Since he began putting out music as Palmbomen in 2011, Dutch artist and producer Kai Hugo has been pegged by bloggers and industry nerds as a proponent of that notoriously amorphous, dreamily DIY chillwave sound.
Making use of layered synth textures and adopting the old-school bedroom aesthetic of early-'80s new wave and disco offshoots, Palmbomen's music is pleasantly atmospheric, with just the right touches of kitschy psychedelia and clubby bounce to make it great for zoning out, swinging your head low, and sipping a cool beverage on a hot afternoon.
Hugo also DJ's under the Palmbomen moniker and brings a more stripped-out, dance-floor-ready sound to his sets. This Thursday, he'll hit the carpet at Bardot as part of a string of U.S. tour dates. So we spoke with him about the music scene in Berlin, the evolution of his sound, and why dancing is like therapy.
New Times: I read in a past interview that you were sort of being put into the chillwave box back in 2011. I wanted to know, in your opinion, how your sound has evolved since then, and if you still identify with that label?
Palmbomen: Yeah, I don't know. My album, which just came out this year, actually, was already kind of finished in 2011. So my album is actually still back from that time. But I don't know, I never connected so much to that whole chillwave label. I like some artists in it, though, like Washed Out and some other stuff.
How has my sound evolved? I was more drawn into things like cold wave. That's actually not a recent genre; it's an older one. Like cold wave and new wave -- I like those genres a lot, so those were always for me what I was drawn to. So I think I grew more to those sounds.
Could you describe cold wave for me a little more?
Have you heard of Minimal Wave Tapes, or Minimal Wave is the label? They have a lot of cold wave -- you could call it that. It's new wave, but it's really minimalistic and really industrial. It's just one guy, with a little synthesizer and a drum machine at home, with a little tape deck and just making more demos. It's really do-it-yourself, but in the early '80s, and I like it a lot actually.
I'm not per se a collector of music -- I like music. But I'm not like madly collecting records or something or checking out labels. I'm also not superfamiliar with all the terms, but as far as I know, this is called cold wave. I like it. It's just a little rougher and more minimalistic than new wave. But I think my sound grew more into those older genres, I guess more with a twist also with some Italo disco. Something like that.
You recently moved to Berlin. Could you tell me about the move, the scene, and how it's been living and working there?
I moved to Berlin so that I could really focus on making music. I'm not so much into the dark techno scene, which is so big in Berlin. I have a few favorite parties where I also DJ a lot in Berlin, but those are small. And yeah, the scene never really attracted me there. It's just really practical, and there's a lot of people from Holland living there for really practical reasons.
In Berlin, I like to play at the Wedding Party, which is a warehouse party, in an unregistered space. It's really small, maybe 150 people or so. I like that about Berlin; you're allowed to play anywhere. We have so many little clubs that have no permits or anything at all for a year before they have to get some papers done or something. It's really loose. I guess that's why people can't complain, because everything is so cheap; they're living there for next to nothing. In Amsterdam, everything is really tight, and every little square meter of housing is being used or otherwise being rebuilt to a house. Especially in music, you can't really work there, unless you have a lot of money and a big house or something.
What are the differences between Palmbomen playing live and DJ'ing?
I make my music under Palmbomen, and I also play my music as Palmbomen with a band and with lights and everything, and then for that case, I sing too. When I do DJ sets, that's actually for me like a separate part. I like to DJ sets, but I'm also pretty free. I actually hardly play any of my own songs because it's too harsh and too not danceable enough for a dance floor. But especially because I never made music for dancing or something. When I DJ, I just take music which is danceable but also a big inspiration for me. It has more the same textures of my own songs, but not the same song ingredients, if you know what I mean.
I also read that you prefer to perform at nighttime. You're not as big on playing daytime and festivals.
Yeah, yeah. That's something I said because when I play live, I play with these lights I've programmed to go with the music, and it's really part of the atmosphere, and it really ruins it when I play on a day festival or something. I lose half my atmosphere around it. But for DJ sets, they're the same. Yeah, I love the dark for that kind of thing.
How would you describe your sound DJ'ing? Is it darker, more minimal?
Yeah, I guess so. I also really love house, like early '80s house, things like Trax [Records]. Especially I really love the transition of Italo disco towards, where they kind of get rid of their ingredients, like Jamie Principle, his demos. I also made an edit of one of his records. For me, that's what I really like to DJ, things that are really in between the whole era of disco and going toward the more minimalistic approach of house. I like that crossover period in the early '80s. That's what I play a lot, along with a lot of edits that I've made myself.
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Do you dance when you DJ?
It's always good. Because, actually, last time I played in Miami, I played live. I was supersick, like ill. And just because when I play live, with the lights around me and stuff, I sweat so much -- it's just like a superhectic sauna, and it just heals me.
Palmbomen. With La Minitk, Goodroid, and Henry Krinkle. Thursday, July 25. Bardot, 3456 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m., and tickets cost $15. Call 305-576-7750, or visit bardotmiami.com.