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DEGO & KAIDI: RINGING THE CHANGES

There are few artists that have made as deep a mark on the landscape of UK music as Dego and Kaidi Tatham.

Traversing through the thick discographies of Dego and Kaidi Tatham renders a fascinating connect-the-dots maze of London music history, with twists and turns of different monikers, different movements and dizzying collaborations. 

After rewriting the d&b game with Marc Mac as 4hero, and as A&R of Reinforced Records in the '90s, Dego went on to build an endless archive of solo projects and his rock-solid imprint 2000 Black. He also fell into many sonic adventures with the equally prolific Kaidi, aka Agent K, the Bugz In the Attic member and multi-instrumentalist whose ‘In Search of Hope’ solo LP still reigns as cult royalty.

With the duo’s sound constantly shifting, the only element that ties their work together — whether their stellar keyboard workouts as DKD (with Daz-I-Kue), their deep vocal-laced songs as Silhouette Brown (with Bembe Segue and Lady Alma), their space jams as Da One Away (with IG Culture), or their vibed-out bounce as 2000 Black — is the feeling of being artistically free. Music straight from the gut, aimed straight at the soul.

This past January, the pair joined forces once again to put out a 12” with Eglo Records, the next generation of soul-fuelled UK innovation. On the edge of 2014, Dego and Kaidi are artists of a different time, when record stores were king and music had, in the words of Dego, "a real purity".

As two dynamic visionaries who have had a grip in changing the future of music many times over, where do they see the future moving next? We found out over a phone line from London (where Dego lives) to Belfast (Kaidi’s new home).

Hey Dego, how is London, post New York?
Dego: “London’s good. When I came back from five years in New York, I realised how much I appreciate what we’ve done as a city — musically and visually, fashion-wise, culturally.”

What’s the music scene like at the moment?
Dego: I’m probably not the best person to ask that; I can’t keep up with what’s going on! What London’s great at is this branding and re-marketing of music, and creating that buzz worldwide. One thing I can say is there is a nice appreciation for old funk and disco with the next generation that didn’t have the pirate radio station schooling that I had growing up. We did an event last week in Plastic [London club Plastic People] and it was really good. It was with Ge-ology and Eric [Lau] — we played right across the board, a lot of old music as well as the new things, uptempo and downtempo. And people were just vibing off everything. There’s a better appreciation for eclectic music now.”

And Kaidi, how is Belfast?
Kaidi: “Moving here took me right out of my comfort zone! All of my friends and family, and my work colleagues, are in London. At first I had to come back to London each month but now I only go back here and there. I just got back from London last night actually. There was this soundclash with me, Orin [Walters, aka Afronaught] and G-Force. Bugz In the Attic split up a long time ago and this was the first time I’ve seen Orin. With Bugz, we’ve all gone our ways — Darren [Daz-I-Kue] is in Atlanta. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and it’s not that I want to bring the Bugz back together but it would be nice to all get together and do something. It was just a good thing going on. There were a lot of politics in being in a large band, you know. But being away has given me a lot of space to really concentrate on what I have to do as an artist.”

There’s a lot of genre-blurring in music these days, but that’s something that both of you have done since day dot. It’s always been impossible to tag you down to one sound...
D: That’s the one fault of England, the UK — through the '90s, it got very separated. The house, the progressive house, the drum & bass, the hip-hop. When I was going out and raving a lot as a youngster, I could be in East London at some soundsystem dance and they might play ‘Eric B Is President’ and the next record might be ‘This Brutal House‘. That was nothing! We didn’t used to call it by genre in the '80s, we would just call it a 'new tune'. Those were the days. I think everyone says that whenever the peak of their raving days was, innit (laughs).”

K: “There are a lot of people that only listen to one genre — how is that possible? (laughs) Our sound is like a mix of funk, soul, jazz, Latin, reggae, because of the music we were brought up on. Rock music, you name it, house, drum & bass, a bit of techno. Everything. Just good music. That’s what’s molded us.”

Are you both actively involved in the digital world?
K: “I have Twitter and Facebook but I don’t use them much. I might write about a tune coming out, or tell people to watch out for a certain artist. But I don’t really have anything to say on there — I chat enough rubbish in real life! (laughs)”

D: “I’m kinda so-so, I’m not really comfortable with it. I remember when the internet was really starting to move, I had a website for 2000 Black. I had it for a good seven years only in Japanese! I did it intentionally because my thing was, I used to love buying records from people who I had no idea what they looked like, where they were from, what their lifestyle was. You just were solely into the sound of their music. You’d buy white labels in the shops and literally have no idea who created it. You could really get into it just purely for what the track said to you.”

