With music, melody, harmony and the full instrumental spectrum being smuggled back onto dancefloors disguised as an 11 piece band complete with barber shop quartet, DJ Kormac and his sonic revolution are noisily replacing stylistic orthodoxy with a large slice of cake. Dropping turntablism onto banjos and clarinets as the double bass and trumpets thunder, Kormac’s remarkable musical talents and finely honed dancefloor instincts are producing some gobsmackingly musical slices of tunage and opening up a whole new range of sonic possibility. From his DJ sets to his icing drenched bakesales to the 11 piece band he lovingly wove together, Kormac’s take on the next dimension of fusion is whipping up a positively scrumptious booty shaking batter Europe wide and his new album Word Play is testament to the potential of gloriously worked musical eccentricity. We caught up in festive season for a quick word
Tell us a little about your background and how you got into music
I suppose I got into writing music when I was about 12 or 13. I started in with guitar lessons and learned to play the drums and before long, I got my hands on a 4 track tape recorder and started making music using guitar parts and cassette tape samples and grabbing bits and pieces from wherever I could when I was really quite young and didn’t exactly know what I was doing That was really my first introduction and then about 5 years later I got into DJing and went from playing sort of jazz and jungle to teaching myself how to scratch records and that in turn led to curiosity about things like samplers so it all really evolved that way.
When you say you were playing jazz and jungle, are we talking half speed jazz mixed with double speed jungle or jazzy jungle tunes?
Literally before I got direct drive turntables that you could actually hope to DJ on, myself and my mate used to dig around in his granddads attic and pull down Cab Calloway records and Duke records and all that kind of stuff with idea of mixing them with like the drum n’ bass that we were getting into at the time and starting to hear in the clubs. Like I said we were quite young – we were only 17 so I don’t know what the fruits of it were like but that’s how I got started.
Not really no. I suppose we were just experimenting and playing around with all sorts of music and with this particular mate that I’m talking about, it wasn’t just the jazz end of things – we used to listen to lots of hip hop, funk, reggae – anything we were feeling no matter what the source.
So from there – did you start playing out on the decks
When I was about 17 I started playing and got a couple of residencies over here in Ireland and began doing some of the summer festivals. I’d play sort of a scratched up sort of style with a lot of Jump Up before joining a band playing turntables and doing some of the production for them. I stayed with the band for about 5 years, and then towards the end of my time with them I produced some solo stuff which developed into an EP, and straight away I started looking for ways to reproduce it live. That started out as just me, a drummer and a double bass player, and the first show we did lasted about 20 minutes and had me doing keyboards and samples and that kind of stuff with the 2 lads playing alongside. The big band began to happen then, because as we got booked for bigger and bigger gigs, I’d add in more elements like the barber shop quartet, and the brass section came in then when we got a couple of festival bookings and it just steadily evolved from there.
Did you know a wide enough community of musicians personally or did you have to start advertising?
Simon the drummer is my best mate and Conor who plays double bass I had met once or twice through completely different channels. The barber shop quartet I spent 6 months looking for, the trumpet player is like a friend of a friend, and the banjo player who was one of the last additions was actually an old mate of mine so a combination of both I suppose.
Absolutely musically honed because I’ve always really had a thing for close harmonies which obviously you can hear across all sorts of music especially the commercial spectrum and stuff you hear on the radio, but it’s always been something that’s interested me so I thought it was an ideal addition to bring in. I had used little close harmony samples up to that point so it already had a place in what I was doing and it was wholly a musical decision.
In the studio, do you sit down with all these different musicians and work something out or do you come up with a template and then go to them with their roles preassigned
You know it’s something that’s changed over the course of the last 3 years or so. Initially I’d write something down and then work it into a pretty much finished track with samples where they were needed and all my own melodies. The band would either re-create what I’d done or layer stuff on top of it whereas particularly over the last year when I was doing some of the later tracks on the album, I’d write something and leave space for the other musicians to put something in or maybe write a part for them or write a part with them or maybe ask them to write a part. I’m more conscious now that I have the other elements at my disposal, so I’ll leave gaps in tunes in the same way as I would for a vocalist.
Certainly, and a lot of that will take place in the rehearsal room as well. I like meeting everyone individually before we go out on stage and have a jam and gauge each person’s style. This summer we’ve gone out on a load of dates and I met all the different elements of the band in February, gone through each track with them and let them have a play on it, see how they felt and really hone each part in detail. I’d then try to put the whole thing together and see what’s working and what’s not and they’d start to play off each other like that. It’s a strange way for a big band but it just seems to work.
You do DJ sets as well on your own. What’s the difference for you in being part of an 11 piece band and being up there on stage on your own?
About a hundred phone calls and about 6 weeks work!! The band dynamic is a different type of reward because it’s purely my own music. I’m surrounded by my friends and it’s a different crowd reaction to the DJ sets depending on what you’re doing and where you’re doing it. I still love DJing and still get a huge kick out of it and won’t be giving it up or anything like that. It’s a different vibe and I suppose I get to play more styles than I have written which is always a positive, and I can just go off on one and so absolutely still about half of what I do is DJing. In fact we’re working on a new AV set with visuals incorporated into a big DJ show at the moment so I have definite solo plans running alongside the big band
And what are you playing on? Vinyl, Cd’s, Ableton?
