Since bursting onto the techno scene back in the mid-90s, Inigo Kennedy has built a reputation for deep, melodic (and sometimes melancholic) techno, influenced by the synthpop, shoegaze and indie sounds that the North London producer was raised on.
In 1999, he launched the Asymetric label, one of the most influential techno imprints of the early Millennium, and an avenue for Kennedy to build a reputation for both four-to-the-floor stompers and experimental electronica. Asymetric was an early adopter of new music formats, shifting to digital back in 2004, before coming to a ‘natural end’ in 2012.
Kennedy has kept busy in the years since, most notably through his longstanding alliance with Token Records, which stretches to more than decade, and saw the release of two long players, 2014’s Vaudeville and 2018’s Strata.
The past year and a half offered Kennedy an unanticipated amount of studio time, the net result of which is a rebirth of the Asymetric label, with the first new release, the Recovery Mode EP, unveiled in July, which has been followed by a new album Eyes Closed In The Sun.
909originals caught up with him.
Hi Inigo, thanks for talking to us. Why was the time right for you to relaunch Asymmetric Records?
It was definitely overdue and things just came together in terms of having music I wanted to release, having the feeling there was a gap Asymmetric could fill and wanting to reestablish the name and sound because I think it’s truest to me.
What were the circumstances that led you to call a halt to the label a decade or so ago?
It wasn’t much of a purposeful decision, and was more or less because things started to happen working with Token, and my focus shifted to that. Obviously that relationship grew a lot over the years and was a really good path to travel.
How are you positioning the label since relaunch, and how is your approach going to differ to how you operated the label the first time out?
Musically, I hope the label achieves the same as before and sticks to my distinctive take on techno and electronic music. I’m hoping to focus a bit more on people knowing about it although everything is operating in a bit of a vacuum at the moment given the ongoing pandemic.
Asymmetric has always been a label that a small group of people are really fanatical about and it would be nice to grow that a bit and for more people to discover it. Asymmetric has moved and changed in the past already, originally being vinyl-only and then I embraced a ‘netlabel’ philosophy for quite a while in its digital incarnation.
I’m definitely not ruling out vinyl in the future either but will certainly focus on the digital side for now.
There are signs that things are returning to normal after the pandemic (hopefully). How has the last year and a half been for you, personally? Was it a productive period?
There are signs, but there is a long way to go yet. It might be an age thing but I think there are huge issues with anxiety and mental health that will take a long time to recover. The fact that things are open or possible, doesn’t make them a good idea or easy.
I’m very thankful for being vaccinated and living in a place that feels like it is inching back towards better times. The past year and a half has been quite a struggle although I’m aware of being in a pretty privileged and lucky situation compared with a huge part of the world.
Juggling family, home schooling, home working and other stresses and strains has not been easy for anyone and I was amazed to find that I had been quite productive at the same time and had made quite a lot of music.
It’s exhausting not to feel like you have your own space or time and for months and months on end, though. Making music is quite cathartic when the chance arises, but those chances have been hard to come by. Even more so is the way gigs and travel allow you to let off steam and step out of the grind, and that’s obviously been completely taken away.
My wife has had a difficult time out of work and any sense of normality but amazingly turned to art also and has done some brilliant stuff – the artwork on the new Asymmetric releases uses her work – and made a success from it.
I suppose it has also been quite a productive period in terms of finally succumbing to doing some long overdue things. I sold off a lot of my old studio hardware that had been in storage for years, and a lot of old vinyl too.
We presume that your most recent release, Recovery Mode, was largely composed during lockdown. Was it difficult to create dancefloor-oriented music when all the clubs were closed?
Yes, most of the tracks from Recovery Mode and the Eyes Closed In The Sun album have been made in the past year or so. I’ve always been a producer, before DJ or even going to clubs, so I don’t find it difficult to create dancefloor-orientated music as that’s only part of the driving force to what I do.
You’ve been closely aligned with Token Records ever since Asymmetric was ‘paused’ – do you plan to keep working with them in the future?
There’s no reason to think not, although I’m keen to focus on a few more releases with Asymmetric at the moment. It was largely after a quite long chat with Kr!z, who runs Token, that I decided to work on relaunching Asymmetric in fact.
