Kayla Painter has been pushing the boundaries of Bristol’s electronic scene since 2012, when she independently released her debut EP Kayla Painter. Armed with little more than a laptop and synth, she creates dreamy, multi-layered soundscapes.
Her tracks are bass driven, usually ambient and always experimental. She makes an art of performing live with her unique style of leftfield music – not an easy challenge with a crowd largely used to club music or watching a lead vocalist. But Kayla has succeeded in creating a show that’s as captivating to see as to hear, thanks in part to her work with visual artist Jason Baker, who creates hypnotic visuals which are projected onto screens in front of Kayla.
She’s been handpicked by Bristol’s most prolific gig-goer Big Jeff to headline the Exchange during Independent Venue Week – a nationwide celebration of independent venue culture, supported by Arts Council England and fronted by Charlatanes front man, Tim Burgess.
‘Big Jeff chose three bands he thought were representative of the local scene in different ways. He consumes a crazy amount of music and live shows, so it’s great that he wanted to push me forward for that.’
Big Jeff isn’t the only tastemaker with Kayla on the brain, with BBC Radio 6’s Mary Anne Hobbes picking up her track Drones as a favourite and giving it airplay on her show.
Drones comes from Kayla’s forthcoming debut album, which was due for release at the beginning of this year, but is currently caught up in legal red tape after the label came into financial difficulties.
‘The album is ready to go, but it’s a case of finding a new home for it. I hope it will come out soon – it’s my first album, so I’m excited to just get it out.
The album is ready to go, but it’s a case of finding a new home for it
‘I’ve written it all, but I’ve got other musicians on board. It’s 11 tracks and explores some of that experimental soundscapey stuff, and some tracks have singing and lyrics on, which is nice for me because obviously I don’t tend to write songs in that way.
‘Sometimes the sound source is quite experimental,’ she explains. ‘It might not be a guitar and bass, it might be stuff I’ve recorded in my house, like an elastic band or a crisp packet.
‘In one of my earlier tracks, Efa, there’s a sound a bit like a groan or a monster, and it’s my cassette player in the kitchen. I jammed two of the keys together and it made this really weird sound. The buttons on the cassette player make up the beat of the drum – so the drumming on the track is all made out of clicks of a tape machine, not a drum kit.
Sometimes the sound source is quite experimental. It might not be a guitar and bass, it might be stuff I’ve recorded in my house, like an elastic band or a crisp packet
‘I’ll hear stuff when I’m out and wish I had everything with me to record it, but sometimes I can get it on my phone. I live near a primary school and when they’re out doing sports day or playing on break, I get samples from that because it just sounds amazing – the kids are playing and it’s really airy, and you get different stuff every time.
‘I like that atmospheric ambient sound of different things – in some tracks I’ll have the sound of a coffee shop or something like that, just really background, really low, to give it a sense of space and air.’
Kayla started out playing more traditional instruments than the cassette player, however. At school she played saxophone in an orchestra, before moving onto the bass guitar, guitar and keys, and went on to Newport Art School to study bass.
As an undergrad, she played in a Welsh pop-rock band and experimented with a live drum and bass project with a friend, but eventually the more self-reliant practice of producing called to her.
‘I went there to play bass, but they didn’t actually let us play our instruments for a year. We went skip diving and built instruments out of nothing – and I think that’s the roots of some of my experimental stuff.
We went skip diving and built instruments out of nothing – and I think that’s the roots of some of my experimental stuff
‘Then they taught us how to produce on a programme called Logic. I never thought I’d get into it, until I realised how much you could do without relying on anybody else, just by yourself in your bedroom.
‘That spoke to me, because I’m an introvert. I find it quite draining to be around lots of people, so I actually do spend a lot of time on my own and that set up suited me well.
‘When I left uni, I didn’t know necessarily whether that was what I would do, I just thought it was a new thing I could do. Then I got booked for a gig before I had any software to do it and I had to go and buy the software to perform live. It was for International Women’s Day and Bethan Elfyn booked me for it, which I thought was really cool. So I bought Ableton and I leant from there.’
Now, having navigated the beginnings of the music industry herself, Kayla makes it her mission to help others in her old shoes. As well as being a tutor and course leader at BIMM, she’s also involved with organisations that support female musicians – The World is Listening and Bristol Women in Music.
‘Supporting women in the industry is something that’s quite close to my heart. Promoting without any gender bias, male or female, is important to me. So it was really nice to be asked to be involved with that.
‘I don’t like the idea of unfair promotion because you’re a women. Once someone said to me at a gig, “that music was really cool, especially because you’re a girl.” That really offended me. I know they meant it in a nice way, they meant it was unusual to hear that kind of music from a girl – I guess – but it made me feel like it was unusual to achieve something being a women.
I don’t like the idea of unfair promotion because you’re a women
‘I’d rather everyone just looked at music for what it is, regardless of whether it was made by a women or a man. Especially with the gigging scene, I’ve just had so much of it from sound guys where they won’t talk to me or address me. They’ll talk to my visuals guy, because they think he knows what the deal is.
‘I’ll go over and introduce myself and they’re just not interested – it’s horrible and it’s put me off and it’s made me feel really rubbish sometimes. I hate the thought of anyone else going through that, so anything I can do to demystify that and try and encourage people not to be put off by it is important to me.’
It was in some measure these experiences that led Kayla to the screen concept you can see at many of her live AV shows, which leaves her only partially visible behind a screen with hypnotic visuals projected onto it.
‘Because of the way I look, people get an impression of what the music might be like. Once I was booked for a gig in Bristol and the guy clearly hadn’t checked out my music, because I turned up and he had set me up with a mic and asked me where my guitar was – he thought I was a singer songwriter.
‘Apart from being a huge failing on his part, it just made me feel like when people would see me, they’d assume I’m a vocalist or a diva.
I don’t want to be the spectacle, I don’t want to be the centre of it. It isn’t about that, it’s about the music and the art
‘So the visuals is definitely about: “I don’t want to be the spectacle, I don’t want to be the centre of it.” It isn’t about that, it’s about the music and the art.
‘But also, my music is visually written. It’s always written with visuals in mind – that’s how I think about music. The first track I made ever, as I was making it, it really reminded me of insects moving around, and bees and nature. So I made this stop motion of a bee flying around made out of objects from around the house. From the word go it’s always been this partnered experience – AV – it’s never been separate in my head.’
Article originally published in Nitelife January ‘17