Warning: the Bristol D&B pioneer's first album in 14 years might ACTUALLY blow your mind…
Phrases like "highly anticipated" or "eagerly awaited" are bandied around far too freely when talking about dance music artist albums. In fact, you start to suspect it may actually be specified in law that some variant on that wording must appear in at least three in every four press releases – it's probably in the 1993 Dance Music PR Act, or something. Dunno, I've not looked it up.
One album that certainly does merit such a descrption, though, is The Edge Of Everything – the first long-player in 14 years from Bristolian drum & bass pioneer and Full Cycle co-founder Krust, AKA Kirk Thompson, who famously stepped away from the music industry at the height of his fame in the mid-00s, after experiencing what most of us would call a "breakdown" of some kind. But Krust doesn't see it like that.
The term he prefers is "breakthrough". And that's understandable, because a lot has happened in Krust's life in the years since he bowed out of the limelight – most of it good! He now runs two successful businesses: there's Disruptive Patterns, a mentoring and life-coaching service which he set up in 2009, and then there's Amma Life, which imports and distributes CBD products, and which he's been running with his partner Sophia Ali – a relaxation therapist – since 2014. Yes, the man who brought us classics like Jazz Note, Warhead and Kloakin' Device is now a bona fide businessman – and something of a guru to boot.
But he's still a musician, and as it turned out, he couldn't stay away from the studio forever. Since 2016 he's released a series of EPs on labels including V Recordings, 31 Records and of course the rejuvenated Full Cycle. None of those releases, though, quite prepare you for The Edge Of Everything. Easily his most ambitious project to date, The Edge Of Everything may start out in D&B territory, but gets more out-there and experimental as it goes on – apposite words to describe it would mostly be things like 'futurist', 'collage', 'electronica' and 'techno', as opposed to words like 'rollers', 'steppers' or 'tear-out'.
Straining at the boundaries as never before, The Edge Of Everything isn't always an easy, instantly relatable listening experience – but it's certainly a fascinating one, not least because there's a story there. One which we'll leave it to Krust himself to explain below. And while he's at it, he can tell us what 1982 hip-hop movie Wild Style's got to do with it, too…
Let's start with the album – I think 'wow' is the word…
“Excellent, thank you!”
It's certainly not what I was expecting – and there's a quote on the press release about wanting to push forward into new territories. So can you expand on that a little bit?
“Sure. I've been around a long time, and I've been fortunate enough to be around for the inception of so many genres, be it hip-hop, electronica, drum & bass, trip-hop… I've been lucky enough to be around for all these movements. But my big thing was always Wild Style.
“I saw that film and it completely transformed this young black 14-year-old into a hip-hop Luke Skywalker! That's what gave me the idea that you could actually be this thing. See, I grew up in Knowle West in Bristol, a white working class area, and it was hard, there were no role models. But then I saw Wild Style, I saw all these black and mixed race kids and Puerto Ricans and whites all unified in the dance and I was like, 'I could do that'.
“All my life I've been embracing this thing about what it is to be inventive, to be original, because that's what I saw in Wild Style. That was my blueprint. For me, I took that element of b-boy oneupmanship and originality and brought that into jungle. That was what I brought to my version of jungle, and as I progressed I was always trying to do better than I did before, to be original, to be unique and to tell my story.
“So when it came time to get back into music, I started tinkering around and I thought 'What was it I liked best about making music?'. I thought, I've done enough of the whole Warhead, Kloakin Device-y Friday night dancefloor fillers, I want to really explore that Soul In Motion, True Stories vibe. If I'm going to make to an album, what would it sound like if I carried on where True Stories left off, or where Future Unknown left off – where would it go next?
“So I sat down to figure it out, and I went back to studying. I looked at films, I looked at philosophy, spirituality, consciousness, quantum physics, microdosing, psychedelics… I really dived into the universal experience and tried to live this next part of my journey and see what that was like. But It all goes back to the Wild Style influence – trying to make something from nothing, to move on to the next level.”
There are echoes on the album of people like Sun Ra and the whole Afro-futurist thing, so was that a big inspiration?
“For sure. African spirituality and African cosmology is something I've dived back into a lot over the past 20 years – Miles Davis was a huge inspiration when I was making my first album, I'd be listening to Bitches Brew and trying to channel what he was about into my own music.
“Making this, I listened to a couple of Sun Ra albums, a couple of Miles albums, but that informs me to experiment, to go deeper, to not be obvious. It's sending me to the source – and then when I start to dig in deep, I keep hearing the same thing: to find that uniqueness you've got to explore your own identity, really dive in deep and figure out who it is you're trying to connect with, who it is you're trying to tell a story about.”
'The Edge Of Everything' almost seems like your “post-punk” album, in a way. Y'know, after punk, some bands just stuck to the three-chord thrash thing, but other bands came along and said 'No, the new rules are there are no rules, we can do anything we want now,' and went off in all kinds of crazy directions…
“Absolutely, that's spot on. I think for me what jungle gave us was what you said, no rules – when we started making jungle we abandoned all these other ideas of what music was, and it was a really challenging time because we came from these other disciplines and now we were experimenting with all these other influences to try and make something new. So we had to break ALL the rules!
