Does a musical duo exist with cooler-sounding names than Dr Zygote and Kashmere? I doubt it. Both names immediately command respect - Zygote has been DJing and making deep, caustic beats since the 90s, not to mention founding influential record label Boot Records. Kashmere's rhyming skills and unique voice have seen him feature on over 30 releases and collaborate with the likes of MF Doom and Jehst. Both careers have been marked by an uncompromising thirst for authenticity and beats that for Zygote "make me screw my face up". We now find them teaming up again under their ‘Strange U’ moniker to give UK hip-hop a turbo injection in the form of EP 'Aliens In Suits'.
Full of the gluhwein-induced Christmas confidence, R$N took on both Kashmere and Dr Zygote to talk sci-fi, ray guns, hip-hop, beat-making tips and how musical creation could save the world!
Where did the concept behind ‘Strange U’ come from?
Kashmere: It was an inspirational wave that came crashing down on my soul like a towering tsunami from the heavens.
It’s an interesting name - can you describe the conversation you had when the name was chosen?
K: Strange Universe. Off-beat, mysterious.. expanded past horizons. I wanted a name for this that would be able to embody many things. I loved the name but didn' t want to be confused with the classic radio show. We truncated it to ‘Strange U’.
How did you come up with the themes of the new EP?
K: My brain sometimes accesses a negative zone style dimension and I black out for weeks. I remember flashes. This time it was two green aliens wearing suits, one holding a muslamic ray gun. ‘Sprites’ is complete hard facts. I came up with monster after watching game of death one day. I just wanted to use the concept in a slightly different way and make it a motivational piece and show people it’s possible to move up in the world. I have all the answers. I am a conscious rapper, I know everything.
How does this Strange U release compare to previous releases?
K: This EP is different because it is slightly less abrasive. We wanted to explore other areas of raw. For example ‘Summertime Skeetin'’ to me is a nod to people like Parliament Funkadelic, Parliament Boards, Battlestar Galactica in the 70s.
Dr Zygote: I concur. In my mind it’s not as way out there sonically as ‘Vapourous’ or ‘Beta Wave’ but it still is leftfield. ‘Aliens In Suits’ and ‘Monster’.. those two I did only using samples from cassette tapes so they sound a certain way that I find pleasing. ‘Skeetin'’ I did mostly live on a desk, dub style. Just set up loops and bring them in and out and do weird delays and feedback
loops. I guess we are keeping it moving, still experimenting.
Can you explain the process behind creating the tracks – do you get together to see what happens or do you wait until one of you has got stuff almost finished and then fine tune it together?
K: We talk first about stuff we wanna try out then Z will send me some ill shit. I'll vibe with it and record my madness at home. We send stuff back and forth. I quite like working on my own so I can zone out. Although, when we do an album we will be in the lab together. Soon come.
The opening track ‘Aliens In Suits’ has a sci-fi vibe. What drew you to this?
Z: We both love Space Age/Sci-Fi/Futuristic shit, and sounds that evoke those concepts. Moog records, old synths. Drum machines, but not in the way that every clown is using plug in 808s. Rather some old shit drum machine recorded off a tape of a naff song.
Any favourite sci-fi movies? What did you think of the new Christopher Nolan film ‘Interstellar’?
K: I haven’t seen interstellar yet but I do find the concept interesting. Film wise id have to say 2001, Tron, Bladerunner, Running Man, Robocop 1&2, Terminator 1&2, Wrath of Khan, The Man Who Fell to Earth.... This list goes on.. I’ve missed out many.
Do you fancy the idea of sound-tracking a movie?
Z: I'd love to do that. It would have to be a pretty dark movie. Rape, incest, genocide beats.
When you’re creating the beats with Kashmere in mind – do you think about the rhythms of his rhymes?
Z: Not really at all. I just always end up developing the rawest ideas that I come up with, I mean that's generally what I go for in all areas, the thing that'll make me screw my face up the most. He's got real power in his voice so it tends to work out. But in terms of his flows.. no. If he can’t flow over a beat I send him he'll just lace a different beat I've sent him.
It occurred to me the other day that in terms of sharing musical ideas and skills society as a whole is now in uncharted territory. Perhaps it is even a golden era for music making? Do you agree?
K: Whenever there is new innovations in technology there is always fertile ground for new ideas. When you have that kind of excitement the era becomes golden. There’s more people making music than ever before and there’s more info on it than there has ever been. People expressing themselves is good. It may eventually save the world! Although some believe it’s killing the business, I think we all just need to work harder in creating things that people want to own.
Z: YouTube shows people how to do lots of useful things, and that is good. I had almost no idea what I was doing with my first Akai in 1994. I'm not sure if the accessibility of the knowledge these days nourishes us with a more nuanced range of ideas and sounds or just contributes to mediocrity. It probably has made no difference actually. There's still interesting shit, and comparatively bland shit, like there always was. The current situation does however enable me to smugly pontificate that it wasn't so easy 'in my day', thus giving me more gravitas as a producer. "I've worked down in the pits boy. I got faackin' emphysema. You lot don't know you’re born" and all that.
How do you view the state of British hip-hop at the moment?
K: Healthy! There are a lot of things going on and people are excited. Dope! Shout out to Blah and High Focus Records. Look out for Confucious mc, Triple Darkness, Hawk House . The list goes on. The media (no offence) has a lot of negative shit to say about UK hip-hop, probably because to them it’s not dangerous enough and lacks all the sensationalism of the main stream scene but from where I’m sitting its doing fine and is creatively miles ahead of the stuff that’s being pushed as current. Its growing more by the day as more and more people realise this shit is dope! I’m talking globally too. Don’t forget also that people like Roots Manuva and Foreign Beggars are essential UK hip-hop acts that are doing huge things....
Z: It’s very strong, there’s interesting shit coming out.. it’s just not a "cool" scene so it doesn’t get the support always.
You’ve been making beats for a long time now – what was the best piece of advice you’ve received and what key piece of advice would you give for someone just getting started?
Z: Advice I’ve received... damn.. I don’t think anyone’s ever given me advice like " Take heed...." and then dropped some supreme knowledge that has served me well. I guess there's thousands of little things that I’ve picked up from my elders.. and also from going down blind alleys myself. It’s always changing. I'd say "don’t make tunes that are 5 minutes long.. keep shit concise... change up the beat in the hook.. try and at least run shit out of the computer and back in so it’s been analog at one point... don’t chop the sample too much, chop the life out of it.. don’t be afraid to play around to no avail.. do it every day". I say this to remind myself more than anything.
Strange U's 'Aliens In Suits' EP is out now on Par Excellence. You can get hold of a copy here.