Insight Interview: Kareful

Prior to the launch party for his incredible new project Liquid Ritual, we caught up with London’s very own wave torchbearer Kareful. Here’s what he had to say…

Hey Kareful, thanks so much for agreeing to an interview. Are you still London-based? Do you tend to travel a lot, or are you firmly rooted here?

Yes, Romford (east London) based. I tend to travel a lot for shows, I have loads of international bookings, places like Poland. I’m playing a festival there in July (21st – 22nd) which is probably the biggest wave event so far. Wave is huge in places like Poland, there’s a real proactive scene over there, but because it isn’t an English-language scene you have to know who the artists are to access it. It’s a myth to think that places like London are the biggest centres for wave music.

I don’t tend to travel a lot for non-music reasons!

Can you recall your first real exposure to music? 

I grew up at my nan’s house before my parents moved out. My parents were quite young. My mum used to listen to The Cure all the time. She also had an older brother, a musician, who lived with us. He was around 23 when I was born (in 1994). At that time Nirvana was huge, and my uncle was always listening to them. Even after we moved out I would visit him. He would produce and record music on his computer. My first encounter with electronic music was definitely through him.

In my very early teens – around 12, 13 – I had no interest in music whatsoever. I only ever heard music through the mainstream radio stations. Everyone seemed to love that stuff, but I wasn’t that interested. I played a lot of video games with my uncle – some of them had these really complex musical scores. That’s about all the music I was into at that time.

I think I rediscovered music through channels like MTV when I got a little older. I remember hearing Chemical Brothers for the first time, and I was transfixed. It was so hard, melodic, dark. It reminded me of the first video games I played with my uncle. I also heard Nirvana again when I was about 13 – I thought I’d never heard it before, but my mum told me how much I’d actually heard it when I was little, so I guess it was nostalgia!

I started learning guitar, piano etc in my mid-teens. I guess I was writing music from a really young age, it was quite basic stuff but it was a great hobby for me. I had never put as much energy into anything before I started making music.

I really got into grunge, and then metal when I was around 14 or 15. I grew my hair long and got emo! Ultimately I found that I didn’t really like the metal scene, it was quite pretentious and arrogant. So I started moving more towards hip hop – darker stuff from New York from the early 2000s. The music was very different to what I had liked previously, but the vibe – dark, melodic, catchy, definitely musical – was the same. Again, the purist attitude ultimately put me off.

When I went to college, I really rediscovered UK music through dubstep. At that time I was around 16 or 17. I made some older friends at college who got me into some great dubstep artists. I really fell in love with electronic, hard dance sounds. Again, I loved the melodic, beautiful yet dark vibe of it all.

I basically got stuck on dubstep and drum and bass until around 19. At that point some of my friends started getting into witch house and trap. I guess that’s how I got into the trap music that was around then.

How and when did you first begin writing and creating music?

When I was about 18 or 19 I started making beats. I started trying to make dubstep, but dubstep is pretty difficult when you first start out. So I started experimenting with trap-style beats which I found easier. I guess it all evolved from there and from the musical styles I grew up with. I basically think I blended all the different styles I had grown up with into a new sound.

Wave for me sounds like a natural progression of everything that came before – all the styles that I loved back then. Wave carries familiar sounds from dubstep, trap, drum and bass, trance etc. When you mix those styles together it creates its own formula. That formula gave birth to wave I think.

Can you describe your music for us?

I think my sound is quite unique. I might have a similar vibe to other producers, but I always think my music sounds a bit different. I love to experiment – I really want the creative process to be fun, so I’m always trying to come up with different sounds. But I also think it’s important to call my music something. Some people get hung up on labels – I definitely don’t want to obsess over it. But I think calling the genre something has definitely created a sense of community, which is what wave music is all about.

How would you describe wave music to someone new to the genre?

I suppose the standard wave track would be heavily melodically driven – around 120 to 140 bpm, quite ambient, with hidden or reversed vocals. There’s usually quite big build-ups like in trance or grime music. At the beginning the percussion was quite sparse, but I think now there’s a lot of percussion in the wave tracks, a bit more like dubstep I guess.

Wave is still a unique genre, but it is definitely evolving. I receive a lot of the new music in advance of it being released, so I can hear where the music is heading in 3, 6, 9 months. I remember watching a lot of dubstep documentaries in which guys like a young Plastician would say that, with dubstep, there wasn’t any particular sounds, just a tempo and a vibe, and with that people can be really creative musically. I think that’s what’s good about this scene – there is without doubt room for real creative flair. All wave producers sound different, but somehow you know it’s wave music. The music is progressive – I love that about it. I can’t imagine it ever getting stale. I think some other genres have become over-saturated and stuck. I hope wave never gets like that – I just can’t see it happening!

