Komodo, the Iridescent Dragon, on the Way to Dragon Lands

This Friday The Shelter is hosting another gig you must go to, if you are a crafty duck. The line up for this mini dub festival, as they named it, will have as its central dish Komodo.

Musician, DJ, and producer, Komodo (aka Matthew Burton) was born in New Zealand and is currently based in Montreal, Canada, where he regularly plays on his Komodo’s club nights. Komodo’s music is colorful and attached to ethnic sounds through the use of instruments he plays during his live sets. His music takes sounds from many cultures, mixed with strong and fast bass sounds.

Among the many things Komodo has done during his career is a gig with Cirque du Soleil for the world premiere of “Kà”, and also with Peter Murphy on his 2002 album Dust, which was a very interesting album from this icon of goth rock. We asked him about this, his music and his first trip to China. Listen to these tracks from his first album Subluna, while you read.

You worked on the production of Peter Murphy’s Dust, from 2002. How did you get that job? How was it?

That was… pretty intense, actually. I was working with a Turkish composer named Mercan Dede, who already had a relationship with Peter through a connection with Peter’s wife, who is also Turkish.  I was still getting up to speed in using tools such as Logic Audio (this was many years ago, in June 2000 actually), and Mercan Dede wasn’t so much hands on with the computer music software, so I ended up… doing all the engineering, writing beats, arranging a lot of the backing tracks and more or less co-producing with Peter three demo songs that later ended up in reworked format on his album, Dust. I remember it being kind of stressful trying to be as fast as possible with the software in order to capture Peter’s creativity as it was happening, and I didn’t sleep much because there was a lot of work to do on my end in between sessions with him, but he was also a very interesting person to hang out with and we definitely had some good times together. I also learned a ridiculous amount in a very short span of time by working with him.

How did you begin to make music?

I started out playing saxophone when I was at school, around the age of eleven.  At fifteen I also started writing hip hop songs, using samplers and keyboards.  So from pretty early on I was already exploring acoustic instruments and the sometimes separate universe of electronic music.

Where is the origin of your music? And what inspires your music?

The origin of my music would be… where ever people first discovered rhythm, I suppose.  My music is inspired by so many different sources, but one of the fundamental inspirations for me is rhythm, particularly what we tend to call tribal rhythm – that kind of beat that is really primal, that gets under your skin and leaves you no other choice but to move your body.

What instruments and equipment do you use to play live?

During my DJ sets I play Australian didgeridoo, Turkish flute (ney), and North-African frame drum (bendir).  I also do a style of throat singing that is related to the Mongolian style.  As for equipment, the main piece of gear that I haul everywhere I go is an Allen & Heath Xone 464 mixer, because it’s a very solid DJ mixer, and also has good quality mic preamps, which allow me to plug in all my instruments.  So basically I can control everything that’s happening sound-wise in my set from one mixing board.  Sound engineers also love this board because it gives them complete control over all the instruments, which are separated out from the main DJ mix…  Aside from that, I spin CDs, normally on Numark decks, though most people use Pioneer, so I’m starting to use those more now as well.

What is the difference between techno trance and your music? If there’s any…

Techno trance…  If by that you mean trance techno, then there is a big difference in that trance techno is a label to designate a very specific type of electronic music, so it refers to certain styles of musical phrasings and drum patterns, certain types of song structure, and a very specific sound palette.  The music I am doing is definitely also a type of trance music, but it is influenced by much older musical traditions, such as those found in Morocco, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil…  These kinds of trance musics have been around for hundreds of years and… that doesn’t necessarily make them any better, but to my ears there is a richer musical experience to be found in these traditions and they evoke a more powerful response in me than the style of electronic music known as “trance music”.

How is reggae influencing your “ethno-dub” sound?

Reggae is the heart-beat. Reggae is the sound that, one way or another, evolved into dancehall, dub music, hip hop, ska, jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, r ‘n’ b, uk garage, grime, dubstep… Though each of these styles of music is distinct, they are all cousins that share a certain musical aesthetic – and in particular they all tend to favour the bass end of the sound spectrum.  In my own music I have put a lot of emphasis on basslines, and bass sounds in general, and all of this springs from the influence of those original reggae basslines.

Ethnic music is attached to the sounds of the earth. Somehow ethnic music describes the landscapes of the land where it comes from. For example, to me, Andean music, quenas, zampoñas and charangos, sound just like the wind of the Atacama desert. What is the landscape of your music?

