Digging Deeper with FBK

Author : Marco Sgalbazzini
April 11, 2019

Digging Deeper with FBK

American producer FBK returns to Rekids with his debut album entitled More Stories From The Future.

Long-term house and techno heavyweight, Kevin M. Kennedy aka FBK has a career spanning three decades. Debuting with a seminal release on Frictional in ’97, Kennedy went on to appear on labels like diametric. and Urban Kickz, whilst more recent releases have landed on Barba Records, Suspected (alongside Paul Mac) and Rekids – kick-starting the label’s Special Projects series. With a close bond to Detroit greats like Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir, Daniel Bell, Claude Young, Keith Tucker and Sherard Ingram (DJ Stingray), FBK is considered a true contemporary. Returning to Rekids for his inaugural long player, ‘More Stories From The Future’ demonstrates his versatility within the studio and mirrors his genre-bending approach to performing, both as a DJ and live act.

‘Modular Life’ brings deep resonating lows, liquid pads and clinical percussion, before the psychedelic vocals of ‘I’ll Sit Back, You’ll Jack’ join smashing snares and intensifying synths. Exhibiting erratic sound design, ‘Layers of Fear’ comes complete with pumping drums and intense hi-hats, until ‘Hassling’ offers a stepping groove, thick pad stabs and deep sub movement. ‘Headless’ gets modular heavy with bubbling effects and shuffling rhythm, preceding the driving kicks of ‘Gate Closing’ where ghostly vocals meet enveloping acid growls. ‘The Boxing Lesson’ delivers punchy kicks and steppy snares under lofty atmospherics, ending on ‘The Finisher’s Heart’ where evolving detuned synths flow over powerful percussion.

We sat down with Kevin to talk about his career, the album, and much more.

Hi great to speak with you, Kevin. Your career spans three decades. What were your early musical influences?

First of all, thank you for your time! My earliest influences come from my family. My mother always played music in the home and encouraged my exploration…hearing late 70s disco, R&B like Luther Vandross’ ‘Searching’ and growing up with gospel music. I started playing clarinet as a youth and got interested in classical music and early minimalism like Phillip Glass and John Adams from listening to public radio. Getting the gift of a shortwave radio when I was 9 helped me find a whole different world of sound. Then I got into skateboarding and hardcore whilst hearing early hip hop, and all the sounds coming from Detroit and Chicago while breakdancing at the Boys Club. My ears were always open to hearing everything I could!

At what point did you decide to dive in headfirst into music as a career path and was it a difficult choice at the time in Columbus, Ohio?

I was heavily involved in the arts as a youth, being in youth choirs, youth orchestras. Then around 1990 I met Eric Weaver and became a member of a rap group called Poets of Heresy, we recorded and performed together for 6 years and got looked at by major labels like Sony. I guess that was the point where I decided that this was a career path to go down. That time period was interesting here because Columbus was being called ‘the next Seattle’ so there were scouts and agents abound and we were rubbing shoulders with bands like The New Bomb Turks, Guided by Voices and opening for De La Soul and Public Enemy. I wanted that level of fame, and I thought I could get there…

With releases on some of house & techno’s most important labels over the years, would it be possible to talk through your personal career highlights?

I started making techno in 1994, after buying all the wrong equipment to make hip-hop. I spent a year collecting tunes and recording onto cassette and reel-to-reel and handed Paul Johnson, Daniel Bell and Ambient producer DAC Crowell an hour long tape of tracks in June 1995. This got me to learn from each, including working in DAC’s legendary studio and doing a weeklong session with Dan inside of the old KMS building.

My first release on vinyl was 1996 on Charles Noel’s (Monochrome/Archetype) 21/22 Corporation label, which was put on the Acid Junkie’s mix called “The Acid Life volume 1,” which I did as Powerhouse. I met Derrick Thompson of Soiree Records shortly after and gave him a demo which he loved and put out as the first release on Xplor. This got me some very good press and I charted around the world under the name The Sleep Engineer. I met Anthony Shakir during that time, as he and Dan were playing in Ohio often (along with me), and finally gave him some tunes that he put out on Frictional, including a track in 6/4 time, one in 11 and one in 5/4 on the B side which I don’t know if anyone in Techno has ever done in combination.

The A side of that record was recorded in my home with Shake helping and guiding the mix. A long gap ensued where I performed and recorded but had no releases for 11 years. Paul Mac put out a digital release for me on his Sula Muse imprint, which got the attention of Arne Weinberg, who put out two records of mine on Diametric. The first had a tune called ‘Nanomal’ that piqued the interest of Marcel Dettmann, and got placed on his ‘Conducted’ mix and started our friendship. I met Matt Edwards while we both were playing in Detroit doing a B2B together at a CLR after party. During all this, I started working with James Johnson who I’ve known for over 20 years and we still work together as The Fallen (we just had our first full EP on DMT Records in France), and have played on both coasts of the US together. Then getting Claude Young to do a remix for me on Burek, and having my Frictional record considered a ‘classic…’ Not bad for a guy from Columbus!

So we’re really excited about your forthcoming album on Matt Edward’s seminal label Rekids. A couple of years ago you kicked off the Rekids Special Projects label offshoot. How did your relationship with Rekids begin?

I met Matt through Marcel Dettmann when they were playing together for a Chris Leibing afterparty. I kept in touch with him and found out what an amazing human being he is, as well as a phenomenal producer. I finally got the courage to send him some of my music, which after some consideration he asked if I’d be interested in being on the label. When he told me about the Rekids Special Projects, I was excited that I was going to be first, as I’ve only been release #1 on one other imprint (XPLOR).

