Having studied experimental music formally at college, Bristol-based Kayla Painter is better prepared than most to make compositions that truly push the envelope. Originally from Southampton, the ambient electronic artist ended up in the South West’s most vibrant city thanks to its world-renowned music and nightlife scene, where she’s a fixture both thanks to her music and her visual projects. Her combined AV shows are that rare beast: a gig whose visuals are as well considered and executed as the beats. Oh, and she happens to be a lecturer at the University of South Wales. Quite a CV, ey?
Still, it’s her killer, spacey tunes that we’re most interested in. Those cuts like “efa” and “Drones” which draw you in with their varying textures and weirdly engaging sonic acrobatics; they possess a certain strange beauty that permeates, unsurprisingly, their accompanying videos (plug into the Where the Wild Things Are style fantasy of “efa” or the chilly sci-fi of “Drones”). Frequently gracing some of the UK’s finest off-beat festivals, including Simple Things and Dot to Dot, you might have caught Kayla a few weeks back at Glastonbury, where she put on a super atmospheric set that had Wonderland lost in it’s minimal folds. Still, if you did miss that (and the accompanying mud), don’t fret; we’ve sat down with the polymath to talk midnight Megabuses, post-humanism, and why London’s jam-packed scene isn’t the only place to thrive.
You studied experimental music: how has that informed your work?
Studying music and sound from an experimental perspective has taught me to question everything. Whilst this can mean things take ages, it also means every ounce of creativity is engaged with the writing process. I imagine it appears in my work, sometimes people describe it as cerebral music, and I think that’s why.
I really had to disregard everything I knew, or thought I knew when I began studying Creative Sound and Music in order to take on board some of the bizarre and mind bending concepts we were introduced to!
And then Bristol with its unique scene proved very influential: talk to us about that?
Bristol has a unique scene, which is why I’ve stayed here for so long. It has a respectable openness to all sorts of music. It’s the most open minded city I’ve spent any time in, in the UK, and I think that makes for a really interesting arts culture. It feels as though there are less boundaries here, or the ones that there are, are constantly being challenged or broken by artists.
I’ve seen some amazing shows here and having lived here for a number of years I have friends and associates that operate in all different musical spheres, which continually inspires me, sonically and creatively.
Why does this very digital/post-internet feel appeal to you so much?
I think my interest in future sci-fi has peaked in recent years, probably due to the scientific discoveries and technological advancements we have made in different industries.
The progression of things like 3D printing and Virtual Reality give us options we have never had before. It inspires art too, I love seeing the way technological advancements permeate arts culture.
There is something about the music I write that seems to have a futurist feel to it, and I suppose that inspires the research and interest outside of composition as well.
And you’re also a visual artist – tell us about that part of your work and how it intersects with the music?
There are some tracks I’ve written specifically with visuals in mind. The visuals are in this sense, just as important as the audio. As some of my music tends to be minimal I tend to ‘see’ a vibe, a scene, or feeling I wish to convey with the music. I like to create a world, or an experience for an audience member which is why I teamed up with Jason Baker, who provides me with live visuals at my shows.
You’ve already got plenty of live work under your belt: what’s been a particular highlight?
That’s a tough question, as there are many ways I could answer this!
I’ve met some amazing musicians through gigging.
Supporting Tim Hecker was a memorable one. His show was in complete darkness, the stage, the audience everything! It was amazing to be a part of that night, and it was the right sort of audience for me, open minded and into experimental sound design.
You dropped the video for “Drones” recently. Talk to us about the concept and the process of creating both the track and the visuals?
The track came first, and whilst I was writing the track, it was starting to form a theme in my head. The track composition flowed quite naturally, although it took a little while to get it finished. It was initially based around an ambient pallet to start with and as it progressed I felt the need for drums and rhythmical elements, as well as prominent bass.
Continuing on my every growing interest in post-humanism, I began to create a vague storyline for the track. I had been influenced by the film Ex-Machina last year, so ideas inspired by that got chucked into the mix too. I binge watched all of channel 4’s drama ‘Humans’ which explores the relationship between man and machine, through owning an android that looks and acts like a human. There was plenty of inspiration knocking about, and it felt right to draw this all together in a coherent piece.
As I had such a clear vision for what I wanted to convey, it made sense that I was the writer/director of the video, even though I have never stepped into these roles before. I found that process challenging but also very rewarding, especially now it is finished and out there in the public eye.
Who are your biggest influences?
That’s another tough one! At the moment, Holly Herndon, Matmos, and Autechre.
It’s good that you’re very active in Wales and the South West; how come you decided against flocking to London like so many other musicians?
Haha well, London seems so (musically) saturated to me that it needs to be the right night to play at. That’s not always easy to tell in advance. I am sort of done with the midweek Megabus that gets back to Bristol at 3AM and then have to get up for work at 8AM. I’d rather do one good London gig a year, than half a dozen that leave me underwhelmed. It has a good reputation for music, but I wonder if my music is better off building a name for itself outside of the capital…
What’s the next step for you/what can we expect to see soon?
I’ve Glastonbury festival the other week, which was a first for me so I’d been putting a lot of energy into that. Once I’ve played my other summer dates, I expect to drop another track and video, and following that, release my debut album!!