We welcome back King Unique aka Matt Thomas for a second interview with us (catch up on his previous interview from 2015 here). King Unique was previously Matt Thomas & Matt Roberts from 2001-2006 who together remixed artists such as Underworld, Dirty Vegas & John Dahlback. In 2006 Matt Thomas became the sole artist as Matt Roberts moved on. Since then King Unique has been synonymous with pounding, progressive, tech beats working with most of the underground progressive legends such as John Digweed, Hernan Cattaneo and more. We catch up with King Unique 2 ½ years later to see what’s going on including a change of direction from the music world.
Hello Matt, good to talk to you today. It has been 2 ½ years since you last spoke to us, so I imagine quite a lot has happened since then. I hear you are have been studying archaeology, can you tell us a bit more about your choice to do this?
Well, telling you what’s happened is easy – I decided to switch off my music career in order to become an archaeologist, which eventually lead to going to university and getting an archaeology degree. Telling you why is harder to explain, particularly as people want me to tell them it’s an uncontrollable passion. I understand that, it’s an indication of most people’s inability to comprehend why I’d turn my back on a life of travel and being told how wonderful I am just to go and be a fairly anonymous guy in a muddy trench searching for really really old stuff. It stems from a simple idea I’ve always had, that I don’t want to do just one thing with my life. I’d love to live multiple lives to be honest, really find out what this experience of existence looks like to other people. I began to feel that there were experiences I want to have – be they mundane, hard, transcendent, whatever – that I wasn’t going to get by sticking to just being Matt Thomas making music. We are all capable of doing and being much more than we allow ourselves.
To make this happen in one lifetime required giving something up to make room for something new, so music had to go on the shelf for a while. In return I’ve widened my understanding of who we are, how unfathomably strange and varied people can be, and already seen sights that most people will never have the chance to share. Witnessed the skeletons of two tiny children buried holding hands centuries ago; dug up a flint blade that was made millennia before the pyramids were built; visited a storage facility full of brightly painted coffins and mummy cases from ancient Egypt that looked as fresh as a child’s painting. Who we are, where we came from, where we’re going – this is stuff I want to know and be involved in, not watch it on television.
I imagine this takes a large proportion of your time, how are you managing your time between your digging, studies and music productions as you have still managed to put out a handful of releases in the past 12 months?
It’s fucking HARD, I’ve never juggled so much in my life you know? All this and raising kids. I need a holiday. So, I put music on the shelf as I said and honestly, I didn’t miss it. Not for over a year or so, but then this summer I actually found it popping into my head so I thought ‘fuck it – have a play’. Next thing I know I’ve signed up to do some remixes, but no rush, at my own pace until I got offered a chance to go and work digging in a medieval town just down the road from my house. So now it’s archaeology in the day and techno at night.
Can you tell us about what you are working on at the moment and do you have any completed tracks you have finished recently you can give us any info on?
I just finished a remix for Dan Sieg recently that’s now on Beatport, and currently I’m doing something for Jeremy Olander on his Vivrant label. There’s also some KU originals in progress that I’m allowing to go wherever they want, they’re not necessarily club tracks – we’ll see.
Could you please give us an insight in to your current studio setup, your DAW, your current favourite synth etc?
I’ve finally brought all the equipment home so that music life, family life, studies and so on can all happen in the same place and whenever I choose, without having to drive to a specific location. Regarding the gear itself, I drift between caring way too much about the technology and then being pretty unconcerned about what I use. Currently its simply a trusty pair of nearfield Genelecs for monitoring, laptop and a couple of controllers – the Arturia Spark and an old Novation Remote 25. There are several far better keyboards to use downstairs, (the Rhodes Chroma in particular has a beautifully playable set of keys), but for now they’re not calling me. The only problem with the Spark is my two youngest kids are obsessed with the Cartoon Sound FX presets and keep switching it over when I’m out of the room. Software on the laptop is the obvious stuff – Ableton etc, and the less obvious – Paul Stretch, Akaizer. I’m also dicking about on the iPad with iVCS3 and the alarmingly named Pink Trombone. I know, just Google it.
You seem to post the odd production tip on your Facebook page, any exclusive tips for our readers that you have come across recently?
Buy old organs from 1976ish – you’ll need some space in your garage and you’ll need to buy just the right ones but if you hit the jackpot you can get the warmest old 70s proto-synth vibes for peanuts. You can still genuinely pick up instruments that originally cost £10K to £20K for £50 or less.
Do you have any summer gigs or has gigging taken a backseat for now due to your studies?
