It’s needless to say that we’ve been heavily looking forward to that Friday night on which Kutmah would perform in Rotterdam. Kutmah had already earned himself a steady position in our top three all time favorite DJs, and his performance turned out to be one of the best nights of 2013 in jazz venue Bird. The next day we grabbed some early coffees and sandwiches and talked about his music, art and life.
Why did you start your label ‘IZWID’ and what can we expect?
The first record of Esgar, and this guy Seven Davis Junior. Wait, let me talk about Esgar. He’s from Oxnard California. The place Madlib, Kan Kick, Oh No, DJ Romes and Rocc C come from. So Oxnard has a rich musical history, but only that camp came from Oxnard. I found Esgar on Soundcloud or even MySpace years ago when I was still living in LA. He had a track that I was always playing and nobody was releasing it. I was like ‘Why don’t I just put it on a 7 inch and put it out?’. My friend Brandy Flower who’s with Hit+Run, helped me out with the screen printed covers for Izwid. He was also like ‘Yeah, let’s just do it!’. And my friend Scott was also in, so it’s basically the three of us and it all just came together. Nobody is putting out records like this Seven Davis Jr. record, which is coming out in a couple of months, it’s all unreleased music from around 1999 to 2012. It’s all this amazing soul music that everybody completely slept on in LA. Nobody gave a fuck, while he was in the studio making G-funk and R&B and playing this freaky dance and soul music. People thought it was wrong, like ‘You’re going to hell’ and stuff. There’s this song called Pornostar, which is a slow jam, and people think you’re going to hell for making that. But I think this guy is amazing, he’s making amazing music so I’m putting that out.
And this guy Al Dobson Junior, who used to live in Brixton but lives in London now. He’s really special, making some nice rhythms and just really soulful music. It’s beats, but a little bit more, like slow house. I’m going to do a 12 inch for Izwid myself, in April, just why not. I’m not really a musician, but whatever.
So you produce as well, like the thing you did with Shuggie Otis?
Yeah, I did 63 edits when I got his new record. I love Shuggie Otis, that’s my record, I love that! I just got the new record and I did edits of the record that night. In that night I was like, fuck it, I just edit all his music. Just trying to take out the vocals, I didn’t add that much or do anything crazy. I’ll probably put the whole thing out one day, I don’t know yet.
How do you approach shows? Do you prepare some stuff in advance?
I have one playlist in use with maybe like 2000 songs, and I try to BPM all my shit and don’t plan things in advance. So I just throw in stuff I know, sometimes things I don’t know that well. I know what I’m going to play like five minutes before. Someone is playing something, and then I’m like ‘Oh I’m playing this song after’. It’s all about the vibe of the night, the people and the sound system, how it all comes together. I never feel like playing a planned set. When I do that, it all becomes bullshit and a waste of time. I know my music, so I just wing it. And I usually do the opposite of what people play before me. So when someone is playing beats before me, I get irritated, because I like to play beats. So what I do, I’m going to play dub for 10 minutes. I have to switch it up, because otherwise there is no difference between you and me.
You always seem to find fresh new music. How do you keep track of it all?
I bother people. And I always check out Soundcloud, once in a while I hear a Dj play some shit that I like and I’m like ‘Give me that!’ I just ask a lot of people you know. But recently a lot of people been sending me stuff. Young kids as well, I got this beat from a kid who is 15, and it was pretty good! Some things are for live sets, some things for the NTS radio show. On the radio show you can get away with everything, but when I’m playing live I feel like I have to get peoples attention. I would just rather play my really mellow music, and not have to deal with clubs, but you got to get paid I guess[laughs]. Just like the last song of the night, remember? I want to play a whole set of last songs of the night.
'But my first concert happened when I was 12, in LA. I had a girlfriend, I let her do make up on me. So we went to see Depeche Mode, I had eye liner on, and she did my hair and shit.'
What are your biggest musical influences?
I don’t know if I have one, or any… because I can’t really play anything. I just listen and sample. But for my DJ-ing, I would say J Rocc. Just because he’s so soulful in the way he plays, like a musician. Listening to him, and listening to his mix tapes inspired me more than anything. So J Rocc, DJ-wise and also people like Madlib and Kan Kick. I don’t know how to do J Rocc’s tricks like he does. I want to know how to mix like that, I just love the way he plays. And he always has the freshest music, he plays some old shit and some new shit, it’s just like wow!
Are there any specific memories related to music when you were a kid, like your first concert or the first album you bought?
Yeah! Barry White, my mom would clean the house to Barry White every sunday. A lot of Barry White, Simply Red and Rick Astley. I use to like a lot of pop music like any kid. I think the first tape I bought was the Ghostbusters tape. And the Woman In Red soundtrack, I loved that record, still loving it to this day. The Love Light in Flight track I think is still amazing. But my first concert happened when I was 12, in LA. I had a girlfriend, I let her do make up on me. So we went to see Depeche Mode, I had eye liner on, and she did my hair and shit. So it was Depeche Mode and Nitzer Ebb who played at the Dodgers Stadium in 1988, that was my first concert. I still love Depeche Mode, I’m not embarrassed to say that, I think they are sick.
The importance of influencers like Kutmah
Everyone discovers new music in their own way. The digital age we live in provides an overload of possibilities to find something new. Radioshows and DJ sets present a specific selection, but in that field there is much to gain as well. It causes a constant search for the artists and hosts that really inspire and define your musical taste.
