Photo: Kane Rich Photography
From creative collaborations and artistic AV visuals to being inspired by those around her and the city’s musical heritage; Bristol based electronic artist Kayla Painter has quickly becoming one of the scene’s most exciting talents. Fresh from her performance at Afterglow last week, we caught up with the rising producer ahead of this summer’s festival season, including live shows at Glastonbury Festival and Farmfest.
First of all huge congrats on the Glastonbury Festival announcement! How does it feel to be playing one of the most acclaimed music events in the world?
It feels a little strange because I’ve known about it for a while so I’ve had time to process it. Finally getting to tell people about it is a bit of a relief in many ways. I am of course very nervous about playing, and actually the announcement had such an overwhelming response I am, in a way, more nervous because there lies a level of expectation now!
I’m really grateful for the opportunity to play the infamous festival. Something which I’ll never forget is the feeling I had when I phoned my parents to tell them. I knew they would know what it was about, so that felt really exciting.
I’m particularly excited because I’ve got a couple of tricks up my sleeve for the festival, I’m definitely going to make it one to remember!
You’ve just released another brilliant piece with new single ‘Efa’, alongside an even more intriguing video. What’s the story behind the song?
‘Efa’ took me a long time to write. I’m talking years. It started when I came back from Womad festival 2013, then I was stuck on it for several months. Later that year I went trekking in Nepal and took a field recorder and gathered lots of new sounds. By 2014, ‘Efa’ had a new feel with Nepalese children chanting the alphabet in the background. But it still wasn’t right. I took a whole year playing with it live and taking it back to the studio.
I travelled to Dublin for a weekend and heard a fascinating tale in a museum of folklore and storytelling, and one character grabbed my attention in particular – Efa. So I’d finally landed on a name, ‘Aoife’, the English spelling being ‘Efa’. It is a totally unique track for me as the inspiration has come from around the world, and I’ve never written another track like it.
Although the track is, true to my form, very minimal, the extent of which the samples were chosen was painstakingly long, and far from minimal in terms of process! For that reason I’m so happy to have it out for people to hear now.
Working with James Sampson on the video was great, as he explored the relationship between light and dark, incorporating a magical fairytale feel and telling it in a way which felt like a modern day fairy tale, which felt just right considering how the track had been made.
Bristol is internationally known for its underground electronic scene. We’ve always wanted to ask, what sorts of styles influence your sound?
I suppose there are many styles that influence my sound. I really loved going to zamzam nights when they were in Bristol, they really did operate under the radar and would put tiny shows on, with more of a sense of it being a gathering rather than a show. These events would house experimental stuff, often challenging music, sound, or performance. This really spoke to me as I had my eyes opened to this sort of stuff whilst studying at University in Newport a few years back. One performance consisted of a guy with one cymbal and a stick. This was about 40 minutes in length. Sometimes it’s those sort of performances that really speak with to me, it inspires me to create with no rules which is really important to my creative process.
I’m a fan of the DIY scene here, the low-fi gigs, shows put on in unusual spaces, nights run by Howling Owl etc. All of this stuff influences the way I compose, and therefore the end product – the track. I feel the electronic scene is interesting too, most of my friends that are involved in it make music that is left field to a certain degree. I suppose it sits nicely with the wider appreciation that Bristol seems to have for art, there’s less people living here making stuff ‘just because’ and more people making stuff that does something, or has something unique about it.
Having been living in Bristol for a few years now it’s really nice to go to these gigs and work with other musicians.
Dual screen AV visuals have been well known at your live shows. How important is it to find the right balance between visuals and sound?
For my AV performances, visuals make up half of the experience. In that sense I believe the visual to be just as important as the sound. As my music tends to be minimal and abstract, rather than lyrical it lends itself perfectly to a visual representation of sound, something for people to get lost in or engage with.
With the dual screen show you really get the effect of it being an AV experience rather than a gig, which is what we wanted to create. Finding the balance hasn’t ever been too much of a task, but this might be because I’m used to working with one artist, Jason Baker so perhaps I have been a bit spoilt! Jason interprets the tracks I send him and comes back to me with visuals for specific tracks or specific moments. This seems to have been a successful way to work in the time we’ve been doing it.
I also perform without visuals, and when I do this, I use an entirely different set, usually something people can engage with physically rather than mentally. As the one I use for the dual screen show has been made for that purpose entirely, I like to keep that for the full on immersive experience.
