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Photo by Evelyn Freja
pw-magazine-vienna-Kilbourne-by-EvelynFreja pw-magazine-vienna-Kilbourne-by-EvelynFreja
Photo by Evelyn Freja
pw-magazine-vienna-Kilbourne-by-EvelynFreja pw-magazine-vienna-Kilbourne-by-EvelynFreja
Photo by Evelyn Freja
pw-magazine-vienna-Kilbourne-by-EvelynFreja pw-magazine-vienna-Kilbourne-by-EvelynFreja
Photo by Evelyn Freja
pw-magazine-vienna-Kilbourne-by-EvelynFreja pw-magazine-vienna-Kilbourne-by-EvelynFreja
Photo by Evelyn Freja
pw-magazine-vienna-Kilbourne-by-EvelynFreja pw-magazine-vienna-Kilbourne-by-EvelynFreja
Photo by Evelyn Freja

Kilbourne: »Awake for Too Long, With Your Feet Aching«

April 10, 2022
Text by Jakob Dibold

The unspeakable in music, moments of revelation, the emotional depth of video games and the secret ingredient for the best hardcore kicks. Kilbourne prioritizes the dancefloor over meta-narratives.

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Photo by Evelyn Freja

Grown up on New Jersey’s Sourland Mountain, Ashe Kilbourne has become a key figure in contemporary hardcore techno. Highly productive over the past two years, her latest EP Cathedrals once more consolidates their reputation as one of the most inventive producers and DJs of the genre. Kilbourne, who also works on the intersection of music and film, shares some of the motivations for their latest release, hints at possible future projects and talks about the potentials of both virtual and physical worlds in relation to music.

On »Cathedrals« you scream out: »this society’s a fucking scandal / this society is fucking sick« – while »Seismic« (2021) is quite melodic, »Pillsurfer« (2020) even dreamy at times, this EP is full-on confrontational and aggressive. Is this a release that addresses the outside world more directly than recent ones before, which seemingly often focused on very personal themes?

When I began working on »Cathedrals« in 2018, I was trying to make a direct, urgent hardcore record. It’s a little less touchy-feely, yes, a little more angry. In songs like »Society Scandal« and »Razor Eater«, I am prioritizing the dancefloor over a meta-narrative; I really wanted to make the music that punches you in the face. Still, it is a very personal record for me. With the title track, I was trying to get at the feeling of awe hardcore techno inspires, the sense of something vast, majestic, and unspeakable in the music, particularly when listening to it in a shared space. If there’s a thesis to this record, it’s probably just that I love this music, and hope others will find similar solace and joy in it as well.

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Photo by Evelyn Freja

On the musical level, though, with an impressive naturalness, you manage to incorporate so many elements and styles, also vocals and metal riffs, it seems one couldn’t really call it straight-forward hardcore. In this context, »this is a New York takeover« may be read as an aim to openly challenge a status quo.

New York hardcore techno is special, it’s often a little more metal than techno, and I think you hear that both in classic 90’s »Industrial Strength« records and in contemporary NYC hardcore crews like Melting Point. It’s extreme music for extreme people, and I think for many people outside of Europe our love of hardcore is often informed by time spent in punk and metal (sub)cultural spaces. DJ Narotic came up with the phrase »This Is A New York Takeover,« but I agree with its implicit challenge: that New York hardcore techno is powerful, destructive, and deserves its moment in the spotlight. Accordingly, that song is super gonzo, lots of old-skool 909’s, death metal riffing, 250 BPM kick drums, et cetera. The New York sound is different than the Dutch sound, the UK sound, the Japanese sound, and so on, and I want to honor that style in the music I make.

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Photo by Evelyn Freja

A couple of years ago, you rescored the movie »Blade« live in form of special screenings, resulting as well in the »Bloodrave« EP, so you examined/experimented with the intersection of club music and cinema. Does your interest in film always influence your actual process of writing music?

