QA: K WATA

Photography by Sam Clarke

1. Who are you?

Kenzo aka K Wata

2. What do you do?

I make music, listen to music, DJ, watch movies, make coffee, write emails, cook, do the dishes, go grocery shopping… I wish I could say something more interesting but I keep it pretty simple these days… 

I also run the label/night SLINK with my friends Simisea, Enayet, and rrao. Looking forward to focusing more on that as we slowly (and safely) ease back into nightlife. 

3. Where do you often create/produce?

I’m grateful to have an extra room in my apartment that I share with my partner as a studio. I used to live in a tiny room that only had space for my bed, a clothing rack, and a desk w/ my studio setup. I had cables and tape loops running through the room and in hindsight, it was a chaotic way to live but I’m a bit nostalgic about waking up with the music right beside me.

4. When?

I work full time on a laptop and I need some time away from the screen during the day. I’ll try to work a bit in the morning, usually some quick editing or sound design, then I’ll do longer sessions in the evening after dinner. Saturdays or Sundays are my favorite because I get those peak hours of 10 AM – 4 PM to focus on music.

5. Why do you play music?

At the risk of getting cliché with this, that moment when sounds and ideas are flowing via production, performance, or DJ sets is exhilarating, and I think once you feel it you have to keep chasing it. With club music especially, there’s this sense of momentum that is so exciting to play with. 

6. When did you start making music?

I took some piano growing up, which I hated at the time, but I wish I stayed with it because I still struggle with harmony. When I was around 11, my friend had a keyboard where you could record up to five layers of sounds. I remember going over to his house and just playing with that function for hours.

7. Which track defines you the most?

Probably some tracks I’m currently working on because I feel like I’m just starting to hone in on something more defined. Off of this EP, the track “8 UP” was the one that snapped a lot of what I was doing into focus. I started thinking more about what I could take out rather than adding layers to keep people interested.

8. How would you describe your own music?

Elastic rhythms. I’m working on some non-club projects as well but even then I’m always playing w/ polyrhythms and sounds that shift in and out of focus. I love music that is really forceful and direct but I try and get there through a lot of small rhythmic moves over time. 

9. Any track of the moment?

Atabey by J Albert. Came out last year, but this is my favorite track of his to date. I think Jio is a genius and is making some of the most creative and subtle music around. Also an absolute master at live sets!

10.What influences your work?

A lot of listening helps… mainly for building a vocabulary of references to try and recreate on my own. There’s a lot of UKG/Funky influence in what I do, mainly in how everything is a bit swung and off-grid but still snapping into a groove. I think this is probably true for most electronic musicians but the dub approach (especially playing FX as an instrument), and the early electronic composers/sound artists (at BBC, GRM, IRCAM, so many more) are the foundation. I still have a lot of listening in those worlds to dig into, but I think it’s essential to at least know where these techniques we all use came from. 

Rhythmically, it’s all black music, and I think step one of making any sort of rhythmic dance music is understanding this and recognizing the constant erasure of this fact.

I’m trying to read more books and watch more movies to draw more often from non-music sources. There are so many parallels with how mood, pace, emotion are set up. I’ve been sampling movie sound effects a lot recently (clanks, clocks, bells, etc…), which I suppose is an extremely direct influence.

11.What’s your academic background? Are you an autodidact?

I went to NYU for Music Technology. The creative side of it was a bit outdated but in hindsight, it was a great resource for that foundational knowledge (electronics, Max/MSP, studio recording, music theory). I worked hard in school but I don’t think I valued the resources I had enough while I was there. I was more focused on working and meeting people outside of the academic setting. They have a studio with an insane amount of extremely rare and idiosyncratic synths and I didn’t even have access to that room until my last semester!

I’ve spent a lot of time learning mixing and sound design over the years, but just getting ideas going in Ableton and trying stuff out is the best way to learn. I do want to get back into learning and applying Max/MSP, but right now I’m focused on getting ideas down quickly.

12.Favorite designer?

Re: graphics, my partner Son Gong is truly my favorite designer. She probably hates that I’m saying this, but the work she does for SLINK blows me away and I think it’s one of the strongest aspects of what we do. 

For clothing, I love Issey/Comme… just the fit, shapes, details are so perfect. Also OAMC, Junya Watanabe, Craig Green, Nepenthes (South2West8, Needles, Engineered Garments), and Final Home. I’m into clothing but I can’t afford anything I want so I just browse Grailed and add things to my wishlist for fun lol.

13.Favorite book?

I’ve been trying to read more recently… I recently finished Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. I don’t know if it’s my favorite book of all time, but it was such an intimate and patient read, which I really appreciated when trying to get my brain out of email mode.

14.Favorite classic movie?

Once again, a world that I’m trying to spend more time with. This one might be cliché but I watched Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky for the first time a few months ago, and the sense of tension within this weird, decaying but beautiful landscape has definitely stayed with me.

15.Favorite music label?

