KOAN Sound: To Create a Masterpiece, Switch Reason Off

“Often when writing music, the most creative moments arrive when the analytical side of your brain is switched off,” says Jim Bastow. Along with Will Weeks, Jim is part of the Electronic music production duo KOAN Sound from Bristol. They aren't known for giving many interviews, so we were thrilled to talk to them about their creative process, latest releases, live shows, and the use of social media.
KOAN Sound: To Create a Masterpiece, Switch Reason Off
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Urban Klancnik

KOAN Sound have been around since 2005, but they’ve been playing together since childhood. In 2011, they released the “Max Out” EP, which was a turning point in their career, as they moved away from Dubstep and started experimenting with different genres, creating a mix of styles that has virtually no parallel. With every release, they push the boundaries of Electronic music, so there’s no wonder they have cult status.

 

In 2018, you released your first album "Polychrome". It’s a mix of different musical styles, with Funk and even some Jazz elements, among others. And I have to say, there aren’t many composers who could pull off something like this. I’m talking about a variety of styles that works so well together. Can you give us some background into how the album was created?

"Polychrome" was the culmination of around three years' work, which we began after deciding to start releasing our music independently. Over the course of that time, we grew a lot as people, and so the project snowballed into something bigger and much more ambitious than initially intended.

We wanted our first full-length album to be a true snapshot of us as musicians and producers. We’ve always prided ourselves on experimentation and versatility, so naturally it was important that the LP reflected this ethos. Our past EPs have tended to adopt a more focused approach, but with “Polychrome”, it was all about attempting to cover all of the styles that we’re known for, whilst pushing ourselves to uncover new musical ground.

When they released the album “Polychrome”, views on their YouTube channel more than tripled.

The album also feels a bit like a step back from Electronic music?

We’ve always really valued albums that have managed to maintain their longevity, and in regards to Electronic music more specifically, aren’t simply a collection of tracks put haphazardly together. For "Polychrome", there are certainly less obvious “dancefloor” tracks than previous projects we’ve done, which was a conscious decision. It’s crucial that albums work in a variety of contexts, so we set out to create something that was primarily musical and listenable.

“Often when writing music, the most creative moments arrive when the analytical side of your brain is switched off and you’re not trying to control or dictate the process too much, almost a meditative state.”
KOAN Sound & Asa - Sanctuary ft. Alicia Kia

Your music is very atmospheric – Zen. Do you incorporate Buddhism (or any other) philosophy into your music?

We get asked this question surprisingly often. Honestly, when we’re making music, we’re not trying to incorporate any sort of philosophy. Often when writing music, the most creative moments arrive when the analytical side of your brain is switched off and you’re not trying to control or dictate the process too much, almost a meditative state. It’s similar to the concept of a kōan in some respects (author's note: a kōan is a story or question that is used to test a student's progress in Zen). We’ve always been interested in Buddhism from afar, so it’s natural for some of that to seep into the art.

“We put such a huge amount of work and detail into our music that not doing the same for our live shows would feel like a disservice to the people who pay to see us perform.”

How do you look for gigs, and which ones were the most unforgettable so far?

When we began playing gigs, we would just DJ our own music, as well as tunes from mates. Nowadays, we have a stronger idea of what we want to convey and present in a live performance. We put such a huge amount of work and detail into our music that not doing the same for our live shows would feel like a disservice to the people who pay to see us perform.

Our debut "Polychrome" performances in Bristol last year were highly memorable. Showcasing the album in our hometown to a room full of family and friends was very special. Playing Shambhala Festival in Canada a couple of years ago was great too, because we were joined by lots of friends and playing on the massive Pagoda Stage was an amazing experience!

They put as much effort into their live shows as they do into creating the music.

Are there any venues you’d like to play that you haven’t yet?

Red Rocks in Colorado! Also, we’d love to play more shows in Asia. We were in Seoul in 2016 and it was an honor to perform in that part of the world.


Who are the artists you’re currently listening to?

Jim: Recently, I’ve been listening to MonumanPortico QuartetKieferWeather ReportDurand Jones & The IndicationsPete RockDjRUMJoão Gilberto… all sorts. 

Will: I’ve been listening to lots of stuff like CaspianIvy lab, and catching up on recent music from Noisia Radio.

 

Any musicians you’d love to work with? Maybe do another song with vocals?

We plan to do more collaborations this year, including something already in the works. There’s a couple of vocalists we’ve been sending stuff to, which is a relatively new world to us. As far as people we’d love to work with, there’s loads… Tipper, Rival ConsolesFabiano Do NascimentoJon Hopkins, Ivy Lab, to name a few.

As relatively introverted guys, it’s not in our nature to be sharing updates regularly online. In an ideal world, we’d let our music speak for us.

Social media and streaming services are really important for musicians these days. How do you feel about them, and how do you use them?

I feel that social media platforms are an (almost) necessary evil for artists. Artists (ourselves included) have become so reliant on them as a means of promoting themselves and connecting with fans, it’s created an arms race for attention. Unless you belong in the top-tier of artists, or have vast resources dedicated to PR, then in the modern era they are undeniably crucial. As relatively introverted guys, it’s not in our nature to be sharing updates regularly online. In an ideal world, we’d let our music speak for us.

After the release of the “Intervals Above” EP, their YouTube views jumped from 46k in August 2019 to 124k in September 2019.

Can we expect new releases in 2020, maybe even a new album? You listen to a great deal of Metal, can we expect something even more Metal-influenced in the future?

Definitely new releases. And more collaborations (as mentioned previously). Our most recent "Intervals Above" EP was influenced by lots of Progressive Metal bands, so start with that!

KOAN Sound & Asa - This Time Around ft. Koo

Listening to KOAN Sound is like taking a journey through a wonderful alien landscape, filled with fantastical sounds and surprises that make you crave for more. We can’t wait to see what the duo has in store for us in 2020.

 

Cover photo: Artist's archive

 

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Urban Klancnik

Urban Klancnik

Guest Writer at Viberate
A journalist, writer, drummer, and music enthusiast. Spent the last 20 years destroying his hearing with Metal and Rock and sharing his experiences from some of the biggest festivals in the world.