“It’s about experience, about life, joy, surprise…” 909 Originals catches up with Kédu Carlö

New Zealand-based duo Jess Penson and Carly Gill aka Kédu Carlö, entered the mainstream with their debut EP Let’s Get To It in 2021, and since then, the pair have been active touring, producing and offering insight to budding producers through their recent partnerships with Ableton Live and Five AM Studios.

The duo’s unique take on electronica stems from their respective upbringings – Penson’s mother hails from Nigeria, while Gill was raised behind a drum kit! – with the pair both falling in love with electronic music while in their late teens.

They’re gearing up for the release of their debut album, Space Girl Finds Cash, released 4 May on EMK, and have just released a new single, Shotgun Baby, the fourth from the forthcoming long player. You can download/stream it here.

909originals caught up with them.

Thanks for talking to us. Can you tell us about your background and how you first got started in music? How did you first become interested in electronic music and what drew you to it as a medium for self-expression?

Carly: I was always drawn to the drums – it was all about the drums for me for a long time. Once I started lessons at 14, I was very immersed and quite obsessed. I would download hundreds of charts and learn them and did my formal as well. Drums were my salvation throughout the pains of adolescence. I was pretty strictly a rock girl for a good while, as well as loving soul, latin, R&B. 

My introduction to electronic music happened when I was 19. I went traveling across Europe with some friends and went to a bunch of festivals. I wasn’t into a lot of the stuff they wanted to listen to, so I’d go roaming to other stages and kept landing at house stages – not that I even knew what genre it was at the time. 

From there on, the next obsession began – when I got back to New Zealand I quit my 9 to 5 job and moved back to Auckland to study Music Production and DJing. 

Producing, DJing and drumming are all very different forms of self-expression for me – drumming being the most instant, innate, and physical. The fusion of hearing and feeling the energy escaping my body in a precise and deterministic manner is so damn addictive. 

DJing is the space where I feel most defiant, it’s where I get to be the stompy little brat I am and say “blahhh feel what I feel and eat it up”. Production comes from a deep need I feel to express the inner patterns of my mind, and my internalisation of musical sound, a long-form outlet. I feel like I’m forever on a hamster wheel chasing this goal. 

Jess: I started off learning piano from the age of seven and once I knew enough chords, I began to create my own songs – very questionable songs but….creative. Electronic music wasn’t something I had on my radar until I was around 20, previously having been mainly into R&B and neo soul, and at the time I was signed under a development deal with Sony for a R&B/pop girl group. 

Carly and I started living together and I saw what she was learning and listening to, whilst studying music production, and the interest started to grow. Having grown up singing in choirs and exploring jazz music I really resonated with the experimental nature of electronic music and saw it as a fun playground to express myself in. 

Your music references house, acid, techno, electro and breaks. Who are some of your biggest musical influences? How have these influences shaped your sound and approach to creating music?

Carly: Since 2019, when I began avidly diving into producing, I got particularly into 70s, 80s and 90s house, especially the Detroit sound. Like many, I fell in love with the sound of the Roland drum machines and other vintage drum machines, like the Linn Drum and CR-78. 

I was – and still am – obsessed with acid in particular. This came from when I was deep in my DJ digs era. My favourite artist was Armando – Jess and I were so so into his tracks. I remember hearing Lesbian Luv for the first time, damn! It still gets a regular spin from us, ha ha. 

This shared love of acid played a big role on our production style and how we approached lead lines for the first two EPs really. It was a bedrock to work around, and we have always been interested in how we can incorporate the sounds of retro drum machines and the delicious sizzle of a TB-303 and other analogue synths in a way that feels new and uniquely our own. I personally have relied heavily on drum machine sample packs for the majority of my drum production. 

With our DJ sets we dived heavily into Gutterfunk artists – Diemantle, Nuff Pedals, Dismantle, DJ Die, as well as Livity Sounds. But it’s always an amalgamation of genres, we never like to stay in one genre for too long. 

Next month you are releasing your debut album Space Girl Finds Cash on EMK. Can you tell us more about the release? How did it come about and what inspired you to create it? 

Carly: The first track on this album, which is also the title track, came together when Jess and I were able to see each other again after the lockdown in 2021. We set up a studio in her parents’ living room and basically didn’t leave for a month, fleshing out the first track on the album. 

