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Compilation Artist

Cliff Kuti weaves beats and cinematic soundscapes through his modular synthesizer into musical journeys that grab the listener by the scruff of the neck and drag them through black holes into the end of time.

Cliff Kuti

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How did you get into electronic music? Where did it all begin?

I’ve always been a huge music fan, as a little kid I was listening to as much grunge as rap and everything in between but the jump for me into electronic music came around the late 90's when I started listening to artists like Massive Attack, Portishead, Radiohead (Kid A) and Aphex Twin (Windowlicker absolutely blew my mind). In my late teens/early 20s I was heavily into bands like Shellac, Pelican, Kyuss and Isis (not the terrorist group they're bad) which were post rock/metal/insert genre here - mainly instrumental, heavy and riff based so the jump into electronic music was inevitable. From there I was listening pretty much exclusively to artists from Planet Mu, Ninja Tune and of course WARP.

Is there one piece of gear that was a real turning point for you?

I think it was when I got a proper computer setup with a hooky copy of CubaseSX3, that started my journey into making electronic music. After that I got a Korg MS2000, borrowed my mates Novation KS rack and bought some decent monitors and I was away. With a computer and any DAW you can pretty much do anything and it doesn't have to be the latest and greatest either, I'm still using the same i7 from 12 years ago for example.

Is there a particular instrument or sound source you find yourself drawn to?

In the last year or so I've got heavily into modular synths so I would say that. There's something about being able to customise your rig and evolve it as you go which is incredibly addictive. After feeling a bit stagnant making music on the computer its been really refreshing to get into something electronic that feels like a real instrument that you can compose and perform on in real time - I'm finding it incredibly inspiring, so much so that I'm completely changing the way I make music and how I approach it.

What does your creative process look like? Are there particular techniques that help your process?

So my process has constantly evolved through the years, when I first started I used to record a lot of my own samples with a microphone, load them into software samplers and multi track my synths into the computer to arrange it all. In the last few years I've really simplified my setup to just a PC with renoise/reaper and mainly sampling other records. I've found it really helps to separate producing into different areas - one day for preparing samples, a separate time for arranging and then another day for mixing down etc that way you don't get bogged down in the details when your creative juices are flowing and want to write. In terms of creativity I've always found limitations to be super important otherwise I get overwhelmed with all the possibilities. Again this is why I love my modular and have moved over to sequencing and playing everything live through the rig - you're very limited with what you can do and forced to squeeze absolutely everything you can out of it to keep things moving and interesting!

Where do you usually start when creating a new piece?

As mentioned I've been getting into modular over the last year and half so my whole process is in flux, at the moment I'm focusing on learning what my rig can do inside out and how to perform live with it. I've been finding getting some atmospheric pads going first to get a vibe and then building the melodic content around that with drums last the way to go. As I'm focusing on playing live I'm trying to write sequences that I can keep interesting over 20/30 min and beyond so finding that quite challenging at the moment.

Do you find that other creative pursuits influence your music?

My main creative outlet is making music and I focus on that as much as possible outside of work. I have found through getting into modular that I’ve been more interested in electronics and have been building a lot of DIY modules, I could see myself designing my own further down the line which would be informed by my music.

Do you perform live? How do you translate your music into a live performance?

In the past I haven’t but I would say that is currently my main focus, I’m not that interested in recording tracks at the moment mainly due to being a bit sick of being sat in front of a computer for 8 hours plus a day. That’s one of the reasons I’m finding my modular so liberating and my aim now is to compose music to play live first and record second.

What is the source of inspiration for your latest work?

So Day 6 the track that features on the compilation started as a creative exercise that I challenged myself to do over lockdown. The idea was to start a track each day and get as far as I could in the space of an evening – Day 6 as the name suggests was started on the 6th day of lockdown. At the end of 20 odd days or whatever it was, I chose the best ideas to pad out and finish. With Day 6 I set out to write a Jungle inspired track and I guess at the time I was feeling quite apocalyptic with everything that was happening around me with Covid, I think that comes through in the music.

Do you think the town you live (Auckland) in has an influence on your sound or process?

Maybe, I find the gigs I go to have a big influence on the kind of music I make so from that point of view the town has an influence, in Auckland I tend to catch a fair few DnB nights. I’ve been finding festivals tend to give me a lot more inspiration though, for example I recently went to Kiwiburn and the whole vibe reminded me of the free party scene in the UK, I caught some awesome bass music sets from local DJs that really got me going.

What is the strangest or most surprising instrument you have used?

From a more classical instrument point of view maybe a Charango which I got into while travelling South America, it’s essential a 10 string ukulele which was traditionally made out of an armadillo I think (the one I have is carved out of a solid piece of wood which is much more common these days). Non traditional would be a metal spring on a desk lamp arm that I sampled and used as a cymbol on a track– sounded awesome!

Who do you see as your biggest influence?

Fourtet, Chris Clark and Amon Tobin – although I don’t listen to them as much these days they were the three artists that really informed my early electronic tracks and who I aspired to be like.

What records caught your attention early on and influenced your direction?

So it would have to be pretty much anything from Planet Mu, Ninja Tune and WARP. Some that come to mind: Fourtet – Rounds, Aphex twin – Drukqs, Board of Cananda – Geogadi, Chris Clark – Empty the bones of you, Vex’d – self titled, Squarepusher – Go Plastic, Venetian Snares- Rossz Csillag Alatt Szuletett, Amon Tobin – Permutation, U-Ziq – Lunatic harness, the list goes on and on…..

Recommend one artist for people to check out (other than yourself of course)

Just one!? Hmm - Abul Mogard.