Edmund Kenny is a London-based songwriter who produces electronic music under the name Kerala Dust. When he's alone in the studio — and he's always alone — he creates a vibe and lets the instrumental music inform his lyrics. His dark dance beats are paced by a heartbeat thud rather than the big, brash kick drums driving most EDM tracks, and he builds layers of instrumentation for a great sense of depth. Kenny's singing sounds like a whisper directly over your shoulder.
All of it is deliberate. He wants the listener to get lost in a warm, if somewhat unsettling, soundscape.
"I was watching these old videos of Frank Sinatra, and there was this thing about how he was the first person to use the microphone as a tool for singing," Kenny says. "Before, it was just something that recorded people singing, but he recognized that the microphone could uniquely represent the voice. He got really, really close to the microphone, turned it up quite loud, and sang supersoftly. That creates a kind of dense, intimate atmosphere.
"A lot of pop music is quite distant, almost as if the singer is completely removed," he continues. "I was interested in trying to change that."
On the phone from Zürich, Switzerland, Kenny is on the verge of embarking on Kerala Dust's first full-length tour of the United States, including a date at Floyd Miami this Friday, June 1.
Kerala Dust is his solo project in the studio, but he rounds out the live sound with the help of a couple of accomplished jazz musicians on keyboards and guitar. Kenny sings and plays synthesizers onstage.
"With the boys, we work on making it a live experience that people can really get involved with," he says. "Together, we take the things I've created in the studio and make something new out of them."
The project is very much a product of living in London — a claustrophobic city, in Kenny's estimation. It's a place where it's easy to feel faceless among the masses. He's found that getting lost in the recording process is a way of building his own reality.
"What I was trying to do was create a little world in the studio, this sort of all-encompassing universe for myself," he says. "That facelessness is something I try to put into the music. You're never quite sure who the narrator is or what they want. Even the lyrics I write in the first person are as much about me as they are about everyone else... In London, you can start to question your own identity; with the music, I'm trying to represent those questions of who you are, what you know, and what's true."
One thing's for sure: Kenny is a sound-obsessed studiophile who admits to spending an inordinate amount of time fiddling with knobs.
"Moby once said that underneath the cool photos and rock-star clothes, everybody's a nerd and you should never pretend otherwise," he says. "If you're producing electronic music, some part of you has spent five years in a bedroom making weird noises until you found something that worked."
Kerala Dust.10 p.m. Friday, June 1, at Floyd Miami, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; 786-618-9447; floydmiami.com. Tickets cost $10 to $15 via ticketfly.com.
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Howard Hardee is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin. Originally from Fairbanks, Alaska, he has a BA in journalism and writes stories about music, outdoor adventures, politics, and the environment for alt-weeklies across the country. He is an aficionado of fine noises and has a theremin in his living room.