“But like everything else, jungle ripped up the old rule book and then wrote a new one, so 15 years later it was like, 'These are the boundaries of drum & bass'. And for me I never thought like that, which was partly why I stepped away from music as well.”
“So coming forward and writing this new record, it was firmly entrenched in that ideology of breaking the rules, and setting some new standards. And looking further afield than just music for inspiration as well.”
Also, on a more prosaic note… would you just find it a bit dull, making drum & bass now? Because you've covered quite a lot of D&B styles over the years… if not invented some of them!
“Well, that's not b-boy, is it? It's not driving the culture forward, it's not exciting… it's like going back to an old relationship and trying to rekindle it – you both know it's over, you just don't want to move on.
“I want a challenge: I want to sit in a studio and work on the hard puzzles, I want to create something for my brain to get stuck into. It'd be very easy for me to make Soul In Motion all day: the challenge is what's next, what's the evolution of that? You're already out there on a limb, the question is how much further out there are you prepared to go, how much more pain are you prepared to go through to get there? For me that's an interesting question, because it was a really deep dive into myself.”
Which brings us to the concept of the album, because there is a narrative arc to it. And the first few tracks are also the most obviously drum & bass-y. So was that deliberate – did you sit down and write it as a whole?
“Really, I approached it like making a film: I looked at film, I looked at a few directors who've really excited me – Christopher Nolan, Kubrick, Scorcese, Spike Lee – and I looked at their story-telling techniques and said to myself 'Okay, I was making a film, how do I want each scene to move, how do I want to tell the story?'.
“So if you listen to it in order, it starts off introducing you to the normal, everyday world. That's why it's familiar musically: 170bpm drum & bass. But that's just how the story starts – if you look at movies, they almost always start in the everyday world. The protagonist will just be going about their ordinary business, and then all of a sudden the ordinary world gets shot to pieces, and they have a choice: do they try and pick up the pieces of this ordinary world, or are they gonna go on this adventure?
“So the next couple of tracks, where it starts to drift from the standard idea of D&B… that's the protagonist going off into this adventure. He's committed now, he's going to figure out what's going on. So as the journey progresses he's going deeper into the unknown, deeper into the self, so what you're hearing is the break-up of reality, of consciousness – all the ordinary things he's relied on. He's experimenting, he's pushing the boundaries, he's going deeper into this unknown place where not a lot of people are travelling. But he does meet people there, just not people from music. There's all kinds of people experimenting with all kinds of things, different substances, different techniques for expanding their consciousness.
“And eventually he pops out, into anti-gravity, and he thinks, 'Okay that's it,' but then it turns out that's just a respite, and he has to go back in. And he eventually gets to Space Oddity, and he thinks okay, I can be comfortable here… but again he's mistaken, and he has to go through the exit, which is where Only God Can Tell, and it's only when he gets to the end of therethat his experience is complete. You can tell, because you can hear the doors of the transport open and he's back in the ordinary world, only how he's elevated in consciousness.”
Heady stuff! It's funny: I read Frost's book recently, and he describes meeting you and Roni for the first time and calls you “a bit hippy-ish”. I never thought of you as a hippy… well, not until this conversation! But then you also have a business selling CBD oils. So was Frost right: are you a bit of a hippy at heart?
“I'd have to agree, but I'd say I'm more of a techno-hippy. But that ethos, totally. I think growing up in Bristol, the type of city it is. it really allows you to live a certain lifestyle, and I've been very fortunate to meet people like Die, who schooled me on the alternative side of life. I didn't really know much about that, growing up. Growing up in Knowle West, people don't read books with dolphins on them! It's just not that kind of place.
“But then I met Die and I really learned a lot from him. Then we all started going raving together and we were out in the fields for years, taking ecstasy, and that really changed me as well – softened me up a lot. And going to Glastonbury, just experiencing that side of the world. And of course that's influenced my music and my attitudes and my way of thinking.
“Travelling, as well – I was going abroad to DJ from the age of about 21 and experiencing all these different cultures, from ridiculous wealth in America to real abject poverty in Eastern Europe. That gave me a wide experience of the world and then when you come back, you want to make the world better.
“And my thing was always just to try and help one person. So I started doing Disruptive Patterns because I was going through something, I went to people and they got benefit from it, and that turned into something. Same with doing the CBD, my partner and me were talking about wanting to start a business, something with meaning and purpose, and then we came across this story about CBD and how it had changed this young girl's life, and we thought right, let's get involved.
“Even in my music, a lot of people have different ideas about it, but I think it's optimistic. I am an optimist: I might go through these deeply introspective phases but it really is about searching for something: searching for more answers, searching for more love.”
