Synaethesia, the simple life and a talented shy boy

Text by Felix L. Petty

Photography by Owen Richards

It has taken Kwes two years to follow up 2010's debut EP No Need To Run, which - from "Hundertwasser" to "In And Out UK" - was a hyperactive blast, layering idea upon idea in the space of a mere 12 minutes.

His new EP, Meantime - his first for Warp - fleshes out its predecessor's sonic template. It is more relaxed, in short, its beats less anxious, drawing more on electronic drones. But then Kwes has no doubt learnt a lot since his debut, having worked with Speech Debelle, Sunless '97, Dels and DRC Music. The latter, a project initiated by Damon Albarn, involved Kwes, XL Records' head Richard Russell, Actress and Dan The Automator, all of whom travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo to record local musicians for Kinshasha One Two, the proceeds of which benefit Oxfam.

"A few years ago, I did a rework of Damon's Monkey opera, which is how we met," says Kwes. "Last year, his team got in touch and said he'd like to take me to the Congo to record with him. It was indescribable, just incredibly emotional. People there are content with the little they have. Clichéd as it sounds, it makes you so thankful for what you've got. And these people were doing incredible things, musically, with very little, too."

In general, Kwes doesn't say a lot, admitting to an "inability to communicate very well verbally". Not that this has affected Kwes' languid voice on record. "It's about the lyrical content, really. Music is very personal to me. I'm quite a shy person, but being personal with my records is something I feel a lot more comfortable with."

Meantime dates back four years, he explains. "I started working on the tracks "Bashful" and "Honey", and lost them when I broke a computer. Then I came across this document with the words and chord progressions of the songs. I'm in a totally different place now to where I was when I first wrote them. But there were moments in these songs that I could still entirely relate to. The words were the same, but they'd taken on a totally different meaning to me."

As for the opening track, "Klee", it is an homage to the German-Swiss painter Paul Klee - specifically his use of colour. And just like a Klee painting, the track is imbued with a naivety, its synthesiser tones interacting with a glockenspiel melody.

The influence of colour upon Kwes' work, and his fascination with Klee, can be traced to his synaesthesia. "It can sometimes be a starting point, like you can start a song from this image, but honestly, I don't even think about it that much. It's not really a reference point for me, but it's there deep in the creative process even if I'm not really thinking about it."

While "Honey" and "Bashful" explore teenage romance, Meantime's closing track, "LGOYH", investigates adult love affairs, its title an acronym for let go of your heart, "It's about being there for someone," he says. "Reminding a loved one they have nothing to worry about. There's an overlap between the two I wrote four years ago, and the new pair. The difference between relationships you have as a teenager and as an adult." Kwes pauses and then adds: "It's all about love, really."

Meantime is out now on Warp.

  • Kwes