Kai Whiston – Quiet As Kept, F.O.G
On the final track of his new album Quiet As Kept, F.O.G., Kai Whiston weaves a recording of a conversation between himself and his mother into a ten minute trip-hop soundscape of spiralling drones, swelling strings, and jagged breakbeats. “My first rave was in the warehouse I was living in,” she opens, while 10-10-73 eventually ends by looping back to the introduction of the first song on Whiston’s 2018 debut album. It’s a piece of anecdotal history and self-referencing that is essential to contextualising not only this album, but Whiston himself. The producer was born and raised amidst the rave and traveller scene of the 90’s, its culture and sounds soaked into his DNA so that the notions of ‘rave’ and ‘home’ become synonymous. It is this dichotomy, which for Whiston was experienced as conflict, that is central to the thesis of Quiet As Kept, F.O.G.. “It took years of hindsight, creating a distance from my upbringing to view it all rationally, and in that I saw the story was bigger than my experience and was about the traveller community as a whole,” Whiston says of the album, which for him becomes a vehicle to reconcile his past with his present.
Whiston’s sound has always been rooted somewhere between fantasy and reality, never quite settling into one thing but adapting at Whiston’s will in service of his conceptual framework. His imagined alien-hybrid offspring at the centre of last year’s Drayan! is a case in point. On Quiet As Kept, F.O.G. he again leans into his fantastical instincts, this time to tell the story of his reality. His mother, Helene who used to design flyers for warehouse raves, is a consistent presence on the album, appearing in interludes which form the autobiographical backbone of what is essentially a collage of histories, both real and imagined. These histories and the sounds closely associated with them (hardcore, breakbeats, trance) inform Whiston most, subsequently making for some truly banging club tracks. But he goes deeper than pacifier-wearing nostalgia here, imbuing these sonic templates with his own distinct point of view. Between Lures opens the album with one of Whiston’s urgent string arrangements, before exploding into classic breakbeats. On Q, featuring Pussy Riot, he finds himself lost in hardcore. But Whiston crafts his beats in soft-focus, as if witnessing the rave from above, its relentless pounding dampened by waves of mist and atmosphere. Carrier Signal with EDEN is probably the closest he’s gotten to progressive house, but it’s quite unlike anything or anyone else in the quality of its sounds and textures.
Tracks like Peace Convoy with its weighted nomenclature and the brilliant Vivienne owe much to the breakbeat innovations of The Prodigy or Orbital, but again, Whiston avoids relying too heavily on the past. And he doesn’t need to. His breaks are mercurial, serpentine, and future focussed because they are so inherent to him. There’s a sense that Whiston is creating from a deep place of understanding, which allows for some truly innovative storytelling. He turns trance into ambient on Div Era, mixing the sounds of a string quartet with whirring synth chords and a distant choir. He stretches the moment of transcendence between the break and the drop to its limits, threatening to plummet into breakneck beats at any moment. Instead, Div Era ends with Helene speaking about Whiston’s father. “He’d have been proud of you,” she says, before adding regretfully, “we should have put him in rehab.” Within those poignant final ten seconds, Whiston manages to tell not just his story, but the stories of countless others in the dance music community. It’s an absolute triumph.
You leave Quiet As Kept, F.O.G., with the sense that you know Kai Whiston a little better than before, and there’s an incredible sense of clarity that comes with this. The album, by virtue of this fact, is a resounding success and possibly one of the most deftly moving electronic music releases of the year. Whiston transcends his own music. He becomes an archivist, crafting a narrative that uses himself as the starting point to tell the story of a wider community and place in time. It’s referential, self-referential, and entirely in a league of its own, becoming essential listening for any well travelled raver or new age clubkid.
Listen to Div Era from Quiet As Kept, F.O.G. below
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