The Mancunion

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Interview: Keeno

I catch up with upcoming producer and Manchester student Keeno following the release of his ‘Nocturne EP’.

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It’s impossible not to have the utmost respect for DnB head and upcoming producer Will Keen, otherwise known as ‘Keeno’. At only 19 years old, he is juggling a degree at Manchester University in Music with a rising reputation as one to watch in the DnB community for 2014.  In the midst of his busy schedule, he kindly took the time to chat to me about his classical background, love of foreign travel, and meticulous work ethos.

Chatting to Keeno, it’s refreshing to see ambition driven by a genuine love of music. He comments “the Hospital Records camp was where my love for drum and bass all started. It’s been at the heart of music I listen to daily and it’s what got me thinking that maybe I could have a go at this producing malarkey.”

Making a name for himself through remix work, Keeno’s therefore attracted much hype for his first release on Med School, the Nocturne EP. Reflecting on one of his earliest remixes, that of Casey Abrams’s “Get Out”, he comments “I definitely didn’t expect how popular it’d get at the time!  I did almost 18 months ago now for a competition which I came runner-up in. Ironically my remix has almost 4x the views of the original song now on YouTube. I wanted to remix the tune in a radio style by keeping the verse-chorus structure and making sure the vocals were kept in the foreground.”

Similarly, his recent remix of London Grammar’s “Hey Now” shows determination in achieving his desired sound. “When I first heard the original I was completely blown away by Hannah Reid’s voice – I knew I wanted to work with it however I could. I remixed the song using only the original mp3 file and just ran with what I thought of. I’d love to do an official remix for them in the future or, even better, work with them on a track.”

Production talent aside however, it is clear his  newest release, the ‘Nocturne EP’ relies on raw talent rather than production cliches. “I wanted to put out something that best showed what the ‘Keeno’ sound was all about. I tried to put out something which would be both refreshing and familiar so I didn’t force any complicated production tricks out – just kept the music speaking for itself.”

As a current Music student here at Manchester, Keeno explains how his classical training influenced his creative approach on the release.  ” I try and incorporate as much of my classical background as I can into my music and the result is some chilled tunes but still trying to maintain that dance-floor impact”. This can be problematic. “The hardest track to produce was definitely the title track, Nocturne. It probably took me a day to write the track and then 6 months to make all the elements work together and have their own space within the song. I think the problem was striking a balance between the music and the dance floor – it took a lot of testing at gigs to work out the best version.”

“All my projects are therefore extremely organised and it helps me streamline my workflow and the speed at which I can write music benefits hugely from it. I spend most of my time making sure my orchestral elements sound as ‘real’ as they possibly can by using two types of reverb on my “orchestra group channel” within the project: one as an insert and one as a send. The combination of the two really helps glue all the separate samples and gaps between instruments together and make it sound more like a live orchestra.”

However, what may be a lengthy process sounds great fun, particularly when it often involves collaboration with fellow DnB head Whiney. Keeno explains  “working with Whiney is always a laugh because first and foremost he’s one of my best mates. We write music together pretty much the same as I work as we use my computer for all of our collaborations. I am very methodical and have a bit of OCD going on with the organisation of my Cubase projects which lets me work very quickly.”

Balancing University life with such an upcoming career has its difficulties. Keeno explains “travelling most weekends and fitting in all the assignments as well as finishing a load of new tunes and going to all the rehearsals for choirs and stuff I’m in means I’m never not working. But I love it, I don’t mind. I’m going to Amsterdam in two weekend’s time and then am back the next day for a University deadline – I would have never thought I’d be so lucky to travel with my music so I’m working as hard as I can to do both at once. I just hope it doesn’t get to the point where one has to suffer because of the other…”

His new home in Manchester is also bringing its own opportunities. “I think drum and bass is making a bit of a comeback up here – I’m seeing more and more Hit&Run events (thanks to Rich Reason!) sporting solid jungle line ups. What I love most though is that there’s always something going on. Where I’m from way down South, seasons change before a decent night comes along.”

In fact, Keeno will be playing at the Med School showcase at Mint Lounge this Thursday. “I think I’ll be playing towards the end of the night so I’m going to switch it up a bit. I’ll be playing lots of new material I’ve been writing over Christmas as well as mixing in some familiar classics. I’ve got a few surprises in store – a few tunes which’ll catch you off guard. It’s going to be a great night, me and Whiney are really looking forward to it now these University exams are out of the way! Tickets are flying by the way so grab yours HERE before they run out!”

Otherwise it’s more touring and new music on the horizon for Keeno. “I’ll be playing as many gigs as I can: Manchester, Amsterdam, Belgium… and I’ll be finishing off more and more music. The EP has brought in some wicked interest for remixes too so look out for some more trademark Keeno remixes. I’m hoping I’ll have a busy Summer playing at as many festivals and shows as I can so if you come follow me on Facebook you’ll know where and when to catch me!”

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