I’m playing on Serrato but all turntables. There’s 2 turntables , a mixer and a VJ set up as well. I’m quite excited about the new Ableton bridge, so when that comes so I’m going to be using that hopefully if it does what I think it’s going to do in the set. The DJ sets do have a kind of performance aspect in them as well in that I am on the mic a bit and it’s certainly not just the motionless DJ standing there. I try to bring in as many elements both musically and in terms of engaging the crowd.
Well I’m quite a skinny guy, but I tell you – cake is a very important part of my life. You’ve seen the bake sale then?
Oh Yes – Fill us in on the details
That’s just one of those things. What happened was that I was asked by the guys that run Twisted Pepper and Body Tonic over here to put my name to a club I kind of resisted doing it for a while, but in the end I thought – if I’m going to do it, well I’m going to make it loads of fun and joyfully nonsensical and see how far I could push it rather than just doing the usual Kormac presents blah blah blah. I just wanted something ridiculous and I know a few chefs and I know a baker so I got in touch with some of the local bakers around here and basically said we want to you to come and bake live in the club and myself and Albert our VJ went digging and got a load of old baking samples and baking visuals and stuff and put a reel of that together. Then we went to the cash and carry and bought loads of those old rank red and white picnic table cloths. We said that we would put a few day’s work or a weeks work into this, then roll it out adding in one new cool thing each time so we added a lemonade stand and then we’ve ended up doing them here in Dublin and been asked to take it to a couple of places like Galway and there’s talk of doing them in London. It’s good fun and it’s a fresh way to present a club night in a new, tongue in cheek form.
I think a lot of people within it do, sure. I think the music business is in a definite transitionary period so I don’t know if it can afford to be too serious at the moment. I certainly think some artists do but that comes with the territory really doesn’t it.
You were talking about mixing up Jazz with Jungle right back in your early teens and we’ve suddenly seen the Electro Swing scene as it’s called really come on in the last few years. Why do you think that it’s suddenly become such a force
I don’t know if it has to be honest. It was a term that I only discovered when I arrived to play at some night and they were like yeah the night is Electro Swing and you’re a part of it. While I hear it in my music I don’t hear a lot of it. In terms of the kind of music that Parov Stelar has been coming out with, I like it but I’m not sure if that means it’s become a big force? I mean I do get a lot of mails into the website saying that they are really into Electro Swing but I wouldn’t like to pigeon hole my stuff into that sound because I know that there are a lot of tunes that don’t sound like that to me but maybe that’s because it’s my music and I hear it so differently from other people.
Do you think that having re-interpreted the last 20 years a million times, people are finally looking further a field for inspiration
Sure, I think that any artist or any music lover for that matter will always look backwards because as you discover someone you discover their influences so for example if you got into Nirvana then the chances are you’ll probably get into Mud Honey and Sonic Youth and guys like that who would have influenced them. It’s quite a natural urge to look back and a very healthy thing to. It’s good to take in all music and I think it’s very important for anyone that’s making music particularly beat orientated music should be as aware of as much music as they can because it’s all a potential influence and it’s all an education.
The summer has been great. It’s kinda flown by to be honest with you – feels like it only started the other day. We did a couple of festivals here in Ireland and we did a couple of great shows at Glastonbury and then I went to the Hop Farm festival and did the last slot there doing my own DJ set and that was great. Then I went to Berlin for a weeks holiday’s like a normal person for the first time in 2 years and that was wonderful. I’m just back and I’ve been trying to base myself in the studio this week and editing the video more than doing tunes. Just done the Womad festival with the big band and having a great time all round
You mention the visuals, how’s that coming together, and how integral is it to what you’re doing?
Obviously it’s a big part of the live show and we’ve actually increased its relevance by having very tightly synched audio and visuals so for example people are talking to camera and you can hear them. Do you know that kind of way? Like stuff for example on Quackery we’ve actually taken the original video that those vocals samples came from and used that as the visuals.. It is going to be of increasing importance to the DJ show and we’re trying to work in a kind of multi screen aspect and trying to do it in a really different way. We’re still kind of half way there with it and I’m trying to get it done in the next month basically I’ve a deadline for a show at the end of August and I’m hoping that we can road test it then so we’ve a few good idea’s and it’s shaping up good. I’m not going to say too much about it cos there’s every chance I might change this whole thing in the next couple of weeks but it’s going really well so far
Oh yeah. The way we have been working it is that I’ll be able to control the visuals with the Serrato video SL plug in and then Albert our VJ will also have a visual feed so it will be like 3 visual feeds giving massive scope for improvisation and stuff. The fact that it will be multi screen means that I’ll be able to control them or Albert will be able to control them or we can split it between us. It’s still a little bit of a work in progress but we’ve already been doing it that way with the Big Band so it’s really just an extension of that.
When you go into the studio, where is the starting point? Is it the beat is it a sample is it a riff is it a harmony?
Well it’s never really a beat. It’s often something musical and I’ll put drums to that to give it a feel. I don’t really start with drums and haven’t for ages cos I just kind of prefer taking it from a melody or from a vocal and putting a groove to it rather than the other way round. That’s just how I work personally.
What are you up to for the rest of the year?
It’s going to be Big Band shows right up to the end of September, we will be doing Bestival and the Electric Picnic and a few more to confirm., and then round October, I’m going to go out doing a good bit of DJing. Generally in the summer it tends to be here and in the UK and then probably around Eastern Europe around October/November with this new DJ/ AV show and just looking forward to all of it!