So many amazing labels for out-there club/ambient sounds right now. Timedance, Where To Now?, Nousklaer Audio, Gost Zvuk, Motion Ward, Experiences Ltd, BFDM, Livity Sound… 

In the US, I feel like a lot of my favorite labels are DC-based. 1432R has such a special look and sound, feels so distinct and I think that’s something I’d want to strive for with future label projects.

16.Your dream collaboration?

Don Toliver or Swae Lee. At heart, I want to make the most minimal and fluid trap/r&b of all time and they both have some of my favorite voices.

17. Are you analog or digital?

Both, and I think I’ve finally figured out the most natural way to set it up for my current studio. Analog filters and distortion hit the spot I’m looking for a bit quicker, but I’m not a purist by any means. Some tracks I’ll make 90% in the box but I always end up running at least a couple of sounds through an old Sony broadcast mixer I have for some final EQ/Saturation.

I love working w/ sounds that are extremely digital, especially spectral/granular plugins, then running that through an analog chain to get some noise and character back into the signal.

18.Which soft wares/tools/ instruments do you use/play?

Ableton and various plugins are most of my toolbox, but I have a few hardware “dub stations” I’ve set up. I have two soviet FX units I got on eBay forever ago from this guy in Ukraine, a tape echo and a delay/chorus effect. Both are so noisy and prone to really harsh distortion/feedback but I’ll probably never get rid of them as they’re just so weird and unique. I also have another chain that goes to a Tascam Portastudio w/ a couple of guitar pedals as an FX send and a tape loop for grabbing bits of what I’m sending in and then pitching it up and down with the tape speed. I also have one more chain that goes to a Vermona Retroverb and a Jomox T-Resonator for even more dubby filtering. I don’t need any more gear at this point, just swapping sounds in and out of these chains. 

My favorite plugins for sound design are Unfiltered Audio SpecOps/BYOME, SoundToys, Output Portal, and the M4L Convolution Reverb. Also a quick shoutout to the Strokes M4L sequencer. I like to play as much MIDI as possible but it’s so quick to get really unique polyrhythms out of that device. VCV Rack is incredible and I can’t believe it’s free. I’ve been using it recently as another sample mangler.

I also have a mic and contact mic for getting little bits of voice sounds or random percussion from objects at home. I tend to prefer messing with samples over synths, but I have an 0-Coast and Model Cycles and they provide such a quick way to get some interlocking rhythms going. 

19.Describe your creative process?

I usually start with sound design via samplers and plugins in Ableton, then add Max for Live LFO/Envelope/Shaper doing some subtle modulation on almost everything. Once I have a draft going I’ll start sending sounds through the effect chains, then resampling back into Ableton and letting those takes inform the rest of the track direction.

I just keep resampling until a sound feels like it has enough interest going on, and I also tend to go heavy with layering early on then spend the rest of the time editing moments down to make sure the ideas/motifs are still clear. I often find myself getting a bunch of interesting sounds going, then scrapping the prior arrangement and starting fresh w/ new rhythms. Probably the main reason why it takes me forever to finish tracks!

20.When are you the most prolific (creatively)?

Sometimes it just flows, sometimes I’ll hit a wall and poke and prod a track for a couple of weeks without making much progress. I’m trying to get better at recognizing when to keep at going, or if it’s best to just move onto the next and maybe pull some sounds or ideas from the wreckage.

21. Any favorite record stores? (Real/virtual)

I usually run into a friend at Commend, either shopping or working. Always such a great selection and I love making a day trip into the city and ending up there. I also spend way more money than I can afford to at Bandcamp.

22.What’s your life philosophy? (Optimistic/pessimistic)

Most of my friends know I’m probably an optimist at heart… I don’t know if I have a philosophy but I’m genuinely grateful for a lot of things and I try to keep this in the front of my mind.

23.Do you have a healthy lifestyle?

Back when I was going out a lot, not really. Just drinking too much and not getting enough sleep. The main silver lining of the pandemic personally has been getting my sleep schedule in check, cutting back dramatically on drinking, and having enough time in the morning to do yoga.

I went climbing for the first time recently and I’m already hooked and can’t wait to go back. 

24.How do you manage your time effectively? (Job/hobby)

I work full time and it’s been hard to finish projects because of this. I often find I have the energy at the end of the day to mess around with some sounds in a new session, but the complex editing/mixing sessions can be so draining that I often put those off until the weekend. I’ve been more accepting with myself about not being prolific. I take a long time to finish things and that’s just how it is with my current work-life balance.

25. Any secret skills?

Catching things that are falling off shelves or tables. Also I own a PS3 for the sole purpose of playing Skate 1, 2, and 3… 

26. Any future plans?

Hopefully another EP out this year, in the draft selection/editing stage for that one. Ambient/non-club tape on the horizon as well, then hoping we can re-start SLINK nights later this year when it’s safe to do so.

27.What’s your life motto?

“Take a minute and come back to it”

28. Any “mot de la fin”?

Love to anyone who read this far 🙂

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