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In an ideal world, says Adam Bainbridge, this bio would be about two lines long. “Ninety-five per cent of everything you should want to know about a new artist should be in the record,” he says.
The wonderful thing about the music Adam makes as Kindness is how little it tells you about its origins. It bears the fingerprints of no specific scene, no particular country, no certain era. It’s pop music but it’s slippery and enigmatic too. It sounds slick yet underground. It’s got recognisable reference points — the leftfield disco of Walter Gibbons, the cosmopolitan rhythms of Grace Jones and Tom Tom Club, the frictionless 80s R&B of Alexander O’Neal, the blurry Polaroid pop of Ariel Pink — but they’re in an unfamiliar context. Who on Earth covers songs by quixotic Minnesotan indie heroes the Replacements and EastEnders actress Anita Dobson? All you can tell for sure is that (a) its mesmerisingly beautiful and (b) it sounds like nothing else around. Maybe that’s all you need to know but, just in case, here’s the other 5%
Adam is smart, stubborn, drily witty and as passionate about what he hates as he is about what he loves. Born in Peterborough to an Indian mother and an English father, he moved to Paris to study photography but dropped out of university when he ran out of money. “A bit of a technophobe”, he still insists on using film rather than digital.
Moving to Berlin, he resumed his photography and started DJing. He didn’t even consider making music until a friend gave him some cracked music software, which inspired him to record his own tracks. Some time later, the same friend set up an arts residency in Philadelphia (the Eric James Johnson Memorial Fellowship) and extended an invitation: Adam could have warehouse space, somewhere to stay, a PA system and a bicycle for a month as long he took the opportunity to be creative. He recorded a slew of tracks, some of which he self-released on the Live in Philly CDR in 2007.
In 2009 Moshi Moshi approached him to release a single (his minimalist version of the Replacements’ Swingin’ Party, backed with the breezy funk track Gee Up) and play a couple of shows to promote it
A cantankerous downstairs neighbour who accused him of the egregious crime of “walking too loudly” put paid to his plans to produce his debut album at home, and most potential producers were dismissed for sounding “too British”. On the search for the ideal co-producer, he approached Cassius’s Philippe Zdar, who has worked with Phoenix, the Rapture, Kanye West and the Beastie Boys.
“Philippe pushed me a lot harder than I would have ever pushed myself,” says Adam. “We didn’t dabble in pastiche. We’re not just emulating sounds. I’m a mixed-race British guy, Philippe is half-French, half-Italian, our musicians are north African Jewish, American, French. It reminded me a little bit of Compass Point and Grace Jones. She had a thing of taking something from everywhere but building her own identity. Why not do a funk version of La Vie en Rose? Or Gainsbourg doing Aux Armes et Cetera in a reggae style? These things were novel and provocative and fun and they still fell into the realm of pop music. I’d like to push the pop envelope a little bit more.”
British listeners of a certain age may be surprised to find that pushing the pop envelope involves reinventing Anyone Can Fall in Love, Anita Dobson’s 1985 Top 10 version of the EastEnders theme, as spectral funk. “It has quite an interesting sentiment for a love song,” says Adam. “Anyone call fall in love, that’s easy. Everything that comes after is the hard part. Apart from me no one on the recording is British so they approached it without any baggage. After working in the studio for two months you completely forget where it originated but every now and then I’d stop and think it was crazy we got that far with it.”
This internationalism is one ingredient of Kindness’s entrancing everywhere-but-nowhere quality. His music has the meandering logic of dreams and fantasies, merging eras and locations, making strange connections seem inevitable, and finding beauty in unlikely places. It’s an album which sets the mind wandering and wondering.
Swingin’ Party lowers the pulse and rubberizes the limbs of the Replacements’ song until it feels like drifting through a party on valium. Gee Wiz is a creamy ambient swoon, coloured with wordless vocals and sunlit guitar, like a Balearic response to David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name. House has the gloopy psychedelic R&B flavour of mid-80s Prince at his strangest, while That’s Alright is a dream alliance of Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder and Afrika Bambaataa circa 1985. One clue to Adam’s modus operandi comes in the middle of Bombastic with a litany of influences that nods wrily in the direction of Daft Punk’s Teachers, citing Kate Bush and Paul Westerberg; Randy Newman and Larry Levan; Neil Young and Chic. Another clue arrives amid the yielding deep house of SEOD: “It’s better if you let go.”
So maybe Adam was right in the first place. Maybe the music really does tell you all you need to know.
Gee Up video here
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