Kirollus

INTERVIEWED BY GREG WILSON 2022


I first heard about Kirollus via Dan Smith, one of the people who’ve helped me with the electrofunkroots site down the years, when driving me to Lost Village Festival in Lincolnshire last year. He’d kept appearing in Dan’s Instagram feed during the previous months, and he had also been booked for Lost Village, his first festival, although we wouldn’t meet for a few more months when we were on the bill together for Halloween at the Prince Of Wales in Brixton.

Deadly Disco

Dan had brought Kirollus to my attention as he was playing tracks mainly from the early-‘80s, some of which I used to play myself when they were originally released, but also others I was unaware of, which he’d dug deep to unearth. Coupled with his infectious energy behind the decks, which gained him an impressive social media profile during lockdown streaming sessions, the combination of music and vibes has proved a potent one with club and festival bookings pouring in once restrictions were relaxed.

What I found especially intriguing is that Kirollus, and other likeminded DJs, have a particular fondness for British produced records of the period – many of which, at the time of their release, were harshly judged against the output of the US artists they aspired to. Finally, these pioneering British black, and also white musicians, for this was always more to do with the music coming out of the speakers than the colour of skin, are receiving belated appreciation.

Dance culture, especially in the UK, has largely been documented from a white perspective, which places Northern Soul and Rave centre-stage, as these were the scenes that involved a predominantly white audience of dance music enthusiasts, whilst the people writing about these scenes have been almost exclusively white. However, this negates what was happening in the clubs a predominantly black audience frequented, the hubs for a cutting-edge subculture that led the way and laid the foundations for everything that happened later in the decade. To say this has been underplayed is putting it mildly – it’s a drum I’ve been banging for years, but now, with more emphasis on black history and the experience of British blacks in this era of Black Lives Matter, the importance of this part of our cultural inheritance and national identity is finally gaining long-overdue acknowledgement.

I knew the time was ripe for re-evaluation when Wax Poetics asked if I’d be up for interviewing Bluey, from the group Incognito, and Gilles Peterson about their new project STR4TA, which harked back to the Jazz-Funk scene they, like myself, first emerged from. This all snowballed into a three part history of the scene, which relied on mainly US imports, and where homegrown black music would flourish as a consequence. Titled ‘Wake Up The City’, it’s available here:

Pt 1: High Tension

Pt 2: Expansions

Pt 3: As The Time Goes By

When I launched electrofunkroots in 2003, my aim was to provide a window into this early-‘80s period for younger DJs and record enthusiasts who weren’t able to access this information elsewhere, giving them a taste of the times via the record lists, interviews and articles I uploaded – the intention to demonstrate the width and breadth of the scene, illustrating how the subsequent direction of UK dance culture was forged as Jazz-Funk gave way to Electro-Funk. So, when an upcoming DJ like Kirollus tells me that the site was an important resource for him its especially satisfying, for this is exactly the type of scenario I’d hoped for.

Given this development, and in the spirit of what goes around comes around, I felt that an interview here with Kirollus (the first of many, I’m sure) about how he came to be playing this music would provide a compelling perspective from someone not even born when these records first appeared, but to whom they remain just as fresh and vital as they were back then at the point of entry for me and my old school contemporaries.

GW: Where are you based and what’s your background?

K: I’m currently based in Brighton & Hove, but planning to move back to London. I was born in Dagenham in 1992 and moved to East London during primary school, before ending up in Hove around the age of 15 where I’ve lived for much of the last 14 years. I didn’t come from a household where music was played much at all. The only physical formats at home that I can remember were some bootleg cassettes and rap CDs that my older sister had, but she wouldn’t even let me listen to them! (laughs).

GW: How did you originally get into music/records?

