As far as drum and bass goes, Will Keen has been bringing his own unique style to the table for a few years now. Hampshire born but Bristol based, Keeno‘s productions don’t fall far from a tree that blends electronically made basslines alongside classical instruments, to form tracks that merge two seemingly different worlds.
It’s the contrast that makes Keeno’s tracks so pertinent; the unmistakable combination of soothing synths and acoustic sounds never fails to lead to that goosebumps moment. And his mixing ability is of no exception, as we discovered two Saturday’s ago in the evening time of London’s Finsbury Park. And at eight o’clock in the Med School Music tent, we couldn’t have asked for a better selector.
So prior to his set at Hospitality in the Park, we caught up with Keeno for a quick chat about his upcoming third album, and how he goes about the production process.
“The sound of the string instruments that you can get from an orchestra is just as versatile as the sound you can get from a computer. And those two worlds seemingly merge really well”
WWD: So here we are sat down with Will, it’s nice to meet you mate!
K: It’s nice to meet you too mate!
WWD: Let’s get straight into this. So, first off, if you could just give us a bit of background about where you’ve been playing recently, because I know you mentioned you’ve just got back from Liquicity…
K: Yeah so recently I’ve just got back from Liquicity Family Day in Amsterdam, which was really fun. That was the first time I’ve been able to play out any of my new album material, so that was wicked.
WWD: Yeah because that’s coming out soon isn’t it?
K: Yeah so that’s not coming out until the 3rd of November, but since I got back from Liquicity I’ve literally just been focusing on the promo campaign for the album. So I’ve got lots of music videos to shoot, well a couple of music videos to shoot, and then lots of stripped back versions of the songs with just me playing the piano and stuff like that. So yeah I’ve just been back at home in Bristol for the time being, just working on as much as I can.
WWD: Excellent stuff well I actually wanted to speak to you about Bristol, because a friend of mine goes to university there and I’ve been there for a few events. And the vibe there is so different, everyone’s on the same wavelength. So I wanted to ask if you think that’s helped you in terms of exposing your music, and getting into the scene?
K: It’s definitely helped me focus, which is really interesting because before I moved to Bristol, I didn’t really have a space to work that was my own room where I could just get on with it. There was always an interruption, or something else that I had to go to, but now I’ve got the time in Bristol and I’ve got unlimited amazing music on my doorstep, so there’s no excuse now.
WWD: Yeah exactly I suppose when you’re constantly surrounded by it, it rubs off on you and your music as well
K: Exactly mate.
WWD: Another thing I wanted to ask you about, was your ‘Music for orchestra, drums and bass’ LP. Now in terms of that, it’s very unique to you and I know a few other artists implement classical instruments into their tracks. What is it about those kinds of sounds that, when mixed with drum and bass, gets you going?
K: Well I’ve been a classically trained musician since I can remember. So I went to boarding school from the age of eight where I was a choir boy, and with that you had to learn two instruments. So I chose the piano and the clarinet, and then later I picked up the guitar, but generally for the last few years I’ve been focusing on the piano. And I’ve always really wanted to play the cello, but it’s just the sound of the string instruments that you can get from an orchestra is just as versatile as the sound you can get from a computer. And those two worlds seemingly merge really well.
WWD: Absolutely it’s that contrast between the two different sounds that, when combined, gives you that goosebumps moment.
K: Yeah well it’s the natural sounds of the acoustic string instruments and the orchestral instruments, versus the clean sound of the electronically produced drums and basslines, which are always a good combination.
WWD: And they go so well don’t they.
K: Yeah exactly.
WWD: Well now I want to talk to you about Whiney and collaborations.
K: Yeah. [laughs]
WWD: Of course he’s been a busy boy recently.
K: He has indeed.
WWD: With the Talisman LP, absolutely smashed it. What was the tune you two collaborated on?
K: That one’s called ‘Never too long’, and that’s one that Will has had in the bank for a few years now, and the vocal that he sung himself was recorded on his laptop.