I’ve been entirely happy not to pursue gigs since last year’s tour of Australia & NZ. I thought being away for 16 days would be no problem but I came home and found I’d got so behind the curve with academic deadlines that I fucked up every single one of them for the rest of the year. I believe the faculty secretaries now refer to me simply as ‘Extension’. Not a good look. The current flurry of new KU activity has already generated some fresh inquiries, so I’m looking at stuff I can do in a weekend.
New electronic music festivals are popping up each year all over the world at the moment. Have you been to any recently and do you have any in particular that you would really like to play at?
I played a fun set at Secret Garden Party a year or two back, took the opportunity to cover a lot more ground stylistically than I might in a club set. The festival I most want now is another crack at Rainbow Serpent in Aus to be honest; I played on a small stage for the same promoters at the Eclipse in 2014, then they asked me back for Rainbow the following year and gave me this fantastic mainstage slot, 10,000 people in the outback sun. I’d like to go back, maybe play one of the other stages and do a live KU set for them. Are you reading this Thad????!!
What are your long term plans Matt for both your music and your archaeological direction?
Right now its very simple – get the degree. Once that’s done I (hope) to build my own life with a mixture of music, archaeology, maybe some post-grad research into the applications of machine- learning to prehistoric conceptions of imagery – the usual cliché DJ career path. I’ve not put myself through all this just to slot into a career box, the whole point is to include as many things as I’d like in my life while I’m alive to do them.
As in your previous interview with us, you mentioned that you are not a fan of the genre boxing. As the years go by some producers like to merge genres and that’s how they are forging their unique sound. However something I have noticed as a producer myself who likes to merge several genres, progressive, breaks, deep house, it seems difficult to break genre boundaries as an up and comer and not an established name and be taken seriously consistently. What would your opinion on this be?
Hmmmm… Break them harder? Honestly I don’t think there is a rule, though I’d say from observation that the best style collisions are ones that have minutely observed and mastered at least one of the genres, and then push the limits of what it can be. I think Burial is the perfect example – the UK garage and drum ‘n’ bass knowledge just oozes out of those tracks but he’s taking it somewhere else entirely.
What do you think a possible solution would be to get out of this genre issue and who do you think should be responsible, Beatport, Streaming sites, producers, labels or listeners?
The solution is to consume music via the ears rather than the eyes. We can all practice it – just now and then fill your playlists with stuff you don’t know, set it to shuffle, and listen. If you find a track or a mix you like then follow that artist, maybe go see them live even if they’re not playing Warehouse Project or whatever. Yes, great clubs curate for great talent but they also curate for great ticket sales and the whole thing becomes about a tiny number of DJ superbrands that people see on a line-up and then automatically reach for their credit card. That’s fine, keep doing that, but also let your ears lead you, and when they find something good reach for your credit card then too.
To continue to the topic of genres. In the past 12 months or so, the real progressive house sound which was so popular in the late nineties early 2000’s has started to emerge although it is a lot slower than it used to be. Sasha and Digweed are flying at the moment and stalwarts such as Global Underground producers Pako & Frederik have re-emerged after a decade break. Do you think we are about to see another progressive house era and could this be a reason why the original curators are coming back to reclaim their flag?
I don’t know that I’m the right person to answer this. I’m a little cynical about revivals and that sort of thing – it’s kind of like paying £120 to go and see Fleetwood Mac play ‘Rumours’ 40 years after that album was a living breathing moment to them. My honest feeling is ‘you missed it’ and no amount of reassembling the line-ups and playlists of an era will bring it back. Even new musicians re-appraising golden eras can end up doing a sort of Oasis or even Disclosure; great music but entirely beholden to a bygone time. That’s pretty much the default setting of house and techno currently in truth. So I guess what I’m saying is, ‘Bring Back Real Prog’ isn’t a flag that I wave, nor I suspect do John or Sasha.
Now – that ISN’T to say that I don’t understand and appreciate nostalgia as much as the next man; you tell me that Manuel Göttsching is performing ‘New Age Of Earth’ on the original equipment and I’ll book flights to go see it. And please, go get your biggest ‘HYPOCRITE’ rubber stamp and stamp it on my face, as I’ve spent the last 6 or 7 years of my career injecting 70s synth vibes into techno. Plus I’m currently having immense fun re-imaging this Jeremy Olander tune I’m remixing as both a late 90s superclub banger and an early 90s Harthouse proto-trance tune. So maybe I’m Oasis after all… Oh fuck I don’t know – I’ll just do music and someone else can do consistency ok?
Final question Matt, where do you see yourself in ten years’ time, where do you think you will be living, do you think you will still be making music?
I find that a hard time to imagine really. My sons will both be in their 20s, my daughter getting ready for college and my daily dad days will be drawing to a close. After that, I could be anyone and anywhere.
Dan Sieg ‘They Won’t Find You’ (King Unique Remix) is out now on Beatport