Reaching a certain level of success by your early twenties can be a dangerous thing. Many artists have buckled under the pressure of how best to follow their own act; others find their egos inflated. Not Matt Relton. The producer, best known by his alias Kidnap Kid, is grounded, determined, and it’s abundantly clear that he loves what he does.
His arrival on the scene in 2012 was cemented with his debut EP Alphaville, which features ‘Vehl’, the winner of the iTunes US ‘Best Electronic Song of 2012’. Since then, he’s been at the helm of the tidal wave of house music that has flooded the industry in recent years. What makes Kidnap Kid stand out from the crowd is his ability to fuse together unexpected influences, crafting a magnetic beat as effortlessly as he samples film noir vocals from old French movies.
His recent headline show at East London’s The Mangle fused all of these scattered influences into one, dropping thumping tribal numbers alongside his own stirring brand of house with ease and fluency. We caught up with Kidnap Kid ahead of his set to find out more about the journey so far.
Where does the name Kidnap Kid come from?
The short version of the story is, when I was a teenager, I accidentally faked my own kidnapping, and it went terribly wrong. There was like helicopters out looking for me and I ended up in court – I had to do like six month’s young offenders – because I wasted so much police time… It was a complete disaster. It was a really, really stupid thing I did.
How did you start working in music?
It was always the only thing I’ve ever done really. I was encouraged to play music around the house growing up, and my mum played loads of instruments and so it’s always been the focus in the back of my head. I was doing other things: studying – I went to university, not studying music – but the end goal was always to aim here. So it’s always been my life trajectory really.
What sort of stuff were you listening to around the house?
I think the stuff that I was listening to growing up was just whatever my dad had on, which is exactly what you’d expect really. The Beatles, R.E.M, that sort of stuff… Dad music. I love it all. But I was really into quite heavy rock and thrash growing up as a teenager, so that was the first thing I really fell in love with.
So how did that turn into electronic music? When did that shift?
I went through Jungle basically – I think that was the bridge for me: the chaos of Jungle and the chaos of the heavy rock that I really liked. I kind of fell in love with that and that was my entry point to electronic music. That was when I was about 15 and from there I started exploring all sorts of other electronic stuff and ended up possibly as far away from Jungle as you could possibly get… Very chilled out house. But yeah, that was the route.
“At the time I felt so late! I was just so hungry for it.” – Kidnap Kid
That was something I was going to ask actually. How would you sum up your sound in 5 words?
I don’t know really! In a descriptive way, melodic would be the main one I guess… But I always feel a bit silly describing music as melodic because by nature it all is melodic, but I guess especially mine. Maybe… Not down-tempo, but relaxed. Then, electronic?
You made quite an impression from quite a young age, I think that’s fair to say. Did that throw you at all?
At the time I felt so late! I was just so hungry for it. From [when I was] a teenager, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, so by the time I was actually putting music out and people were listening to it, I was like, “I’ve been doing this for seven years!” At the time it didn’t feel early, it felt like, “Finally, things are getting moving.”
It’s interesting to see it from that angle. When you’re listening to it you don’t see that, so it seems like quite a young age to be putting out music, but I guess when you’ve been doing it for so many years it must feel like quite a long time.
Right, but it’s all just in my own head, because now if I heard a track and I liked it and I was like, “Oh they’re that age”, I’d be like, “Oh that’s quite young.” It’s just perspective, and now I completely see that there was no rush. You know, I’ve got a whole life to be doing this potentially. I just had that lack of patience that you do when you’re younger.
Do you think that your music has shifted in the time?
It’s definitely meandered, but I don’t think it’s changed completely. It’s kind of wandered across the years, but I don’t think it’s so different from where I was when I started. It’s maybe – without sounding too… bleugh – matured a little bit. Just because I’ve got a bit older and the stuff I’ve been listening to is slightly different. So it’s maybe a little less frantic but it’s still got a similar feel to it.
What sort of stuff are you listening to out of interest?
I guess for the past few years I’ve been listening to a lot dreamy, ambient stuff. Almost beat-less, electronic stuff – soaring chords and that sort of thing. I’ve really tried to tie that into my music basically.
Your music has shifted, but do you think you’ve changed over that time?
