Life Lessons with King Britt

The musical polymath shares his wisdom and knowledge...

Life Lessons with King Britt

The musical polymath shares his wisdom and knowledge...

Philadelphia-born composer, DJ and straight up polymath King Britt has dabbled in just about every musical field over the years.

Cutting his teeth in the 90s as a resident DJ at Silk City, he went on to establish Back2Basics, a collaborative project that matched DJing with a live band, that led to him touring as a DJ with the Grammy winning Digable Planets. 

Following three years on the road with them, he turned his attentions to production and composition work, both solo for labels like Hyperdub, Sony and, more recently, Radioslave's Stranger In The Night, and collaboratively with artists like De La Soul, Madlib, Saul Williams and, of course, Josh Wink, with whom he formed E-Culture and ran Ovum Records alongside. 

Fastforward to now and he can be found gracing the NTS waves each month with his innovative Transmissions show that centres around live improvs and experiments in electronic music. 

As a man of many feats, accolades, acknowledgements and experiences within music, who is now passing knowledge on to a new generation as an assistant teaching professor, we asked him to share the most important and valuable lessons, tips and tricks he's picked up along the way…

The first record that turned you on to electronic music…

Hahaha. Starting off with the difficult ones hahaha

First record of my parents that I heard as influence : Mwandishi - Herbie Hancock

First record on my own that made me want to become an electronic musician : Into Battle (Who’s Afraid Of)? - The Art Of Noise

The moment you knew you wanted to take music seriously…

I secured my first record deal with Strictly Rhythm (bringing along my friend Josh Wink). I was a 12” buyer at Tower Records and Strictly had just started. I send Gladys Pizzarro a demo and the rest is history…. Josh and I became E-Culture.  

Your first “foot in the door”…

This definitely goes back to my position at Tower Records.  I made all my connections there. What a beautiful beautiful experience working there. I was an industry insider and in a  position of power at a young age.

Your favourite piece(s) of studio kit…

These questions ugh….. so many pieces….. but I will have to say that recently it is the Moog Matriarch. Such a versatile machine in creating otherworldly sounds. This favorite changes all the time hahahaha. As a shout out to my brother Monty Luke, the Korg Mono/Poly is close second.

A production tip that changed your approach…

DO NOT QUANTIZE. This changed everything for me. Because the machines are tools, but don't lose your humanity. This isn’t to say don't quantize everything but definitely leave most untouched. 

The place you look for inspiration outside of music…

Films. Absolutely my second love. I will be scoring again very soon.

The secret to a successful collaboration…

Very good one question. The secret is to stay open and LISTEN! For it to work out and equal respect is to be present. This applies to any collaboration, even producer / artist. For example, working with Monty Luke on his album a couple years ago was such a natural pleasure because of our respect for each others process. But he was also open to be pushed into places and methods he may not have thought of.

The biggest challenge of running a label…

I mean, my label now, The Buddy System, is really a platform for experimentation with no focus on making money or a living from it, so its purely artistic and no pressure at all. BUT for a label, like OVUM (which I co-founded with Wink but left in 2002), there was major pressure to sell records and keep our standing with Sony (at the time). There is fun in that too, learning about scheduling, strategies, marketing etc. Its much easier to get music out these days but the hardest part now is making any sort of money from it due to streaming. They have ruined the business model for the artist. As a consumer and educator, I love streaming but as an artist, label, its a waste of time giving over your power.  

Bandcamp is the savior though. What a beautiful business model, but the hardest challenge is convincing the new generation to pay for music. The value has been diminished.

The best way to look after yourself as a touring DJ…

Well, when I did do it (I play live show more now pre-covid), you have to understand the extreme privilege that you have to travel the globe playing records that you love for people that love them. What a concept. To bring happiness to those people if only for a few hours. To share in a collective consciousness. You must remain humble in the fact that you are a messenger of spiritual awakening and that you have a responsibility to educate but also entertain. Ego can take over this vision and thus the experience is one sided.

The most effective way to stay grounded…

Gratitude shown daily in a ritual of some kind, however you choose to show your thanks.

The role you think music holds in contemporary society…

Music will always be the universal language. Vibrations hold power. The power to change alchemically, emotionally and physically.  Now, how that is used and valued is something that needs improving due to the homogenization of music as sonic wallpaper used to sell us on everything, even selling us on the devaluing of the art itself through streaming.  We as artists, must not forget the power of music and the encoding that can be placed within

The thing you wish you’d known when you started out…

I'm glad I didn’t know anything because the magic in discovery and mistakes, makes you who you are. I have no wishes.

The most important piece of advice you’ve been given…

An old manager told me to incorporate. Everyone starting out should incorporate. Think on the level of these major but without ripping people off. The benefits of the corporation (even if you are an artist) is unreal.  I feel if more artists realize this, the less, ’starving’ artists we will have.

The person that has inspired you the most…

Both my parents equally. Always giving me the power and knowledge to understand that I belong wherever I wish.  I am a global citizen a universal being, who has the right to be here and now.

The most valuable thing you’ve learnt about yourself…

That I'm a good educator and will only get better. Wow, I love it so much. Professor life.

The secret to a long and fruitful career…

Continue to be yourself. If you feel like doing a punk album, do it. The continued expression of who you are, always embrace that. Equally important is keeping your business straight. At least as best you can. 

The advice you would give to someone who is considering pursuing a career in music…

It's a roller coaster and much harder now, because everyone is a dj and musician, due to access and volume of output. But if you are serious and love what you are doing this will shine through the music, and who knows, you may even get featured in Ransom Note.


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