I’m really proud of that record and it’s led to Matt and I having a very good working relationship as well as Rekids being a current home for my work! The team has been nothing but great to me and I’m humbled to have such a legendary artist as a friend and as a supporter!

Your full album release on the main imprint called ‘More Stories From The Future’ contains eight cuts. This is your first album after many years releasing EPs. What made you want to release an album, and what does this LP mean to you?

Honestly, I had always wanted to do an album, but for some reason things never panned out. My first album was supposed to be on Jay Denham’s Black Nation imprint, but that coincided with many of the distribution houses going bust in 2001-02 and the label having a hiatus. I’ve looked at albums as a book, whereas an EP is kind of a short story or a compilation of short stories. This album being released in my 25th year of being in techno is probably one of the most exciting things that has happened in my career, and another milestone that I’ve achieved. I have so much more to do, but this was a ‘bucket list’ item for me and I’m so very proud to be doing it now as a more mature artist. Early success can stunt your growth as a producer, and looking back, I feel like it’s perfect to do this now.

How did the process differ in comparison to your previous releases? Did you have any struggles creatively while compiling a larger album?

The process of creating a full length record was a mind-bending challenge for me. Knowing that it would be on vinyl added to the mental challenge, as I was not only trying to get a good sequence, but trying to get the math right on length of sides. It was a giant challenge for me! I spent a few months writing the first version of the album making the attempt to do something ‘different.’ Matt gave me advice after hearing the first version of the album that made me realize I was trying too hard. I needed to sound like ME. The biggest challenge was making a cohesive thought that would capture as much of my output and influences as I could…and I feel like I’ve done that here. I’m very proud of this collection.

If you could be in the studio for a week with any producer dead or alive, who would it be?

I’ve been so fortunate to spend some time with many legendary producers in their studios, for example Claude Young, Dan Bell, Shake, Rob Hood… but if I got to spend a week with someone? Conny Plank. I am a huge fan of bands like Neu! and CAN and have had the opportunity to meet Michael Rother and talk with the late Holger Czukay…so working with the late Conny Plank would be super cool.

Could you name your top five favorite tracks you’ve been mixing over the past year?

Plural – Eyes Up – Urban Kickz Recordings (UKR 150)

The Fallen – The FleX – DMT Records (DMT019)

Mark Broom – EFB – Rekids (Rekids 132)

Interferon – No Trust – Wrongnotes (WN011)

Marcel Videla – $5 Scratch Off – Anode Records (AN042)

Going back through your Facebook videos, there are some amazing videos from your live sets in Akron, Ohio. How would you compare live performance to DJing?

For me, live performance is probably my favourite way of expressing myself. I started performing live in the early 90s and realized that it was different from playing records, because everything that happens in a live performance is your own thought and expression. It’s a different way of making people dance, knowing that what you are doing in the moment is compelling the crowd to move to your beat. It’s the closest any electronic musician can get to being a live band. I love to DJ because I’m able to play my recordings and edits that I make, but playing live gives me the platform to create things on the fly that I wouldn’t normally do in a studio session.

Would you take us through the gear in your live set-up?

I switched from Abelton to Bitwig last year as my main sequencer (thanks to Mea and the team at Bitwig!), but I have always preferred a ‘hybrid’ setup. I use my Mutable Instruments Shruthi-1 in all of my live sets (I built it myself). Depending on what I’m feeling, I’ll usually carry one other instrument, either my Novation Circuit, Modal Instruments SKULPT or my Arturia Drumbrute. Honestly, the third member of the team rotates all the time, but Bitwig and the Shruthi are always constants. Each show is a little different, and I always want it to be that way. Unique experiences for each unique venue.

You’re making your very first trip to Berlin. What do you have planned there? Have you got any bucket list places to visit?

I am so excited about visiting the EU for the very first time!!! I’m playing 10 May at Greissmuhle for “Rave to the Grave”, so I’m really excited about it being my very first international performance after 25 years. I hope to visit many of my friends while I’m there, and see the Olympic Stadium and Jesse Owens Strasse (as Jesse Owens went to Ohio State University in Columbus and has a stadium very close to my home). I want to visit France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, England and the UK…and I sincerely want to see the rest of the world as Australia and Japan would be awesome as well. Wherever my music has been played, I really want to go!

What do you do in your down time when you are not producing music?

I have been doing mastering work for a few digital imprints, I love repairing and building electronics and I’m a trained chef and former restaurateur. I also love playing golf, though I’m garbage at the sport. I am also an avid boxing fan.

Following the release or your album, what can we next expect from FBK?

I am working on the relaunch of my digital label, Absoloop. I’m hopefully looking to do more international dates (if you’re interested, I’m available!) and hopefully releasing a set of my ‘lost tunes’ that have been recently been found and remastered. I’m constantly exploring the world of sound, and I want to remain consistent with putting music out in the world that people will enjoy, as well as entertain the world through my DJing and live efforts.

Thanks so much for talking to us! Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish?

I want to thank 6AM group for taking the time to interview me, and of course I’d like to say a giant THANK YOU for all the people who’ve supported me over the last 25 years! Nobody makes it on their own. The key to making it this long is consistency and continuous evolution, and working when nobody is looking. I hope to see some of you on the road soon!

FBK’s More Stories From The Future is now out on Rekids and available HERE