Name: Inigo Kennedy
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: In July 2021, Inigo Kennedy revitalised his respected Asymmetric imprint with the release of his Recovery Mode EP. It was Asymmetric's first release in a decade, but as an artist, Inigo has never stood still. Ever since debuting with the Urban Society EP on Marco Lenzi and Marco D'Arcangelo's Molecular Recordings in 1997, he has expressed his personal vision of techno with a spotless stream of hypnotic, hard-hitting and utterly mesmerising EPs and albums - in the process gradually expanding and deepening his sound. On the title track to his new album Eyes Closed In The Sun, he has arrived at something personal and quite unique, a vision of beguiling bleeps and bells broken through the lense of pounding bass drums mayhem. Clearly, the production is top notch again – powerful, crisp, and yet crystal-clear - reminding listeners why Matt Unicomb, in a 2014 Resident Adviser feature, stressed Inigo's affinity for "in-depth sound manipulation". But it's also music that makes you forget about production, technology and sound design – music that just is, organically breathing in a world of its own.
Equipment Recommendations: A tough one but I'm going to go with a couple of pieces of software that I've been using more and more and which I've mentioned above. Both outliers but amazing in different ways. Loomer Architect; Topten Cantabile.
If you enjoyed this interview with Inigo Kennedy and would like to find out more about his work and music, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, bandcamp, and Soundcloud.
What was your first studio like?
I've only ever had a studio in the place where I live and that would make my first studio my bedroom in my parents' house.
In theory that would be a BBC Micro Model B+ computer with a Hybrid Technology Music 500 box attached (c.1985) but I think I'd say my first studio was really a few years later (c.1989) when I had a 386SX25 PC running the DOS based Voyetra Sequencer Plus Gold hooked up to a Roland D-50 synth keyboard, Casio FZ-1 sampler keyboard, ART reverb rack, a couple of cheap Boss pedals, a DIY mixer and some filter and distortion circuits. One of my first jobs was building PCs with a company called Dan Technology in London so I got the PC for a good price through that plus saved up for a long time to get the money to eventually buy the FZ-1 from a second hand store. That FZ-1 was a key part of my productions in the late 80's and through the 90's.
The DIY stuff was just an extension of my interest in electronics and I'd been building stuff for years from books and magazines; I remember a book called 'Audio IC Circuits Manual' by R.M. Marston which I loved and a bunch of old magazines like Electronics & Music Maker and Practical Electronics.
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?
My set-up has evolved in various different ways. Initially thanks to starting to earn some income and also working at a studio equipment store for a few years (Turnkey in London). The quality of my set-up improved in small steps and GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) was life for a while. I invested in plenty more synths and outboard. Never really anything high-end or esoteric but it was mostly rack stuff and almost always on the more curious digital side rather than the obvious techno and analogue side.
So instead of 909s and SH101s I ended up with things like Nord Modular Rack and G2, a lot of Yamaha FM stuff including TX816, DX7, TX81Z and FS1R, Waldorf Pulse and XT, Kawai K5000R, Novation Drumstation, some relatively cheap FX and compressors like TC D-Two delay, DBX 266A compressor, LA GCX-2 compressor and so on. I had pretty mediocre monitors, first Alesis Monitor Ones, then some KRK's although most of the time I would be working in headphones.
I switched to running Logic at some point in the 90s (back in the days when it was Emagic and on Windows) and early on had everything hooked up through a couple of Behringer Eurorack mixers - an MX2802 and MX2804 piggy-backed. On the MIDI side it was all hooked up to an Emagic AMT8. The hardware peak came in the late 90s when I bought a 32 channel Allen & Heath GS3000 desk. That was a huge investment for me at the time - like buying a car - but amazing to be able to hook everything up to it and an incredible sound. It arrived in the largest cardboard box I've ever seen too.
When Logic was no longer an option I turned to an unusual bit of software called energyXT and that was a critical factor to how my music making evolved (v1.41 was the real genius). It was amazingly inspirational and creative both working with hardware/MIDI and software/VST and that kind of marked the start of using software a lot more for me too. Although that was also because I was starting to travel a lot more and make music in a more mobile way. I still have the GS3000 desk but it's now in storage and sadly EnergyXT eventually had to be retired too as it was stuck in 32-bit land (although I still fire it up sometimes for a trip down memory lane). That was mid 2000s but indicative of where things are now really. Constraints due to time, space and family and shifting to working much more in the box mean that things are quite different; the hardware disappeared into storage.
