Introducing: KETTAMASeptember 27, 2021
“I wish I could go on and on for hours about my modular this and that, but it’s just not like that. I sit down and whatever comes out, comes out,” Evan Campbell says, describing his production process as KETTAMA.
In the past few years, KETTAMA has won legions of fans with his up-front, party-starting, sledgehammer house music: slamming, loop-based club sounds guaranteed to kick crowds off, made with a truck load of samples in FL Studio. “All in the box, no outputs,” as he puts it, unapologetically.
Campbell was raised in Galway, a town on the Republic of Ireland’s Atlantic coast that’s home to around 80,000 people, and — pre-pandemic at least — an average of 120 festivals each year, from oysters and seafood in September to July’s International Arts Festival. But, he quickly explains, aside from the highly respected producer John Daly, this picturesque city isn’t known for its dance music scene. “There’s not much going on. I think there’s one club left now,” he says.
We’re speaking a month after his relocation to London, the polar opposite. The move was driven by sheer volume of UK bookings, partly due to Ireland’s ongoing lockdown (with clubs only scheduled to reopen late-October). But it was a plan even before the crisis, since his experiences raving in a country with some of Europe’s strictest closing times and a disregard for dance music as culture made the decision to move over the Irish Sea relatively easy.
“There are 89 clubs that have dance floors in the whole of Ireland. There’s probably 89 in East London,” he says, an air of frustration in his voice. “Dance music is so shunned, they think it’s just young people taking drugs, and it’s not. It’s people’s livelihood. Like in the UK, there is amazing nightlife but it’s not seen like a culture. So in the UK, it’s a mad situation, but Ireland is even further behind.
“And yet there are still fucking amazing people and music coming out of Ireland, like Tommy Holohan, Sunil Sharpe, the Father and the Son like,” he continues. “There’s Sputnik 1, Long Island Sound. It seems like everyone is there, the movement is there, there’s people making the music, it’s just the restrictions that are fucking it up. Irish clubbing laws are from 1916 or 17, they are old dance hall laws, over 100 years old.”
Under these conditions — with most venues subject to 2AM curfews — Campbell learned to ply his trade. The early closing hours he was exposed to perhaps explain the heavyweight party attitude in his tracks. By 17 he was holding things down in the backroom at now-defunct Galway club Carbon, alongside close friend, ally, and ongoing musical partner, Shampain.
“I was there until about 20 years old, and then I think I put out my first release with these guys from Homage Records in New York,” says Campbell, now 24-years-old. His first significant break, “B O D Y” was released through a label nearly 5,000 miles away, further validating the argument that Ireland isn’t the ideal base for electronic music up-and-comers.
“I’d been uploading tracks straight to SoundCloud before ‘B O D Y’, really frequently, and posting to music forums on Facebook and shit. I got a little following through that,” Campbell says, revealing influences came from Shed’s Head High project, Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangaltar, and the piano mastery of early Grant Nelson. “I put the record out in 2018, and it got picked up by people like Mall Grab when it was unreleased. It was all over groups with people trying to get the track ID. So that created a bit of hype… And I’ve been chancing it until now,” he continues, his self-deprecating humour shining through.
The attention around that first release eventually found its way to Chinese promoters Bronz. A mini-tour took Campbell to Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou, and the fact this happened before he managed to play a date in Dublin, capital of his own country, remains a source of bemusement.
“I was there for four shows, and nobody even knew who I was,” Campbell recounts, half-joking. “Someone got in touch with me on SoundCloud and asked if I wanted to play in Shanghai. I was just like, ‘You’re gonna ask for my credit card details next.’ Like, this doesn’t make sense. I think I was drunk at my mate’s house, and we thought fuck it, might as well reply. It was an experience.”
Campbell’s Dublin debut finally happened a week after returning from his China tour, and by May of 2018 he was playing peak time at Life Festival, an Irish institution. Campbell considers the show a career-defining moment. The earliest sign that years of effort in the studio and booth were paying off, momentum gathering behind his name and sound.
“I was on the Index Stage, the same time as a lot of the headliners. It’s one of the smaller stages. I was there for the festival, three days, and playing on the final day. I was in bits by then, shaking, not knowing what the fuck was going on. I went to the stage 25-minutes before I was supposed to be on, drinking beers trying to get rid of nerves and the last two days. The stage was full of people, it was my first feeling like something was happening for me, everyone went crazy. That gig was so good,” Campbell recalls, voice thick with a passion only possible with vivid, prized memories.
He name-checks a second appearance at Life, first set at Belfast’s legendary Limelight club, and a booking for Manchester festival Parklife as further highs. Although in 2021 he added arguably the biggest milestone to date with the logically titled EP, G-Town 001. It’s three tracks of warehouse-ready, belting house that feels close to Mella Dee, Mr. G, and DJ Haus. It landed early in April on G-Town Records, the new label Campbell launched alongside aforementioned partner in crime, Shampain, partly in homage to their home city.
“I always wanted to run a label, have a little crew, put out music, merchandise, have something that is all us. We have every bit of control over it — the artwork, the music, the way it is perceived. And our man Shampain ended up getting a tattoo saying G-Town on his arm,” he says of how the imprint came about, borrowing its name from a colloquial term for Galway often associated with underage drinkers. It’s an inside joke between friends that contrasts with how seriously he sees his new music platform.
“[Now] we have full takeover shows at Village Underground in London, Belfast Telegraph Building, one in Edinburgh at Liquid Rooms, and Galvanizers at SWG3 in Glasgow. I’m very excited. All the artwork is mine, it’s gonna be me and Shampain, all the music from the label. I’m extremely looking forward to those,” he explains, before making it clear that, G-Town aside, the priority right now is the same as it is for many of us: making up for time lost during the pandemic. “I’m just excited to get back into the swing of things.”
KETAMMA’s Steel City Dance Discs Volume 26 will be released on October 27th via Steel City Dance Discs.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt is a freelance journalist living in Manchester. Find him on Twitter.