It was then we decided we were gonna embark on this body of work. We saw it as a challenge and wanted to have a project we could sink ourselves into. We went through a lot of growth and change in the year it took us to complete it, and looking back it’s pretty special to have tracks that touch on all the experiences we went through whilst creating this.

Can you walk us through the creative process behind your music? How do you typically begin a new track, and what are some of the key elements or techniques you focus on as you develop it?

Jess: Our process has evolved over the course of this project. Typically one of us will start an idea off and send it to the other to see if they’re inspired. Most of our tracks went back and forth like this, with Carly adding some elements and sending it back to me to add more, and so on and so forth. It’s quite an exciting way to work, as you never really know what shape a track will take. 

We both love experimenting with structure and finding creative ways to build that tension and release. Arrangement and dynamic variation were key elements of the album. We definitely honed in on our vocal production as well, exploring a good variety of techniques in these areas to achieve interesting results.

Carly: I focused a lot on snares actually – snare tone, layering, dynamics. My love for marching/2nd line strut – this sounds so geeky written down ha ha – and Latin grooves played a huge role in the rhythms and drum patterns I wrote. I honed in on width and spatial mixing. Subtlety, textures, tones achieved through meticulous layering and considered processing was really what it came down to mostly.

In terms of breaks, I remember having a challenge at a producer development programme I did, where we had to flip the Amen drum break. From there it just became such a fun fun way to much spicy drum sections. I love messing with over-juiced side chains for intense pulsing brakes that sound super clean and dramatic gate changes to go from wild to tight. I normally approach breaks as an opportunity to express flair and drama.  

What has been the highlight of your career so far? Can you talk about a specific moment or accomplishment that stands out as particularly meaningful to you?

We recently did a string of shows in Australia, which was so much fun! We played a mixture of DJ sets and live sets. Honestly, it was just very heartwarming to see people coming along to our shows, singing our lyrics and genuinely having a great time. 

Recently we have been holding some producer workshops in collaboration with Ableton as well – it has been amazing to share knowledge and connect. 

What are your studio essentials? 

Jess: Whilst making this album, I bought a Deepmind 12 synth which features heavily in the second half of the album. I have become really attached to the tactlessness and immediacy of having an analogue synth, – it makes it easier to commit to ideas and insert a human element. Also, the Analog Lab V and TAL-101 Bass emulator soft-synths have been go-to favourites  

Carly: Soundtoys, Fabfilter and Antares suites are essentials, as well as Kontakt Library – and now the UAD Spark suite. My drum sample library has a good range of vintage drum machine one-shots recorded through basic outboard chain to tape. My drum kit in the second half of the album was key. 

That was because we started using a new studio space part way through, which gave me access to record my own drums in a treated room on nice mics for the first time. Quite exciting. 

What message do you hope to convey through your music? What themes or ideas do you find yourself returning to again and again in your work?

Jess: We cover such a broad range of themes in this album. I think we just like to be honest, especially in this body of work.

Carly: The production of our songs speaks most on what we are trying to convey, which is a feeling more than anything really. A physical reaction to sound. With each song we aim to take you on a journey, each one is unique. The idea is to enter the world and transcend, that’s the trance-esqe nature that we aim to achieve. It’s about experience, about life, joy, surprise. 

I think there’s a theme of defiance, and a theme of grace, and the balance of these energies. Similar to the balance of Jess and I. There is always this theme of our symbiotic relationship ebbing and flowing and informing one another.

How do you see the music industry evolving in the next five years? What changes do you think we’ll see in terms of technology, distribution, and audience engagement?

Carly: I think distribution will be disrupted by developments in blockchain technology and greater adoption of new Web3 ecosystems. I think this has the opportunity to be a really good thing for music creators in terms of increased income streams and more robust copyright protection. 

In general I think niche communities and genres will continue to develop and thrive and the idea of a pop star will essentially die. I predict that the disparity between good music and substance-less music will continue to grow, which will be exacerbated by an over-saturation of AI music. 

I believe there will be way more independent artists, and this will become a much more viable path, the avenue of digital music nomads will rise. 

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians trying to make it in the industry? Are there any particular tips or strategies you’ve found to be particularly effective in building a career as an electronic musician?

Carly: Yes, learn how to do everything yourself. The more self-reliant you are, the lower your overheads are. Now you can be an independent artist. Having a small but sturdy team around you is so important, people that understand the vision, and can help shape the mission. 

 Kédu Carlö – Space Girl Finds Cash is released on 4 May and can be pre-ordered here. Main photo by Oscar Keys.

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