It’s a Wednesday night and even I, as a fan of MPC champion Fresh Kils, only found out about his London gig one day before.
I’m now very familiar with the venue Surya on the Pentonville Road in London’s Kings Cross, it’s become the goto venue for Nerdcore rappers over the last few years. Mega Ran, MC Lars, Malibu Shark Attack and Dual Core have all graced this small basement venue in recent history. Tonight isn’t a Nerdcore night, though with Fresh Kils – Canada’s current Sound Battle Royale Championship Winner – on the line-up we’re assured some pop-culture inspired hip-hop beats as the master of the MPC demonstrates some of his more popular routines. Accompanying him with raps for the evening is PremRock, an artist coming out of New York whose work I wasn’t familiar with before this evening, though I later found out he’s collaborated with friend of The Unheard Nerd, Uncommon Nasa, on his most recent release Who Art In Nada.
Concern creeps in when you’ve deliberately delayed getting to the club, but still wind up being the first punter through the door. I’ve never been the only member of the audience at a gig but this very scenario was running through my head as I grabbed a beer and took a seat inconspicuously in the corner of the ground floor bar. What would I do? Watch the performance appreciatively or leave to spare the artists the ignominy? It’s a dilemma I didn’t have to ponder on for too long, as shortly the number of attendees tripled, phew!
With my sense of trepidation subsiding my mood lightened as I caught sight of Fresh Kils, someone I recognised instantly from the many multiples of times I’ve watched his MPC routines on YouTube. For the uninitiated the Akai MPC comes in a variety of models but is, in very basic terms, an array of pads with which you trigger samples and drum loops. Put a sequence together in the appropriate order and you can produce live beats and arrangements. Kils happens to be something of a master of this instrument and is the current reigning champion of the Sound Battle Royale, though he missed out in his first year to another performer nerd rap and Canadian Hip-Hop fans might be familiar with. Read on.
Pitching up at the bar next to Fresh Kils with an introduction and exchange of civilities we launch into conversation very easily, Kils wears a permanent smile and comes across very chilled and level headed. I explain that I’m having trouble using my left hand for more than one pad on my version of iMPC, an iOS simulation of the real thing. I’m working my right hand around the pads, but the left is hitting the bass drum and nothing more, I can’t coordinate the two. Gracefully Kils lets me in on a couple of secrets. ‘You know you’re going to need a repeating hi-hat so program that to run continuously, then work the pads in triangles. You have to get a bit of arm movement going’. He shows me what he means (imagine someone playing bongo drums and you’re almost there). With the promise that I’d practice I jokingly asked if tonight’s gig was a secret, nodding towards the light attendance.
There’s been any number of times I’ve seen my favourite Canadian rappers post up gigs in London, only to discover it’s London, Ontario. I’d seen tonights gig posted up on facebook but assumed, again, not to get my hopes up. It really was only the day before when I realised that Kils was posting images on Instagram from a record store in London, England, that the penny dropped and I made arrangements to attend. He explained that there had been some promotion for the gig tonight, but that it was pretty low-key and that they’d had trouble booking more shows in the capital. He was expecting some old friends to be showing support but a mid-week gig is always a challenge.
So, what to expect from this evening? Some MPC routines, including his most recent championship winner based around The Price Is Right, A mash up of Adele and Deltron 3030, Check Your Led, and a personal favourite, the Cybertron Routine that was transformed (too easy) into a Ghettosocks track, Invincible. In addition he’ll be laying down beats for PremRock to rap over.
The pair have been on tour throughout Europe since October on what they dub the Pen and the Pads Tour. Things took a shaky turn as their gigs in France coincided with the recent tragic events in Paris. Fresh Kils described the uncertainty they felt as they travelled to each venue, unsure if the gig would even take place. But Kils, and later PremRock, confirmed they had discovered that, rather than show fear by staying at home, the people were united against the attack on their nation and came together to show strength and enjoy each show.
Alongside Uncle Fester, Fresh Kils is one half of production duo The Extremities, Fes on turntables and Kils on MPC. I asked what the future held for this project and what else he had lined up. The response indicates that with the exception of one potential project, there’s a lot up in the air at the moment. Kils became animated about a possible project. ‘It’s an EP with a rapper that I’m really excited about’, he enthused, but ‘I’m not sure I should say who it is yet, because it’s not been confirmed’. Knowing I’d be writing this piece I didn’t push for the details, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for dropping the ball on that one. Other than that, a Fresh Kils solo project seems on the cards when the producer can decide what form it should take. Modestly he states that he’s done pretty well out of ‘this button mashing’ game, but the scope for putting out an entire release around this skill is limited and that it wouldn’t be any different from what he’s already doing with The Extremities. He reveals that he’s been playing around with some autotuned vocals but wasn’t overly enthused with it. It seems that there’s an album in there somewhere, it’s just waiting for the right channel to be moulded into reality.
So what about the MPC competitions, will Kils return to defend his championship? ‘Probably not’, comes the surprising answer. ‘You know I lost in the first year I entered?’ Kils offers. ‘To Peter Project‘. Fans of Wordburglar will be familiar with the producer who recently collaborated with Swamp Thing on their new album. Determined to succeed the following year Kils put in hours of practice to hone his routine and came out victorious.
As we wrapped up the conversation I could see Fresh Kils become distracted as his attention moved towards the door of the bar, which now had a small queue waiting to pay their way in. An old girlfriend had just made her entrance and Kils was keen to catch up. As luck would have it, a friend of mine had made it out at the last minute too, and a moderate crowd now filled the room with a buzz.
Support came from native rapper, Carpetface, a solo artist whose act also included an element of live beatmaking, his instrument of choice is a Roland HandSonic. Suitably warmed up, the crowd showed appreciation for Fresh Kils as he took to the stage alone to get the set started with a rendition of Check Your Led followed by that championship winning routine, The Price Is Right. Things moved up a gear when the smooth talking PremRock took up position on the other side of the stage to deliver his equally smooth raps as Kils bounced around providing beats. Prem provides anecdotes and amusing tidbits between tracks and the atmosphere is buoyant, the crowd engaged and engaging. It could, after all, only be described as an intimate gig. Pleasing for me is that two songs sample a personal favourite vocalist of mine (and many others), the legendary Tom Waits with the last of these borrowing from the infectious Step Right Up. The evening concludes on a high as Kils runs through his Cybertron Routine.
Whether it was the intimate nature of the show, the opportunity to really engage with someone whose talent I’ve admired for a number of years, the amicable nature of both Fresh Kils and PremRock – who both took the time to chat. The company, the six beers I consumed that evening or… a combination of all of these things, I left Surya that night having really enjoyed myself. Perhaps more so than at any other gig this year. I awoke for work, after four hours sleep, the next morning feeling far from fresh and with a hangover that kils. It was worth it.