There are two landscapes in my music, and in a way they are quite different, though I am actually layering these two landscapes together all the time.  One is the desert, though not any specific desert, because the musical traditions I am influenced by come from a variety of different deserts.  The Australian desert, the Saharan desert, the desert in Rajasthan and the desert climates found in the Middle East, as well as the northern wastes of Canada.  There is a power in this kind of landscape that is raw to the point of being mystical.  There is also something so minimal about these landscapes that allows you or forces you to focus so much more on the intricacies and deeper complexities of each element.  With this feeling in mind, sometimes in my music I like to leave sounds fairly raw and unadorned, so that over time, the repetition of these sounds begins to create its own beauty, and in fact its own complete universe.

Competing with this is the landscape of the jungle – Brazilian jungle, African jungle, Indonesia jungle… Dense, steaming, layered, colourful, almost out of control.  I like the energy of these environments, the chaos, the possibilities for surprise, the tension, the heat.  So in a lot of my music, I actually have both of these kinds of geographies in mind, though for sure in any given song the energy will sometimes lean more towards jungle, and in others, more towards desert.

If you really wanted to pin it all down to one location though, then I would say you are hearing the sound of Montreal in my music, because along with all these jungles and deserts there is the electronic aspect of my music in there that is very urban.  Also, in a city like Montreal, you have people literally from all over the world living together, becoming “Canadian” not by erasing their cultural heritage from other places, but by sharing it, to the point that bhangra becomes a part of the Canadian cultural fabric though it is originally Punjabi, or capoeira becomes part of Canadian culture though it is originally Brazilian…

Last year you released your first album Subluna and you also produced and headlined a series of multi-media events “Full Subluna” What was the concept behind these two projects?

Full Subluna was a series of multi-media events I produced in 2005.  Aside from living and breathing music, I am also very interested in a lot of other artistic disciplines, such as dance and the visual arts.  And because there are so many artists living in Montreal, and such an appetite for culture in that city, I decided to put on a series of shows that would feature different guest dancers, guest musicians, guest VJs, guest DJs and guest installation artists for each show.

Putting on these shows really marked a turning point in my life as a musician and as an event producer or “artistic director” of sorts, so I decided to refer to that time and that series by naming my first CD with the title “Subluna”.  That name, Subluna, also happened to be my first stage name, which I was no longer using by the time I did the Full Subluna shows.  So the CD title refers to a lot of different things.

What are you working on now?

At the moment I’ve got a lot of things on the go.  With my brother Nick (aka DJ Hosta), I co-produce a dubstep night in Montreal called Komodo Dubs where we feature a different international guest DJ for each event, and also feature as many of the up-and-coming local DJs and producers as we can as well.
Meanwhile, when I get back from China I’ll be working on the soundtrack for a six-part television series about life in countries such as China, Brazil, India, Afghanistan, Peru…

I’d also like to release some tracks on vinyl this year, and I’m already starting to prepare material for my second album.

Have you thought about any Chinese instruments you would like to get, now you are here?

I am actually thinking about this constantly, but haven’t yet had a lot of opportunities to investigate more seriously.  I have always been fascinated by Chinese percussion so I am sure I will pick up a few cymbals before heading back to Canada. After the show in Shanghai I hope to devote more time to exploring as many aspects of Chinese musical culture as I can, and to dig deeper into those corners that are still fairly unknown to me.

You are in Beijing now, and you played a set there. How was it?

Fantastic! The crowd was really receptive to the music I played, and there was a great energy on the dancefloor.

Do you think your future music will be influenced by the Chinese music you have been in contact with during this visit?

Without a doubt.  Though as to whether the influences will show up in ways that are obvious or more subtle is hard to know at the moment.

What are you preparing for your set in The Shelter?

I will be playing a lot of original tracks, and plenty of it will be my own brand of dubstep, though I will probably also dip into a couple of other styles that are… influenced by the reggae bassline, we could say. Definitely got a few surprises in store!

*Photos one and four by Miguel Legault and Photos two, three and five by Thomas Csano.

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Mache is a hippie witch that was born under Beltane's full moon. She enjoys talking to ghosts and interdimensional beings, and cooking for her friends and beasts. She has Chilean wine in her veins instead of blood,and at the moment she belongs to China.


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