K: My earliest musical memory was at the age of 11 watching MTV when Snoop Dogg’s ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ (produced by The Neptunes) came on the telly and that moment pretty much changed my life. It was the lead single from the 2004 album ‘R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece’, which became the first piece of music I bought for myself. For a few years I was only ever seeking out new CDs with Snoop Dogg on the tracklist. This led me to buy a lot of commercial Hip Hop and R&B comps and I remember picking up Snoop’s debut ‘Doggystyle’ but putting it back on the shelf when I saw it was from 1993 – when I was growing up in London there was a culture of anything ‘old’ being considered uncool.

The turning point for me was at the age of 14 with a video game called ‘GTA: San Andreas’. Besides the storyline and gameplay, the soundtrack itself was incredible and so well curated. It introduced me to many different genres, but what I gravitated to the most were the stations that played ’80s East Coast Hip Hop, West Coast G-Funk and early ’70s Funk. After that I stopped listening to the commercial Hip Hop compilation CDs I’d been buying and fell deep into the aforementioned genres. I would use last.fm and music blogs to discover music, as well as Yahoo Answers which strangely enough had a really strong community of golden era Hip Hop enthusiasts.

GW: What brought you to the music of the early ‘80s?

K: I’m not sure how, but at the age of 19 I fell into music production and was making my own Hip Hop inspired beats in FL Studio (music production software). During my attempts at making music – I used to seek out Funk and Soul albums on blogs from which I found 100% Pure Poison ‘Coming Right At You’ (1974) and ‘Dexter Wansel  ‘Life On Mars’ (1976). I was pretty addicted to it for a while and missed out on a few uni classes because I literally couldn’t get myself to stop what I was doing. I used to have similar ‘in the zone’ experiences with things like fine art painting and before that gaming. I get it too when I DJ sometimes and will fall into a bit of a flow state – I love it when that happens.

To answer your question of how I got into vinyl, my favourite artist at the time was DJ Quik and one blog where I was downloading Hip Hop albums from had a 12″ of his biggest record ‘Tonite’ (1991) which had a remix on the B side. It wasn’t on YouTube back then, which made me realise some music is really only available on wax. So I guess that’s why I started buying records. In 2014 I ordered my first few records on eBay first and then bought a Technics 1200 from a Gumtree ad while I still lived in London for university.

GW: When did you start to work in a record shop?

K: I would go anywhere to find records after that – record fairs, shops, boot sales etc. When I moved back to Hove I discovered Uptight Records which is one of the best record shops in the country for used Funk, Soul & Jazz. Every few weeks I would dip into the three for £10 section for records, pull a pile out and play every track on each record and leave with 18 – £60 worth of my favourites. One day I passed by again and saw there a sign on the door asking for help on Saturdays. I dropped by on the following Saturday and got the job, all because the owner’s eldest son liked me over the other applicants. I was very lucky to be there at the right time and I learned so much from working there, both musically and about records in general. Bob the owner and many of his customers have encyclopaedic knowledge on Soul music and 7″s in particular, which can still feel like a minefield even after years of being surrounded by them.

GW: How did you become a DJ?

K: How I got into DJing was, well I wanted to during uni but didn’t know how to get started. It wasn’t till a year later when I bought my first record deck and noticed there was a pitch fader and thought I’d give beatmatching a go. Before I bought my second deck I had DJ Quik’s ‘Pitch On A Party ‘12″ playing and another song playing through my phone. I was practicing to DJ with one deck and one phone and it all felt quite natural to me – I probably picked it up quickly after all the music production I was dabbling in. Many months passed before I got the second Technics deck, and then I bought got a cheap mixer for £20, some Numark cartridges and started mixing album cuts like Kashif, Melba Moore and Evelyn King which I used for my first ever recorded mix.

GW: Once you’d decided you wanted to be a DJ was it always a case of playing vinyl?

K: Early on I wanted to play the Kaytranada style music that I was listening to on SoundCloud, and Hip Hop, while I was still a bedroom DJ, and loved the idea of Serato where you could use a laptop to still get the feel of playing with records. I bought the box and control vinyl needed for it and it worked fine for a bit but then I had some technical issues soon after and just never bothered again with it. I played an entire show with a USB stick maybe in 2016 when I had my first radio show on 1BTN (Brighton-based station) so I never felt that the format was really that important.

