the artistry of it. In all my different relationships with sound – I’ve done sound design, music for adverts, etc. – the role of an artist is the most powerful and challenging to me. It’s something that I’ve been trying to make my main relationship with creating sound”.
What was, or is challenging about it?
“I think it’s challenging for anyone, though one of the things that was challenging for me is that there’s a lot of ways you can signify emotion and feeling and give the impression of it without it maybe really being there. One of the things that’s challenging is when you get down to the intentions of what you’re trying to do, to make sure that it comes from a genuine place, that it sounds authentic to you. That side of it is challenging. And you get better at it the more you practice it, the more you challenge yourself with it. There are many levels… there’s a never ending aspect of being better at it. It should always be a challenge. Just capturing something, chasing something and the things you try to capture…”
They change once you capture them?
“Yeah. You then try to catch something more slippery if you will”.
“It should always be a challenge. Just capturing something, chasing something and the things you try to capture…”
So why the long wait for the album?
“Well Vex’d, as a project, took a lot of time to come to an end and then there was a lot of personal stuff which obstructed music work. It was difficult to find the time and headspace, and once it all passed over I set about making this album”.
Was there a part of capturing what had happened to you in the new album, translating those emotions?
“Yes. There was a lot more to draw upon as a result, internally. There’s a reflection on before, during and after those events”.
From Vex’d to Jamie Vex’d to Kuedo and now the Severant album, there seems to be a distinct artistic evolution there, and with the album a distinct departure from earlier “sounds” or sonic aesthetics. Would you say there is a link between all these steps, or are they just a natural result of your evolution as an artist?
“I think the early Jamie Vex’d records could have been Kuedo records because they come from the same intentional place in a way. Maybe it’s okay that they’re not though, as they do feel a bit like a stepping stone. They sound transitional in a way. It’s just not something that I worry about. I think with this album I just really don’t want to resolve that narrative to Vex’d. It feels so distant now to me, it’s a non-fact to my thinking about music in general now. During that time, making music as Vex’d, there was a working process of making music that I think bled onto the next records – the Jamie Vex’d records – and some amount of aesthetic as well. I think a lot of the defining character of Vex’d, in terms of its energy, its spirit was to do with Roly and in the Jamie Vex’d records you can maybe hear a bit more of the parts I contributed to that project. I think Roly will always sound like Vex’d and continue to. For me it’s going to be harder and harder and less meaningful to try and resolve it. It’s just becoming less and less relevant, where to me it feels… It doesn’t feel connected, it’snot being myself. People change, almost regardless of intentions. The people involved have changed and I am so different now with the way I relate to music compared to how I was back then”.
You make art as a reflection of who you are at a certain point in time. I see it a lot where people, fans especially, will like an artist and their sound but then when that artist and their sound evolves people seem to be less able, or inclined, to follow that evolution. That’s happened a lot I think with people like you and others who came up at the same time in the pre-dubstep wars days and who ended up affiliated with this certain London sound, willingly or not – Kode 9 is another example. People change and there seems to bea disconnect if you will for many fans.
“I think that can also happen to artists in an inverse way. You can get stuck in your own creations a bit, in your own storylines, though inevitably everyone changes. Because you might have released some records under a certain character at a certain point in time you might feel the need to stick to that one form even ten years down the line, even though you’re no longer the same person. I think some people do that. I can only really talk from my own perspective and feeling on it but to me it feels quite liberating and I think you get better musical returns if you just embrace the change, rather than trying to stick with an older creation out of allegiance to it. Everything that we listen to, everything we interact with, we have a set of expectations built around it. And so what happens when an artist creates something different is that the expectation apparatus from the old thing gets placed onto the next one, even if it’s a completely inappropriate set of expectations. And that’s actually quite obstructive. I think it’s one of the difficult things, for me, in looking at this new work through Vex’d. And actually the people who didn’t like Vex’d would get the new album much quicker I think”.
In the press release there are references to futurism, modernism and escapism, and to me a lot of music on the album has a nostalgic quality to it. Was there a particular process that led you to latch onto these ideas and translate them into this new music?
