Interview: Arthur Kimskii

In the Summer of 2014 we were sitting out in Record Loft’s courtyard enjoying the sun and chatting with Arthur Kimskii. What followed was a two hour-long conversation that not only was informative about Arthur’s upbringing and influences, but also an intimate look at the evolution of New York and it’s surrounding cities music scene from the late nineties until now. Born in Washington DC, Kimskii flirted between Seoul, Korea in the early 80’s and again between ’93-’96 before settling in New York by 2002. Eleven years later, on almost the exact date, he moved to Berlin and has resided there ever since. With his own L.A.G imprint putting out five quality releases to date, including the most recent being his first solo EP, Kimskii continues to grow, adapt and channel his depth of experience in music via his releases and label.

What were some of your earlier influences in electronic music?
It was around ’89/’90 and there was this club in DC called Tracks and that was the discovery of house and industrial music for myself. Then of course New York was a huge influence on the dance scene in DC & Baltimore. Both cities have a rich music history in their own right; Crystal Waters came from DC, Basement Boys, DJ Spen and the rest of Jasper Street Company came from Baltimore, however they usually get lumped into New York artists.

Would that be due its geographical location that artists would generally just move to New York instead of staying in DC or Baltimore?
It certainly had something to do with that. As all the East Coast cities are in close proximity to each other they all ended up influencing each other. I guess there was a little bit of difference between the club scene and the rave scene, but there was a lot of cross-overs in the early ’90s. DC kids would go to Philly & Baltimore, then Philly kids would come down and everyone would go to New York – even the NY kids would come to DC & Baltimore events. However by the time it was the mid ’90s people stop travelling as much. When US dance is spoken about it’s always NY, Detroit, Chicago and for obvious reasons, but there has been a lot of bad ass djs & influential people that came from smaller cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Another place that I should mention which has a really long history of west coast trance/tribal house, along with house and desert raves, is San Francisco.

In a way Chicago, Detroit & New York almost overshadowed the history of other cities where scenes existed at same the time.
Yeah of course I think part of the reasons why that happened is when an artist became bigger they would end up moving to one of those cities.

And they would end up establishing themselves there in the big three, rather than making a name for themselves in their hometown.
Right. In the early 2000’s a lot of the mid-western artists actually moved to NY before moving here [Berlin], like Richie Hawtin and Magda. I think people that are really into in the US scene might already realise it, but on the global scale it’s alway Chicago, Detroit and New York. Of course it’s for good reason though, as you know, that’s where those sounds were created.

A perfect example of a common misconception about the history of house music is that Frankie was from New York and not Chicago.
Exactly. I mean if it wasn’t for the Loft and the whole disco scene out of New York there probably wouldn’t have been house music. I think as the story goes – the guys that opened up the warehouse wanted Larry Levan but he decided to stay in New York. Frankie was only around 22 at the time and went out to Chcicago where he quickly established himself. So those three cities always had a profound effect on each other. Detroit has a strong musical history with motown and rock n roll, the same for New York. Being from the DC/Baltimore area, we took influence from all of them started to develop its own scene which developed its own international recognition for a while.

So when you were based in New York around 2002 that era was a pretty crucial time for New York, not just their underground scene, but nightlife in general.
Absolutely, it was the tail end of things.

Were you fully immersed in the club scene by the time you moved to New York to grasp what was happening & the impact that Mayor Giuliani was having?
By the time I moved to New York I was kind of not paying attention to the scene. Previously to that I was throwing parties in West Virginia of all places, where i was going to university. Personally, it just got to me and I got caught up in what the culture is known for, so my reaction was just to walk away from it.
Everyone likes to talk about Giuliani, however he planted the seeds whilst doing a lot of work towards shutting down fun shit, but Mayor Bloomberg happily carried the torch and made it to a place where I didn’t want to live anymore.

There was a big list of record stores that shut down during that period.
I primarily went to Satellite and Dance Trax, Eight Ball – which i never got the chance to go to – all closed. During university, I owned a record store for a hot second and bought from Watts and a little bit from Groove Records – they also shut down. All the great shops in Manhattan shut down and apart of that was because the culture was getting shut down as well as the emergence of mp3’s.
There also wasn’t anything going on so much for techno, it was just bars and clubs, the whole warehouse “party until 10am” had dissipated. It wasn’t until the middle of the 00’s when crews like the Bunker, Black Market and Resolute that the whole warehouse thing started coming back – between ’06 -’09 the Brooklyn warehouse scene re-emerged and has become as strong as what it is today.

There is a the second-wave of NY house & techno labels & artists emerging after the likes of UQ, Bunker, Fred P, DJ Qu – labels like The Corner, LIES, Voodoo Down Records and White Material. Do you think that the five – six year lull in New York’s electronic music scene during the early 2000’s was an knock-on effect from the gentrification of Manhattan, coupled with the time it took for artists to re-establish themselves in Brooklyn?
That’s a really good question and there’s definitely some correlation with that. I think it’s a number of things coming together, capped off with this twenty year cultural swing or shift in influences and trends.
I’ve talked to Anthony [Parasole] many times about this and when Deconstruct came out along with UQ, Soul People Music and Strength. That all came out when this minimal stuff was out and those guys all collectively made was we would consider ‘House’ and ‘Techno’. It’s real expression and emotion with warm analog sounds – i know a lot of it is not made on gear – but it still has that feel to it that reminds me of what the New York sound is.