I’m so glad you asked… Yeah, I’m sure I have. It’s hard to view it from an outside perspective. I knew nothing about the industry going into it. All I knew is that I wanted to make music. Now I’m probably a little more jaded I guess because now I’ve learnt about the inner workings of the whole thing and what you need to do to make it work. I’ve embraced it all and I’m happy to play the industry side of things and do all that, but going into it I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was just, ‘Make songs! Play the songs! Everyone’s happy! This is fantastic.’ So I’ve definitely learnt more about the sometimes funny ways that the industry can have.
You’ve got your own label now so that must be great to have. Do you feel like you have more freedom?
Yeah. Setting that up and running that this year has made me feel like I’ve taken back a little bit of what I felt I’d given away over the years. It feels like the dream is alive again – just in controlling everything and putting out music on my own label. It’s my own little project that works. So that’s definitely been a step back in the right direction and it’s been a much more gratifying process releasing music and working on every aspect of it myself.
You’re originally from Sheffield – do you think being based in London has changed anything?
Yeah, I guess so. I moved down a week after I put my first EP out – it’s just the way it coincided. I was living in Leeds for a bit before then. The music I was listening to is definitely characterised by each city. So it was like, Drum & Bass and Jungle in Sheffield, I was listening to a lot of Dubstep in Leeds, and then London has been the kind of 4/4 Techno and House era of my life. But yeah, how have I changed?
I’m sorry, I should stop going on about that.
No, no, it’s an amazing question! I’ve actually never been asked that before. I wish I had an hour to mull it over before because there’s probably an interesting thing…
Do you think Sheffield shaped your music then? It has a big nightlife scene.
I rarely go back now so I can’t comment, but definitely when I was there, there was a huge dance music scene going on. Especially with the party scene, so that definitely shaped the music I was listening to. But it’s tricky to say what effect London has had on me.
Could you ever envisage going elsewhere, like America?
I actually live there half the year. I’m sort of back and forth between London and New York. The bulk of my touring is in America, and also my girlfriend lives there so I do half the year in New York and half the year in London. It’s definitely always been on the horizon. When I was really young, my kind of life plan was: Write music, move to London, move to New York.
Yeah, I’m slowly getting there! So maybe I’ll head over there more full time, who knows.
I wanted to talk about your first EP, Alphaville. I read that it was named after an old French film – are things like this a particular influence for you?
Not as a whole, but that particular film really was for some reason. I just watched it and it captured something in me… It had a mood that I’d never really come across before, and it was a mood that I was like, ‘Right, I want to create music that sounds the way that feels.’ So that was the kind of plan for that release. I used a lot of the vocals and audio from the film as well. So that definitely set me off on a path. I remember very specifically watching it on a train journey. It’s this weird mix of romance but tension but future… It’s just quite a bizarre film. Maybe I was just really hungover. I was easily impacted at the time.
An emotional state…
That’s probably more accurately the case, but it’s less poetic. Anyway that’s what kicked off my EP and I’ve tried to carry on that mood throughout my music: a juxtaposition of romance and also slightly a moodier side.
Can you tell us more about your new EP? What was the thinking behind it?
So yeah, the new EP is called Brokenhearted, which is named after the A side. I made this quite purposefully as a reference to Alphaville. Alphaville was more electronic-oriented – some broken drum patterns… Everything I’ve done since then has been more sort of 4/4 House, and I get some messages from people saying “Oh we really liked the first bits of music that we first discovered from you,” and I still really like those parts of what I wrote as well, so this was very purposefully something to kind of give back to those people, or to draw that link to say I’m still doing stuff that’s a bit like this. So I’d say it’s a bit more in the electronic world and has a similar feeling to some of the older stuff I was putting out. So it’s a little bit of a throwback EP before I plough forward with the House in 2017.
I was going to say, what sort of direction are you thinking of going in next?
I am going to carry on as I have been, but this was my kind of throwback thing. I’ve got some stuff planned to come out in 2017 that’s maybe a bit more on the same level.
Have you got any dates or shows to look forward to?
Yeah, so I’ve got a US tour starting next week. I’ll be out there for 3 weeks, which should be really fun. Then I’ve got some dotted European dates running until the end of the year. I guess the US one is the more significant, bulkier one.
Do you find there’s a difference between the US crowd and the European crowd?
Yeah, definitely. In a way, because I play out in the US more, playing to that crowd has probably shaped my sound more than my playing in the UK has. I actually rarely play in the UK – I’ve played 3 times this year in the whole country. They like the bigger kick drums over there, kind of boom boom boom, hard-hitting. I think it’s a kind of fallout from the whole EDM thing they had.
Buy Brokenhearted EP here, out now on Birds That Fly.