GW: Do you ever include tracks you own digitally but either haven’t tracked down on vinyl or aren’t available in that format?

K: There’s got to be hundreds of incredible songs in my collection that I still haven’t played to a crowd yet, so I’d rather play one of those before anything digital. Those are what get me excited and I love that I can completely switch up the contents of my bag for a gig and have a whole new set of tunes to play. I know you can do this with digital folders but it just wouldn’t be the same. I can remember how a Funk, Soul or Disco record sounds just after playing it once, storing it away and then seeing the label again – without the visual aspect of vinyl I’d get lost with lots of new titles and play it safe as a result. If I end up playing more UKG, House or D&B and Jungle, which I also love to hear, then playing off a stick might be the way to go.

GW: Do you ever play re-edits/re-presses, or does it have to be original versions?

K: I do play some edits but very rarely. I’ve even made a few of my own (cut & paste style) but still haven’t played them out yet as I’ve never taken a USB to a gig before. The Sanctuary ‘I Am Going To Love Him’ edit has had a great response from people in my DMs, saying it worked when they dropped it or in the car, so I can see myself doing more in the future and possibly for a compilation I’ve been asked to compile for this year.

I usually avoid reissues because they can often sound inferior to the OG but I do own a few and don’t mind playing them out as long as the sound quality is no worse than the original, otherwise I feel like I may as well just play a digital file or something else.

A reissue label that does amazing work is Backatcha and everything I’ve bought from them looks, feels and just sounds perfect. I love how they press up classics on 7″ for the play out bag. Nowadays they can sound just as good as 12″s and best of all – no styrene!

GW: I’m interested to know where this current fascination in the early ‘80s comes from with this younger generation of obsessives?

K: I think Dam-Funk played a major role in its current popularity since he broke into the industry around 2009 with his DJ sets and original music. He influenced a new generation of producers, DJs and music fans alike to dig deeper or produce what became termed as ‘Modern Funk’. Dam also popularised the term ‘Boogie’ which the UK created in the ‘80s and that’s what I use to describe the early ‘80s Electro Funk sound.

GW: This is where I have a problem with the current definition of Boogie. The only Boogie scene was part of the Rare Groove scene in mid-late ‘80s London, which was retrospective, drawing from late ‘70s/early ‘80s Disco Funk, as Rare Groove drew from ‘70s Funk.

K: I understand where you’re coming from. It’s like recently, I’ve seen people online from outside of the UK use the term Rare Groove to describe very rare ‘80s Funk music which just isn’t right and it’s a little frustrating because it risks the term and the scene it originates from to lose its identity. It’s just that nobody I know uses the term Electro-Funk. In France they don’t use Boogie, they just simply call it Funk as it’s always been for them. But they’ve never lost their love for the music so that’s probably why terms and traditions were never lost with a young generation also heavy into the music there. But here, well it never seemed to continue down the generations. It could be because of how amazing other genres of music of black origin was in the UK and how it seems the youth never really liked what their parents listened to. This echoes similarly with black people in the US it seems.

GW: I’ve been waiting on a reawakening of interest in Jazz-Funk and subsequently a reconnection with the Electro-Funk era and its various innovations and cultural significance.

K: It feels like no one seems to care about the music’s history apart from those who are mad about the music and there aren’t many people like that in the UK compared to elsewhere in the world. There doesn’t even seem to be many comp CDs of the music produced in the UK. Most are French or Dutch.

GW: What particular interested you about the early-’80s, and the British releases from that period?

K: I got into it maybe 10 years ago after discovering groups like Mtume, Kleeer, Zapp & Con Funk Shun and Dam Funk as well as other Cali DJs and a couple other platforms exposed me to so much more.

