Northern Irish, Rotterdam-based artist and DJ Kessler has spent the last few years finely tuning and honing his unique sound, whilst garnering a huge amount of attention across the International electronic music scene. Boasting a plethora of high-quality releases on labels such as Shall Not Fade, Club Glow and Born Sleepy, Kessler is fast becoming one of the hottest acts in Europe, confirmed by his debut entry at the esteemed Dekmantel festival this summer and last years DJ Mag nomination for Breakthrough Producer Of The Year. Also returning to this years AVA Festival, who have just announced their monumental line-up and ticket release, Kessler is not one to slow down and we managed to catch up with the in-form artist about the his whirlwind 2021 and what he has in store for the rest of the year.
“I try to avoid using genres when it comes to defining my music, as I see them as limitations. Much of my sound crosses over a lot, and is in some ways a hybrid or collaboration of influences.”
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you originally got into music?
I am one of three sons to Ghanaian and Belarussian parents, born & raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, when my parents migrated there in the 90s. When they split up, I had some spells of living between there and London. My family was never really musical but of course having African roots I was exposed to a lot good music from a young age. My mother is a big fan of Latin American and Jazz music, which I hold close to my heart also, and my brothers introduced me to R&B, Hip Hop and Electronic music. Being the youngest of three, I learned a lot from them and their tastes, like when we drove around in the car playing CDs & hearing tracks boom from their old Hi-Fi systems. Some friends and I got in to playing guitar, so I delved a lot into classic rock, metal & blues and acoustic folk music before electronic stuff. My eldest brother Louis used to spin records, the first time I touched a pair was at his birthday party around 10 years ago. I must have spent 3 hours straight trying to beatmatch on Serato and I remember finally getting it, much to my family’s dismay, it was an amazing feeling. From there I caught the bug for DJing and got hooked on house, techno, disco, drum & bass & dubstep.
To someone who’s just discovered you, how would you describe your overall sound and direction?
I try to avoid using genres when it comes to defining my music, as I see them as limitations. Much of my sound crosses over, and is in some ways a hybrid or collaboration of influences. Sometimes its melancholy & atmospheric, other times its dark, driving & ruthless. The common denominator is a fusion of special sound design, heavy on the bass & breakbeat rhythms.
Hailing from Northern Ireland, what’s the scene over there saying at the moment and what’s it like going back to play?
It’s so great to see how the scene in Belfast is still pushing sounds from outside the box. For a while it was just techno techno techno, and that can get boring as fuck. Major props go to the likes of Plain Sailing, Crilli & Twitch for continuously breaking the mould. Diversity is exactly what the city has always needed, more garage, more grime, more breaks, more leftfield shit.
Now residing in Rotterdam, how come the switch and what are the pros and cons compared to Northern Ireland?!
The idea behind it was really just to experience a change of scenery & explore other cultures whilst I’m young. Rotterdam might not be the final stop, I could maybe see myself in London or Berlin next for example, just a bit of a nomad life until I settle down, but for now I’m loving it here. From a music standpoint, I wanted to experience something different, a bigger pond with more variety. I felt like I was losing my focus in Belfast and the nights out were becoming a bit samey samey. As much as I love Belfast and its inhabitants, its been a breathe of fresh air to have all these new experiences, meet new people and hear their stories, which resulted in a bit more inspiration. One con would obviously be the language, but I’ve been slowly learning Dutch & getting pretty good! Gezellig he?
You had a super busy 2021, including a nomination for DJ Mag’s Breakthrough Producer Of The Year! In terms of personal success, do you ever sit back and appreciate what you’re doing or are you more of a head down, don’t stop person?
There are definitely moments where you can do that, but I am always chasing the next project. I struggle sometimes to even finish tracks because I’ve been working at it for so long. Last year was definitely a great one despite all the shite going on in the world, and I was just grateful to have achieved so much, but there is still a helluva lot more to tick off the list. I didn’t think I would win the DJ Mag award but it was still nice to be considered.
A personal highlight was your afternoon set at Boiler Room x AVA last year which showcased some killer hits (personal fav the Rhythm & Gash flip). Where would this rank in your live performances so far and do you hold back at all for daytime sets?
Yeah, that was a bucket list tick for sure. I remember feeling nervous as fuck before it and then it was over in a flash and I was just so happy to have done it on home soil with all my mates & family there. Other than that, playing at Sherelle’s night at fabric in November, taking the reins from the legend Luke Vibert is one I’ll cherish for a long time. Also, my first ever live set in Rotterdam for the Triphouse collective, on a glorious sunny day with the docks as the backdrop.
You’re also donning a Club Glow T-shirt which you’re a close family member of. Can you tell us more about the collective and how your relationship came about?
Yes, big up the crew. All of the guys are legends and really talented! I was always a longtime fan before we linked up. Got in touch with Nick (Mani Festo) on Instagram after he supported my Yellow Island release, and we started sharing some bits with each other. I expressed my interest in releasing on Club Glow one day and we went from there, AK Sports & I delivered a pretty stellar breaks & rave compilation! I had always been a fan of the whole collective’s sound as individual artists and grabbed every release so was really nice to get to know all the lads. We worked together remotely due to covid but was nice to finally get a chance to meet Denham Audio when he came to play in Rotterdam a few weeks back. We spun together back-to-back and had a blast in the booth and we have got a date in the books for us all to meet up this year so keep your eyes out for that!
You’ve just been announced to play at the esteemed Dekmantel festival in Amsterdam, congrats! How does it feel to be playing there?
As something I imagined eight years ago at one of my first festival experiences, it’s quite difficult to sum up just how special it feels. Dek was one of the reasons I moved out to the Netherlands, so you can imagine I hold it pretty close to the heart. I went there 5 times before covid and made some great friends & memories (the ones I can remember clearly anyways).
How are you going to prepare for a set of this magnitude and can you give us any clues as to what we can expect from your set?
It’s always 50/50. 50% prepared, 50% winging it. Just kidding, but in all seriousness, I never like to plan a set too much, otherwise it feels too programmed. All I know is that I’m going IN as its probably the biggest set of my career so far.
Assuming you’ll have some time to spend at the festival, who else on the line up would you like to see the most?
Where do you even start? Squarepusher, Batu, Hessle Audio, Sherelle, Yasin Bey, Sully & Coco Bryce… I could go on and on!
What have you got planned for the rest of summer? Anything exciting?!
Lots of exciting shows coming up in UK & Ireland and Europe, THE annual rave at AVA Festival and heaps of time in the studio, working on new Kessler stuff. More of that coming very shortly by the way.
Quickfire Question: Last…
Last track you listened to?
Ahmad Jamal Trio – Patterns.
Last meal you ate?
Pancakes cooked by mum!
Last meal on earth?
Sticky toffee pudding & a pint of Guinness.
Last tv series you watched from start to finish?
Last time you laughed and why?
Today, because my friend made me.
Last song that made you cry (or nearly cry)?
Darude – Sandstorm.
Last record shop you visited?
Two Sides, Bucharest.
Last vinyl you purchased?
Clifford Brown – The Complete Paris Collection Vol 3.
Last film you watched?
Dolemite is my name.
Last item you bought?
Tulips & snacks for my friend.