Reportedly formed after a lost weekend at Pikes Ibiza a couple of years ago, dance collective KUU describe their sound as offering ‘food for the soul, nourishment for the body and an escape for the mind’… just the tonic, in other words, for these challenging times.
Comprising established house producers Alex Metric and Riton, alongside Zimbabwean songwriter, philanthropist and former gymnast Shungudzo, KUU seeks to channel the spirit of the 1980s Balearic Beat scene, and bring some positive vibes back to the dance music scene.
The trio’s latest single is We’ll Always Have This Dance (buy/stream here), released on Diplo’s Higher Ground record label in November, while they also recently remixed Dua Lipa’s Levitating, featuring US rapper DaBaby (buy/stream here).
Also make sure you check out their excellent Twisted Melons mixes from earlier this summer – blending artists as diverse as Four Tet, Grace Jones, Enigma, Happy Mondays and more.
909originals caught up with KUU’s Alex and Shungudzo.
Hi, thanks for talking to us. KUU was reportedly formed ‘after a lost weekend at legendary Ibiza nightspot Pikes’ – tell us more! How did you all get together and start making music?
Alex: The weekend at Pikes was a trip Henry (Riton) and me made in September 2018. We didn’t decide then and there to make a new band, but the experiences and things that happened that weekend certainly put us on our trajectory to KUU. I look back at that as the starting point of this story.
It was the first time I had ever been to Pikes, and it certainly made an impact on me. It sent me down a rabbit hole of reading more about the history of the island and going deeper into the music of that early Ibiza era as well.
A few weeks later, still under the spell of our experiences there, we met Shun and started writing songs together. At this point, we were just writing songs together for the fun of it, not having any real agenda or aim. Gradually, over a few sessions in London and LA, this turned into realising we had a new project.
The name, KUU, obviously harks back to the formative years of the White Isle. Are you trying to channel that Balearic Beat spirit with your productions?
Alex: Among other influences, for sure. The eclecticism of Balearic music – the warmth and the nostalgic elements – all work their way in our music. The aim with KUU is to make records that sound like they can be timeless, not too rooted in the now, but not completely retro either.
Alex, you’ve remixed a couple of Riton’s tracks in the past (and I think vice versa), but is this the first time you’ve worked properly together on a project like this?
Alex: The first cross pollination for our music was my remix for Riton’s Rinse and Repeat, then we both wrote and produced Riton’s song Ginger. I think that record cemented us working together well and then we went on to produce four singles for Diplo and Mark Ronson’s Silk City project together.
It was around the time of being in the flow of the Silk City music that we started to make the first KUU records. I think the Silk City stuff was a good dry run of working together on a body of work, we knew it was working between us and wanted to do more.
There’s a real positivity to KUU’s music (and imagery) – very timely given the challenging year we’ve just had?
Shungudzo: All three of us recognise the power of music to free and heal people, probably because all three of us have been freed and healed by music. I think that’s why, since the very first time we got together, our collective energy has felt positive — and that energy has poured itself into our songs.
Shungudzo, you’re quite a prolific songwriter – penning hits for Little Mix, Jessie Ware and others. What inspires you when writing songs?
Shungudzo: I’m so in awe of how powerful words can be. Not just in music, but in poetry, activism and conversation amongst strangers and friends. I try to use the power of words for good, and bring that mindset into songwriting as well.
When I’m writing with other artists, who they are inspires me, because the ultimate goal is to help them tell their stories in new and meaningful ways.
A couple of months back, KUU assembled a couple of fantastic mixes, Twisted Melons Vol 1 and 2, which includes artists as diverse as Aphex Twin, Grace Jones, Brian Eno, Four Tet, and a personal favourite of ours, Will Powers’ Adventures in Success. A wide variety of influences, in other words?
Alex: We put so much work into these mixes, absolutely loved doing them. Mixing Four Tet out of Enigma in Twisted Melons 1 has to be up there with any mixes I’ve been a part of!
They are so fun to do, the shackles are off and we can put all these seemingly disparate elements together to form a cohesive mix. I urge anyone who likes our music to go check them, we are super proud of those mixes and they are an integral part of the KUU story.
They are like a research project each time we do them, then from the mix we get inspiration for new music and the video content finds its way into our artwork, it all feeds into itself in a beautiful way. We are about to embark on Twisted Melons 3…
You all have different musical backgrounds what does each of you bring to the KUU setup, do you think?
Shungudzo: Both in and outside of KUU, Alex and Riton are phenomenal artists and producers who can turn their wildest musical ideas into songs. Whether composing lyrics or composing tracks, we all share a freedom of creativity; a willingness to try anything and everything to make a song work.
I think, in any team, it’s so important to feel like all ideas are welcome. And like there’s no shame in sharing the ideas that don’t work out. I’m grateful to have that kind of team in KUU.
Alex: I would echo what Shun says, though our backgrounds suggest roles we take, we are not limited to those and all can chip in on any aspect of the songs we are creating.
What sort of dance music industry will emerge from the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, do you think?
Shungudzo: I hope that livestream concerts don’t go away in the rush of excitement that will surround touring again, and that artists continue to explore how to reach those who can’t attend their shows in person. Especially those who don’t have the means to buy full-price tickets, or who can’t realistically travel to concerts in neighbouring cities, countries or continents.
I say this thinking about places like Zimbabwe, where many foreign artists don’t go, but where many people love their music. I think, as a result of quarantine, we’ve all realised what a privilege it is to attend concerts whenever and wherever we feel like it. As many of us regain that privilege, I hope we don’t forget those who’ve never had it.
Alex: I think there is going to be an insane amount of energy in dance music when this is all over. The joy and excitement at the communal experience of clubs and festivals is going to be maginified by this time away. It’s going to be a really exciting time for the audience and performers.
[Thanks to Shungudzo and Alex for talking to us. We’ll Always Have This Dance is out now on Diplo’s Higher Ground label]