“I spent a bit of time considering intentions, reassessing everything and my relationship to music in general: how I listen to it, what I expect from it, what I wanted to do with it andwhere it all came from. I was trying to find what I had to say, what I was trying to get across, what was it that was worth sharing with people? I guess part of it was looking back over the things that had been important to me throughout my life and identify them in a way,and also from the music I loved – what was it about it that I loved. Not just the music eitherbut other creative things: creative artefacts, films, books and imaginative spaces [that] I found myself in a lot, and their history. And so the things which kept coming back were my habit for escapism and futurism, which were tied together as a child. This is more personal stuff inside me, at an emotional level. Those early habits account for a lot of that, like my habit of finding myself in imaginary places where I would escape to.
“Musically I realised that the music that so often inspired me, and which I ultimately aspired to make, was music I felt was futuristic and modernistic, music which had those qualities for me. I sort of understand why people call it nostalgic, but it’s not to me. After thinking about all this stuff and identifying it, not analytically just in terms of what felt right, I tried to understand what was the best way to express that, to capture it. I wanted to capture this sort of starry-eyed futurism. It’s not the only theme on Severant but it’s certainly a big one and so I looked at what the devices were that carry that. And I think some sounds just carry that feeling better than others. They have a quality to them and often they might feel familiar because we’ve tried to express this in our culture for quite some time and these sounds just seem to nail it. There is that sort of glassy, airy, slightly vocal-ish synth sound, the rising arpeggiated synth lines also have it and that Vangelis sweeping sound just has it. This is a thing that is really hard to unravel and you never really know. Are these expectations passed down through pop culture, or are they innate within the sounds themselves? I’m personally sliding with the latter. I think they just have that quality”.
In a way, I think the nostalgic quality to Severant is maybe the most obvious element, especially after a first listen. It’s maybe the quality that’s closest to the surface if you will, but on repeated listens a lot more qualities become apparent.
“Well I think we have a tendency nowadays to listen to music in terms of reference points. That’s what we’re almost taught and encouraged to do. It’s a natural way to talk about it. Those sounds were not intended as reference points, they’re not there to identify this prior ‘thing’. I chose those sounds because they made me feel the emotion I was trying to capture. They felt like the right thing to use. Maybe the fact that it might feel nostalgic is because I tried to go for a quite genuine, earnest futurist sentiment, and that’s not been such a popular thing to do?”
Well the futurist elements you refer to, whether in the music or the futurist designs that appeal to you and which you share on the internet, are interesting because they’re an idea of the future that comes from a certain era in our pop culture and which often imagined the era we actually live in now. It’s a snapshot in time of what we thought the future would be, but those ideas of the future have mutated into different things, real things. So people go back to some of the stronger futurist ideas and it can still be seen as science fiction even though some of it has become ‘real’.
“Yeah, I think there’s a feeling that the future has arrived – I think this happened around the turn of the millennium – and a realisation that there’s not going to be a big change. It’s not something we look to with a great sense of awe or uncertainty or wonder because everything is sort of the same and we’re already there. We already talked about the year 2000 for so many decades before hand that when it came it felt like an anti-climax in its lack of difference. So you could say there’s a sense of futurism being out dated in away. Which I think is a huge fallacy. I think that’s beginning to fade now as we see changes, maybe the world isn’t so static: geopolitically, in terms of new technology like cloud, bio, nanotech etc… So I don’t think we’ve got over that millennial feeling that that there is no future anymore and so we’re still slowly returning to futurism… possibly. The last time it was widely and earnestly embraced was the ’80s. And that was when futurism was very prevalent in the culture. It was also the first time people had digital technology to express this feeling, so it still feels relevant to us, whereas the stuff from the prior decades like the ’60s and ’70s feels more distant because there’s no digital technology behind it. It feels more archaic”.
As you said the world has changed, and technologically speaking we’re actually close, and in some cases we’re there, to what was imagined in the science fiction of the ’70s and ’80s.And I guess there’s this feeling that when we were imagining all these things back then, when they came to pass they didn’t – and still don’t – feel like we thought they would. They’re just normal in a sense. I think smart phones are a very good example of that, we take them for granted, they’re a sort of logical evolution of the mobile phone yet they’re actually self-aware pieces of technology which know where they are at any one time and are able to behave by themselves in a limited, controlled way. That’s the future in a sense.