Kutmah is one of those definers, who lets you discover new gems and styles on a regular basis. Just like Benji B, Gilles Peterson, Lefto and many others. They act as curators within specific genres of music, and are some kind of filters in a world of music production overload. Because of their independence, they can make selections driven by their own taste in music. In this way, listeners (we) will be influenced and develop their own preferences which creates new loves for artists and genres. It’s an interesting way of discovering music with a very personal touch, thanks to this range of DJ’s like Kutmah. This breed of DJ’s doesn’t just get lost in the sound of the moment, they push the limit of their own music flavor to expand your musical exploration.
When did you know you wanted to be a DJ and live this kind of life?
No, I just wanted to know how to do it. I got fired from my day job, so I was unemployed for six months. I had some money saved up, bought some turn tables and for six months I also just started smoking weed. I just wanted to know how to DJ. So I stayed home and played records, and I was kicked out because I was too noisy. I just wanted to make a tape, it wasn’t like I would play this in a club or something. I made a tape and gave it to a friend and he said ‘Hey, why don’t you open at this hip-hop club called Firecracker in LA in Chinatown?’ Of course, that was really cool, so I played Björk and Premier instrumentals. I wasn’t really that good at the time, I was sloppy… Well, I’m still sloppy ha ha but I was never like ‘Oh, I’m going to be a DJ!’. I never had that sort of ambition. When I’m DJ-ing in my head, I’m the only person in the room. I don’t really talk to people or communicate with the crowd, I don’t really look up and do anything with the crowd, because this DJ-ing was never planned. I just wanted to know how to DJ. Because when I was really young I always painted and drew, and that’s kind of taken a backseat to the music now. I’ve always wanted to be an artist and not wear a fucking suit. I don’t want to do things like some bullshit job for some guy telling me what to do. I’d rather be poor and do something what’s normal to me, what I’m supposed to be doing.
Tell us about one specific track that somehow changed your life.
There’s like a million right? [sigh] I don’t know, probably Quasimoto. I know it’s not really that old or anything. I started DJ-ing back in ’97, and in 2000 Quasimoto came out. Nothing sounded like that, nothing still sounds like that. And you know what, in ’97 I was listening to a lot of punk too, the Dr. Octagon record, that one really fucked with my head. That record is crazy.
What’s your daily routine when you don’t have a gig?
Really mellow shit. I clean my house, make a cup of tea and smoke a spliff, play some records. When I’m listening to records and I hear a nice sample I just make a beat. Depending on the weather too, if the weather is nice I go out. Sometimes hit up Flako and play some tennis. I have a really boring daily routine, I just drink tea and get high, while looking for music.
You also make illustrations for posters, books and t-shirts. How do you see yourself as a visual artist?
I spend more time with music nowadays. I used to do really big wood burns, but it’s time consuming and actually dangerous with the fumes. I mean, I live in London, in a fucking shoe box basically. I don’t have the space for it, but if I had the space I would get so much work done. But music is in the forefront of my mind now because that’s what pays the rent. But I would love to get six months off and just paint and draw. Also with Izwid, I’ve been late on every deadline for the art. If I get my shit done, then it’s like ‘Oh you need this cover? Just take this or that one’. Kind of like having a sample source when you’re making music, but artwork instead. I used to draw every day and fill up a sketchbook in a week. I used to draw all the time. I even used to take my sketchbook to clubs and I would draw. I don’t do shit like that anymore, I just don’t. It kind of bothers me, I’ve been thinking about it more recently. I got a new book though, a new Moleskine, woo hoo ha ha!
How do you catch your inspiration for your illustrations? Any visual artists you like?
Not really. It’s the same with DJ-ing, I don’t really like to know what other people are doing. I don’t listen to people’s mixes. And I don’t like to see people’s art because I don’t want anyone to influence me. I’d rather be horrible on my own and make mistakes. I don’t want to be influenced and I think I would do the opposite when I see other people’s work. I just want to be left alone. Not in a social way, but I don’t like to be connected to anything when I’m doing art.
If it’s your last day on earth, what would you do?
I would probably climb a pyramid, I don’t know? Something like that. I wouldn’t do anything destructive, my first thought was to do something destructive, but for what reason right? I would listen to Eden Ahbez and just sit on a mountaintop or something. He did this record of a fake island with a community of people who live in peace and harmony. He basically was the first hippie. It’s my favourite record and I play it all the time, it’s really peaceful. I’d probably listen to that record.
You travel a lot, what are the most bizarre/ beautiful things you’ve seen / experienced?
I usually see the same things, the same sort of shops and I realize everything is just so alike. I usually go to the centre of the town I’m playing in. I don’t go into the country or something obscure like that, unfortunately.
What are your future plans with that side of your creativity?
I just want to make some art and start! In LA I did some group shows, I want to get involved with art more. London is also a great place for art, you see it everywhere in the streets. When you compare it to LA there are just more tags and stuff over there. In London you have these little drawings with pencils, that are really inspiring. I want to start making more art again, also for the artwork of records by Izwid. I don’t know many people that have labels and also do the artwork for it. And it’s also cheap, because we don’t have enough money, so that would come out handy. I would like to come to the point where there are more different artists involved. I’m not that good, I have some friends who are way better than me.
Who should we interview next?
Jonwayne is coming out soon right? I would interview Jonwayne, he’s coming to Europe. I’m going to do the first show in London where he’s playing. He’s playing at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival next year. I’ll talk to Jonwayne and come to Rotterdam with him.