Over the course you’ve collaborated with various creative people such as Jason Baker and James Hankins that have resulted in some truly unique and stand out presentations. What’s it been like working with them and further pushing the boundaries of your music?
It has been amazing. I have found that I have gained so much from the people I’ve worked with, it’s hard to really articulate the details. As you mentioned, I’ve worked with Jason Baker who made something that I thought was out of reach to me, very possible. James Sampson who works at achieving meticulous detail and is a perfectionist in its truest sense. James Hankins, who just seems to have this huge creative mind and vision, and I am forever grateful to him for putting me in broadmead in a giant plastic bubble. Then there’s of course the countless people I’ve gigged with, worked with musically, volunteered for, and so on.
I have been lucky to have met so many people operating in the creative realms, and a lot of them have given me ideas or helped push the boundaries of my music further. Meeting Ellen Southern and working at Supernormal in 2011 and 2015, I grouped together experiences which help me stay true to what I want to achieve with my work. Being around these sorts of people remind me that it’s OK to create what you want to create.
I have recently enrolled on a Masters in Music at Bath Spa University, where I have also met a couple of folk who have this creative carefree attitude as well. I am learning an awful lot there, sometimes too much to digest, and the stuff i’m exposed to inspires me to constantly make new stuff, or follow new directions which is so exciting. I hope to share some of that with the outside world later on this year!
Alongside the music, you’ve also been on the forefront of supporting female artists working in the music industry with platforms such as ‘The World Is Listening’ and ‘Bristol Women In Music’ providing resources and celebrating women in music. Great work all round in representing the hard work of female artists and certainly more attention from wider audiences is needed to support this. What are your views on the matter and how do you think the industry needs to react in supporting these platforms and indeed female artists in general?
Thank you. I think that’s quite tricky to answer as my opinion on this changes quite a lot.
Having been doing this for several years now, I have days where I think the industry is male dominated and it’s the industry’s fault, and days where I would completely disagree with that notion.
I have been on the receiving end of sexism and rudeness within the world of gigging, usually live sound is where the issue lies as there’s this archaic sentiment that sound people should only be male and women couldn’t possibly understand what it means to have ears and a sense of hearing.
When I went to do a week long residency in Manchester with Beth Orton running it (2015), all the people selected were deliberately women to discuss these issues in the industry. Even then though, I noticed that the sound person was indeed a woman. I felt annoyed at myself for noticing this as it shouldn’t have made any difference but I was struck by how unusual it felt to have a female sound person. After that week I felt that really there are women everywhere doing these musical things, but perhaps they don’t make such a song and dance about it, because they don’t want to be positively discriminated against?
I dunno, it seemed to me when I was there that a lot of the residency musicians were just capable, hard working and talented people. And their gender really had nothing to do with that. On that tip I feel it’s really useful for me to just think of myself as a person making music. I think that makes me go further as well. The minute I start to think of myself as female it makes me feel weak and like I should apologise for stuff all the time. This attitude of rejecting women in the music industry is a hang up from a patriarchal society, which I think will take years to dissolve, it’s happening, it will just take a long time.
Festival season is looking set to be its busiest yet! What tips would you give to music fans hitting the cities/fields this summer?
My favourite thing about festivals, apart from the post-pitched-tent-beer, is finding new music. As much as it’s great to go and see your favourite band at a festival, doing a random stumble can be really rewarding. I guess the other thing I do (being a super organised person) is take a pen and paper to a festival. Because I’ll always see a band I want to remember the name of, and I never will without the trusty pen and paper.
The enjoyment to be had at festivals I think can be getting into the spirit of the festival, taking part in things you wouldn’t usually, enjoying yourself, and of course meeting those random friendly festival folk.
Oh yeh and leave mobile phones. I have this ancient Nokia I take to festivals, which I only use if I need to call 999. The battery lasts about 10 days. No one has the number, and I have the best time without anyone having mine either.
And lastly, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
Well I’ll be releasing my debut Album, which is really exciting. I’ve put out two EPs and several singles to date, so this will be my first full length piece which I can hardly wait for. This release will be supported by a UK tour too, which will be my first official tour. More info on all of that to follow!
Kayla Painter is due to perform at the Old Market Assembly on 7th May before her live performance this summer at Glastonbury Festival.