Nicklas Stenemo (left) and Christian Berg in Kite twist their magnificent soundscapes from analog machines. (Photo: Herman Dahlgren)
The Swedish synth duo Kite has deservedly been raised to the skies (pun intended) both within and outside Sweden for their suggestive, epic pop. Studio reporter managed after great confusion in Årsta’s jungle of wholesalers, trucks and burnt out car wrecks to finally find their way into the band’s holiest, their tiny studio – completely cluttered with synths and gadgets of all kinds. All to investigate what it is for thoughts, machines, manicures and mojänger that form the basis of their magical soundscapes and songs. Password according to Kite: analog owns.
Thrives in the shadows
The fact that singer Nicklas Stenemo and keyboardist and sound sculptor Christian Berg have chosen to release an EP every year from the start in 2008 instead of traditional albums and singles has meant that Kite has ended up in a certain radio and media shadow. Mainstream media rarely reviews other than full-length and the radio, both commercial and state, wants format-adapted singles, otherwise it’s damn good. A fact that does not worry Kite for a moment – on the contrary. It’s going so well anyway.
– Synthetic music today is a subcultural thing. Unlike how it was twenty, thirty years ago when Depeche and other bands were big. We have never had any interest in being on a large record label. There it should always be in and poked in things. If you get a hit, it should be followed by another hit that sounds kind of the same, and then suddenly you are standing there in “the holy Skavlan” or some café program, although you really do not feel like it at all. And we do not have that. We prefer to run our own race and build slowly and long-term and do exactly what we think is fun and that feels good, says Christian Berg.
– It must take the time it takes, we are not in a hurry. And we have long since stopped sending our records to the radio. In any case, they do not care, Nicklas Stenemo interjects and does not look very sorry for that.
When the undersigned meets Kite in their studio, Nicklas and Christian have just returned from a tour in Germany. As usual, their gigs have been praised in unison for both the musical and, not least, the visual. The latter is something that Kite attaches almost as much importance to as the music.
– It feels a bit wrong to say that the light show is as important as the songs and the sound. But we like to think conceptually and then the whole is important. But okay, the music is of course a priority. Then we design our stage show around it. Everything should be connected, says Nicklas Stenemo.
At our meeting, Kite’s live rig is still on the tour bus, and luckily it’s. Their tiny, former office space of about five square meters, is still completely cluttered with synths, power boxes and strange mojangers.
– We probably have about thirty different synths. Some are better for live situations and some work better in the studio, says Christian.
Retro for the whole penny
In addition to Kite recording in Logic, the band uses almost exclusively older analogue synthesizers and effect cans.
– We usually start from a Studio Electronics SE 1st. On our first four EPs, we basically made all the bass sounds on it, and we still use it often. Unlike many other old analog synths, it hangs in the sequencer and fixes “dugga-dugga-dugga-dugga” sixteen parts when needed, says Christian Berg and continues:
– For lead loops, Korg Micro Preset, one of the first home synthesizers, is very good. Especially if you want the classic OMD sound from time to time.
Soviet Polivoks is a heavy piece in Kite’s artillery.
Soviet armored vision
Furthermore, in Kite’s arsenal of analogue studio sweets, there is, among other things, a Russian best for synthesizer. The by now somewhat legendary Polivoks. As hardcore as it sounds, as hardcore it looks. According to legend (which is far too good to be true), controls and switches come from the same manufacturer that made the instrumentation for Russian tanks in the 80’s – and there is no reason to doubt this. This is a synth that is really robust in every way.
– We almost never use samplers. Sampling, yes, it happens. But we prefer to make our own from different sources and cook them together to our own sounds. We often have at least four different synthesizers playing the same thing. Each one may not really sound that fun, but together it works. Many 80’s synthesizers sound very dead and sterile in themselves. But dubbed with, for example, a Roland Juno 60 or other really good analog synths, it will be good, says Christian.
– Just Junon is great for fixing sawtooth waveforms when you need a really dirty, type distat guitar cutter, and other things that you want “in your face”. If you then double it up with a DX 7 or some other really rather dull jar, something happens…
Roland Juno 60 can perform really dirty sounds, and often Christian and Nicklas dub it up with some other 80’s synth.
Other things that Nicklas and Christian like to use, to broaden Kite’s soundscape and give it an exciting and a little more unorthodox soundscape, they like to pick from world music.
– Our drum set really only consists of kick, swirl and some puka. Instead of cymbals and hi-hat, we prefer to use cut noise for hi-hat and, for example, a sampled puka with a lot of reverb for the crashes. In addition, we like to put in, for example, a pan flute or bagpipe here and there to give the music a little ethno color and a touch of other cultures. When we needed the sound of a blue whale for a song, we recorded a rubber ball bounced against corrugated iron, screwed on the effects a bit, and then we were home, says Christian and smiles.
Studio’s reporter happily notes that a theremin (which can be heard on Beach Boys’ classic Good Vibrations) stands in a corner of the room and on top of this is a feather reverb from Knas Ekdahl.
– This is really good. It is playable! So, you can play the feathers, quite simply, Nicklas and Christian say with one and the same enthusiastic mouth.
– It is superior when you want hard sheet metal and metal sounds, and it is part of our sound, so it is found on many of our songs.
Bombay Happy Meal
Significantly softer both in terms of sound and design, the Raagini Digital Electronic Tanpura has a fairly central position in Kite’s studio. The plastic cube looks like a kitschy toy (almost something you could get in a Happy Meal from McDonald’s Bombay) but the appearance is deceptive. This is a fully gameplay and programmable raga synth with endless possibilities to unscrew authentic sitar drones in all their shapes and forms. Perfect when you, like Kite, want to broaden the soundscape and at the same time go the slightly narrower path that Nicklas and Christian seem to completely agree is the only right one.
That’s the way they go. And soon we will probably be significantly more all over the world who follow…
“We run our own race and build slowly and long-term and do exactly what we think is fun and that feels good,” says Christian Berg (left).
KITES FAVORITE INSTRUMENT IN SELECTION
Studio Electronics SE 1
Korg Micro Preset
Roland Juno 60
Raagini Digital Electronic Tanpura
Members: Christian Berg, Nicklas Stenemo
Discography: 6 ep: s – Kite, Kite II, Kite III, Kite IV, Kite V and Kite VI
Article author: Pelle Almgren