It was a really exciting period for music where musicians were experimenting and the commercial availability of these new synthesizers and drum machines allowed producers to get creative and replace expensive string and horn sections with synthesizers like the Juno-106 or Prophet 5. The mixes and new recording techniques of the early ’80s meant some records sounding incredibly punchy too.  Songs like Del Richardson ‘Rainbows (Jazz Mix)’ from 1983 still sound so fresh and utterly timeless. ’83 is my favourite year in music for the reasons mentioned with many records being heavy on the synths but still having a very human feel. I noticed that many bands would release their last (and perhaps their best) LP during that year, like Enchantment, Ozone & Platinum Hook, which just tells you that the labels where changing and the majors were no longer supporting black groups like they used to. Many Funk & Soul groups that were lucky enough to still get signed to a label were moving toward a more poppy sound and the production was beginning to sound thinner. There’s still lots of great Funk and Soul in the late ’80s though, especially with the slow jams.

As for the UK releases, I just see them as more good music which I’ve encountered while out  digging for records. For such a small country we’ve produced countless groundbreaking and genre-defining songs over a multitude of genres. Andy Sojka (Elite Records – producer of Atmosfear, Powerline, early Level 42 etc) was important for the development of UK Street Soul with artists like Keni Stevens and Rosaline Joyce. That’s another style of music that’s gained a lot more attention in the past few years.

Did ‘Dancing In Outer Space’ (Atmosfear debut) make an impact when it was released in ’79?

GW: It was a huge underground tune on the Jazz-Funk scene, initially on Elite, but then MCA picked up and it went on to reach the UK top 50.

K: I released my first Brit Funk mix online in 2020 which received the best response of any of my mixes up till then. To me, it wasn’t all that special but I guess to many collectors, especially those outside of the UK, lots of what I thought were classics were totally new to them.

GW: You told me that my electrofunkroots website had been an important resource for you, which, when I launched it in 2003, was exactly what I’d hoped for – the intention to connect with younger enthusiasts to whom it would hopefully provide a treasure trove of discovery. Can you remember how/when you came across the site?

K: It might have been from searching online for the song titles that you included in your lists. Being that there were, and are still, very few people documenting music like this online, your page would often come up. It must have been seven years or so ago. I remember knowing barely any of the tunes you mentioned at the time and it was quite overwhelming, in a good way!

GW: Who are the artists/producers/labels from the early-’80s who have resonated the most with you?

K: Of course West End, Prelude and Salsoul are the top 3 labels. West End would be top of the list especially for their sheer consistency and incredible mixes by unsung heroes like Nick Martinelli & David Todd. There’s a lot of great material on West End that I still haven’t discovered yet.

For albums there were a few major labels that would release some of the best Funk and Soul records you’ll ever hear. My favourites are Columbia, Arista and RCA. RCA was unique as a major in that it enlisted the DJ and remixer Tee Scott to reimagine some of the album tracks for the club and did amazing rework for Plush, Michael Wycoff and Chocolate Milk. There’s also plenty of album only killer Boogie tunes on RCA. There are loads of great NY labels like Emergency and Are ‘n Be, both of which were founded by Italian men; but for sheer quality output and the ones I mentioned above mean the most to me.

GW: Did you record your first mix prior to DJing in a live context? On which platforms did you present it and what was the response?

K: Yeah it must have been at least a year before playing out for the first time. It’s funny that my first ever recorded mix was done with my phone mic because I didn’t have a means to record through the mixer and when the inspiration hits you just gotta go with it.

I posted the mix to my SoundCloud which I had a very small following on at the time from sharing my ’80s Funk and G-Funk inspired productions. I deleted it before I could get any kind of response because of the poor sound quality, but now I wish I’d just set it to private so I could listen back! I remember it was full of songs that had that Kashif/Paul Lawrence III sound which was my favourite at the time.

I recorded another mix not long after but with clean audio through the same mixer which was a  Behringer DX626. I paid £20 for it from a seller on Gumtree because it had a minor fault which eventually grew too big and was beyond repair, but while it was working I really liked how it sounded for the price. I borrowed the audio recorder from work at Uptight Records, which was probably only worth £20 too, and I paid £20 for my integrated amplifier too. Just saying all this to let anyone who’s thinking of learning to DJ know that it’s easy to get started after the major outlay of the turntables.

