DJ Krust: “My Approach to Making Music is to get Outside of that Comfort Zone”
Bristol-born drum & bass pioneer DJ Krust has been at the forefront of several musical eras and movements over the course of his career. There was his stint in local group Fresh 4 in the late ‘80s, the launch of Full Cycle Records with fellow Bristolian Roni Size in the early ‘90s. And of course, Krust teamed up with Size as part of D&B crew Reprazent, which famously won a Mercury Award in 1997.
More recently though, Krust, AKA Kirk Thompson, (though he goes by “K”), has been channelling energy into an era of self-discovery and curiosity fulfillment. In doing so, he’s picked up various influences and reference points, which have informed his typically moody and often rule-breaking sound in surprising and unconventional ways. From the likes of Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese to more spiritual, philosophical or totally miscellaneous sources, his upcoming album, The Edge Of Everything (his first full-length release in 14 years), seeks to explore the full spectrum of his influences and offer a visceral, movie-like experience; one that dives deep into Thompson’s own inner journey, while encouraging listeners to set out on their own.
It’s been 14 years since your last album. Why did now feel like the right time to put something else out into the world?
I go through five or seven-year cycles of activity and different things. I have to move through things quite quickly. If it doesn’t stimulate me that much, then I keep moving on. Towards the end of Reprazent I was kind of burnt out. I’d had enough of making music. I’ve been doing it since I was 14 and I got to about 35 and I hadn’t had a break. It was just constantly: music, learning, travelling, growing, being involved in the front-line of the cutting-edge. It was fun doing all of those things, but I didn’t have a relationship for years. I was quite lonely; I didn’t have much contact with my family because I had committed all of myself. When they say you give yourself to the cause – I gave myself to the cause! You know, we built drum & bass and jungle from a couple of guys kicking cans around the streets to an international, Mercury Award-winning group. But towards the end, I found myself asking, ‘who is Kirk Thompson?’ I’d been Krust for so long that I never paid much attention to my real needs.
I went on my journey. I went travelling. The inward travelling, in this sense. I read, studied, meditated. I studied philosophy, consciousness. I came back with this whole coaching, mentoring thing. Through that process, I’d be talking to people and they’d say, ‘what’s up with you, you’re different. What’s going on?’. I’d explain to them, ‘look, I’ve been reading this stuff, I’ve been meditating, I’ve been thinking like this’ and I could see it was having an effect on the people around me. It just grew out of that. That period lasted six, seven years. I woke up one day and the music was just calling me again. So, I just sat down one evening and started tinkering again in the studio.
When did you start working on The Edge Of Everything?
This project started manifesting maybe six years ago. The seed of it, the idea of it, thinking about it. But I thought, ‘is an EP, four tracks, going to be enough? Is that what you do if you’re going to be coming out after…’ I never knew it was fourteen years – I thought it was ten years! So, I thought to myself, ‘after ten years you’re going to just put out a couple of singles, how do you feel about that? I said, ‘nah, I want to create an experience. I want it to be like a summer blockbuster movie where you go into the cinema and you have this all-consuming experience.’ From there it was two years of conceptualising the project in my mind and really building the universe, collecting the data, doing the research, looking at equipment, looking at sound sources. Then, it was a case of really executing it. I found and built a studio and kitted it out. I meditated for a couple of weeks in the space and tuned into it. Then, I just went about doing the work.
Speaking of cinema, I read that you were inspired by a whole list of things including big-name directors. What does cinematic mean to you in the context of music?
I’m not making music. I’m making experiences. I made a film – it’s not an album, it’s a film. When you go and see a movie in the cinema, it doesn’t matter what film it is, in the first fifteen minutes of watching you’re allowing your unconscious mind to be taken in by what you’re seeing on this screen. For all intents and purposes, it is real. That’s why you jump, or you laugh, or you cry. You are totally engrossed in that experience. For me, that’s an art form. I studied that. I said to myself, ‘how do you create a story that’s so engrossing, so deep, that when people enter into that experience, they are completely absorbed by it?’. Cinema was one of the great ways of achieving that. I looked at all the music that was happening at the time and it was very formulaic. Beginning, middle, ending, drop here, drums here. I understand that, but I want people to come in and have a visceral experience and when they leave, I want it to be: ‘Oh my God, what then fuck did I just see?’.