WWD: [Laughs] Really?
K: Yeah so when he sent it over to me, he was essentially asking me to reproduce the song and reassemble it, so it sounded up to date and new. And in the process of doing that I added my own vocals using a good microphone, so it provided the tone. Then his voice provided the timbre and the sound of the vocal. And it worked out really well actually, I think it’s a fair representation of our collaborative efforts.
WWD: Definitely mate. You can hear both of your styles and it’s got a certain crispness to it.
K: Yeah really nice, and his album as a whole is a fucking absolute success. I’m so proud of him for that.
WWD: Absolutely because I was actually supposed to be speaking to him today as well but unfortunately we didn’t manage to sort it, but I wanted to talk to him about… ah what’s it called?
WWD: Yeah that’s the one, ah honestly that tune…
K: Yeah he found out that that hit number one on the Beatport DnB chart during his wedding.
WWD: Really?! What on the day, whilst he was actually getting married?
K: Yep whilst he was actually getting married. Imagine that! [Laughs]
WWD: Cor that’s a good day isn’t it!
K: [Laughs] Fucking peng.
WWD: Well I mean I first came across you with your ‘Futurist’ LP, and I’ve been hooked ever since. So I wanted to ask when it comes to producing tracks, is there a kind of formula almost? Or is it more just “Oh I’m going to play with this today”?
K: Usually my day starts with half an hour to an hour of just playing piano. And I used to just record that on my phone, but I’ve recently worked out how to live record the audio coming through my piano into my DAW, without first going through MIDI. So basically as I’m playing the piano, I can just have a drum beat looping in the background on headphones, and I can just jam to that. And then after the half hour where I’ve got bored, I go and make myself a cup of tea, and come back to it and think “is there anything good in here?”. If there’s nothing good I won’t generally force myself to make music. I used to just sit there and just try and crack it out, and it just drives you insane.
WWD: Well it’s interesting you mention that because back in March time I spoke to Steve Lawler, who’s a pretty big house DJ, and he said that once you get to that stage where you can’t come up with what to do next, it’s important to ground yourself and go outside, and do something to take your mind off production.
K: Exactly that was something that I was very consciously working towards with my third album. With ‘Futurist’ I worked too long on each tune, and so I kind of fell out of love with the songs, just before the album released which was a bit of a shame. And it’s not as if I wasn’t proud of the music, it’s just that I’d heard the tunes too many times. So with this album, I kind of made sure that I had a bit of a break between the writing and the mixdown process, so that, when I came to finishing the tunes, it was exactly as I anticipated.
WWD: Yeah absolutely. Alright so now let’s give our audiences a bit of a bigger picture. So, if you could collaborate with one DnB artist on a track, from the past or the present, who would you go for?
K: I think I’d choose Break to be honest. He lives just down the road from me, and we’ve met a few times. I’m just going to bide my time, maybe ask him for a remix one day and then hopefully one day work on a track. Because I just think that his productions are outrageous, and he also has a really good musical brain, so I think the contrasts between his sound and my sound would work quite well.
WWD: Nice one. And then now, in terms of a different scope, if you could go back-to-back with one DJ, who would it be?
K: Ooo that’s a tough one. For drum and bass exclusively I reckon I’d go with S.P.Y, because his knowledge of drum and bass is mad. Like Nu:Tone and S.P.Y, they’ve got an equal knowledge of drum and bass I’d say. But if I was going back-to-back with anyone from history, I reckon I’d go back-to-back with Beethoven.
WWD: What with you playing classical music?
K: Him playing classical music. He’ll have an orchestra and I’ll have some decks.
K: That would be fun. [laughs]
WWD: If only we could get that one day! Anyway Will it’s been wicked chatting to you!
K: No worries!
Keeno’s new album ‘All the Shimmerng Things‘ lands on the 3rd of November, pre-order link here.
And catch him playing at Hospitality In:Motion at Motion Bristol on October 14th, tickets here.