It’s amazing how a cities influence weighs on our subconscious whilst record shopping, I feel a buyer am more likely to pick up and listen to a record from an unknown artist who’s from New York, rather than say Kansas or Maine.
Any time any new label came from New York – I mean the music had to be good still – it definitely benefited from having that New York tag on it. If some of these labels had of come out of different cities they might not have gotten a look-in. For myself even, I can definitely say that I have benefited from listening to their music, getting to know them and being able to pick their brains.

Which has resulted in your label L.A.G and former project Point Break coming into fruition. How did that begin?
Well I’ve always wanted to start a label and it took me until I got into my thirties where I could really give myself permission to pursue this path. I come from a government family which meant education & “real careers” were important. I allowed it to affect me for a long time, so it wasn’t until my thirties that I actually started to feel like that I could actually do it. I met Cory while I was doing parties, had him play and then we started playing together. We got a place together, began messing around with production and it was about two years before we felt like we’ve done anything worth putting out.
The first person to give us the “stamp of approval” (laughs) was Anthony [Parasole]. I’m laughing because I’ve mentioned this in any interview or conversation I’ve had, but I have to give Anthony Parasole a lot of credit, the two things he said to me – “something you guys are doing is good enough that I’m gonna consider putting it out” and secondly “if you don’t want to wait, then start a label” – was all the encouragement I needed.
I thought about it and talked to Cory about it for maybe three days, then I woke up and I just knew – that’s it i’m going to start a label. I was going to call it Ladies & Gentlemen, i didn’t even bother to look up to see if there were any other labels that were already called that, and there was (laughs) – so at the last second we just changed it to L.A.G.

It’s interesting to hear about the timing and schedule of releases for labels. It seems artists have to be quiet wary of these verbal contracts as there appears to be a big grey area on when things will be released. I’m guessing that was also a big factor in deciding to go with your own label.
Absolutely. Cos I know tracks that were made five years before then that were only just being released at that time – it’s also a great testament to tracks that are made back then are still releasable five years later.

Did you have any more knowledge given to you from Anthony or anyone else before you started LAG about starting up a label?
A lot of it was trial and error. There’s a Japanese gentlemen in Brooklyn who owns a gift shop in Williamsburg that sells modular gear along with a small amount of records. He was telling me about this guy who did plating and went on to explain the whole process – taught me a lot about plating with the acetate and test pressings process, as well as artwork. So it was with help and advice from Anthony and Mori from the Japanese gift-shop in Williamsburg (laughs). Then once I got it pressed, the guy I started talking to about how to handle the next steps was Joey Anderson. So I consider those three as almost my mentors and letting me hassle them as far as starting a label is concerned.

Was it easier the second time round with LAG002?
Oh you’d think so (laughs). Nothing has been easy because people want to know “what’s next”. We pressed 300 copies and Cory & I were prepared to sell maybe 100 then have the rest on our hands, but we were surprised to find that they all went relatively quickly. Halcyon handled our American distribution & between them and Rub-a-Dub it did really well.

Halcyon survived, albeit a location move, the big crash of the early 2000’s in New York. What makes it such a stand out store?
I think the fact that Levon, Anthony, Francis Harris and a bunch of other guys came out of there really helped their reputation. They were the first shop to carry Omar S before he got distribution – Underground Quality and all those labels came through the store. The long time buyer who the torch was passed onto was Taimur Agha, and when you have someone like that working at the shop you are going to take it the the next era. Plus it hasn’t hurt that the interest in vinyl has grown.

Moving closer to the present day, what made you decide to come to Berlin?
Funnily enough, I actually visited Germany about ten times before heading to Berlin. The first time was because my brother got married in a small town called Dresden and even walking around in that town I thought to myself – one day i’m going to live in Germany. When the wall came down I was living in Korea and I told friends that that’s going to be the place – things are going to pop off artistically and culturally. I feel that a lot of people that lived in New York 25 to 30 years ago are the same type of creative souls that have been moving here since then. But what motivated me to move here was that I wanted to leave New York and to live in some place that techno, house & electronica music is thriving. I had friends telling me that it’s so competitive so why would you want to go there. I guess the competitive side of me wants to go somewhere where the cream rises to the top and that’s where i want to aim. Same thing happened in New York – there’s a lot of competition out there and I had the same mentality. I want to be where the best is so I can learn from them and if I make it, then for myself, I know I did it in the best environment.

*The closing part of this interview was completed January 2016 *
Moving forward to present day you have just released your first solo EP and the fifth release from LAG. Tell us a bit more about this release?

My EP ‘Simple Enough to Come True’ came about after a friend said to me at dinner that I need to stop fucking around and put out some music on my on. I was going through a break-up of a four-year relationship and felt that a lot of those emotions shone through this record. ‘She survived’ was started a few years ago when my mom was in the hospital and then finished the track after I wrote the other 2 tracks. It’s my debut solo EP and I wanted to release it on my own label in order to keep all the cuts together and push myself – which I felt I have. I’m overwhelmed with how it has been received by a lot if artists I respect and count as my peers either playing in sets, podcasts and in clubs.

Can you let us know about any upcoming releases for L.A.G?

Definitely. L.A.G 006 lands in late April / early May, distributed through DNP Music is by an incredibly talented producer, Jamaica Suk. Then 007 will be my follow up solo EP, released mid-2016. I’m extremely proud to keep the momentum going this year and release three records on L.A.G this year. So we’ll see what the remainder of the year brings.

And finally, what records haven’t left your bag recently?
Marco Zenker’s MorphoJ.C. – Portrait Of A Flying Sky
“Detroit” on Pomelo by Tin Man
Attempt No Landing By Phil Moffa
Jeff Derringer – Ballorama EP

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