The South London composer, singer and sound collagist is one of the most intriguing figures in electronic music right now. Christine Kakaire hears the stories behind her warped creations.
To borrow from the headline of the interview she did with FADER last year, "Klein is funny as hell." The South London composer, singer and sound collagist is also one of the most intriguing figures in electronic music right now. In song, onstage and in conversation, she has a ready supply of un-ironic jokes, a rapid-fire magazine of pop culture references and a sense of unyielding forward motion. The most-used term in her vocabulary is "spiral," which she deploys as both verb and adjective. Anyone more than a half-step behind her knowledge of 20-something London slang will be left in the dust.
Then there's that voice. When Klein permits it to appear without her glitchy pulses, pitch-bending and left-turn transformations, it is revealed as a rich and honeyed contralto, nimbly flitting up or downscale and across many reference points of black vocal traditions. The landscapes of Klein's sound world are all there in "Prologue," the opening track of her 2017 EP Tommy, released on Hyperdub. A heavy-handed piano melody snaps off into silence, a solitary Klein trills a sweet Toni Braxton vocal, but breaks up into laughter. She's joined by bantering friends, makes a joke about just doing ten-minute Mariah Carey-style vocal runs, and then the song collapses outwards. It becomes a living, growing fractal of voice exercises and woozy multi-tracked notes, all before the music is introduced, which progresses in swerves and shifts.
Tommy was named after a cast-member of the Atlanta franchise of the reality show Love & Hip Hop. Klein considers her follow-up from May, CC, to be her most personally revealing work yet. "I wanted to make a record that I knew was 100% me," she said. "If you like it, that's cool, if you don't get it, that's fine, but at least I put it out in the world. The title came from when you cc someone on email to let them know what's happening. Those seven songs lets whoever into my music, like, 'This is who this girl is. This is her best friend, this is her cousin, this is where she grew up, this is the boy she doesn't like.' That's why I call it a coming of age record."
"Coming of age" is a phrase that points to the benchmarks of young adult development, and hints at the rites of passage that were necessary to get there, so it seems fitting that CC is a trip of both dreamy and nightmarish qualities. "Collect" features saccharine fairytale strings and the spoken-word recollections of Klein's friend, Diamond Stingily, the American artist and poet, and daughter of iconic house vocalist Byron, who talks about a childhood preoccupation with death and the adult pains of earthbound bodies. At the EP's midpoint is "Born," a skeletal 4/4 track constructed mainly of glitchy static and unsettling drones, accompanied only by occasional weeping and what sounds like a gun being cocked.
"I wanted to make a track that sounded like it could be played at a techno club," she said, "but I wanted it to communicate the feeling of, like, having a teenage meltdown in a club environment... [CC] spiraled into me delving into relationships within myself or relationships with certain people. 'Apologize' is me upset, like, 'I'm out. I won't do this again.' Then when the beat comes in it's almost uplifting. Actually the most uplifting is the most spirally song, 'Ex Play.' It sounds like a carousel [and I'm] like, 'I just want to cry, man, I just want to die.' I found notes in my phone of me being like, 'I hate everything,' and I was like, 'Imagine if I repeated that, and just manifested it.' So, 'Ex Play' is very much about depression and trying to deal with that, but in the same breath being like, 'I don't give a damn, because I'm lit!' It's the happiest carousel beat I've ever made. It's just so dumb, because you hear the song and you, like, want to twerk."