WHP FEATURE 013
Despite being too young to have enjoyed clubbing in the 90s (he was born in 1991) Matt ‘Kidnap Kid’ Relton’s career has more in common with the rave icons of that decade than with many of his contemporaries. Having first released a track in 2011, his massive breakthrough with Vehl following in 2012, Relton was viewed as part of the new generation; bedroom producers who were more likely to break a hit on Soundcloud than on a dancefloor. The closest many of them had come to the inside of a club was via a Boiler Room broadcast.
Relton was different. He had been immersed in raving and DJing for years before he got signed up by Black Butter, and this had a direct impact on how quickly he jumped to the top of the scene – when he started getting bookings for his production work, he already knew how to handle the decks.
dance music to me has always been counter culture. It’s always been a bit of a middle finger, it’s always been parties outside or in a warehouse, it’s always been in opposition to the system
“I started DJing way before I started producing,” he remembers “I was big into jungle and drum & bass as a teenager, so I was DJing at parties all around Sheffield. From there I got interested in producing – it’s funny because that’s definitely become the strong point, but that was never how I got into it. I’m quite glad it was that way round, because it keeps me confident as a DJ. If it’s something that you’ve just had to learn how to do because you’re in demand as a producer it must be petrifying. Before I’d even put on a first gig on my own, I had 6 years of DJing under my belt.”
Doing the maths on these numbers leads you to a quick conclusion – Relton started DJing when he was 14 or so. So it seems fair to assume that the places he was playing weren’t necessarily legit... He laughs at the memory.
“My entry point to dance music was this free party scene. In my head it was always – even thought there was no illicit expression in the lyrics – dance music to me has always been counter culture. It’s always been a bit of a middle finger, it’s always been parties outside or in a warehouse, it’s always been in opposition to the system- in inverted commas – now it’s a huge industry it’s completely taken on a new meaning in the world and I’ve had to re-frame it in my head, but because that was my entry point there’s still this counter culture element. It’s like a punk, DiY thing that attracted me to that music in the first place, I still have those feelings about it.”
Still, with the closure of Fabric now sinking in, it appears that there could well be an upsurge of free parties across the country. This notion has become so embedded that it was little surprise when shameless tabloid The Daily Express recently lifted quotes from a satirical Wunderground piece claiming that there would be “172 illegal raves planned in London this weekend” and ran them as a legitimate news story. Relton himself has little experience of the London scene, but has fond memories of his formative years in the fields, and would welcome a return of the scene that has the tabloids so outraged.
“I used to play countryside parties in Leeds and Sheffield. Those are the events that stay with me and have completely shaped my mentality and my music, I loved them. If we could see a spike in them, then fantastic,” here he considers for a moment. Then points out that the very nature of dance culture remains radical, whether it’s at a free party or in a club – “It’s a fact of celebration,” he enthuses, “people breaking down the boundaries. There’s always be that element and it’s what I love about it to be honest.”
It’s a less known fact that Relton has a degree in politics - this suggests he’s probably got a fairly well thought through view on the state of government, but unlike more outspoken figures such as Perc or Dave Clarke, Relton has always been careful to keep his opinions to himself, and he explains why.
“I do try to keep it a bit separate – I treat music as an escape, and I know a lot of other people do. If they’re entering that world and getting hit with political arguments from DJs on twitter, I think people lose interest quite quickly. I keep all that personal, as Matt, rather than on a music platform as Kidnap Kid.”
Still, the recent attacks on club culture may just convince him to use his voice.
“With matters like Fabric’s closure, where there’s a very, very heavy overlap and a strong link with my work – club closure has had a complete impact on my world – then I think it’s fair enough to speak up. I’m up for making my voice heard, and trying to get in contact with people like Sadiq Khan. But there’s no revolution album in the line…”
This brings us to the future of his music. In keeping with the free spirited mind set he paints from teenage years spent at illegal raves, Relton has decided that staying on someone else’s label isn’t for him. This year saw him kick off his own outlet Birds That Fly. There doesn’t appear to be any animosity towards his former labels, and when asked his reasons for setting up BTF, he breaks it down to simple logistics;
“As uninspiring an answer as it is, it was scheduling to be honest. I used to get in contact with a label, and they’d be like, great we love this, we can put it out in ten months’ time. And then it’d get pushed back three months. It’s just a case of writing or hearing something I’m excited about and getting it out a month later, and having my own label can help me do that – I’ve got the ability to get stuff out there when I like.”