Mystique is certainly something of the past. You both have always excelled at keeping your heads down and letting the music come first...
D: “I used to be signed to a few majors back in the day, and I’ve seen all types of sides of the business — the management, the distributor, everything. I can’t compromise myself by doing certain things to further gain popularity or to get those bigger jobs. When it comes to things that are creative, it’s like — why do nonsense?”

K: “I’ve always been in the background of the arena. I will always give other people the time of day before myself. That’s always been my thing. Because, you know, music came to me. No one showed me; I taught myself basically.”

In keeping your integrity intact, what are some things you’re most proud of?
D: “I worked really hard improving myself. I used to get embarrassed by some of the things I made in the drum & bass days, because I never went to music school. We were just learning as we went along. I appreciate the energy that went into those days, but I know technically there were a lot of mistakes made and I spent time learning my scales better and learning how to play chords better, playing better basslines, programming better. I’m much closer to the standard of songs I would like to make than I ever was before. I might still be a million miles away from it, but I know that I’ve gotten closer.

K: “My first album. I can still listen to that today and think, ‘Was that me?’ It still sounds so fresh and that was ’94 — 20 years ago! Through it all, I’m proud to have worked with so many good people. One highlight was working with Chris Dave [aka jazz legend Chris 'Daddy' Dave] last year. He asked me to play keys and bass at his show. It was [Isaiah] Sharkey [on guitar] and Marcus Strickland on sax, the most amazing musicians I’ve ever met in my life. But the gig was wicked, it distressed the whole place. I just went all out. And I think I earned their respect, which is good. I’ve done a lot of things but that was one of my proud moments.”

Dego, how do you feel about last year’s ‘A Wha' Him Deh Pon’? Hard to believe that was your debut solo LP...
D: “You know, it’s not the album I wanted to make but I think it was an album I needed to make. I wanted to set a precedent so people would know I’m not about this one thing; I tried to make an album that had different sounds within it. So you get the idea of this is who I am. And with the second album, hopefully it can get a bit more concentrated on a certain thing I wish to do.”

And Kaidi, what are you concentrating on now?
K: “Last year, I got myself a computer for the first time in so long. And I did an album — about 35 tracks — in two or three months. I called it 'Mysterious Fingers'. Then I lost my computer! I didn’t back up anything. Most of my keyboards are still in London so I was just working off my laptop. But I’m lucky that I’d given nearly all the tracks to Dego and Eric Lau. I’m thinking to put some of that out this year. I’ve been putting a little bit of 'Mysterious Fingers' on Soundcloud, just to tease people, and people have been going crazy.”

How did you both come to meet the Eglo crew?
D: “I met Sam [Floating Points] first. And then Alex [Nut] had me on his show, on Rinse. I like what they’re doing, and I really rate Sam a lot. I think he is quite an exceptional talent to come from England at the moment. And I like Fatima’s voice so I’ve definitely been checking the label out.

K: “Dego knows them more than me, but I know their music very well. I’m into it. Floating Points is a badboy, isn’t he? And the music with him and Fatima, it’s too much, man. She’s amazing! Hopefully we’ll do more with Eglo; I know the 12” sold out and they had to repress.”

How did the 12” come together?
D: “I have so much music sitting on my drives, I haven’t got the time or capabilities to release it all myself.”

K: “People are scared to look thorough my hard drive, I’m even scared!”

D: “I felt it was time to get the music out to other people who might be into it. I gave Alex a batch of stuff, he picked out the ones he wanted.”

K: “The tunes were made last summer. I met up with Dego and we were writing like three tunes a day, we’re just writing all the time. You don’t realise what you’ve done until the next day when you listen back.”

What elements do you think are important for a good collaboration?
D: “First thing is that both need to be humble. It needs to be a level playing ground. You let people be able to express themselves, and then you take it elsewhere, or you put your slant on it. But then at the same time, I’ll never forget when we [4Hero] did a track working with Larry Mizell. It was a collaboration but he wrote it and he’s a don, so he took the lead telling us what to do. I did like the way he showed me how to go about doing the track, and the fact that he insisted that we sung on the record as well.”

K: “I always say to people when they ask — always listen first. This is why I can hear musicians playing and I can blend in. Sit back, rest your backside, and listen!”

In reference to the 2000 Black ethos (via Roy Ayers): “Think about the future, think about, think about, change”: What kind of change would you like to see in the world?
D: “It’s not a tough question, matter of fact it’s an easy question. But my question for you is — do you have time for it? (laughs) There just needs to be more awareness of other people, more understanding. Less of this self, self, self shit that’s going on. People have got to humble themselves more.”

K: “There’s so much to say. But I’m just staying positive. It’s been 20 great years, I hope I have 20 more good years ahead. I’m not gonna get any grey hairs just yet! I always smile everyday, just keep positive and those greys will stay away.”

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