Kenneth Thomas interviewDecember 6th, 2010
Kenneth Thomas. No easy musician to classify when it comes to music and the purity of styles. But he sure is an open-minded, fusion-inspired producer and DJ that knows how to blend the good with the even better. Not only do we know him as the guy behind classics ‘Orange Room’ and ‘Ghost In The Machine’, he’s had another 50 originals and remixes out to explore the depths of music and represents Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto Records as the A&R Manager. Fueled up to bring you the next installment of the ‘Perfecto Presents’ series, Kenneth presents an ‘off-the-radar’ session to please Perfecto fans and diversity-seeking dance lovers alike. ‘Perfecto Presents: Kenneth Thomas’ will be out on December 17th. Right about time for a little chat with Kenneth – on diversity, the key factor in music and sounds that move you.
Only 2 weeks to go before your Perfecto Compilation is released. Surely, it must have been a great honour to represent the label with this big album?
Kenneth :”Yeah, absolutely. I grew up listening to the Perfecto Presents series. To me it means a ton, I highly revere the series and to be able to now be a part of that is amazing. It really is a very big honour. ”
Was it a hard task to find the perfect tracks for the album? Or did your experience as the Perfecto A&R manager help you out?
Kenneth :”It was a bit of both. Was definitely a little tougher because I wanted to find tracks that were off peoples radar but still timeless. That was the tough part. The thing about the Perfecto Presents series, is that if you go back and listen to those older mixes, they are still amazing. So I really wanted to make an album that had that kind of longevity. I didn’t want to just use the big obvious tracks, but that can be tough when trying to deliver a project that will last the test of time.
Being A&R for Perfecto was a great help though. I was able to find unsigned records that no none has heard yet. ‘Stereo Traffic- Gods Love’ is a great big room electro-trance record that is at the end of Disc 2. That one came from a completely unknown Russian producer who approached us over the Perfecto site. We get probably 200+ cold-call demos a month through the website. Maybe 2 stand out and this one definitely stood out for me. Also ‘Pete Maquire & Steve O – Atmosphere’, which is a very key emotional point for disc 1, came through the site as a raw unsigned demo. Another great track that was afforded to me because of my job at Perfecto was the Michael Woods remix of ‘Twin Atlantic- Lightspeed’. That remix was never commercially released only send out as a promo to a handful of DJ’s directly from the label. That track was absolutely huge for me all year and was thrilled to have it.”
Your bio states you’ve released over 50 original tracks and remixes in the past 6 years. Which tracks stood out for you most and would you define as ‘highlights’?
Kenneth:”Just about every new track and remix has a special meaning for me. But to name a few specifics, ‘Orange Room’ was my first solo track I ever did and that went on to be really big. It got to #3 overall sales chart on Beatport and was supported by everyone from Sasha, Steve Lawler, Eric Morillo and was even licensed for a compilation by Paul van Dyk. Also, ‘Ghost in the Machine’ was my first bigger solo trance minded track. For the trance community that is still considered the record that put me on the map. Hopefully my latest single on the album, ‘Drive’, will be my next big progressive-trance record for me. Another track that really means a lot is ‘Rife With It’, out on Lowbit earlier this year. It went relatively under the radar but it means a lot as its technically one of the most complicated and well produced tracks I’ve done. I love listening to that in headphones and really getting lost in it. It’s a dark mesmerizing journey of a record and I’m very proud of it.”
In general, you became known to the crowds as the guy behind the ‘Orange Room’ and ‘Ghost In The Machine’ productions. Both very diverse and hard to define tracks. Has that always been your intention, to have a sound that fits more than one ‘box’?
Kenneth:”I’m really happy you picked up on that. I think it goes way beyond those two tracks. I’ve always been very broad in the genres I choose from when dj’ing and just as diverse in my productions. And it has always been my intention to produce in a very wide range. It would probably be easier for fans if I had different aliases for different sounds, but I’ve always thought it’s all me, it’s my sound, I play it in my DJ sets and I produced it, I want to stand by it. It probably throws people off when they got to Beatport, find a big room trance record next to a groovey tech-house record next to a melodic emotional progressive track. But that’s all me. It’s all part of the sounds that move me as an artist.”
Has your sound evolved over the past few years?
Kenneth:”I wouldn’t say my sound has evolved too much, I still pull music from all genres that can work in my sets. There’s a ton of great tech-house that can be very cross-genre so that sound is a little more on my radar these days. Production wise as well. As you stated earlier, my first two big records, ‘Orange Room’ & ‘Ghost in the Machine’ are wildly different. I would say overall though my production quality has improved a great deal. I think most producers will agree we are always learning, always growing. Getting more technically sound. ”
How did you eventually end up at the Perfecto label, and working as their A&R?
