‘Existing is enough’: cktrl on growth, creativity & using your voice
“Freedom, range and feeling” – these are the core principles that guide cktrl’s music.
Versatility comes naturally to the Lewisham-based artist – he’s just as comfortable making beats in his bedroom as he is composing stirring avant-garde jazz motifs or moody R&B.
Those three aforementioned pillars are what binds his work. No matter the style or sound there’s a purity and authenticity that he’s constantly seeking in his music – you can hear it, you can feel it.
His latest musical offering, Yield, takes a more freeform approach than his previous releases, intended as a guided mediation of sorts that asks the listener to yield to their environment. Taking cues from early modal jazz, classical and Baroque, it serves as a statement that ‘raw orchestration and instrumentation can be the sole source’ and interrogates musical landscapes that have traditionally sidelined Black artists.
But the EP is more than just an evolution in sonics. While his previous releases – Robyn on Touching Bass and the self-released Zero – were about showing his truth and re-building his identity as a producer respectively, Yield is about growth and integrity. It’s about stopping and taking stock of how you’ve come through trials and tribulations; recognising your own development and personal growth, and ultimately strengthening your purpose.
We spoke to him about how the record came to be, the process of collaboration, existing in traditionally white musical spaces and his advice to the next generation of producers…
You’ve just released a new EP, ‘Yield’. The title was spawned during a period of grief and heartbreak, can you tell us about how this impacted the music?
Everything has to be pure and true to me. The project definitely came from me coming out the other side of pain. Lamenting and reflecting. I think it’s important to recognise any growth from within as we continue working on ourselves, even if it’s small.
It’s something of a departure from your previous work, how did the writing process differ from normal?
The writing process was the same, the only difference was not working with a set tempo. With freeform compositions, there is no drum programming or sequencing. It allowed for more feeling within the timing, which can be difficult to achieve when working within a set tempo.
It’s instrumental and organic, each track is intended as a guided meditation that urges listeners to embrace whatever emotional response or feelings the music elicits. For you personally, what feelings does it inspire?
Ophie’s vocals run throughout the project and for me that’s what anchors the EP. For me personally? It’s mostly helped me overcome doubt.
You’ve worked with several collaborators on the record, namely Roxanne Tataei, Ahya Simone and Ophie (Songs 4 Girls), how do you approach working with other artists?
I approach collaboration in three ways – if I have something in mind for a piece of music I’m working on,I always know which friend to call on to contribute. When I’m asked to contribute to a friend’s project, I try my best to give them everything they ask of me. And finally if we’re just creating without a specific focus in mind, then I’m just open to seeing where things go.
The release also seeks to challenge the preconceived narrative of what contemporary Black British music should be. Do you hope it will inspire other artists to push their own musical boundaries?
In all honesty I don’t seek to challenge anything as such. Existing is a powerful statement in itself. I do hope to encourage creativity and confidence in ideas alongside the importance of having a voice whether you wish to do music or otherwise. Your voice is important.
What has been your experience of being in musical spaces that are traditionally and historically white, specifically the worlds of classical and baroque music, which feature on ‘Yield’.
It’s always made me close up until recently. I think unknowingly we choose what we give power to. Often we’re made to feel like we are lucky to be somewhere when the reality is we worked twice as hard to be there. That’s why existing is enough – take up space with your ideas.
“Existing is a powerful statement in itself.”
More broadly, what would you like to see happen to ensure these areas of contemporary music are accessible, equal and diverse?
We have to be the change we want to see. In this life and in the next.
From your experience is there any advice you would give to other artists whose musical interests and practice chimes with your own, in breaking that proverbial glass ceiling and not being pigeonholed?
Pretty much the cliche things lol. Every cliche saying someone ever said to me on my journey has ended up ringing true. But at the time I wasn’t trying to hear it. So I’d say believe in yourself and your ideas. Definitely have community around what you’re doing. Support your friends ideas and show up for them, it’ll soon be returned tenfold.
What’s next on the agenda for cktrl? Are there any new projects or releases in the works you can tell us about?
I’m about to give you two versions of ‘Yield’ – one with extended mixes and the other being instrumentals. Album mode is definitely on the horizon too.
Yield is out now.