Katz Mulk

Deeply embedded in the Manchester underground, Katz Mulk was born out of the Human Heads crew. The trio makes warped electronics, auto tuned improv and loose pop music that combines the best of hipstertronics and hardcore avant-garde music. Their debut is soon out on the top notch Singing Knives label. As suiting for the ‘now sound of Manchester’ we had this ‘Facebook messenger’ conversation with Ben Night, Andrea Kerney and Hugh Morris about their avant-pop and performance explorations in experimental music.
28 May 2017 | AG 9.1
Ben Night

Hi ya’ll...Niels wants to interview Katz Mulk for The Avant-Guardian (an irregular KRAAK publication).

Niels Latomme

What’s up with the photo?

BN

Haha. The photo came about through a chance meeting at a gig with those sunglasses and Andrea’s mad Photoshop skills. I think it’s an accurate depiction of Katz Mulk in a Mad Max Brexit world. We are the band to heal those wounds!

NL

So, you make political music?

BN

You’re asking all the big hard hitting questions here Niels!

NL

That’s my style …

BN

We don’t make protest music, so not with a big ‘P’. I think we make rough, joyous group musick with narrative fragments stuffed in the holes. And we’re resolutely DIY, but I don’t want to speak for everyone else on this question because we all bring our own sensibilities to it. But with promoting gigs regularly as I do with psykick dancehall, I think there’s a politics to that which is more clearly identifiable...   

NL

Tell me, where comes the name ‘Katz Mulk’ from?

BN

 Ah... a jumble of associations and happen stance. Ben and me were asked to do a gig at Fuel Cafe in Manchester, and we’re not fans of the Morris/Knight duo approach to naming, so I think Ben suggested it initially. And I jazzed it up with the k and the zs. Also, I like that it echoes and is partly inspired by these weird chocolates I found in a German supermarket called katzenzungen (cats tongues!). Also, I thought it had a Jeff Keen vibe to it but I’ve gone cold on the relevance of that. More importantly, we are fans of the cat in general.

NL

Katz Mulk sounds to me pretty hip hop inspired, you have any affinity to hip hop?

BN

Do you mean our name or the music?

Andrea Kerney

If Katz Mulk are hip hop then I’m flava flav (don’t put that in the interview)… 

NL

Too Late!

AK

Where are you getting the hip hop vibe?

NL

Well, the vocals sounds to me as hip hop inspired. But more, there’s a bleak futurist vibe that reminds of hip hop’s futurism. Also the overall sound is pretty now. There’s no retro vibe in it.

BN

Personally, I’ve never thought of the vocals as having a connection with hip hop, so I’d be interested to know what you’ve been listening to that made the connection for you. As for the futurism, we’ve never discussed it in those terms, but I like the association! Not Futurism per se, but Ursula le Guin’s writing was a big influence for me in making the music that went into the new album (husks). Especially a kind of ordinary science fiction that I get from reading her work; the strangeness of everyday encounters, and how things spring from that. A few lines are poached here and there and scattered in the music. Contemporary pop music is/was a big influence, a lot of the samples were recorded in the summer at a huge concert, where people who didn’t have tickets gathered around the outside to watch and listen. All the sounds are pretty chewed up though, so you might not be able to tell whom it was! As for the now sound; I think we wanted to work in a way that was distinct from what we do outside of KM. I really wanted to work on a group that could combine dance; music and singing, and would work as performance and as recordings. Ben M can chip in to add his thoughts about the sound...

Hugh Morris

The hip hop associations kind of make sense to me in a distant way. Definitely in terms of methodology and also stylistically to a tiny degree. While we were making the last album and playing gigs in the same time frame, Ben told me about DJ Spanish Fly’s mixes and how he was into the raw, compositional bare bones of a lot of the Memphis hip-hop he was playing. I took this as a green light, to experiment with 808 drum machine samples. And then, like Ben mentioned, the core of the album is based around a sampling process, of mainstream pop music filtered through Manchester’s architecture, looped and hand/bodily manipulated using consumer audio technology; tape players, dictaphones etc. so there’s definite comparisons to be made in a pop-music-concrete/ using hip hop drum machines/ lyrical vocalisation sort of way. That said, we don’t sound anything like hip hop! And ben’s words don’t really approach the world of Memphis hip hop lyrical content!

In terms of sounding now and not retro, I’m not really sure if that’s true, but as a context I think we started playing together at a time when we both wanted to push ourselves out of our comfort zones a little bit. This lead us down a more performative route and asking Andrea to collaborate with us has influenced the pathways we’ve gone down. I was definitely influenced by what Human Heads were and are still doing. I mastered their first album and it really impressed me and signalled a way into new modes of experimentation. Ben and I both have a shared interest in people like El-g, Ghédalia Tazartes, Graham Lambkin, and Robert Ashley. I listen to Michael Jackson, Prince and Sade more than those people though.

NL

Tell me more about the performative aspect? How does that work and what happens? Is it because you want engage people and yourself in a direct experience?

BN

This follows on from what Ben was saying about getting out of our comfort zones and pulling different areas of interest together that were put in separate boxes before now. I’ve been getting more into physical performance over the last few year and I really get a lot from what I feel is the risk and vulnerability of doing it live. I mean I’m not a dancer like Andrea is, so it’s definitely something out of my comfort zone! Also, the performance aspect comes from an idea about moving sounds around a space, using tape machines to create a primitive, mobile surround sound!

NL

What do you do then?

BN

Ah, nice try, but we’re not going to part the silver curtain that easily. You’ll have to wait and see. Plus, I fell off my bike the other day; might just hobble around for 20mins and show people my bruises.

AK

You asked about the performative element. Ben and Ben asked if I would be interested in doing some dance as part of a performance they had scheduled. I listened to some recordings, discussed ideas around gesture and came up with a set of movements to improvise around. As my background is in graphic design I recorded these as a visual score/instruction. This first performance involved Ben K and I moving around the space and using architectural features as props. Since then all 3 of us have moved out into the space and the performative aspect has expanded rapidly. Each performance changes quite drastically depending on the space/environment and we take some time to scope it out and decide what will work best.

NL

Thanks!