At the moment, Kenny Ken is one of the most respected DJ/producers to emerge from the thriving UK drum & bass scene. He plays at some of the biggest events around the globe with the biggest names in the scene and runs two record labels- Cold Steel and Mix & Blen’. I caught up with Kenny at Lower World’s Rewind 3- year anniversary in Boulder, CO where he was dropping some of the ruffest dub-plates along with Mystical Influence, Sniper, Fury, Rinse, and Echo. He tore the place apart once again, and turned the venue into a giant sweatbox for the hundreds of drum & bass fanatics there to catch his set.
His beginnings, like many of his peers, were inauspicious. He worked as a ticket collector for the underground train network in London when he discovered the rave scene and soon came to realize there was no way to reconcile the two lifestyles. “I would go raving at night, but the raves and my job didn’t mix. I was always late for work.” He was soon able to scrape together enough money to buy himself a pair of turntables and a mixer. He taught himself how to mix and, fortunately for the rest of us, has been at it ever since.
Kenny began his career as a breakbeat/techno DJ, but as the sounds of jungle began to evolve, Kenny evolved right along with it. As one of the first big “names” in the fledgling jungle scene, he became part of the original AWOL crew, along with Mickey Finn, Darren Jay, Randall, GQ, etc., and was part of some of the most memorable events in the music’s history. The essence of this time period is perfectly encapsulated on the live AWOL album recorded at The Ministry of Sound.
Jungle has evolved as a musical form more rapidly than any other style that comes to mind. Kenny, unlike many of his peers, did not let go of the music’s roots as it evolved into “Drum & Bass”. “People don’t call it jungle anymore. They call it drum & bass. I call it jungle because I’m a junglist,” explains Kenny. It is a commonly held belief that the name “drum & bass” was developed by some individuals who didn’t want to be associated with the music’s ragga roots. This is a theory, which Kenny quickly agrees with. “Talk to Roni Size and he’ll tell you the same thing – he’s a junglist. At the end of the day we’re all junglists.” Sounds good to me!
Kenny’s musical tastes span the entire spectrum of the drum & bass genre. Everything from the dark, experimental, deeper side of jungle, to all out raging jump-up in the vein of Aphrodite can be found in his crate. Aphrodite is often given a lot of flack for producing a lot of cheesy “cookie cutter” jump-up tracks that lack originality, but Kenny disagrees. “Aphrodite is doing what he believes in. No matter what anyone says. He’s doing what he believes in and he’s doing a good thing. Some jump-up is a bit cheesy, but it’s not right to disrespect it. Some jump-up is very ‘cookie cutter’. You won’t hear me playing any of that, but even the ‘Bad Ass’ remix is classified as cheesy by some people. I played that tonight and it got a good response”.
US drum n’ bass producers are often overlooked and not given the same attention or respect that their UK contemporaries get. “Every country has it’s own style of music,” Kenny explains, “The US has hip hop, and drum n’ bass is our music”. Whenever a style of music is devoloped within a certain country, it seems that only the inhabitants of that country are able to properly capture that sound. It’s like an invisible barrier. “American (D&B) producers don’t have that sound we’ve got now. It’s just like American hip hop. It just has that sound, know what I mean? When hip hop is made in the UK, it’s there but it ain’t there, but it’s still good enough for people to get into and have a good time. It’s the same with US drum n’ bass”.
As for the future of drum n’ bass, Kenny doesn’t see it going anywhere. Even if MTV decides it’s the “next big thing”. “From what I’m seeing in England, and all around the world, drum n’ bass is here to stay. It’s everywhere now- it’s in films, adverts, TV documentaries, everything. It’s a new form of music and the world needs a new form of music. It’s gone as far as it can go in the sense that everyone now knows about drum n’ bass. New ideas will start popping in, but you can never tell from where. The music’s here to stay. That’s all I can say right now. As for myself, I plan on making a lot of tunes. I’m getting there. I never thought I would get this far. I thought I’d just do it for a couple years and get another job. I’ve got my own setup now, my own studio. It’s worked out all right for me”. There are several new releases planned for his labels in the upcoming months. Be sure to keep an eye out for Fibre Optics and G Squad, soon to be released on Cold Steel.
On a sad note, Kenny played “Everyman” during his set in memory of Stevie Hyper D who died of a heart attack just a few weeks prior to the party. Stevie provided the vocals to the track, which is also featured on the live AWOL album. Stevie’s death is a great loss to the scene and he will be greatly missed.