Del Osei-Owusu interviews Kiffie…
You are a synth programmer and musician, how did it all begin for you?
It began for me in March 2020. The rumours were beginning, I was worried I would be bored so I decided to learn something new. I ordered a cheap synth, drum machine and a digital piano. When they arrived I unwrapped them and began playing around. Learning how to use them, and how to record music. From that moment I haven’t paused or looked back and over 200 tunes and songs later I am getting somewhere half decent. That journey never ends. I am a lifelong learner.
What did you listen to growing up?
Everything. I was born too late to appreciate the early 80s synth music so my awakening came with Enigma. But before that it was my dad’s small vinyl collection, The Beatles, John Lennon and Classical music. In my teenage years I really enjoyed early 90s dance and reggae, moving on to thrash metal, grunge, brit pop, hip-hop, nu-metal and very importantly, trance.
You use hardware synths (something I have loved since my teens), what was the catalyst for making music this way for you?
I play by ear and like to feel the instrument so that everything can be controlled in an analogue way. I think it is that simple. I was probably inspired by the classic TOTP performance by Yazoo of Don’t Go too!
Your latest composition, Game Theory, is full of hardware synthy goodness, how did it come about?
I have a critical friend, something we all need from time to time. He commented that all my drum patterns sound like ‘Kiffie’. So I got out my alternative drum machine and started programming. It works differently and has totally different sounds. I was feeling annoyed so made a song to the beat only. Then added some synths. I deliberately wanted it to stay fairly stable for the majority of the song so the layers take a while to develop but when they do it’s like the sound of simmering anger. With synths.
What was the challenge in composing it?
The main challenge was not to make it too obvious who it was about. It is my ode to people who ask “why won’t you just play the game?”. To me “playing the game” means, lie, cheat, steal, bully, victimise, be fake. Composition takes me a very short amount of time, sound choice takes longer, and trying to get the sequencer to play the progression at the right tempo is something I am still working on. Usually lyrics and vocals take me the longest. In this instance I just turned auto-tune and went for it – because the style of the song allowed this to happen. Lyrically it is simple, the repetition represents the number of times we have to stand up to game players.
What’s in your setup?
Yamaha P121 Digital Piano. This is my composition machine. Piano usually features in most of my music. Arturia Microbrute, for fully analogue monophonic bass. Korg Minilogue Xd, the delays and reverbs sound stunning and it has a lot of voices that can all be edited. The sequencer is awesome. A Roland TR-08, I just love those 808 sounds. I will never have enough of those snares and claps. Arturia Drumbrute Impact, my first drum machine. It is very versatile and the sounds are unique. I also use a Roland VT4 to give some interesting vocal effects. All of this is on an old wooden table, in a dusty front room, connected to a cheap laptop and put together using audacity/audiotonic.
COVID had an impact on the creative industry in a big way, what kept you motivated?
COVID created Kiffie. COVID has kept me motivated, it is a fearful time for many, but above all it makes me nervous. What we believe, are prepared to give up, and why, are difficult questions and there may be no way back. This is a fear many people have I am sure. It has become fashionable to see people as either “masked sheep” or “covidiots”, but I believe most people are somewhere between. This isn’t a binary situation, as humans we are more complicated than the modern world allows. I am fearful of losing people close to me. COVID also gave me a chance, for the first time in my life, to pause and reflect. To dream and imagine. To process and heal. If those complex feelings aren’t enough motivation then nothing will be.
2020 was a time to reflect, what did you learn about yourself?
I learnt that I have baggage to deal with, and that I am difficult to live with. I learned that I need to be more patient and more kind. I discovered my “in group” for the first time – the Twitter “new music” indie community is brilliant.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I am mostly listening to other indie artists on various blogs and independent radio stations. Other than that I am listening to Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher on repeat. I haven’t yet figured out why that album is so good, it just is. I have also, retrospectively, rediscovered early 80s post punk, new-wave and the new-romantics. I also absolutely love the Papa Roach album Who Do You Trust. It turned out to be prophetic.
If you could get one piece of classic hardware to add to your set up what would you go with?
Nothing specific, If I had access to a synth composer with a sound bank of real sounding strings, brass, drums, etc. I would compose a whole world, or at least feel like I could.
What are you looking forward to next?
I hope to perform live before the end of the year. I can visualise how it will work very clearly. I am planning on producing another EP and another album before the end of August. The EP will have a secret format, something that will share how I create music. The album will be purely instrumental. I have a 15 track electro opera musical that was made in the early days (too poorly recorded to do anything with) that I might return to. There are also various international collaborations in the pipeline. I hope that in the future, whenever that will be, that I can make music for a living either as a composer for others or for films and TV. Until then, I will continue to learn, and continue to compose. I would also like to go on holiday.