Part 1

Name: K.E.E.N.E.
Members: Lloyd and Kevin Keene
Nationality: Panamanian
Occupation: Producers, DJs
Current Release: Pragma EP on Cacao Records
Recommendations: Music: Eternal Child from the Chick Corea Elektrik Band.
Album: Terre Thaemlitz - Midtown 120 Blues
Movie: The Hours. (Philip Glass Music, Photography, Script, performances, a unique peace of art)
Bonus Track: Quincy Jones’ doc on Netflix ☺

If you enjoyed this interview with Lloyd and Kevin Keene, visit their facebook page for the most recent updates and further information.

When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

We started separately. After his rock band got dissolved around the year 2000 or 2001, Lloyd started to experiment making music on his own. The previous years he used to write lot of midi-tracks with friends playing heavy metal parts on Cake Walk and similar softwares. At some point a friend mentioned that one of the tracks sounded like Massive Attack, and that is when he started trying to do a bit more than just an electronic rock band without musicians. He realised that many of the things already liked were also made by electronic means, so he followed that path for a while. Music itself was always there. Either through collecting music, writing, making or playing.

Kevin started producing later, around the year 2007. After some years of clubbing, collecting music and learning how to dj, he decided to experiment with sound and started some audio engineering courses. He was early influenced by disco he used to listen to from his mother, then by skateboarding video soundtracks were he discovered world sounds, later by an online radio he used to stream and download tons of deep house and progressive tracks.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

It’s interesting. From a very early point, Astor Piazzolla was a huge influence and idol. Especially during the tough teen years. And at some point, he heard from one of his grandsons that the way they remembered him was: “sitting on the piano from 10 am until 10pm, every day working, without inspiration, but with dedication”. That idea was the base of a system based on studying other artists work when there was no ideas, in order to understand which things work better and find new paths through mistakes.

What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

At the beginning the main challenge we would say was the budget to buy decent gear. I remember we couldn’t afford to buy many things that were essential to make music, but with time we started to get better and better gear that helped us to improve our production.
Since then, the way we make music has changed a lot in the last few years, and basically we have less and less time to approach it, most of the times the projects already begin with an idea that make sense. From there probably the biggest challenge is to judge when the idea is actually worth it, or if should just move away to a fresh start.

What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

The first room we could actually call a studio had mostly controllers like the APC40, a Maschine MK1 and a Arturia 49 keys lab, Roland MC-909 Groovebox, Yamaha RS7000 plus an RME Fireface Audio interface, a Nordlead Clavia A1 and Minitaur. Before that we would not call it a studio.
From that we moved to Berlin and shared a studio with the Boot Slap guys who basically had everything you can dream of. But through the years, we’ve learned to invest more and more on processing effects and rely on the vsts that we have, which helps a lot to keep a sense of identity to our music. Another big thing behind the idea of using less things, is to avoid losing too much time looking for stuff. But maybe now is the time to start reconsidering new gear to discover new sounds and ways of creating music.

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

We find the visual representations of sound and arrangements on DAWs quite interesting and helpful. We see and use technology as a tool that adds infinite possibilities to the process of being creative and able to express our feelings. At the moment, humans are still better judges of feelings, so that's the only way I see ourselves adding value in comparison with machines.

Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

It really, really, really depends on the idea. Making electronic music in 2019 means a lot of freedom of where or how to start with a project. Normally the beat starts in the machine, from there we add a bassline and so on. But sometimes it could be a recording from a Congo Festival or samples from a friend doing an anthropological research that sparks the flame.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?

At this point we’ve done a few, and would say the best ones are the ones that actually end up finished and released. Also on this one we believe that it is better to be flexible and embrace the opportunity of learning from the workflow of the other part.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

Assuming that normal life is in Berlin, we do most of the office work first and then usually go to the studio at 1pm. Then at night, we either follow this up with some things in Latin America, or go out to party, which is also super important for the creative process hehehehe. When we’re in Latin America, it is a bit more chaotic, since we’re mostly travelling, but also producing events, running a club and the label. At this time of the year we do music when ever there’s an opportunity. Mostly on Sundays.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?

The "Pragma" track that we’ve just released on Cacao could be a perfect example of this. The process is the same as described before. A beat first, then the bassline, then some notes … but the session was actually right after a long night at Watergate. So the whole thing was in a mode of trying to capture that feeling, the sensations and ideas. The strobe, the colours, all the vibes. It is not a super complex track as you can already notice, the writing process was pretty simple. But it has a lot of feeling behind it, plus a fresh club to DAW approach.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

Yes for sure. The Piazzolla approach mentioned before is the way to go. Maybe it could be harsh for someone who is not crazy about making music. But basically spending time there, studying others work and trying is the best way of getting the results. Another thing that could be useful is to look for the professional approach some graphic artist use. Google: “the professional approach to art”. A lot of interesting things should show up.

How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?

Well, we don’t play live. But we do dj a lot and it’s a huge part of what we do in the studio and vice versa. 80% of the music we make is influenced by what we play, or sometimes the need of that certain track that would fit perfectly with this or that.

How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?

It certainly has a huge impact. Often, you find that the sound design or the gear itself has so much power, or fills most of the spectrum, that there’s not so much space for creativity in the arrangement and writing of ideas any more. Is not that one thing is better than the other. Is just how both different paths can take your idea to a totally opposite way. Coming from a more conservative musical background, the whole idea of sound production and sound design is fascinating to be honest.

Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?

We can relate sound directly to certain circumstances, colours or even places. It can be something as simple as a track that automatically takes you certain club or environment you have been to before, it reminds you how it smells, how dark it was, or how beautiful it looked like at a sunrise. This can happen because of how it was mixed, how the kickdrum sounds, the textures and layers they may have used. Also colours, for example visualising the colour red can make us play or produce certain kind of music. Its an intense, sexual and passionate colour. We use it a lot in the studio when producing, also on most of our events.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

Like you said, as part of everyday life, we have transitioned a lot from one place to the other. In the beginning it was all about finding a way to make a track. But with time we’ve discovered the artistic expression behind curating a label for example. You choose artworks, do A&R, make music yourself, etc … You have the same with almost everything you do: Pictures, Events, you name it!
Our approach is basically to embrace this idea, and keep creating in all fronts as much as possible.

It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?

It depends on what you mean. In the last century we’ve transitioned from a society where composers where the stars to a society where performers and entertainers are normally the centre of attention. Before musicians had to perform or die. When recordings come into the game, things changed, but with the whole Internet boom, things seem to be changing back again to that direction. The future should be good as long as we’re willing to be open and dare to explore new boundaries.