“In the sci-fi that we saw people didn’t walk around being blown away by things like videophones you know? They didn’t go ‘oh shit!’ [laughs] It was normal and that’s how it is now. I guess I don’t buy that just because some aspects of the future we previously envisaged haven’t arrived, that future somehow is negated. There’s still a huge space that’s hurtling towards us, and I guess it’s weird that we don’t feel like we’re moving towards it and there’s something there, or that we feel it’s predictable. And that dictates whether or not we have this feeling of futurism and the need to express it, or even just be interested in it. As soon as we feel like there’s not that change coming, that sentiment dies and when we feel it is coming I think the feeling comes back.
“I don’t want to get too bogged down in the futurism aspect of the music, because that’s not the only one, but I think there is also a sentiment to this word futurism that we feel… it’s like the best thing we have to describe it but we end up confusing a few things by using it. I think it overlaps with a feeling of starry-ness, an astral place in the stars, which is a completely separate idea to a feeling of modernity. When we talk about the feeling of futurism we are often talking about that same kind of feeling that we get from looking into deep star fields or images from space. And that’s maybe because those things only came to us in modern times. Or maybe when we think about our future in deeper terms we think about being in the stars, and somehow the two have become intertwined. When I’m trying to nail down that emotion which I’ve referred to as futurist in the music it’s that as well, that feeling you can get from looking at pictures of NASA. It’s another side to the whole futurism aspect really”.
“In the sci-fi that we saw people didn’t walk around being blown away by things like videophones you know? They didn’t go ‘oh shit!'”
As you said futurism isn’t the only theme in the album. There’s a bit in the press release that mentions juke and coke rap. The juke element I can sort of see in the rhythms you’veused on certain tracks, but the coke rap thing is I guess less apparent to me, less obvious. Could you explain that a bit more?
Yeah, it was never meant to be overt and nor was the juke thing. I was listening to a lot of that music at the time I made the album so when it came to programming drum patterns that was what felt modern to me, modernist if you will. It was naturally coming up because they were my dominant reference points for ‘new’, for expressing now. But also for expressing the idea of moving forward rather than a retrograde feel to the beats. The beat patterns of footwork are easy to identify because they’re so radically different to what we’re used to, they sound so alien that you can hear and identify them immediately. With the trap beat and coke rap patterns, people have been using them for a while now yet there hasn’t been much comment on it. The drum patterns you get from people like Lex Luger or Waka Flocka Flame – this kind of Atlantan, 808 thing – that’s where those drum patterns come from when they appear on the album. Like hi-hat rushes which are used by producers within that music. The thing is people might expect to hear dubstep on the album and thus they’ll hear dubstep in the beats but that’s not what I’ve been listening to. What I’ve been listening to on a daily basis is new rap, so the beat patterns have similarities to that. They’re on a similar tempo though, which you might call half step funnily enough”.
So when you say people expecting to hear dubstep on the new album, you’re referring back to this idea of transposing expectations from previous work to new material?
“Yeah, it’s the same with other producers who were previously associated with dubstep… if that kind of rap is a big part of someone’s listening, then it would be obvious where the beats come from for those guys. But if it’s not then people just write it off as dubstep. Butactually I think that kind of rap has been exerting a really big influence on [ex-dubstep] people for the last 18 months or so”.
Well it’s definitely been prominent, in a sense, in America for a while in the same way that hyphy was a few years back. America has its own little bubbles of rap which do crop up elsewhere from time to time.
“I started writing the album around last winter and so now it’s obviously not as new as it was then, but it has been around for a long time now”.
It depends when you discover it ultimately. If you discover it tomorrow then it’s new to you. I find it interesting because I feel there’s maybe a loss of energy if you’ve been a fan of something for a length of time, you tend to look at it with rose-tinted glasses if you will, whereas someone who discovers it for the first time, they have this energy which you may no longer have…
“Well when I said new and modern I meant it in a more objective way. If you take a particular year, like 2010, 2011, what are the unfamiliar or recently forged ideas? And for me when Ithought about those new forms within electronic music – and when I say electronic music I include rap because to me hip-hop is electronic music, one hundred percent – those are the things that seem to be most deserving of that description: footwork and this recent kind of rap. So coke rap is a descriptor for this, an ugly one, and within it there’s a general production aesthetic and also a sentiment that I find really compelling to listen to and I made it one of the biggest part of my listening for the last few years. There’s a lot of drama in it. They tend to use quite dramatic, melodic lines and yet there’s a cold transiency to it in a way, something quite synthetic, plastic especially in the synth sounds. I think that gives the music an odd presence because it’s going through this emotion yet feeling somewhat detached from it as well. And then there’s a rolling machine, 808 drum pattern that’s adding looping intensity to it, and these two things come together in a really interesting way and have an interesting effect as a listener. It’s compelling yet detached. It sounds mournful yet synthetic, maybe a little hollow in some ways”.