What you were saying actually about films gripping you right at the beginning, it’s the same with your album. The first track isn’t a gradual easing in, instead it sets the tone for the rest of the release from the off. Was that intentional?
Yes, definitely. One of the greatest films that I ever saw was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The reason why that film is so good is because straight away, for the first twenty minutes, it’s this mad adventure. I said to myself, ‘This whole thing about building up with an intro, that’s done’. If you give someone an experience, give them an experience. I had to shatter all of the illusions, preconceived ideas about what a record is supposed to do. There’s none of this, ‘this is the intro,’ or ‘this is the outro’. People have been listening to the project and they’ve said they didn’t know what was going to happen next. That’s the point! How often would you want to go to a cinema and watch a film where you knew exactly what the actor was going to say, exactly when the car crash was going to happen and exactly when the bomb was going to go off? That would be boring.
What can the album offer that may align with current events or changes in listener needs or even consumption? We’re not listening to music in clubs or traditional dance floor spaces right now.
I’m fortunate that this music isn’t for the dancefloor per se. It just so happens that people will have the opportunity to listen to it in the environment that I intended, which would be on headphones in a dark room, or maybe with a couple of friends [with] the lights down low, meditating on this sound. It’s up to you how you consume it, but the message is simple: Tune into you. Tune into what your beliefs are. Tune into what your abilities are. Tune into what you can create for yourself. I had one of the most revealing journeys to produce this. It was such a deep, emotional journey that I kind of wasn’t prepared for, but once I realised what it needed to accomplish, I really had to give myself over to the process. I’ve done that a few times in my career. It’s really emotional and mentally draining, but what you produce is something amazing. The essence of that, that’s what people are listening to and that’s what I’m focusing on. If you sit down and listen to this music, and for an hour afterwards, you’re sitting there and wondering and thinking, then that’s the effect I’m going for.
Are you the type of person to embrace change and enjoy the process of change or does it intimidate you?
No, I’m restless. I need constant stimulation. I’m a curious type of person. I studied engineering for this project. I looked at monster trunks, goldmining, space, planetary alignments, Mayan culture, Egyptian culture, Greek mythology, spirituality, consciousness – I went through the whole gamut of psychology and alchemy and ancient religions to tune into some knowledge that wasn’t obvious and could be of interest. One of the things that I found really interesting was business economics. How finance works and how countries use economics to use as leverage and tools.
How do these reference points, or areas of knowledge that you’re drawing from, filter into what you’re actually creating in the studio?
In my studio, I had a wall. I call it a wall of power. I’ve had them in most of my studios. It’s a twenty-foot wide wall, about seventeen feet high, it would be completely covered in images. Pictures of things I like, controversial things, stories, successful people. Anything that’s stimulating. Anything I was learning I would put on the wall. Every day I would sit in front of the wall and look at these images and get a sense of what the album is. It was just a case of sitting there, meditating, and absorbing the energy of it. Then, it would just come out. It would come out in a bassline, in a riff, in the choices that you make about the sounds that you use, the edits that you use, the chords that you use.
Something you touched on earlier was using psychology in the recording process. How does that work? I read that you used an “80 percent psychology and 20 percent mechanics” approach.
I’ve been teaching this subject for the last twenty years and so most of the people that I talk to, coach, or work with, the mechanics side of it (which is learning how to use programs) they are quite proficient in. They don’t really need any help in that area. The problem that they have is actually in the psychological aspect of it. They’re not in tune with who they actually are to present something original. So, they’ll spend all their time making music, but it sounds like everybody else. The rub of that is, humans by definition are social animals. So, we won’t do anything that will compromise the safety of the herd. How that that transpires in music – or anything – when you see people copy everybody else, they’re just seeking safety, comfort. My approach to making music is to get outside of that comfort zone. The 80 percent psychology is really about understanding that you have to be able to break out of your comfort zone and think differently. You have to get used to being uncomfortable for long periods of time. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, because that’s where the breakthroughs happen.