KISSY Sell Out made his name by mixing records for the likes of Gwen Stefani, Calvin Harris, Mark Ronson, Sugababes, Groove Armada and Human League when he was only 21 years old and still studying his first degree at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
His name exploded across the global festival circuit with his frantic and electrifying DJ style, leading him onto hosting one of the most popular specialist shows in BBC Radio 1 history, the “Kissy Klub” between 2007 and 2012.
We caught up with him to find out more about his 11 year career, his new KSO moniker, the underground and his new label Stepper Man.
Hi Kissy – we often ask people to introduce themselves with five essential facts, but considering your 11 year career in the industry, how about you pick the five ‘Kissy Sell Out’ moments that you’re most proud of as an artist?
Wow big question! Hard to pick these, but I’d say supporting The Prodigy at Wembley, my first San City High Records tour (which included the early days of my Kissy Klub nights at Sankey’s/Plug/Stylus), composing music for the 2012 Olympics, debating against Stephen Fry at Cambridge University and on the BBC News, and lastly, I still chuckle to myself about ending my Ibiza sets with a drum’n’bass remix of the ‘Maid Marian and Her Merry Men’ theme tune!
Everyone talks about branding and how important it is in the music industry these days – do you agree?
I’m not sure I’d exactly describe it as “branding” as I think that’s a bit of a corporate way to analyse the best job I can ever imagine having. Despite that though, I do think it’s incredibly important to be different and excel in doing things that make you special and stand-out from the crowd.
How would you describe the ‘Kissy Sell Out’ brand?
I guess I find that a bit hard to answer, simply because I still think of “Kissy Sell Out” as just being me – rather than a brand per se. I originally came up with the name because I wanted to take a shot at doing the one thing I’d always dreamed about, making music for a living, before I locked into a job being a professional designer in London. I was only 21 when my career exploded, meaning I was still at Central Saint Martin’s art college. I had practised making tunes and DJing since I was about 12 years old, and I adored everything to do with dance music, but by that point in my life it just seemed like a pipe-dream. Using a small amount of inheritance money from my Grandmother to press a record of my own was more a rite of passage rather than something I actually thought would break me into the mainstream DJ world. “Kissy” came from a dream I’d had once, and the “Sell Out” part was totally ironic – I couldn’t have been less of a sell-out, but since I was still a misfit back then (even at art college), I chose the name as a way of protecting myself from anything negative people might’ve said about the music I felt so passionate about.
When my career started, I was able to finally come out of my shell and become the person I’d always wanted to be, realising that it’s the things that make you different which in turn end up making you special.
So, I guess there is a kind of philosophy behind the Kissy Sell Out name – the passionate side of which has always been prominent every day of my career – but mostly it’s just an expression of me, making the most of every moment and sharing those moments with wonderful people all over the world.
You’ve recently been releasing under a different name as KSO – what was the decision behind this?
I think after a decade of making music, five albums down the line and managing a record label, I started to lose a bit of focus with what I wanted to achieve next creatively. Having made an indie-electro album and toured with a live band, composed my follow-up album almost entirely with classical instruments, and then moved into more direct dancefloor bangers, it was quite tough to focus on a new direction without being a little intimidated by my own past adventures.
Using the KSO moniker solved a lot of creative issues for me almost immediately – especially when propagating out from my new label Stepper Man at the same time. I like that it’s not much of a mystery what “KSO” stands for, but at the same time it meant my music could come out with the baggage of expectations based on my previous projects.
I have always talked about how important I think it is to take risks with the music you make – and I am very much still doing that – but the narrative line from my previous music to my forthcoming KSO album material (out in 2018) is an exciting leap that I hope will surprise people even when they don’t realise it’s me.
Looking through Beatport, there are new genres and sub-genres popping up every day; everyone seems determined to label the music they’re making and listening to – do you?
Yes, I get asked all the time about the genres thing. Answer is, I quite like labelling things to be honest! In fact, if anything, I don’t think there’s enough on Beatport. If you take the recent activity in the bass house scene for example, it is very hard to find many of the tunes in charts and features. It isn’t “bassline”, it isn’t “electronica”, it isn’t “house”, and it definitely isn’t “deep house” either – so it’s quite confusing when I have to submit tracks to my distributors when I’m donning my label manager hat.
I guess when people don’t like using genres to describe their music is it perhaps because they consider the terms to be a bit stale, but something I love about dance music in particular is how much genres ebb and flow as producers spawn new ideas and innovate with the types of sounds as time passes by. Again, bassline garage has had a huge kick up the arse in the last few years and is currently the most vibrant and exciting area of electronic music in my opinion.
I also think that the heritage of dance music is incredibly important and should always be studied and respected by people dipping their toes into dance music production. As a British DJ, I think that many genres of music that have sprung from UK soil are some of our finest exports.
While we’re talking about labels – the ‘underground’ tag is one which gets thrown around a lot, almost as a badge of honour to some. Here’s a big one for you: do you think the underground still exists?
Yes, I absolutely think it does. In fact, I still consider some things I do to be underground, to be honest! To me, underground kinda means home-grown projects without outside investment. It is when new ideas or movements in a scene begin to spread (often principally by word-of-mouth or community collaboration) and mutate before either going mainstream or further mutating again.
Therefore, underground music doesn’t necessarily have a particular sound or thought process behind it, it is more of a breeding ground for new ideas.
Let’s quickly talk about your new label, Stepper Man – what can we expect from that moving into 2018?
I am currently putting the finishing touches to my sixth artist album, releasing it as KSO. There is a clear theme running through the album which pays homage to the early jungle music of Aphrodite and Mickey Finn, but an edgier bassline style and tempo which I think has enough character to bang on the dancefloor without falling into the generic footsteps of what a bass record should sound like right now.
There are also some high profile collaborators working on the last few tunes as I write this, but it’s a little too early to reveal who they are at the moment.
And lastly – how about Kissy Sell Out? What should we be looking out for from you?
Having been so hands-on with my Stepper Man label this year, I’m looking forward to doing more international dates in 2018 as there are a lot of places I haven’t been able to visit for a while. I am getting gigs in my diary both as Kissy Sell Out and KSO at the moment, so that will be a fun adventure. I’m still very much “Kissy” at heart though, and I always wear my heart on my sleeve, so right now I’m most excited about seeing where this made journey will take me next!