Kowton + Tessela: Two of the UK’s most exciting producers
They’ve forged a shared but singular aesthetic, using techno as a base from which to push elements of grime, house and hardcore into fractured and pummelling new configurations.
Pinning them down in the midst of their ever-hectic tour schedules, we got the pair to sit down over pints and bad sausage rolls in anticipation of their appearance on the Crack Stage at this year’s Love Saves The Day. And so they settled in to quiz each other about sleep deprivation, the art of collaboration and getting high on superglue.
Kowton: Where’ve you come from mate?
Tessela: From Belfast. I landed about an hour ago.
K: How was the gig?
T: It was good. The room was a bit big! Where’ve you come from?
K: A swinger’s club in Fishponds.
T: [laughs] That’s the start of the interview…
K: Were you DJing or playing live?
K: Wow, that’s a lot of work.
T: I kind of like it. We [the TR\ER live show alongside his brother Truss/MPIA3] have been starting when the club opens and playing till the club closes. You can play some weirdy-beardy stuff at the beginning, and build it up from there.
K: I think it depends where you’ve come from [the night before], how tired you are…
T: Yeah, I did three in a row the weekend before last. I got two hours sleep the whole weekend, and I was a mess by the end of it. I thought I was going to collapse.
K: Do you think those situations can compromise your performance?
T: I think the performances change, I don’t know if they’re compromised. With the live show you can go a bit weirder and a bit nuts, doing 10 minutes of fucking noise or something.
K: It’s almost the psychedelia of sleep deprivation is quite exciting in itself.
T: Exactly. I read somewhere – and this might be bollocks – but apparently Aphex Twin used to sleep deprive himself for three days until he entered a really weird state, and then make music. I’m not saying I’m doing that, but…
K: You’re comparing yourself to Aphex Twin, basically.
T: Five minutes in and I’m comparing myself to Aphex…
T: I was chatting to Peverelist the other day about the Livity Sound show, and how it’s quite different to the one I do with my brother.
K: Is yours more spontaneous?
T: We know where we’re starting, and we know where we’re going to end, and then in-between it’s pretty much an acid jam. With the Livity stuff, you guys have a lot of material that’s been released that people are aware of. You kind of have your ‘hits’. We don’t have that. We just do acid noodles for an hour.
K: I think there’s a joy to that though. When you see Kassem Mosse or someone, he’s not even playing tunes. It’s just a 16 bar loop that’s he’s layered over another 16 bar loop over another, and it’s fucking great, I love it. It’s that experience of witnessing something wholly transitory. I think that’s what live shows give you the chance to do, in the same way as when you’re seeing Jeff Mills at his best. It’s not tunes, is it? It’s just rhythms interacting endlessly.
T: Yeah, that’s definitely my most watched Boiler Room vid.
K: You don’t want to be doing little details that no-one really notices, ’cause unless you’re on the perfect soundsystem they aren’t going to come through. Go for the jugular, because people are out there to enjoy themselves. They’re not there to be making notes about how nicely you tweaked the reverb on that fucking clap.
T: Just bang it out.
K: Absolutely. I played in Southampton with Bashmore recently, big fucking show, 1500 people, it was vibes. The promoter came up to me afterwards and was like “mate, the music was mindblowing, the tunes were fucking brilliant, but you’re no fucking Digweed though are ya?” I took that as a compliment, fuck being all seamless and that.
T: Collaborative projects. Let’s talk about that. We worked in the studio together. I find, generally, working in the studio with people, I’m never very good at it. One of the first people I tried it with was Pev, before I knew him really. This was a few years ago and I couldn’t get passed the fact that Pev was in my “studio” so I just sort of sat there not being very helpful. I’ve also tried with Gramrcy and some others and often find it quite tough. But then me and you got in the studio the other day and that was fine.
K: It was positive, wasn’t it.
T: And with my brother it’s fine. And you work with Pev, you work with Bashmore, and that’s fine. Do you find working collaboratively with people easier in the studio?
K: It’s just how your personalities interact when you’re sat in front of a computer. I’ve done enough things with people that didn’t really work, but that doesn’t make anyone a better or worse producer. I think really it’s about working methods, coming at things from the same perspective.
T: Yeah. Having similiar production processes or ideas.
K: I think that’s why I can work with Pev. We want the same thing from dance music; it’s supposed to be heavy, it’s supposed to make people jump around. It’s not meant to be boring or progressive etc. I think when you’re working toward a common goal then immediately you’re on the right page.
T: Yeah, that’s exactly it.
K: One of my favorite people to work with is Bashmore, just cause he’s got so many musical ideas. He’ll jam on the keyboard or the drum machine and straight away it sounds good. It’s amazing to be in a position to almost executive produce someone that’s so full of ideas and so fluid.
T: Like you were saying, he’ll do a really long noodle and you’ll be like “nah, just that bit”.
K: “Those two bars.”
T: “Just loop that.”
K: And that’s the tune. The first things we did I didn’t feel like I was in a position to say ‘mate, that’s rubbish’ or whatever, and now it’s like “what’re you doing? That’s shit”.
K: Let’s talk about flying. Are you scared of flying?
T: No. Well, I went through a phase of being scared, but not anymore. When I started doing it more I got more scared, but then I read somewhere that said you could basically fly every single day for the rest of your life and there’s still a very good chance that you wouldn’t crash.
K: There’s like a 1 in 7,000,000 chance that you’ll die, regardless of how many times you fly. In order to compare the number of road deaths to the number of flight deaths you would have to crash a jumbo jet every day of the week for a year, or something like that.
T: It’s mental.
K: I had to fly back into the UK when there was that big storm recently, and as ridiculously over-the-top as it sounds, everyone on the flight was really fucking edgy cos we’re going to land in a fucking hurricane, basically. Everyone actually listened to the safety announcement.
T: Taking notes.
K: In the end nothing happened, it was fine. But I think it puts you in touch with your own mortality, very, very briefly.
T: Do you mind long journeys? Can you sleep?
K: The only long journey I did was to New Zealand when I was 18, and it was fine. But I’d taken a CD wallet, and it was in the era of MiniDiscs, so I’d superglued loads of little MiniDisc cases onto the inside of my CD wallet.
T: You can buy MiniDisc holders.
K: Well I know that mate. I needed a lot of MiniDiscs basically, a lot of bad Deep Dish MiniDiscs. Anyway, I was sat with it on my knees the whole way to New Zealand, and when I got there the whole of my respiratory system was filled with fucking Airfix glue. I’ve been inhaling plastic glue for the past day and everything’s fucked. That’s my only experience of long-distance flying.