At last! A close encounter with the mystery men of UK post-elctronica.
Prog counts itself lucky today. London-based quartet Kontakte have popped in for a photoshoot and are happily turning face-forward for the camera. This is definitely not their customary way of greeting the record-buying public. Press releases tend to find them with backs to camera, wandering away to some unspecified point in the middle distance, while there's never any sign of them at all on their EP and album sleeves. Instead there are deserted shorelines, tracts of icy tundra and elastic beams of neon light. Kontakte are a band who clearly want their music to do the bidding, "Very much so," says guitarist Stuart Low. "When we had to do promotional shots for the new album we were playing a gig in Bournemouth and thought there'd be nothing better than having a stroll on the beach. So we had our picture taken walking away from the camera so you can't really see us properly." As founder member, bassist and keyboard player Ian Griffiths explains: "It's almost mirrored in our live shows too, whicxh are smothered in lights and projections. It helps to take the crowds attention away from us."
All of this appears to be entirely in keeping with Kontakte's music. The titles of their two albums to date - 2008's Soundtracks To Lost Road Movies and this years sublime We Move Through Negative Spaces are an indication of intent. Their all-instrumental music is highly imagistic, an ethereal mix of delicate melodies and glitchy beats, marked by sudden gusts of guitar noise. The songs feel like companion pieces to films that may or may not exist. "Most of the music comes quite naturally," offers Griffiths. "When we write a song the initial idea is fairly laid out. But then layers are introduced on top of that and we're free to improvise. We're not really a jamming band as such, we need some sort of idea to kickstart it. And there's a sense of exploration to the electronica side of things. You just discover more as you go along."
Disciples of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, This Will Destroy You and Mogwai will find much to savour in Kontakte's restlessly inventive soundwaves. Their appropriation of electronic elements is especially key." When I was younger I was put off a lot of electronic music because my older brother was a DJ in a local club, playing the sort of stuff I hated back then," admits Low. "It was all terrible happy-hardcore stuff. But as I got older I discovered Warp Records and Aphex Twin. The late '90s was a big time for me." Griffiths adds: "One of the first electronic records that really blew me away was the first Suicide album. It was the most primal thing I'd ever heard. I liked the stripped-back attitude to what they were doing. There's a part of that that blends into what Kontakte are doing too."
In just a few short years, Kontakte have built up an impressive reputation as blisteringly intense live performers. "The most enthusiastic people after a show are usually young guys in their 20s," says Low, "which is always good. It means they're not just people who grew up with post-rock bands. But," he adds with a chuckle, "we still get the chin-strokey muso types too."
Rob Hughes - Classic Rock presents Prog (Issue 17) May 2011.