You can see that Token is broadening its horizon with some new names and sounds too so that works well. I get the sense people are curious for another Inigo Kennedy release on Token, though!
It’s 25 years since you broke on the scene with The Bond EP and Urban Society. How has your approach to production changed since then, and are there any traits that you employed back then that have stuck with you over the years?
I’m not sure that my approach has, although the set up surely has. I’ve always worked quickly, always recorded tracks to a single stereo master, always performed rather than designed tracks, always made the most of happy accidents and always been attracted to slightly less obvious outlier options when it comes to kit.
I like the analogy of photography, in that I learned to take photos with a film camera, my dad’s Canon AE-1, and it taught me the technical and creative fundamentals of picture taking without endless and bewildering options. Every shot had a cost!
In the same way, I learned to make music with hardware, saved up to buy equipment, learned the technical and creative fundamentals, and learned how to use and abuse the few things I had.
I made my own stuff too: mixers and filters, and later plugins and so on. That ethos is always there in how I work I think.
I’ve certainly learned how to make things that sound better with the benefit of sitting in on mastering sessions, hearing how music behaves in club environments and so on and of course simply from improvements in the hardware and software available.
It took me quite a long time to switch from hardware to working more or less in the box as I couldn’t find a way to perform or control the sound without breaking the flow. It also took a long time for software to reach a point where it was viable.
Clearly there are traits that stand the test of time, because more often than not my tracks are instantly recognisable as being mine – although I’m not quite sure how.
Your 2018 album Strata featured both peak-time and downtempo moments. As your production career has progressed, are you more eager to experiment with more ambient styles as well as techno?
Not at all, that’s always been the case and maybe best illustrated with the wide variety of tracks that the Asymmetric back catalogue covers.
Over the 21 Asymmetric digital releases, between 2004 and 2012, there were dozens of tracks that are most definitely not peak-time or that fit easily into neat genre holes. Before that, the vinyl releases on Asymmetric, from 1999 to 2004, were always full of oddballs too. That’s always been the agenda for Asymmetric and why I think it is the truest reflection of me.
Of course, when working with other labels things need to be slightly less risky, if that’s the right word, and fit with the spirit of those labels. Peak-time tracks will almost always be a better bet.
Where do you draw your inspiration from, as a producer?
It’s hard to say, although as a city dweller with a history of being into melancholic music, that has to play a large part of it. There are some clear influences to my music from what I grew up being really into – from synth pop, through indie and shoegaze to electronica and IDM.
Whether those inspirations are because you seek out music that fits your character, or the music you discover is what shapes your character, is a good one for discussion.
As the world emerges from the pandemic, is there anything that you think will be different about the dance/electronic music scene? Or anything that you would like to be different?
It’s impossible to say really but inevitably the shock waves will resound for quite some time. Things change anyway and have been changing for a long time as far as the scene is concerned; not necessarily in a healthy way either.
I’m sure the ‘break’ will reset some thinking or aspirations but I suspect inertia will have its unstoppable part to play. I’m sure inboxes will still be filled with forgettable promos too, although I hope that doesn’t include mine!
In the UK we have the added fun of Brexit to throw into the equation as well, both practically and as a society, and that’s largely being masked by the pandemic in my opinion. I’d like that to be different.
What’s next for both yourself and the Asymmetric label? Do you plan to delve into the archive and revisit/rework some of the old tracks?
I have a growing mountain of new material, so there will definitely be some more Asymmetric releases in the coming months but it’s certainly crossed my mind to revisit some of the old tracks too.
That said, I remastered all the old Asymmetric vinyl and digital releases last year and which are now on my Bandcamp. Same goes for my old Reducer and Tomito Satori releases. It’s amazing to see how the Reducer releases are still working so well. I’m not sure that people realise how old that stuff is, but that’s great!
I have a giant archive of material on cassettes and all sorts from many years ago and there are definitely some gems in there and that’s another project in the back of my head for a rainy day.
It would also be really nice to play music loudly for people in a dark space again, that’s for sure. That connection is an important one.
[Thanks Inigo for chatting to us. Main photo by John Younge]