You definitely seem to be an artist who appreciates the importance of playing live shows. Any upcoming shows you want us to know about?

There’s so much wave music outside the English-speaking world. The festival that I’m playing in Poland in July is gonna be huge, thousands of people are interested. Over there they’re having shows every other week.

I’m also playing shows in places like Estonia, Transylvania, Prague. There’s so much going on in eastern Europe. London is quite hard – we’re spoilt for music. There’s always so much going on in London, it can be more difficult to carve a niche for yourself here.

I’m also going on an Asian tour fairly soon – Korea, Shanghai, Tokyo. It’s all happening. I want to play the US at some point – I’m in the process of getting my visa sorted at present (that’s a whole story in itself!).

What would you say have been your biggest influences?

Everything I’ve ever listened to – but if I had to choose one, The Cure was a huge influence for me. As I said earlier my mum was a big Cure fan, and we always used to listen to them in the car. Their vibe is super-similar to wave for me. Super-dark, dreamlike. Lots of minor keys (I love minor keys). I think that vibe has heavily influenced my music and a lot of the other music I grew up with.

I guess I should mention those earlier dubstep artists like Goth-Trad. I got into what I would call ‘dungeon’ dubstep a little later – artists like Kyptic Minds. I loved the vibe but it wasn’t always melodic enough for my tastes. Compa was a big influence. He was quite a young guy when he got big (maybe 19, 20). I was about 18 at the time. That really motivated me, it made me feel it was possible. It’s so strange – now I’m friends with the guys I used to look up to. CocoRosie – again dreamlike, dark, melodic, musical. Exhilarating. It really needs to be traditionally ‘musical’ for me though, really melodic.

Do you think producing electronic music requires technical or creative skill? Or both?

I think it works both ways. Some producers in wave are ridiculously technical – they make super-complicated tunes that are technically brilliant, perfectly mixed etc. But sometimes there’s so much happening that it just doesn’t catch you in the same way. It doesn’t always connect. But then there are other producers that have almost no technical skill, who work on basic iPhone apps, who make a few beats a week. That, for me, I’d take over anything. A guy who can barely produce but who can make a really good melody is definitely more my thing. Rawness can sound great sometimes.

I guess the combination of both is probably the best. If you got the musical stuff and the creative stuff down, and you can produce well, that’s the best. But creative over technical for sure.

Do you find creating music cathartic or therapeutic at all? Has creating music helped you through any difficult periods in your life?

Yes. Music is my only form of meditation. I’m not necessarily a spiritual person (that might be quite a shock for some people!). Music for me is my only way of relaxing. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not always relaxing. Sometimes it’s super-stressful. I guess it’s like a rollercoaster. When it’s going well it’s awesome, it just works. But other times it’s terrible. You’re not making anything. You’re not sleeping, not eating, not going out. Your only friends are a bunch of introverts (which is interesting as I’m an extrovert!). It can be really difficult sometimes.

Without doubt, music has helped me get through big breakups. My first ever really painful breakup, when I was 19 – that was the time that I really took up music in a big way. I went through a really reclusive phase. I guess music was the way I expressed myself at that time.

It’s been said that a life in music can be a hard one. Would you agree with that? Have you ever considered giving it up?

It’s definitely hard. I’m turning 23 next week, and friends who are younger than me are getting flats, proper jobs, money etc. I’m still living with my parents! I’ve had to turn down jobs, I’ve lost relationships etc. But I wouldn’t give it up. It’s hard, it takes sacrifice. Some people think the wave scene has just happened. It hasn’t – it’s taken people like me a huge amount of dedication, hard work and sacrifice. But I just need it – I need to be in control of my own life, I find it hard to take orders from others. That just doesn’t work for me. I guess that fact brings its own complications!

Do you have any thoughts on the future of underground musical styles such as wave? Do you think the scene will evolve further?

Wave could become the next grime, the next dubstep. That would be cool, but I think part of wave will always stay in the underground. I think more and more wave artists might work with rappers, singers etc which will bring the music into the mainstream a little bit more. But I guess a bigger platform will bring its own complications. for me, wave will always be festival music. It belongs at festivals like the Polish one I mentioned, but I can also see it at Glastonbury or Reading one day. The music is adaptable, it’s melodic. It sounds UK, but to people outside the UK it doesn’t sound UK at all. It has the ability to evolve. I guess we might see some big wave remixes of commercial artists – that will start to make big things happen in our genre. Already some of the bigger dubstep guys are starting to take notice. So let’s see!