I know you experienced something of a breakdown in your 30s… so are you now of the mindset that says “everything happens for a reason”, that the dark times were there to put you where you are now?
“Yeah, definitely. What I've begun to understand, in the past 10 years, is to be aware of the language I use and not use certain terms to describe certain things because they're preloaded with meaning and human emotion. So what I've come to understand is, although it seemed like a breakdown, it was actually a breakthrough. I broke through to something else.
“My whole life was about this idea of struggle and hardship and poverty. I had this idea of who and what I was, and then I got involved with music when I was 14 and my feet didn't hit the ground till I was about 34, 35. And that's when I had my… breakthrough. In the moments it was happening it didn't feel like that, I mean, everything in my world just fell apart. But what I know now about how the mind works is that it's always speaking to us… we just don't always understand the language it's using.
“So all the time, what I'm trying to hold onto… it's actually saying no, you're a caterpillar. Caterpillars don't try and hold themselves together when they're turning into a butterfly! You're just trying to hold on to what you know. But now you've got to let that go… and the moment I did let it go, a whole other world appeared that was totally different.
“I wasn't prepared for it but I grew into it, I began to understand the benefits of it, and every since I've been living this new life, everything's different. My music's more expressive, I've been able to start a business, I've been able to help and coach people… I didn't want to do any of that when I was in Full Cycle. Like me and Roni used to have these arguments, he'd say 'You should run the business,' and I was like, 'What do I know about business? I'm a DJ'.
“Those were the words I used to identify myself: I'm a DJ. I'm a producer. And when you identify yourself with those words, you're limiting your perceptions of who you are, of what you can achieve. No wonder it's hard to let go, and I experienced that. The Universe was talking and I was like, 'No, no, I'm a little acorn, I don't want to be a big oak tree!'.
“That's the human condition, and that's really what this story's been about. I'm not going to settle any more, I'm not going to reduce myself to the limits of what I was and other people's perceptions just because it makes people feel comfortable. That story's done, and I understand what it was for now. It took a while. But six, seven, eight years into it it began to make sense, and I was like, 'Okay, I'm starting to think about things differently now.'”
“The shocker was when it was happening. I couldn't believe that the physical world wasn't appealing enough. You know, I had the car, I had the house, I had the girl, I had the money, I had the career… and I was standing in the corner of a club, watching everyone get on with it, thinking 'This is whack'. [laughs] I was like, this can't be it? I've spent all my life building this shit up, and this is it? Nah, I've had enough of this.”
“And so I bounced. But all I bounced from was the material thing. I was still there to take whatever was left through to the next level. And that's what the Universe was showing me, it was saying, 'You bought into this material world and you thought that's all I am.”
You sound like you're in a good place these days…
“Well, I've worked at it – it's constant work. What's been really beneficial lately is, I've got this show called Adapted Canvas that I do every Tuesday afternoon on my Facebook page, and it's an hour-long podcast/vlog/whatever… just me riffing on camera, and people tune in, and it's a nice community building up. I get to express my ideas and interact with people, and it's great. I also have my private members' club on a Wednesday afternoon and that's the same, we have 30, 40 people who are all creators at various stages of their career and I coach them. I mentor them, and it's a really vibrant community.
“Those two things have really opened me up because we're talking about different issues, we're doing meditation sessions together and I'm studying and learning and pushing and growing, and it feels vital, and vibrant. That's just as exciting as making music and standing there performing it.
“But don't get me wrong, everything is work: I have to work at this every day. I get up at 6am, I meditate, I take my son to school, I go for a walk… it's work. And that's what I've recognised: I took a lot of stuff for granted when I got a lot of success the first time, and I got complacent. I just focused on the material world and didn't pay enough attention to the interior, to meditation, to being grateful for my life and what I had. I abused it.”
You mention the mentoring… we're both in our 50s now. Do people in our situation, who've done okay out of this industry one way or another, have a responsibility to pass on what we've learned to the youngers, do you think?
“Not just to the youngers, but to the world. You can't just keep blaming the state of the world on other people who we've endowed responsibility to… we live in the world as well. This whole thing about government, that's a dead idea. I think the Universe plans to wake up: we can't keep putting power in other people's hands that aren't any more qualified than we are.”
So with all that's going on in the world lately – Black Lives Matter, XR, #MeToo – do you think we could be on the cusp of a major change?
“Yes. We've gone so far towards the point of no return that we've got no choice, other than to pursue it and see where it leads us. More and more people I talk to – just ordinary people I mean, not the agitators and anarchists and rebels – they have a sense deep inside themselves that all this doesn't make sense, it doesn't ring true. Everyone's questioning and that's how you start… it's an itch that becomes something you have to scratch.
“It doesn't matter what you call it: it could be Black Lives Matter, it could be the pandemic, it could be whatever money thing… whatever's going on, the answers are at the edge of everything. Because this is where we find ourselves.”
Words: Russell Deeks
The Edge Of Everything is out now on Crosstown Rebels