Before a crowd of rather uninterested people, beards & other kind of long hair—imagine them in their apartments listening to their Tame Impala on hi-vi, heavy-press vinyl, drinking rancid beer from the bottle if they weren’t here—Patrick Morales is rapping about sun baked Manhattan streets that don’t quite exist anymore.
Morales is Wiki, a rap moniker that sounds like a graffiti tag, formally of the trio Ratking, now among the few MCs on XL Recordings, alongside Adele, Vamp Weekend & Jamie xx. In addition to rapping, he sings and he yells, wears a baseball cap that he looks born-in, is bucktoothed and carries himself like he’s only working here and will be off the shift soon, looks longingly at the blunt on the lips of his DJ. Before ending his set, he tells anyone who knows the words to sing them along and no one does but it’s their loss: it’s “Pretty Bull,” a laser synth-lit breakbeat that’s very literally old-school: rapping about nights with his crew like nights at the Tunnel, a nightclub that Giuliani closed in 2001. You will be hard-pressed to find a New York rap record like the one that it is on, his XL debut No Mountains in Manhattan, named after a De Niro quote and full of the sound of the morning sun, humid perspiration that fills the air when the trucks come in and the real kids leave their clubs to begin the day.
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These days he’s been warming up for the East London duo Mount Kimbie, an electronic act that consists of Kai Campos and Dom Maker, releases records on Warp and that, on paper, have recently ditched their post-dub/hip-hop leanings for ostensibly more “authentic” analog-ish motorik beats and whole a lotta Sounding Like Joy Division. People have eaten this up. “Beyond question that Mount Kimbie have…transmitted, an entire state of being,” roars the blurb from Tiny Mix Tapes. “Raw honesty, both musically and artistically,” Clash assures their readers. Wiki is well-liked also, but in different circles: Ratking’s sole record before breaking up topped Vice’s 2014 list and Wiki has earned acclaim for handing out deli sandwiches at gigs, nice man that he is. “With every food reference, Wiki plants a flag for his New York,” raved Pitchfork.
At one time, Mount Kimbie made hip hop too. Maker has a production credit on one of the bonus tracks on Jay-Z’s 4:44 and one of the tracks from their post-dubstep debut, Crooks & Lovers, was prominently sampled on a Justin Bieber-starring Chance the Rapper joint. (Kid Cudi & Vince Staples have also drawn from the warm throb of that record.) There’s little chance anything on Love What Survives will end up even on the most emo of rap tapes but I suspect it suits this crowd fine, filling up rapturously as soon as word comes that the rapper has left the building. Campos and Maker arrive and begin plugging in, their group enlarged on stage by the French singer and producer Andrea Balency & touring drummer Marc Pell.
Campos sings too, he started doing this on the group’s Warp debut, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth (a record that Maker later called “completely unfinished”) and his voice sounds anonymous and pale, often muttering things, occasionally chanting. Their later work gets most of its currency from their well-known cadre of guest vocalists: James Blake, who used to tour with the band and provide remixes, along with fellow art school types like King Krule & Micachu. Touring this music is something of a challenge, as all of these are very busy people and simply playing their voices over the speakers doesn’t feel quite right for a unit who made such a meal over producing real grainy, “authentic” record, analog drumset and all.
So they don’t play it. Campos & Maker, dressed like collage adjuncts on a night out, stay behind their massive Korg MS-20s, Korg Delta synths and other equipment that recalls a flight deck arsenal. Occasionally, one of them peeks out to strum a bass guitar very seriously.
The effect of this can be remarkably sublime and it occasionally it is; Mount Kimbie is “a place inside all of us where buses arrive on time” and, joined by the muted lightshow, the set-up can accomplish extended moments of concrete quietude, neither pulsing up or down but onward, onward, onward. Without the gritty, almost minimalist adornment of their later work, their live set recalls the very post-dub sound the band has been so congratulated for escaping.
The approach is naturally less effective when attempting to tackle their more recently recorded soundscapes: a production begins of “Blue Train Lines,” the joint with King Krule on it, whose voice on the track has been described as “so visceral and intense that it’s hard not to imagine him thrashing on the floor of a mosh pit by the song’s end.” The song’s clanging guitars are enacted with detailed precision, the tap-tap-break beat and then—nothing. This noodles on, prog-like, going on forever until it stops. This is disappointing and you almost wish Campos would give it a whispery try, just for kicks.
In rebuilding their sound from 80s analog boxes, Mount Kimbie finds themselves in the old crisis in electronic music ever since it left Coachella’s Mojave Tent for the wide open gig air —the longstanding ruckus over Deadmau5’s bit on “glorified button pushers.” Debating skill is, of course, silly (who cares?): the real question is how to deliver electronic music that bops, groans or whatnot and looks like it, Pete Townshed-style? You can add live drummers and they can have tattoos and whatever punk rock signifiers you can stitch on but the charm of Mount Kimbie’s much-applauded “new sound” comes into question: why leave the negative space of squeaky post-dubstep grime for DFA-era post-punk if you can’t deliver the moves?
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Anticipating this line of thinking, Campos later invites Wiki back on stage. The sound production is terrible, you can barely hear a word over some jamming approximation of Kaytranada’s production on the original rap track. He leaves and the rest of the evening is pure throb, lights dimming slowly. Mount Kimbie is a big ticket this festival season, up on the list amid the standard rock/hip hop fare at Primavera, Pitchfork and Panorama along with their more dance-centric cousins like Field Day & Electric Forrest. Maybe they’ll rent a few more singers from below their line on the poster.
Love What Survives is out on Warp & No Mountains in Manhattan is available on XL Recordings.