Kaytranada’s Musical Sleight of Hand

Originally posted on 11th November 2016

In the early seventies, a group of German students from Dusseldorf began experimenting with analogue synthesizers, Vocoders, electronic drum kits, and most significantly, their uncanny ear for binary melodies. Borne out of this tireless innovation, was the band, “Kraftwerk”, by and large, the pioneers of modern electronic music and the most profound influence on the resulting sub-genres of Electronic Dub-step, Techno, House music, and Dance-pop. Since kratouck — the whimsical label given to Krafwerk’s diabolical sound — imitators of the genre have attempted to reproduce the dynamisms of the early sharp textures that thrummed in downtown German bars, most artists avoiding the core of Electronica, and instead birthing a gentler form of Electronic — a mellowed, less notorious sound. David Bowie, altered Kratouck with his spin-off version dubbed glam-rock, a tender shift, that has groomed acts like Avicii, Moby, The Chemical Brothers, and the recent Soundcloud breakout, Kygo. But what solicits the listenership of Electro, is not a modification of previous gestures, or — if anyone dares — an improvement. What pushes the sound to the fore of the musical scene is a vast inclusion of references, each fresh act becoming broader and more layered with time. In essence, the descendant continues to appraise the ancestor.

How Kaytranada manages to confront conservative Electro remains a question that can only be answered with a certain sceptical approach to his meter and key. Traditional Electro warns against thinking too much outside the box, consider Swedish House Mafia’s raucous testimony to superfluous synths. Conversely, Kaytranada’s diversity is carefully gauged, pulled off with a certain kind of electrical finesse that only David Guetta and Avicii could match. His first album, 99.9% is a compilation of everything Electronica, effortlessly morphing and careening between hasty jazz, cool pop, and pulsing house music. From the first track, wittily titled “Track Uno.” Kay’s preference for style and structure is readily noticed. It is a guide through rocky musical terrains starting off with a throb of vibrato sequences, before dipping at the bass line to the rough melody of synthesizers, then it resumes it nervous surges, and ebbs again, as if hurried along the musical line by Kay’s need to attain rthymical lift. What sometimes renders electro unfit for consumption, are attempts to smuggle the gestures of sound beyond its musical boundaries, it’s a strange genre, asymptomatically restricting in expression. However, Kay at numerous points throughout the album blends and bonds uncanny pieces of sound that forces one to speculate as to whether they belong within the scope of electro, largely, propelled by his sleight of hand, a magically deft variation of tempo and mood. Tempo because he quickens and then slows the beats, as seems to be his trademark (He modulates between hundred and fifty beats per minute) and mood because the album is as warm and spiky, as it is cool and relaxed.

99.9% never presents a lack of range, Kaytranada features some of hip-hop’s most distinctive voices, as is the case in tracks like “Glowed Up.” a dreamlike, otherworldly collaboration with Anderson Paak. The hook is tight, the musical arrangement, conservative, but by the next track “Breakdance Lesson.” Kay’s rapid and speedy approach to beat is as it best. Although, 99.9% feels like a work in progress, Kay’s promise is undeniable, fresh to the big game, but already establishing himself as an authority. How then does one affect an already thrumming Electro dance scene? Kaytranada and his family are originally indigenes of Haiti, they immigrated to Montreal in 1993, it is perhaps these wealth of origins that spurs him to make a case for both indigenous sound and foreign vogue, an interlope that masquerades his music as both patriotic and hip. When his father listened to the album, he was overjoyed that traces of Haiti remained in his psyche. The Haitian musical scope is less expansive than its American counterparts, but Kaytranada has tapped into the anxieties of Canadian and American cultural preferences and created a hybrid expression that both addresses Night Life barbarity and ethnic reflection. Kay has produced a sound extensive enough to cover these musical spaces. New York has long since been the centre of electronica experimentation and growth, favouring DJ’s of minority races (DJ Snake is French and of Algerian origin, DJ Boima is Brazilian.) which may be why artists like Janet Jackson and Madonna have reached out to inquire of his services.

Kay’s success however, is less attributed to his racial advantage, being a case, rather, of seething creativity. “Leave me alone” a warm and vaudeville track featuring Shay Lia on the vocals, is one of those creative adventures. Tonal blend is a difficult technique, especially when its elements are atypical to the genre at hand. The opening rhythms of “Leave me alone” are the rattle of maracas, the oneiric syncopation of heavy drums, framed by a ritualistic chant. It is at once everything that pop is not, then the next minute, Shay Lia, belts out a whisper of a shout, and the original gestures come racing back into sight. This sums of Kaytranada’s entire body of work. Flirting between genres and attitudes, divorcing conventions, and then reconciling them again. This is what makes him so special. This is why he’s almost at a hundred per cent.

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