Bristol producer duo KOAN Sound are celebrating the release of their long, long-awaited debut album, more than a decade on from their first release. Having entered the ring at just 16 with dubstep hit Clowny / Blessed, the evolution of KOAN Sound is unparalleled – somehow retaining their original and unique style, while continually expanding their reference pool to include everything from drum and bass to funk.
the evolution of KOAN Sound is unparalleled
Though KOAN Sound have been off grid since their Forgotten Myths EP in 2015, anticipation for a new album has remained rife since they announced a forthcoming full length project at the beginning of 2016. KOAN Sound’s Will Weeks and Jim Bastow finally delivered the goods in the form of 11-track album Polychrome, and it was well worth the wait.
‘One of the reasons the album took so long is because we wanted it to be something really special that is a summary of everything we’ve done before’ Will explains.
‘As we went through the process, our skills improved’ Jim adds. ‘Our technical and musical ability improved and so inevitably we felt like we had to go back and update all the tracks. We definitely felt the pressure to make sure it was really, really good to justify the amount of time we spent on it. We felt like we owed it to the people who listened to our music to make it as good as possible – and ourselves.
As we went through the process, our skills improved
‘It’s very much a double-edged sword in the sense that we had all this freedom and time to experiment and release the album that we wanted to release, but at the same time there was no deadline. There was definitely a point where we lost perspective of what we were doing and maybe a little bit why we were doing it, because it had been so long since we released anything. We weren’t having much interaction with our fans because we were locked away writing, so we weren’t meeting the people who were going to listen to the music.’
There was definitely a point where we lost perspective of what we were doing and maybe a little bit why we were doing it
‘We did play the occasional show here and there’ says Will ‘and every time we played we got such a great reaction to the new stuff, so we also had moments where we realised we had such amazing fans and we owed it to them to finish this project.’
we realised we had such amazing fans and we owed it to them to finish this project
Polychrome finally hit shelves in December via KOAN Sound’s own Shoshin imprint, which they erected in 2015 to house their Forgotten Myths EP – deciding to go it alone after four very successful EP releases with Skrillex’s OWSLA label, including the much-loved Funk Blaster EP, which hit number one in the Beatport charts.
‘OWLSA gave us a really amazing platform in the states and exposed us to people all over the world who would probably never have heard our music otherwise’ says Jim. ‘I think we just felt a little bit separate from what they were doing, they’re very much based in LA.
‘We felt like we had enough of a fanbase that we could do it ourselves, and with it being our debut album we wanted to have control over every last detail of how it’s presented.
with it being our debut album we wanted to have control over every last detail of how it’s presented
‘One of the most satisfying parts of the release, after the music was finished, was doing the artwork and doing the mastering and working with friends. Everyone who was involved in artwork, video, mastering, the Trinity shows – they’re all mates, basically. Working with people we know was really good and it’s more rewarding.’
Jim and Will first struck up a friendship after meeting in secondary school, discovering that they’d grown up just one street apart in Bishopston and both played instruments – Will the drums and Jim playing the keys and a little guitar. KOAN Sound came to life after the pair found themselves gravitating towards electronic music, absorbing influence from Bristol’s big drum and bass culture, as well as the burgeoning dubstep scene.
Although they’re not planning on saying goodbye to the dancefloors any time soon, live music has found a footing once again in their process
However, things have come full circle for the release of Polychrome. Although they’re not planning on saying goodbye to the dancefloors any time soon, live music has found a footing once again in their process – playing more of the instrumentation themselves and recording other musicians before working their magic in the production room.
‘This album was the return to listening to live music and bands for us, whether that was metal or jazz’ says Jim ‘and making a return to actually playing instruments again ourselves; jamming, playing with other musicians and recording other musicians – a few of which ended up on the album. It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to distance ourselves from the electronic world, it was just how our preferences changed.’
‘There’s still a huge influence that comes from drum and bass. I don’t think that has ever left us, I think we just broadened our tastes’ says Will.
There’s still a huge influence that comes from drum and bass. I don’t think that has ever left us
KOAN Sound fans’ tastes have evolved with them over the years, remaining loyal throughout various, very different releases. Alongside overwhelmingly positive album reviews, demand for tickets to their album launch at Trinity this month lead to them adding a second date.
‘We were happy with the quality of the album, but we didn’t know what people expected’ says Will.
‘It’s really encouraging’ says Jim. ‘When you’ve been away for so long, you do start wondering how much people really care anymore or how relevant you are anymore.
‘We put so much effort into everything that we do, I think we’ve gained enough trust from our fans that the next thing would be as good or better than our previous’ says Will.
‘The thing that made me happy is that we managed to tie together all the different elements of our sound and all the different styles that we’d done’ says Jim. ‘From the feedback we’ve had or seen online, a lot of people have very different favourite tracks – for every track that’s been posted online at least one person has said “this is my favourite track”.
It’s definitely the most ambitious music that we’ve ever put together
‘It’s definitely the most ambitious music that we’ve ever put together, in the amount of time that we spent on it and the amount of experimentation that we did.’
Although they’ve shown their softer side before, Polychrome as a whole is gentler than any complete project they’ve put out before. There are plenty of meaty basslines to work with, but the overall mood feels lighter and brighter.
‘We tried to make it more of a listenable album’ says Will. ‘As well as being a dancefloor thing, it was really important to us for it to be very listenable with a pair of headphones. That’s probably why it sounds a bit softer than previous releases, because we want people to be able to sit and listen to it in the living room, as well as dance to it.’
we want people to be able to sit and listen to it in the living room, as well as dance to it
‘We’ve traditionally always done four track EPs and we’d always put maybe one more experimental tune on there’ says Jim ‘but you don’t have the same as freedom as with an album to really showcase your whole breadth of work.
‘Originally we had this idea for the album to be more of a dancefloor, funky, Fender Rhodes-based thing and make a second album shortly after that, which would be a more downtempo, cinematic thing and showcase that side of our work. But as we went through the process, those two ideas just naturally meshed together and it became something that really showcased our whole sound.’
The effort that KOAN Sound put into their work doesn’t stop at the music. Alongside the album, Jim and Will have put together a visual project that includes artwork for each track and responsive visuals for the live show, teaming up with Bristol-based creative studio KōLAB to bring it all together.
‘We started working with KōLAB to try and find a way to present all these different facets of sound that are in the album’ Jim says.
‘We sat down and decided which colours can be linked to each track, the shapes and tones that can be felt for each track, and Polychrome felt like a really nice way to tie it all together’ says Will.
‘We ended up making a piece of art for each of the tracks, that are really different from each other, but all using a really similar technique’ Jim explains. ‘They were created using macro photography; mixing different paints and substances together and zooming in on it really, really close, so that you lose a sense of scale. Then we thought, why not continue using this technique and extend it to video, so we started filming what we were doing in really slow motion.
‘All of the macro photography footage is the back bone of the visual show. As well as that, we’ve been programming our own visuals, which we’re going to be triggering from the stage with the instruments.
‘It’s a new thing for us, but I have personally always felt that there’s a really strong visual aspect to our music’ says Jim. ‘Presenting it live in conjunction with the music will be a really great way to convey the feeling of the track and create a new experience that’s more than just the song or just the visuals – something that’s more than the sum of its parts.’
Photos by Sarah Koury