This means a couple of things are in the pipeline. He’s just signed a single off London duo Jynx -
“They’ve never put anything out but they sent me this amazing music. The sound is a little different to the stuff that’s been out on the label, it’s got a full vocal, more like a song with interesting percussion. I’d categorise it in the same world as Maribou State, its dance but it sounds like a live recording, just really beautiful.”
This however, comes after his own new single which is just about to drop. And this second EP on the label (which has also seen releases from Applebottom) marks a slight shift in sound from an artist who seems intent on constantly moving forward.
“I’d call it electronica rather than house,” he describes. “It’s not all four/four beaty stuff, it’s more ambient electronica. It’s still very much for the dancefloor, there’s just less of an obvious kick drum. There’s still a beat in there, it’s just less straight forward – I struggle to explain it – I just wouldn’t call it house I guess. It’s not bom bom bom bom. Once I had the bare bones of it I was quite excited to have something that was a little less predictable. I’m definitely keen to keep my sound moving with every release – it wasn’t contrived, I was just excited that it turned out to be a step forward.”
“Hahaha, maybe if I got very excited. It’s been a good 5 years since I’ve pulled a rewind though…”
This urge to move things can sometimes prove tricky when you have a couple of monster hits in the back catalogue. This is particularly the case for Relton in the States, where Vehl was named iTunes dance track of the year back in 2012, and has a staggering million plus plays on Soundcloud. Whilst UK club culture is infused with a love of dubplates, of the possibility of going to a club to hear something you can’t and won’t hear anywhere else, the new American EDM scene has a tendency towards only craving the hits, but louder plus lasers. Does Relton ever feel like he might get caught up in the Radiohead situation, where, in the bands early day’s people would only come to hear their song Creep?
“There is a little bit of people wanting to hear the hits, every single gig there’ll be someone who’ll hit you up beforehand requesting the first track they heard four years ago, and depending on how cynical I’m feeling that day I’ll either play it or I won’t. It completely depends on the setting. If it’s a completely solo headline thing and you know that 80% of the people in the room have come to hear these tracks then I’ll play them all the time, but if it’s a shared bill and the audience aren’t necessarily going to know those tracks then I’ll maybe veer off and go a bit more leftfield – it’s case by case. I’ll always play the newer stuff I’ve put out, and maybe mould a set around that, leaving off the older ones, just because otherwise you’re going to be playing the same set for 10 years and that gets boring for everyone involved, including the people who’ve come to the event.”
But has the mix of social media – the ability to speak directly to a DJ- along with the increased commercialism in dance music made ravers more demanding? As with all his answers, on this Relton remains affable.
“Yeah, yeah,” he laughs “there is a sense of entitlement in some of the punters, but I completely understand that as well. When I’ve gone to see people I love and they’ve ended up playing stuff that wasn’t even recognisable as the sound that I like then I’ve come away disappointed. So even if I’m not gonna play the one massive track that people want, I try to at least keep it in the same vein, and give them something not too far away. It’s a fine balance you’ve got to tread. About half of the tracks that I’ve put out I’ve got my own edit I might play, just a re-arrangement, or a different mix that works a bit better – my stuff has always been clubby stuff, but it’s had one foot outside the club as well, so I’ll make more club friendly edits of the tracks I’ve put out.”
Finally though, we want to know on big question; have all those years DJing drum n bass tempted him to introduce a junglist staple into his sets- in short, can we expect him to start pull a rewinds?
“Hahaha, maybe if I got very excited. It’s been a good 5 years since I’ve pulled a rewind though…”
Kidnap Kid 'Mist'. Released as part of 'Heartbroken EP' on his label Birds That Fly on the 28th October. https://soundcloud.com/kidnap_kid/mist