I am definitely influenced by film. It’s a great place to hear sound design that’s outside the normal palate for techno. And the goal of music in most films and videos is to drive the non-verbal emotional plot, so it’s often a masterclass in cramming a bunch of drama into a short period of time. Hardcore has a weird relationship with movies because it’s so sample heavy. To me, a lot of older records have a charm when they sample movie dialogue, but many contemporary records are so glammed up that I’m like, why do we need to hear another recycled speech about violence, or man’s purpose, or aliens? Get to the damn kick drum. I myself violate this rule obviously, I love a sample, but recently I’ve been trying to assume the people at a rave provide all the dialogue you need and focus instead on creating something outside the order of language. I did a Q&A last summer and someone asked this great question: is there hardcore without words? Like, we are so overrun with samples, it’s just too much sometimes. Salute to everyone making hardcore without words.

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Photo by Evelyn Freja

Speaking of samples, with Evnika you even named a record after a girl that hits a tree with boxing gloves – which you used as a basis for the kick drums? So, your experimental/interdisciplinary approach is apparent there, too. Additionally, it seems beyond question that your artistic practice does have great theoretical potential as well – you even presented the »Blade« project at Harvard University. Do you have any specific plans on continuing this examination of club music and visual art?

Yes, the kick drums in »Evnika« are partially the sound of Evnika Saadvakaas beating up a tree. The best hardcore kicks sound like someone hitting or getting hit, so I cheated and just used her voice! I don’t think I am unique in this practice, you hear of people sampling all kinds of things for texture in kick drums, a car engine stuttering, a cat meowing, washing machines, and so on. It’s part of the beauty of the genre, everything is fair game. I certainly plan to continue doing interdisciplinary projects. I began something similar to the »Blade« rescore last year, but have not yet finished it, I also contributed sound for a few art installations and a dance piece. My big goal would be doing some kind of audio work for a video game, it is such an interesting media to me, and full of possibility.

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Photo by Evelyn Freja

And, work for a video game especially makes a lot of sense considering that a) there’s more and more video games that are basically hybrids of film/movie and game to be played and b) the open-world trend seems unstoppable and bears a lot of possibilities for music. During Covid lockdowns we also saw online parties/raves in video game-like landscapes. So, maybe just tell me a little bit about what interests you in this medium?

My first deep interest in video games began in 2018 playing Red Dead Redemption II. Until then, I hadn’t yet understood the emotional depth games could achieve – I found myself transported, deeply moved, even crying while playing. The scoring and original soundtrack of Red Dead Redemption is an integral part of that emotional journey. When I hear that music I am right back in the game. Other times, I would mute the score and listen to my own records, mostly folk, country, or black metal. I often played to Bill Staines’ LP »Sandstone Cathedrals«, a record I would in part name »Cathedrals« for. So I would love to be a piece in such a journey for someone else. I have participated and played in the kind of raves you mentioned (hurt-free network who were having imvu parties way before the covid-19 pandemic) and enjoyed it, but I am still very much invested in embodied raving. You gotta be up close, extra sweaty, awake for too long, with your feet aching before you can break through to the next level!

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Photo by Evelyn Freja

Coming back to »Cathedrals« then, as an image, on the one hand, »cathedral« stands for a holy space, a strictly codified space in terms of who is allowed to express themselves and how. Then there is the stance that music, techno music in particular is a religion itself. Have you developed anything like a spiritual identity since your life has been strongly interconnected with hardcore and the club music scene in general?

I do feel some kind of religious reverence for techno. Jia Tolentino’s essay »Ecstasy« does a great job exploring the dialectic between organized religion and the divine beauty of music (in her case Southern Rap and DJ Screw). I don’t have a solid spiritual practice, so perhaps it makes sense that it’s in a rave where I experience moments of revelation, and the sense of »you were made to be here«. Listening to music and being firmly located in your body and dancing is a wonderful way to explore your feelings, and I would feel very lost without it.

Don’t miss Kilbourne at the next Struma+Iodine party, which celebrates the nine year anniversary of the event series and will happen on April 16. 

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Photo by Laura Spes

Vika Prokopaviciute: »This Limitedness of Your Own«

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PW-Magazine is a bilingual online magazine for contemporary culture. 

PW-Magazine is supported by the Federal Chancellery of Austria and Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.