i-D's music class of 2018: kai whiston

As we get to know the Dorset-raised experimental producer, Kai presents an exclusive mix just for i-D.

by Ryan White; photos by Ronan McKenzie
15 November 2017, 11:34am

This article originally appeared in The Sounding Off Issue, no. 350, Winter 2017 as part of our Music Class of 2018 portfolio.

What does 18-year-old producer Kai Whiston’s music sound like? “Alien, left-field experimental stuff. Kind of rough around the edges, but still playful, and very much insane.” Though more a sound you’d associate with built-up industrial areas of east London as opposed to the picturesque coastline of his native Dorset, Kai is actually one of a few new age producers hailing from the area. “The music scene there is pretty much non-existent, but weirdly it’s propped up a few electronic musicians. Myself, Iglooghost, Memotone… I think it’s worked out well because the music that’s been made there has developed from, like, nerdy kids being bored.”

Leaving school this summer, Kai has just departed his sleepy seaside town for the electronic music paradise of Bristol, accepting a place to study at UWE. Unlike many of his fellow honours students however, as he’s recently signed to Big Dada records and is working on a debut album, Kai has more than just Jägerbombs and essay deadlines on the horizon. As we spotlight i-D’s Music Class of 2018, get to know the sounds of Kai Whiston with an exclusive mix below.

When people ask you what you do, what do you say?
I say I make sounds. I feel weird when I say I’m a musician, I sort of don’t feel like it yet because I’m just doing it all on the laptop. I don’t know, it all depends on the person. If it’s someone who’s, like, in-the-know then I’ll be honest with them, but the people where I live, you’ve just got to be like, ‘I make sounds in my room.’

What would you file your music it next to?
Bands like Death Grip, Oneohtrix Point Never. Just like electronic, experimental stuff. Left-field, trying to do my own lane sort of thing, really. Like Iglooghost -- we’re from the same town.

Who are the key musicians who’ve influenced your sound?
Definitely Iglooghost because we’re really close mates and he sort of helped me get into this music stuff properly. He’s really cool, what he does, I listen to his stuff and we share a lot of the same mantras and philosophies about music. Our stuff works well -- it’s in the same universe, type thing.

What electronic music encouraged you to produce?
Aphex Twin. The really obvious answers. Death Grips was quite early. Squarepusher. A lot of those 90s, 00s artists that really made it big. I got really heavy into those, then branched out, branched out even more and started making my own stuff. Boards of Canada I really liked.

Are there any influences on your music beyond other musicians?
Yeah, this artist I worked with Sam Rolfes. I sort of discovered him through Instagram stalking and he’s really sick. I think I pull from his art much more than any musical influence. Getting a setting, a feeling from that and trying to replicate that sonically always leads to something quite interesting and away from any musical influence, which is what I’m trying to aim for. Me and Sam worked together, he’s done all my art and we’ve worked on live shows together, like EP shows, and he’s just super dope.

So, you’re from Dorset. What’s that like -- is there a music scene there?
It’s pretty much non-existent, although… weirdly it’s propped up a few electronic musicians but they’re not really part of a scene type of thing. There’s me obviously, Iglooghost, Memotone who’s a guy from Black Acre and I think that’s it. I think that’s more of a coincidence, there’s no real music scene there. A lot of people my age like jump-up, drum and bass and like going clubbing, in Bournemouth mostly.

Yeah I can’t imagine there’s much of a local clubbing scene...
You can’t, no. But I think it’s worked out well because music that’s been made there has developed from nerdy kids being bored rather than someone trying to fit in to some scene that’s going on in the city.

A bit of isolation is always good.
Yeah, I think it’s done well. It’s been for the better. Me and Iglooghost are pretty on that.

So, I guess you don’t feel like you missed out massively on not being in London growing because it meant you created something a bit different?
Yeah I suppose it’s been like that. I feel like maybe the boredom helped me a little bit, but if I’d grown up in London, I’d be way preoccupied with doing stuff, there’s so much to do, so yeah. I’m ready to leave, I’m ready to move to Bristol, a hundred percent. There’s only so much that you can take. It gets a bit insane.

I can imagine. Why Bristol?
Well, I’m going to uni there to study business management and marketing. I don’t really want to study music when I already feel like I’ve accomplished a lot of the learning, technical stuff just from playing around with my computer. I don’t really want to go study that at an academic level.

Bristol’s a great city to make electronic music in anyway.
Yeah, I’m really excited. I’m ready to get a bit of the city. I think Igloo’s going there as well so we’re going to be hanging out quite a lot.

How and when did you get signed to Big Dada?
That was this year. I made my EP first and then I gathered a bunch of mutual contacts that also knew Ninja Tune and Big Dada and I basically told them to all fire my EP at them at once. They must’ve liked it because they obviously released it!

Do you have a clear vision of you want from the album?
Yeah, so my EP is obviously just a lot of experimentation and now I can visualise everything, how it’s going to look, and I can work back from that. That’s how I sort of approach my records. I really want to aim for a more mature sound with this one, with a lot less chaos. A lot more organisation to it.

Do you have a gage on who your audience at the moment is? Do you get people messaging you?
A lot of producers obviously, because they just like to hear other shit. I sort of try to keep a distance between me and the people that listen to my music on a communication level.

You release music under your own name. So, there’s not that detachment between yourself and your stage name.
Yeah, that was sort of intentional because I grew up liking James Blake and Jeff Buckley, and all these people that use their names and I thought... I went under like Kylie Winston for a few months, that was really whack.

Hmm, doesn’t really conjure an image of alien, left-field experimental stuff.
Exactly, no. I was 15 -- I had no idea what I was doing, so now I just go under Kai Whiston. I feel a lot more responsibility for what I’m putting out. And future employers are going to see everything I put out. I can’t fuck about too much. It’s probably for the best.

You just did a night with Cakes da Killa. I think I can still see the club stamp on your wrist! How did that come about?
I spoke to my manager and I was like, ‘I really want Cakes da Killa on my album but I don’t have an instrumental ready or anything, I just have a vision’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, let’s get you together.’ It was my first DJ set, I’d never done one of those before. It was an hour and a half for a good amount of people, the show turned out really fun. He’s such a great performer. He was amazing, really electric and everyone there was having such a wild time, and he was getting in the crowd. He had a really tiny stage for some reason but he was killing it. It made me think more like, ‘That’s the kind of energy I want for the album.’

Is commerciality a factor when you make music?
It’s a bit of a conflict. Less commerciality, just accessibility. I’m always trying to walk that line between something super accessible and super underground stuff. I’m not the first person to walk that line either, loads of people have done that.

So when will your album be ready?
I’m too scared to say, I might delete half of it in a month. I’m trying to make it go naturally. I’m really just trying to go at my own pace. I might drop an EP in the middle, just to keep it going. But yeah, I really want the album to be great, so I really want to put a lot of work into it!


Photography Ronan Mckenzie (Collage by Kristina Britton)
Styling Julian Ganio

Hair Naoki Komiya at Julian Watson Agency. Make-up Ammy Drammeh using M.A.C Cosmetics. Styling assistance John Handford and Nathan Henry. Hair assistance Kazuhiro Naka. Make-up assistance Grace Ellington.

Kai Whiston
ronan mckenzie
Music class of 2018