Totally. I think these qualities are also apparent in a lot of the hip-hop that has come to the fore in the last ten years, this electronic hip-hop style if you will. I remember the first Dabrye productions I heard felt like that – they were warm like hip-hop used to be, yetused these cold, detached electronic sounds and I couldn’t quite reconcile the two in my head at first.
“For sure. Of all the guys that came around at that time, before and just after Dilla’s passing, Dabrye really carries that feeling”.
I find it interesting that you ended up marrying things on this album which may not be obvious to most people. And maybe that’s another innate element of this music we’ve been discussing because I remember reading interviews with Dabrye around the time of [his album] Two/Three where he described using the sounds he did because that was what hip-hop sounded like to him. What you as an artist might think is logical, in the sense of the creative process, obviously may be a different experience for the listener.
“Everyone brings their own set of preferences and what makes sense to the music. The thing that transferred into the album from coke rap was the intensity but detachment which is what I get from the music. A lot of the rapping is emotionally detached from the subjects they talk about. They deliver it in a really, detached emotionless tone which has a weird effect to it and often they have dramatic backing tracks which is an odd juxtaposition. The music behind it is often quite spaced out, some of it really sounds like sci fi music. A lot of the stuff from the Danny Brown and Tony Yayo tape to me sounds like sci fi a great deal, it sounds like good space music but then all the raps are gutter level, drug deal raps. And that’s a really strange juxtaposition but it’s in built in what that music is. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I find it quite beguiling, because it’s not one dimensional even if a lot of things they talk about are one dimensional. It just has a weird paradox inside it which makes it more compelling to me. And that sense of things not being so easily nailed down is another thing that I find myself doing in a way when I try to capture real, lived emotions.
“I feel like I’m nailing them more when I’m not making them too simple. Instead you make it feel a bit of a mix between sadness and something that’s running in the other direction perhaps, because that’s how life feels you know. So that’s what might feel like different directions in the music too I guess. I find it very interesting within music and life generally.
“A lot of the stuff you hear in this rap we’ve been talking about, the melodic devices and sounds, is actually really similar to what Tangerine Dream used, music that’s thought of as complete space music. It’s also similar to Oneohtrix Point Never for example. It’s just as much in the rap tracks, the intentions aren’t quite the same and it’s on another level but there are a lot of similarities”.
I’ve heard the Tangerine Dream analogy before from older people, saying some modern rap and electronic music reminded them of Tangerine Dream records.
“These things are much more related than I think we give them credit for. It’s a very short jump from Tangerine Dream to synth-pop like Yellow Magic Orchestra and it’s not that muchof a big jump to go from a lot of that synth pop to rap music and to new electronic stuff orto the new art school pop stuff from labels like Tri Angle, which was also a huge chunk of my listening time. A lot of the new pop stuff is as important as the other stuff in terms of influencing the album. The feeling that you get from a really good, sincere pop song was something that I tried to capture as well”
I could be way off here, but do you feel that the music you made for Severant was cathartic in a sense?
“[I’m] not going into details about anything but just a general degree of catharsis when the record was done.Well obviously there’s one part of it that’s cathartic when the record is done, yes. In terms of catharsis beyond that the answer is yes as well, not in any kind of finality but it made sense of stuff for me. Then again it should do right?”
Well you hope so of course. I realise it’s a bit of an obvious self-answering question.
“Thing is it’s not something I’ve had before or previously with albums or music I’ve released, so it’s a totally relevant question”.
So it’s the first time you’ve felt like that after completing an album?
“Well it’s the first time it’s been about personal stuff, and without obscuring myself out of it – that was the intention behind some of the music, to try and nail certain experiences to some extent”.
