British Producer, and 1/3 of bilingual pop outfit Kero Kero Bonito, Gus Lobban has been turning quite a few heads with his enigmatic tech house. One of the clubbier acts to come out of PC Music, Kane West has made a name for himself with his use of flimsy and cheap samples (which I have previously dubbed Fischer Price House, for reasons which I will explain later on) in catchy and effective ways. His remix of “Let’s Go Dancing” was so bizarre that not only did it win, but it caught the interest of label head Tiga who signed Kane West. This week we’ll dissect Kane West’s sound along with his new EP on Turbo Recordings to get to the bottom of what makes him so appealing.
The first curious thing you’ll notice about the Expenses Paid EP is that its been filed under Techno on Beatport. Now whether this was an attribute given just by the label it happened to come out on or a deliberate label, it gives us a good frame of reference to compare Kane’s EP to other productions. The tracks all share a similar House structure driven by a 4/4 beat a muted build-up and drop as well as adding and subtracting various elements playing with different combinations to create a narrative, like any Techno track worth its salt.The tracks hearken back to the early days of techno with minimal sound design relying essentially on a drum machine or two and a sampler to create the whole track. There is an element of throwback in his productions, the basslines feel familiar like something you’d expect to hear in a classics compilation, but still out-of-place. On paper, Expenses Paid looks like your run of the mill tech EP but what sets it apart from the standard fare is the bizarre sound design.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes Kane West’s productions sound so cheap and rudimentary, but from the first listen something feels off. Tracks like “Expenses Paid” and “Mexicans” feel hollow and flat but in an intentional way that mysteriously works. When I’ve written about Kane West in previous Tech Tuesday’s I’ve referred to his sound as ‘Fischer Price house’ because it sounds like it was composed on a children’s play-set, a “My First Drum Machine” if you will. “Mexicans” features a horn riff so deflated and wonky that it sounds like it was running on nearly dead batteries and an almost comical “Oh Yeeeaaah” sample that provides a superficially cheery counter-note. Kane’s samples sound cheap. They are presented in the rawest possible format without any added reverb, compression, or book-ending fades to give sonic depth. Everything is very superficial and is matched by Kane West’s visual persona.
Like any other PC Music artist, Kane West has a very distinct visual presence to accompany his music. His cover art and logo’s come in comic sans or a default WordArt setting, and on stage he’s dressed very normcore typically seen wearing soccer jerseys. In a Thump interview, Lobban expressed a desire to become “the world’s biggest DJ” which seems odd given how deeply embedded his music is in counterculture but given PC Music’s larger-than-life pop ego makes sense but comes across rather hollow.
So why are we so attracted to Kane West’s weird sound? Is it because its ironic? That may be a part of it, but I don’t think that’s the whole picture. There is a very DIY aesthetic about Kane from his music to his persona, everything feels low-budget and low-tech. In a day-and-age where it seems like everybody and their brother has picked up a copy of Ableton looking to be the next Martin Garrix, Kane West is a caricature of that trope. Every decision in his work feels deliberate from his art direction to his sound selection gives the impression that each choice was carefully weighed and thought through. The thing is that people are unsure of what to make of Kane West. Is it an experimental music act or a performance art piece? And the fact is that it’s both. Kane West is catchy and works really well in a real world club but it’s also a work of performance art operating in a pre-determined framework. Its exhilarating to try to decipher because there is no clear explanation and its perfect fuel for think-pieces, so I encourage people to keep trying to solve the puzzle that is PC Music (and feel free to comment below with your best theories).