After the DX626 finally gave way, I moved on to a Pioneer DJM 350 and although I never liked the sound quality of the mixer, it couldn’t have been easier to record mixes thanks to the USB function. I’d use it to practice transition techniques, listen back immediately and record entire mixes to critique myself. I never released any of those mixes due to the sound quality and I think they’re all lost now but I must have recorded dozens. I currently use a Mastersounds Radius 2 mixer which I bought purely for the its excellent sound. It’s very basic but I like that about it.

Before switching to the DJM I recorded a 2nd mix which is still up on my Soundcloud entitled ‘Boogie Party on Wax’. I have to admit I kind of ‘cheated’ with this one because at the time I wasn’t as good at mixing tracks with drifting tempos like I am now, so mixing Patrice Rushen’s ‘Haven’t You Heard’ (1979) was near impossible for me back then. I remember the first time I noticed that the tempo could fluctuate during a song was Parliament ‘Aquaboogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)’ (1978). Checking it again now using a BPM app it shows a difference of about 10bpm! This is why learning to ride the pitch is an essential skill for mixing disco.

I think the mix is two or maybe three parts blended together digitally. If you can get past that I’d say it’s a really decent mix for someone who’d only been learning to DJ for two or so years especially in terms of flow, selection and musicality. In my opinion those are the most important traits of a good DJ.

GW: What were you doing with regards to live appearances prior to the first lockdown?

K: I’d been playing once a month with a friend Max Hunt, albeit for little money but a lot of fun and experience upstairs at Patterns in Brighton. He gave me my first real shot on NYE 2018 at the same spot. I was already following him on Instagram after hearing him play a great opening set out in town with a selection of Boogie. I still remember he played the songs Ron Richardson ‘Ooh Wee Babe’ (1983), XL Middleton ‘Psychic’ (2015) and Cameo ‘Single Life’ (1985). So anyway, me following him made him notice my page and see I was sharing Boogie records on Instagram, and he asked for a demo mix which I put together and sent him that same evening! I didn’t waste no time on such big opportunity.

I rehearsed my NYE set over and over. I don’t plan any sets anymore but that’s what I used to do because I wanted to make the best impression I could. It was a space themed event so during my solo set I started with Ednah Holt ‘Serious Sirius Space Party’ (1981) and then played Blair ‘Nightlife’ (1979). I  remember mixing in De De ‘S&M (Sexy Music)’ (1983), Chemise ‘She Can’t Love You’ (1982), Twilight 22 ‘Electric Kingdom’ (1983) and Syclops ‘Where’s Jason’s K’ (2008) too. Chris who would run the event was really impressed that it was one of my first ever gigs and suggested I get into production to make a name for myself. I used to think that’s the only way I could get to where I am now but I’m very grateful that I’ve managed to prove otherwise.

After Chris’ set, I had my first b2b that night. Me and Max have a great chemistry behind the decks, it couldn’t have been more perfect. The night left me feeling like ‘wow I guess young people actually really dig this Funk music!’ (laughs) I was motivated to really try and get my own gigs and pursue DJing from that night on. The next b2b we had in January I thought it was gonna be quiet so I packed nothing but my favourite ’80s Funk bangers but it was busy and ended up popping off!

GW: For many upcoming DJs the lockdown restrictions stunted their development, but you seemed to thrive in difficult circumstances.

K: Lockdown was amazing for me because all of a sudden I had all this extra free time to spend with my records. Since I had no gigs and was feeling constantly inspired by the music I’d end up mixing at home a lot and going live on IG a lot of the time. I’d upload some of the videos to my profile and this was a great way of showing people what I can do and the passion behind it.