And are you glad you did?
“Yeah, because it’s of increasing value to me to have a point to make with music, to actually say something rather than just make noise. And that’s not a critique of noise, but to have something that people can take something from is the point. It’s the higher purpose of it”.
“To me the new movement of music, being part of the process of music evolving, I find enthralling”.
I think it runs through any creative endeavour. You create because there’s something in you pushing you to do it and if people can take something from it.
“That is true but then there’s also a point where you do something because you want it to mean something to other people. It’s not to make other people happy, it’s to do something that contributes, and that’s a way to explain why I felt the need to go into myself a bit in the first place. Otherwise you’re not giving anything out”.
“”To me the new movement of music, being part of the process of music evolving, I find enthralling. And to do that it’s incumbent to pay attention to new music”I think the external influence of music is amazing. Honestly, I don’t believe artists when they say that [about not being influenced by what they hear]. Artists talk a lot of shit in my opinion [laughs] Maybe that’s true and maybe it’s great and maybe one day I’ll be in that place where I feel like I don’t want to hear anything by anyone else… But I love being absorbed by music, being challenged by new ideas and other people’s amazing art. One thing I can understand is that people focus down their listening during a period where they’re trying to get one thing done. And that’s certainly something I’ve gone through in my life, I’ve cut out strains of music I found interesting but which were not conductive to my own work, not feeding into it. I can’t judge it, as I may find myself in that place one day…
This is something that keeps coming up though, in various “scenes” that are entirely unrelated. I personally think the internet plays a huge part in this, especially in the last 5 to 10 years. The way communication has changed is a huge factor, as is the way means of producing and reproducing have changed. Wasn’t it you who mentioned this idea that 20 years ago when we were all at school being creative wasn’t cool, it was frowned upon, whereas now it’s encouraged and something everyone seems to take a part in almost automatically, because it’s easier.
“Yes, and I think this is why I know there’s a generational change. I think that’s how I know I’m getting on in life, because of this distance”.
Maybe that’s why we end up with those making music for music sake movements, which the whole beats thing of the last few years is a very good example of as was turntablism before it. I do believe both scenes were catalysed by the internet and the need to belong, and the fact it was easier to belong once you could communicate with anyone in the world who had a computer and a net connection. I’ll never forget a quote I was given in one of my first interviews where – talking about UK hip hop – the guy said that the problem was that everyone was a DJ, a producer or a promoter but no one wanted to be a fan anymore. I think that’s even more relevant today.
“[laughs] “Yeah he nailed it. I guess that’s what I find sort of repulsive about this idea of disconnecting from music because it’s disconnecting from the idea of being a fan of it. Though I can sympathise in one sense because I just want to hear good stuff, and if you’re making music especially you want to listen to something that’s really good, otherwise if you’re listening to mediocre stuff your music might be mediocre. So what’s really good? And with past history there’s more stuff to listen to that’s really good, that’s just a fact. Your chances of stumbling across something truly great get smaller and smaller the closer to the present you look. So on one hand I understand but I also think there’s another side where people find it harder to appreciate stuff that they feel perhaps they’re competing against. I certainly get that with some other producers. Sometimes it seems difficult to appreciate new music in general because you feel like a competing agent within it. No one wants to be a fan is funny though… ultimately it’s cool to partake in the fun game of aesthetics and new styles, fashion really. It’s youthful and it’s great and everyone should be doing it but it’s also cool to go deeper than that, it’s going to be innately more rewarding. That’s the place where I find myself at now really”.
So where do you go from Severant?
“I don’t know. Go back into practicing and exploring music. It happens in phases for me, itwas mixed quite recently and now is a good time… It’s nice to have an open thing when youstart to re-explore, after having that period of focusing down and you throw the net out andthink about things more openly and just practice. At some point it’ll start happening again,I may perhaps get a new form to what I want to do. Or maybe not. Or maybe it will turn outthat the language I found on this album can be explored some more, there’ll be more to saywith it. And if it just feels right I’ll continue to explore those things if they’re saying what Iwant to say”.
Kuedo will be DJing at Audio Doughnuts’ 1st Anniversary at Found @ Hidden on November 25. Severant is out next month on Planet Mu.