Interview: “You’ve got to grab peeps by the hips and insist that they move…” 909originals catches up with Kevin Knapp

Reared in San Francisco and residing in Berlin, Kevin Knapp is a custodian of jackin’ house beats combined with hip hop sensibilities – as renowned for his work on the mic as he is on the ones and twos.

With releases on Hot Creations, Dirtybird, Hottrax, Sola, Truesoul, Crosstown Rebels and more, Knapp enjoyed recent success with Call Me (alongside Hannah Wants), The Homie (with Prok & Fitch) and Heads Up, and has just dropped his latest single, Kick It, alongside MANT on Repopulate Mars (which can be purchased/streamed here).


Aside from that, he’s up with his fiancé, Jessica ‘Hutch’ Hutcheson, to develop a sound they call ‘Feminist Ghetto Tech’ – raw tech house imbued with a sense of female empowerment.

This sound is encapsulated in the duo’s label project, Plump Records, which is described as ‘body positive, queer positive and anti racist with a focus on centering underrepresented marginalised voices’.

Plump Records’ methodology is writ large in a recent single by Knapp and longtime friend Baby Luck, Cute, which is unlike any other music video you’re likely to watch this year.

909originals caught up with Knapp (and Baby Luck) to discuss Cute, life under lockdown, and his signature house sound.

Hi Kevin, thanks for talking to us. What was the coronavirus lockdown like for you, creativity-wise?
 
You know, what’s funny about lockdown is that I thought I was going to be able to take a break, finally, and relax from the intensity of hustling everyday. 

As it turns out, that’s just how I’m built, I guess – I’m basically as busy as I’ve ever been. I started a bunch of new projects and got busy creating in what has felt like overdrive. 

What sort of a dance/nightclub scene will emerge from the current situation, do you think? What will have changed?

I think it will take people a while to be comfortable in crowds again. I imagine the clubs will fill slowly as opposed to all at once. 

I also suspect that streaming is here to stay and will be incorporated into the club experience in a large scale once this is all over.


The video for Cute has to be one of the most striking music videos we’ve seen this year. What is the story behind the video?
 
Probably best that I let my lifelong best friend Brittany [Baby Luck] jump in here! 
 
“Baby Luck here! I loved working with my best friend Kev on this track as the vocalist, and I absolutely adored directing his beautiful, talented fiancé Hutch as the star of my music video directorial debut.
 
“This is one of many songs Kev and I have made together and there’s more to come. It’s rare to give so much attention to a music video in electronic music, and I’m here to change this, with the love and support of Hutch and Kev.

“Also, Kev and I are best friends from way back – since we were little kids – putting on dance performances to Bell Biv DeVoe for our parents in the living room after dinner, so this song and video is a family affair from start to finish. 
 
“Shot in Denver just before quarantine in March, we pulled this video shoot off in one long weekend with limited crew and resources, using what we had to make cute ass magic. Hutch flew from Berlin to film, right before COVID hit, and I developed the story, directed and produced this video, with Hutch’s intimate collaboration as the star and executive producer.

“We shot the video at my house with my kids and mother-in-law, and filmed in our friend’s theatre and bar when they were closed. JD Gonzales was the director of photography and producer and he killed it. I directed the edit over Zoom with my friend Anthony Yano Hays in LA, and my fiancé, Old Man Saxon, helped so much with the writing of the story, even encouraging me to record the vocals for Cute at the very beginning of the process. He shot stills on set and took care of our kids so I could go deep.  

“I’m really proud of what we all created, and I’m so thankful to Hutch for going on this journey with me.

“As I’m watching so much of the world be consumed by hate, I’m motivated by this deep feeling that ‘Love is More Fun Than Hate’. I’m committed to centering female empowerment, elevating unheard voices, and promoting fat, body and sex positivity with this video.

“We feature a fat woman as our lead because she IS A STAR and she deserves to take the whole damn stage for as long as she damn well pleases!
 
“Our video is a reminder that all people are cute – that everyone deserves to be loved, to love themselves, to feel beautiful and sexy. In these times of deep anxiety and turmoil, pleasure is the best antidote to anxiety. Pleasure is the gateway to self love, respect and acceptance. 

“We must love ourselves before we can love one another. I hope this video makes everyone feel cute and reminds everyone to pause, breathe, dance and scream..!”

“I think it will take people a while to be comfortable in crowds again,” says Knapp. [Photo by Marie Staggat]

Thanks Baby Luck. Kevin, back to you. You left San Francisco for Berlin in 2013. What were the circumstances that led to you moving to the ‘capital of techno’?

While living in San Francisco I promised my partner at the time that if my music career was not where I wanted it to be by a certain age I would quit and go back to being a lawyer. 

The more I thought about it the more I was sure that music simply had to work, so I got it in my head that I need to focus on making a name for myself in a big pond, and I could think of no bigger pond for electronic music than Berlin. A year later, I moved.

I was fortunate because right before I got here I released Stay Glued (FCL Weemux) with Audiojack which was a hit. So people knew who I was when I got off the plane, which helped me build community and make more industry connections, and so on. 

Then, once The Drums dropped, with Richy Ahmed on Hot Creations, the rest was history.


Do you think that the move has enabled you to refine your sound? A lot of your productions have that quintessentially 90s drum sound?

Very much so. If nothing else from the volume of musical influence I’m continually surrounded by. 

Also, Berlin is such a creative town that I’m allowed to wake up everyday and just be an artist.  That goes a long way towards freeing me up to create.

We interviewed Roland Clark recently, and he said that the inspiration for his vocals is triggered by the sounds in particular tracks, and the rhythmic patterns of certain words. As someone who also takes to the mic in your productions, how do you devise your lyrics?
 
A pen and a pad, whilst watching skateboarders stomp kick flips and 50/50 grinds. No bullshit, old school hip hop style. That’s how it started anyway, sitting in front of the ferry building in San Francisco and catching vibes. 

These days I write in whatever environment I’m in, or when a good idea hits me in everyday life. I’m constantly taking notes. I’ve got to the point where I can sit down and focus to get an idea out, or work on it in my head – or sometimes obnoxiously out loud, ha ha – while hanging with friends.  I love doing it.
 
You’ve worked with a number of labels in recent years – Hot Creations, Crosstown Rebels, Hottrax, Sola, Dirtybird, Truesoul and more – is there a particular label (or producer) that you would love to get the chance to work for?
 
Robag [Wruhme], Koze, and Stephan Bodzin are all still on my list. 

There’s another I could never have dreamed of working with who is working on an EP with me at the moment. I’ll just have to keep you in suspense with that one though.
 
How would you describe your approach to making music? 

‘Ass on bottom, head on top’ is how I describe my sonic approach. You’ve got to grab peeps by the hips and insist that they move, whilst tickling the back of their necks with something cerebral, minor key, or avant-garde. All the things.

[Thanks to Kevin for talking to us. His latest single, Kick It, alongside MANT, can be purchased here. Also check out Beats & Eats, a vlog series created by Knapp alongside his creative partner Mario Munster, which sees him travel the world to sample local cuisine alongside other food-loving DJs. Main photo by Marie Staggat]

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