You’ve collaborated with some wonderful artists? Do you enjoy the process of collaboration? Any specific artists you’d like to work with?

Wave is such a community genre – it was born online, and that means it is truly international. It’s all about collaborating. Yeah, I’ve got some great collabs in the pipeline – people like Deadcrow, MYSTXRIVL. I have new music with SOKOS and MYSTXRIVL coming soon that sounds awesome – bit of a game changer in my opinion.

Do you have a favourite track / song of all time? Favourite artist?

I consume music in a very ADHD way. I find something, and listen obsessively. Move on to something new. So it’s hard to pick any one song or artist. But if I had to, I’d say ‘Lullaby’ by the Cure. I’ve probably heard that one about 5000 times. For me that track is genre-less, it sounds like nothing else. The essence of that has influenced my music more than anything else, I’d say.

What prompted you to create Liquid Ritual?

I have my own ideas about how things should be. I guess Liquid Ritual is my take on that. I’m an ideas man – I can’t follow orders. Liquid Ritual is 100% me, it’s everything I want in music. It is way more than a label. It started as a radio show, and has now basically evolved into a hub for the wave scene. Blog, videos, events, releases – everything really. It’s basically my take on the wave scene.

Was the process of setting up Liquid Ritual just as you expected, or different?

The problem I had with other collectives was that there was always one person controlling everything. I always felt in the background. With Liquid Ritual, it’s been a total team effort. Originally it was just me and Guy (LTHL). He has a unique style of his own, quite grime in my opinion. He appealed to UK audiences, and I guess I appealed to a more international audience. At first it was like ‘yeah let’s start a label to promote smaller artists’. I’ve found that a lot of collectives tend to get a little elitist, they only want the biggest names. We wanted to give people with no platform a way to get into the scene.

I had this friend, Oscar, from my college days. We got back in touch fairly recently, and it turned out that he was making similar music to mine. At the time he was doing an internship in a progressive house label. Long story short – he had the marketing, back-end knowledge that me and Guy were heavily lacking (but which is vital!). Oscar’s become a big part of our label – he runs the admin side of things, the artwork, social media etc. I have the network, the contacts. I am definitely the promoter, A&R-type man. Oscar handles back-end work. Guy is the radio manager – he handles the radio show. Together – it just works!

Liquid Ritual is only a few weeks old, and already it seems to be having a big impact?

Yeah, we’ve only been going for 6 weeks, but already I think we’re one of the most relevant recent labels pushing these types of sounds.

I spend a hell of a lot of time building relationships, chatting to people, promoting the music etc. Our mentality, I think, is to keep the momentum, to keep the ball rolling. We want to convert casual listeners into hardcore fans – and constantly make new fans. We try and do that a bit differently to other labels I think. Other labels tend to put out a mixtape every few months or so. Liquid Ritual will put out loads of singles, and some EPs, really regularly. We want a constant stream of music – that’s what keeps you relevant and gets people excited.

We’ve put out three tracks in the last six weeks. A fourth one tomorrow (see below). Our launch party is tomorrow night at Kamio’s in London (free entry!). Were not officially doing merchandising yet but fans are already hitting me up for merch. Amazingly, people are already buying into the brand after only six weeks!

Really – who knows. We want to put out more DJ friendly, club friendly music. Music for people who want to play wave in the clubs. That’ll help get the bookings in!

Any forthcoming releases / events you’d like to tell us about?

Our launch party is tomorrow night, as I say. Tomorrow we’re also releasing a little something by DYZPHORIA, a tune called ‘Searching’ (it’s a real banger actually!). Going forward we have loads of releases in the pipeline!

In terms of Kareful – there’s always loads going on! My next EP is coming out this August. My new tracks are quite creative, I think. There’s UK sounds in there (more the vibe than the actual beats). Dubstep influenced. Back to my roots I think, my influences.

And finally – are there any tracks / artists that are relatively unknown that you’d like people to know about?

The Polish wave guys are just not getting enough stats. I don’t know why, maybe it’s language issues. They’re doing so much stuff right – working hard, making it happen, doing it for the music. MYSTXRIVL, SOKOS, ENJOII (he’s out on LR soon incidentally). Their music is really interesting, UK-influenced beats. Most of the music I love these days is Polish.

Deadcrow is also heavily underrated, in my opinion. He should be getting way more play than he is getting. Sorsari, again – just not enough stats.

Thanks so much Kareful. Great to speak to you!

No worries man!

Liquid Ritual’s launch party is tomorrow night at Kamio’s in London. Details here.