I enjoy the creative element of social media and thinking of ways to promote me and my mixes and radio shows in an engaging way. From a young age I’ve had a gift of a good eye for detail and used to do realism paintings before music so that’s really been a skill I’m thankful to have nurtured. You can only paint realism if you’re a bit of a perfectionist and that’s something that’s helped me with my involvement in music too. I had two radio shows just before lockdown and when I decided to take a break from both in the first half of 2020 I set up a mix series, ‘Forty Minutes Of Funk’, which from what I was told really helped some people through lockdown. I started doing that weekly to gain a lot of momentum and soon after had guest DJs from all over the world whom I respected bring their own spin on the Boogie and ’80s Funk sound. My favourite of which was Red Greg.

GW: You have a strong internet profile you cultivated throughout lockdown – how has it felt taking what you’ve been doing online into the clubs/festivals?

K: I love to DJ whether it’s alone, in front of a handful of dancers, on IG live or in front of hundreds of people, and so it doesn’t feel that different to be honest! I love interacting with people in the crowd just as much as I do with people online but I do feel satisfaction with knowing that I might have made someone’s evening, especially if it’s their birthday party and means more than just a regular night out. I’ve had a few of those recently at this regular gig I have in Windsor at Oakley Court, where you know you’re an integral part of their big celebration without the pressure of being booked especially for them.

Saying that though, it’s been so good to have people who follow what I’m doing online show up to gigs that I’m been playing at. I really enjoy meeting other people that love this music too and always want to leave them with a good experience – that’s something that’s important to me.

GW: You now have an agent and are geared towards international bookings – how has it been for you since restrictions have been lifted, and what are your plans for the year ahead?

K: I only played one international booking before 2022, in Paris. Which came about from a couple of live mixes that I made on the Facebook group ‘Modern Soul Vinyl’ during lockdown. That was without my agent Ali Tillett (Warm Agency), but he has been really good to me and has a long term strategy in mind, which is how I want to play it too. 0n 16th April, I’ll be at Kaiku in Helsinki alongside local legend Sampo aka DJ Anonymous. From the mixes I’ve heard of his it should be an amazing night of Boogie and Funk – he seriously digs deep! I’m excited for Defected Croatia in July too and later this month I’ll be playing at Electric Brixton (Brixton Disco Festival) alongside yourself, Cerrone, Dave Lee, DJ Paulette and The Shapeshifters. You can always check out Resident Advisor and my IG for other gigs I’ve got coming up this year.

GW: It’s been fascinating to see how things have snowballed for you, even in these past months, since we met in Brixton when we both played Halloween at the Prince Of Wales. You must be really happy with the way things are working out – now you’re up and running in the clubs and at festivals, with international bookings stacking up, what do you see as the next steps? Can we expect a return to producing your own music at some point?

K: Oh yeah, I never dreamt that I’d be able to make a living from DJing and I was never someone who planned for the future but thank God things have turned out the way they have because honestly I don’t know what else I’d be doing with my life. You know I really would like to get back into production in the near future. I need to really enjoy the process like I used to, but now that I have a bigger audience, and I’m earning decent money through DJing to pay actual real musicians for their work, I’m in a better position than ever to make it happen. There’s so much talent in the London jazz scene it’s unreal and I’ll be moving there very soon which would make it much easier to link with talented musicians that I need to bring my vision to life.

For now though I’ll just keep playing my records and sharing my favourite music. I’ve recently started doing just that every third Friday of the month from the Defected basement for Defected Broadcasting House which is a 24/7 broadcasting channel Defected set up just last month. Every year I want to feel like I’m levelling up what I’m doing and in 2021 I was hoping to start a new radio show but didn’t feel like there was a platform out there that really suited what I’m about and aiming for. So when the offer from Defected to join their new channel came in I really jumped at the opportunity, it honestly couldn’t have come at a better time for me with everything considered and I’m so grateful to the Defected family for welcoming me in the way they have.

GW: Well all my best wishes for what lies ahead in the clubs, at the festivals, on the radio and, of course online. I’ll see you back in Brixton at the end of the month – have a great time in Helsinki.

Kirollus Guest Mix – My Analog Journal August 2021

 

Kirollus Instagram


© Greg Wilson, 2022

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