UNMASKED THEORIA 2: KHEMIA RECORDS
Q: Hello Lee, welcome on Unmasked Magazine and thanks a lot for taking the time out for this interview.
How have you been? How have you spent these lockdown times? Have you been DJing more, maybe producing or simply discovering new music?
A: Hello guys, I’m trying to stay creative and busy in order to keep sane. I came to Athens for 10 days just before the first Lockdown in March 2020 and I find myself still here 14 months later. I’ve spent much of my time getting to know the city, walking alone with my camera. These myriad walks, along with many others in the streets, tunnels, alleyways, terraces and catacombs of Tunis, Palermo, London, Nablus, Hydra, Aperathou and Koufonissia over the past 18 months have been documented and curated into a series of images of a re-imagined city of Pandemonium. I have been working with فلج which is the new collaboration of sound artist Owen Pratt (Uncanny Valley) and singer and musician Julia Aaisha who have created an extraordinary sound recording for the slideshow of photographs. Their track will be pressed onto 7” vinyl in a limited edition of 123 with a different image on each cover. The piece is part of a much larger multimedia project called Pandemonium™ curated by our friends at Whatever Trademark™ in Portugal. Other than that I have also helped curate a 75 hour radio takeover on Root Radio Istanbul to raise funds for the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos that tragically burned to the ground last year leaving 13,000 people displaced. We are now working on a V/A compilation release to raise additional funds for the NGOS’working with the refugees on the island. I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of so many amazing artist friends on this project.
I’ve also made my first forays into production, collaborating with my dear friend LAW334 on one track Panspermia for his debut EP. We have just finished a second track, which will be released in July on a tribute compilation for Mak, the owner of Electrowerkz who very sadly passed away at the close of last year. We have also just begun work on a third track destined for a V/A release later in the year. I’m currently in the process of setting up a makeshift home studio in Athens and working on a commission from Theory of Yesterday for a soundtrack to a VR experience.
I have only DJed at one event in the past 14 months which was at Astron bar in Athens, just before we re-entered lockdown at the end of October. We put the decks and speakers in the windows and played to the people in the street, at one point we even had a DIAS police motorcycle team drive through the middle of the dance floor.
In terms of Khemia specifically I have widened the scope and vision of the label this year, in part reflecting the change from public to private listening. For a few months I toyed with the idea of setting up a sub-label to begin releasing more experimental projects, but finally decided that Khemia is an elastic enough concept to incorporate these more leftfield pieces. We have been releasing a new project each month since November including two albums and three EPs, also we are starting to collaborate with artists Oannes Slym and Sofien Mekni to make videos for the latest CASKO release Empires of Dirt which we are releasing next month.
Q: 2021 marks five years of Khemia Records. Can you walk us through the evolution of the label? Did the project go in the way you expected it to when you started it?
A: The label started when I met Pier di Sortie, the owner of Blackwater Records who had recently moved from Rome to London. He came to a few Kaos parties and we became friends. It was Pier who suggested that we create a new label connected with Kaos. I had been thinking along similar lines for a while but had no idea where to begin, so Pier’s knowledge and experience of the record industry was a huge help to get the label started. Our first cycle of split EPs were released according to the cycle of the Winter/Sumer Solstice and the Autumn/Spring Equinox and the second cycle related to the four stages of the alchemical process; Albedo, Citrinitas, Rubedo and Nigredo. We also organised a series of A/V listening events called Ambivalen+ at The Ace Hotel, The Institute of Light and The Yard Theatre where we invited artists such as Rrose, Samuel Kerridge, Codex Empire and Years of Denial to perform live. Since then, we have diversified the form to include single artist EP’s, V/A compilations and full albums. We have also started to move more towards digital platforms as the pandemic has wreaked havoc with the systems of vinyl production and distribution. I think we always conceived of Khemia as a very open ended project that would evolve over time.
Certainly when we started the label we never expected that our entire vinyl catalogue would be eventually acquired by the British Library, or that a substantial archive of images from our resident photographer Zbigniew Tomasz Kotkiewicz would be acquired by the Bishopsgate Institute. It’s a strange feeling to have become historicised!
Q: How do you choose the artists that you want to release on Khemia? Would you say there is a common trait in what you have released so far or it comes more to the single projects and talent of specific artists?
A: The simple answer is really gut instinct. I don’t have any specific agenda with the label and my tastes have always been widely eclectic, my ears and mind are always open to new sounds and sonic textures, so it really comes down to a connection with the unique vision of each artist which is why we decided to expand the form of the releases in order to fully acknowledge the scope of each project on its own terms.
Q: Artworks play a great part in defining the identity of Khemia Records and many of them are curated by you. Can you tell us a bit more about why they are important for the label?
A: My background before music was in visual art as a sculptor, printmaker, installation artist, performer and curator. As a sculptor I would often work with the concept of artists multiples, likewise with printmaking, I wanted to democratise the exclusivity of the precious, unique object.
When we started Khemia I conceived of each release as a limited edition artwork pressed on transparent vinyl. The covers feature images from renowned international artists such as Olivier de Sagazan, Rein Vollenga, Mustafa Sabbagh and Evelyn Bencicova. We don’t print text over artist images in order to maintain the integrity of the artwork, the visual identity of the label is as important to me as the sonic aspect, I find it difficult to separate the two.
Q: Khemia´s identity reflects the programming of KAOS. Have you been missing parties and organising them?
A: Khemia’s identity was very connected with Kaos for the first four years but it has become a fully fledged entity now and that identity is mutable and constantly evolving. I have been missing Kaos and other parties but I have also enjoyed the change of pace somewhat. After 16 years of continuously organising monthly parties, it has given me the opportunity to explore new creative avenues and to live according to a different rhythm.
Q: If you had to describe KAOS events to someone who has never come to one of your parties, which words would you use?
A: As they say in Cairo when crossing a busy intersection, close your eyes and open your heart.
Q: What’s in the future of KAOS?
A: The future of Kaos is inextricably tied up with the future of the virus. However I’m very relieved that our venue Electrowerkz seems to have weathered the twin storms of Covid and the tragic death of Mak and we are hoping to return there once it is safe to do so.
Q: Let’s close this interview with a question that many of our readers will want an answer to. Are you planning any party soon, providing that it will still be safe to return to the dance-floor?
A: Obviously at this stage everything is contingent on what happens over the next few months but we are very happy to say that we are making tentative plans to restart Kaos at Electrowerkz after the summer.
Interview By / Stefania Trinchero.
Published / 28.04.2021