Retiring EnergyXT was the catalyst for adopting NI Maschine and that's still pretty much the core of how I work now, working very much in the box but without designing tracks along a timeline and being more open to performing in the moment. It took a long time to get comfortable with the sound and controllability working in the box and to this day I still miss the immediate benefit of a large desk and that hands-on approach even though now the options are endless.
I'd say that the key elements of my set-up now are NI Maschine (JAM hardware and NI Komplete Ultimate too), a Novation Launch Control XL, UAD (a pretty old PCI Duo card plus a bunch of plugins), Reaper (for editing and mastering) and a lot of plugins. Some absolute go-to VSTs like Surge (I've been a huge advocate of this since Vember Audio days and fantastic now it's open source and evolving even more) along with Valhalla, Psychic Modulation, Sonic Charge, Sugar Bytes and Voxengo stuff. Of the UAD plugins I use Manley Vari-MU compressor, Brainwork bx_digital V3 EQ, Pultec Passive EQ and the Neve 1081 EQ pretty much on every project but mainly for colour and finish rather than anything creative. I finally invested very recently in some half decent monitors too with a pair of Focal Sole 6 BE's and that's been a mindblowing improvement especially as a huge fan of reverbs. I have to say and especially now that I'm learning more and becoming more confident in the mastering stage of production.
I sold off most of my old hardware recently. It had been in storage for years but eventually I came round to the idea and effort of selling it. It was hard to let a few things go like the Oberheim Matrix 6R. I shifted 20+ items but chose to keep a few things which I've got in a rack and am enjoying getting to know them again when I find some time. I've got the Nord Modular Rack and G2 (brilliant that editors are still running fine on Windows 10), Yamaha FS1R, Waldorf Pulse + XT + Rack Attack in there. In many ways amazing machines but also a stark reminder of how difficult it is to master arcane hardware and especially the rack mount stuff.
Digging up ancient editors and utilities from the Internet has been a hilarious journey but a life saver. I ended up getting a Roland TR-8S to complement the hardware set up and also with the aim of just focusing on beats for a change as most of my music is very melody driven. I have a couple of reverb pedals which I've used on the road when DJing (Big Sky and Ventris) and have hooked them up too; they bring some of the older hardware to life brilliantly. We'll see if some projects come out of this little desert island set-up in the next months.
The digital studio promises endless possibilities at every step of the process. What is it that you actually need from these potentials and how do you go about selecting it? How do you keep control over the wealth of options at the production stage?
For me it's about flow way more than endless possibilities and I've always sought out an organic and more performer based way of working. I make tracks really quickly so it's obvious to me when something isn't working and I just move on - the answer isn't in the possibilities, it's in being a bit more ruthless.
Of course there are times when I'll drift off into trying different things, noodling with something like VCV Rack, wandering down some intellectual cul-de-sac in Reaktor. But quite often there's no track at the end of it, nothing sticks. It took a long time for software to reach a critical point where it could stand strong alongside hardware sonically but I still am not comfortable with being able to control it in the way I could so immediately with a large desk with dedicated and familiar controls. Way less options in the past but in many ways much more freedom and focus.
So many manufacturers have tried to crack the controllability nut but it's evidently incredibly difficult. For me, it has become a lot about reducing the number of options where possible and being really comfortable with a few tools and not being afraid to turn to a similar toolset each time. I think it's quite healthy to have some go-to techniques and solutions and to really know how to use and abuse them. That psychology might come from the way I had to start out in the hardware world but it's working for me at the moment.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
I'd tend towards the smaller/minimal set-up and more so these days for sure. Enough CPU and intuitive controllability and a few very good bits of outboard and some great headphones and monitors would be perfect for me. I guess that's a more internalised and uninterrupted way of working and that's how I function best.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
I guess I've touched on a lot of this already.
I've never formally learned a music instrument or music theory but I tinkered with a piano growing up and I think have a fairly natural intuition when it comes to melody and so on. I'm fairly traditional on that front though and probably more so now as I've grown older. I'm not that inspired by avant garde experimental stuff any more. I work with standard MIDI keys and controllers. I have a small Roli Seaboard Block and it's interesting to dabble with MPE but it's also horribly easy for everything to turn into prog rock. I'm interested to explore more though. I like what can be done in Bitwig with note expressions and so on although it's difficult to see what it can actually bring to the music I make.
Pretty much every project I work on boils down to a maximum of eight component parts and I can assign and control aspects of those with the Novation Launch Control XL. I sometimes toy with different tunings but I'd argue that also I'm often not considering tunings in the first place, those constraints aren't imposed on software instruments and samples in the same way as physical instruments and I'm working in a way to sculpt sounds together regardless.