Possessing a music style that’s been described as ‘the photographic negative of a peak-time banger’, Swedish DJ and electronic producer Kornél Kovács has spent the last decade carefully forging a name for himself across Europe and beyond. Whilst heading up his beloved house and left-field pop label Studio Barnhus, upon which he releases the majority of his music, Kornél Kovács has become globally renowned for his alternative electronic sounds, first surfacing with his Swedish Grammy winning debut album back in 2016. Fast forward six years, the Stockholm DJ releases his third full length project entitled Hotel Koko.
Drafting in the likes of Matt Karmil to help record the album and jazz musician Niclas Skagstedt to enhance the music, Kornél Kovács takes no chances, showcasing yet another high-quality project. Taking the listener on a journey of varying tempos and sounds, from the super-speed jungle influence of “Goofy”, to the more experimental frenzy of “Szakad’, Kornél Kovács shows a new side, shifting the focus away from himself and instead creating a dichotomy of some of his most accessible AND most experimental compositions to date. Flexing his versatility, the Swedish DJ knows no bounds and delivers one of the most exciting projects of 2022. We caught up with him about his new release.
Congratulations on your new album! How are you feeling ahead of release?
Thanks! Yeah, feeling excited for it to soon be out there. It’s the usual ping-pong match between hubris and impostor syndrome at the moment.
Your new project is called Hotel Koko. Where did the inspiration for the name come from?
I just like having some little concept going on for any record I make, be it a very vague one, or one for just myself to know about. I think I was drawn to the idea of a fictional place or thing with this one, after having done two albums that felt very introspective in different ways. Just as I was starting to think about a new album, I found this note I’d written for some friends a few years back when they came round to stay at my flat in Stockholm, while I was away touring. It was just some basic instructions about the flat, wi-fi password and where the weed is hidden etc, but I’d made it look like a stationary for a “Hotel Koko”, Koko being my nickname among these friends. I’ve done a record for my Scottish friends over at Numbers called Radio Koko before, so it fell into place naturally. I started talking to my girlfriend Nora who, together with her friend Frida, runs the creative agency Nuda that did all the visual stuff for this album, about a strange imaginary hotel and how that concept might fit into an album, musically and visually. I began thinking about the tracks as hotel rooms and so forth.
How have you found the overall journey in bringing this project to life?
Easy-breezy. No nervous breakdowns at all, not sure where you heard that? I worked again with my trusted friends and musical partners Matt Karmil and Niclas Skagstedt at various stages in the process, in studios in Stockholm, Berlin and Tetbury, did a lot of music of which only about half ended up on the album, dug out a bunch of old sketches from as far back as 2017. There are a few releases still to come from these sessions, I guess.
How would you describe the album to someone who hasn’t listened to it yet?
If they’d heard my previous albums I’d say it’s a bit like a mix of those two, maybe? I try to make tracks that are strange and fun and good in some way so I hope these are indeed all that. There are more direct pop moments on this than on any of my previous releases but also some of the most experimental stuff I’ve made.
What were the main inspirations? Both music-related and non-music related.
Some musical references that came up while I was working on this were Todd Edwards, Swedish post punk outfit bob hund, Glaswegian happy hardcore DJ Scott Brown, early Kompakt Records, Shy FX’s 00’s output and Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85–92. A non-music related reference was Twitter account @spaceliminalbot.
In what ways, would you say, does this new album differ to your previous long-form projects?
Well, there’s that earlier mentioned thing about it being both the poppiest and the most experimental of my albums so far. Maybe that’s true. I also think it’s simpler in a way, more focused and straight to the point. It’s got a few different vocalists on it, as opposed to none on The Bells and all Rebecca & Fiona on Stockholm Marathon.
Prior to release, you’ve dropped a couple of initial teasers — “Get Goofy” and “Follow You”. What has the reception been like for these tracks?
It’s been great, I was vaguely worried that no-one would “get” Get Goofy but it really seems to have a struck a chord with people, and I’ve never released anything that’s been so popular in its first weeks as Follow You, which, of course, is to the larger part thanks to Aluna and her prominence and brilliancy. It’s horrible to value music by numbers in this way but it still feels good when one of your tracks does well, you knos.
Both of these tracks boast features from MishCatt and Aluna. How did these specific features come about?
With Michelle it actually started as a pretty straight-forward remix request, from her label, for her hit single Goofy, which is really nice. I think they might have expected a house remix of sorts but I sent them an early version of what ended up on this album, so like 170 bpm pop jungle mania. Like all my best remixes it got rejected by the label, but luckily they allowed me to keep working on it and include it on my album.
With Aluna it was the fastest and sweetest thing – I was hanging out in LA in-between US gigs and a mutual friend of ours suggested I’d go over to her studio downtown and say hi. None of us had heard of the other at the time. I played her the instrumental of Follow You, which I’d done a few days earlier in Stockholm, and she just started cracking at it right away, coming up with melodies, writing down lyrics in a notebook with this huge quill. All the vocals were recorded on the spot in a few takes. We went for a coffee and I took a cab back to Bel Air. I haven’t seen her since.
What’s your process for deciding features? Is it normally something you have in mind right at the beginning of the process or a natural progression during and throughout production?
Both MishCatt and Aluna were pretty random I guess. I believe that if I just stay open and follow the music I’ll meet the right musical collaborators this way. Kamohelo from Off The Meds is another featured artist on the album, we’re good friends, from working on OTM stuff on Studio Barnhus and he’s also emceed for me a few times in Stockholm. One time he was just whistling over the whole set, sounded amazing.
Out of the nine tracks on the album, can you tell us a few tracks to look out for?
It’s not that long, might as well look out for them all… They’re all my equally loved children, but my favorites today are Piano House because it’s cute and Szakad because it entirely re-invents the genre of UK Garage by means of messing with the master tempo setting in Ableton Live.
The project is releasing on your very own Studio Barnhus label which is thriving! Where do you hope to take the label over the next couple of years and any exciting upcoming releases to look out for?
We’re working on so many things all the time. At the moment we have releases from Bella Boo and Nikki Nair in the pipeline. I’ve been caught up in this album for a bit now and it’s getting old so I’m more excited than ever to work with the label I think. The future is bright.
What’s next for you? Time to chill? Or on to the next quest?
Always on to the next one. As mentioned I’m really excited to work on some upcoming Studio Barnhus releases, both in terms of studio work and in more of an A&R or label manager role, together with Axel and Petter. I’ve got fun gigs coming up, including an all-nighter in London on November 4, some US dates and a tour of Australia and New Zealand around NYE. I’m also working on a book, an anthology that looks at dance music from what I hope is an interesting and novel perspective, and I’m starting a subscription service of sorts, for recordings that I do. Of course there’s all that material from the Hotel Koko sessions still left to finalize and release as well. Let’s go!