Kenneth:”Paul signed me to Perfecto in 2006 when he was playing a few of my tracks quite regularly, Preen & Tonic. Part of that deal along with producing and remixing regularly for Perfecto was doing touring support for Paul in North America. As I spent more and more time with Paul, pitching different ideas and bringing him new music I kinda fell into the A&R role at the label. After a year or two of doing it unofficially, we eventually put the title on and here we are. Now 90% of the demos and promos that come through Perfecto are routed straight to me. I think it helps that my musical tastes are very broad. Perfecto has always been open to different sounds. There has always been consistently big room trance, but their sound has also included a lot of house, techno and breaks releases over the years. My ability to appreciate and find all sorts of different genres lends itself to that diverse sound Perfecto has always had. People always ask, ‘What kind of music is Perfecto looking for?’ I say, ‘Good music!’.”
You’ve had a couple of releases on Armada Music’s Coldharbour and Electronic Elements label. Now, about 5 years later, Perfecto is part of the Armada Music family. Glad to be part of us?
Kenneth:”Absolutely. I’ve had a great long-term working relationship with the guys at Armada over the years. My first track ever, Preen was on EE and I’ve periodically signed tracks at Armada over the years. Actually, Air Hustlers which had 2 releases on Bandung, which is me and Noel Sanger as well. I am very comfortable with the team over there and looking forward to working with them regularly moving forward.”
One of the tracks on the Perfecto presents album is ‘ Kenneth Thomas feat. Nikki Robson- Leaving London (Respect to SR Original Mix)’. What’s the story behind that one, is it a remake?
Kenneth:”As most people will remember, Signalrunners released the Original version a number of years back. It was an amazing melodic house tune, super emotional with that great simple vocal. I gave it a ton of radio support but found the Original was a little too deep for the bigger room DJ sets. Also, I didn’t feel the remixes on the original package quite captured the emotional edge of the original. So I approached the record label about my doing a free remix of it. I really wanted to see if I could nail its stunning emotional vibe in a big room version. I did the remix which was really well received but unfortunately before the label could rerelease it they closed up shop. Fast-forward 3 years to this album. I was looking for that perfect record to round out the end of disc 2. I wanted something that really peaked out massively with a big end of the night emotional edge. As I was trying a bunch of different tracks out in that spot, to no avail, I got a Facebook message from a fan whom that remix really meant a lot to personally. They really connected to that remix and it made me go back and give it a look. We were nearing the deadline on the project but I frantically reached out to see who controlled the rights on the original so we could license my remix, but couldn’t find anyone. So I recreated the melodies and brought in Nikki, a great local vocalist, to cover the vocals and turned it into a remake. I added the special tag on the end, ‘Respect to SR Original’ to credit Team SR aka Signalrunners as they are the real genius behind the record. I was bummed to not be able to use the original vocals but am thrilled with what Nikki did with them and excited to have it on the album.”
Were there any other special tracks that just needed to be on it?
Kenneth:”There is actually a track from 2007 on the album that yeah, I felt I really needed to include. Most DJ’s would never consider using a track that is that old but I felt that it went so much under the radar when it first came out, nearly everyone will be hearing it for the first time ever on this project. That track is ‘Elbee- My Life (Peter Luts remix)’. It’s funny cause even if you google it today the only results will be the tracklistings from my radio show, Obsessions. It’s not even on Rapidshare or anything. It came out on some small label and was only around for a minute. It took me and Ralf at Armada a good month of emails to find the copyright holder and clear the rights. It’s really an amazingly beautiful and lush record. I’m so glad to be able to share it on a bigger stage, even if its 3 years late.
‘Blake- What I Like’ is also a really ‘off the radar’ track that has been huge for me live over the last year. It’s by a German or Swedish indie-dance producer. This mix doesn’t sound like anything else he’s done, this was probably some left-field type of mix for him but I think he caught lightning in a bottle with this. I have closed a ton of shows with this track the past year and it’s back one more time to close out disc 1 here.”
What else can we expect to hear from you in the coming months?
Kenneth:”More work, more music, more shows. I am looking to get over to Europe more to help support this project as well as continue my regular touring of North America. Also look for a ton of new stuff from the studio, including a new collaboration I am working on with the vocalist from Wideband Network, Casey Clark. We just started a track called Lights which I’m really jazzed up on. I wish we could have started this one in time for this album! But there is always the next one.”
‘Perfecto Presents: Kenneth Thomas’ will be releases December 17th. Pre-order now at ArmadaShop.com.