It is a very popular thought, at least among guitar music enthusiasts, that electronic music lacks personality because it is cold, too polished and too perfect. Although I resent the harshness in the prejudice and the inherent musical populism, I cannot deny that the origins of such a concept are defensible, given that anything machine-produced is, by definition, less “human”. Also, in aid of the theory, comes the consideration that the genre flourishes in its golden period in the 1980s, when synths, drum machines and keyboards dominate the scene; their icy sound effects sonically mirroring the lurking political tension of the Cold War. However music expression, like everything else, evolves; it adapts and transforms.
I tend to find transformations way more interesting than the static stages, and hybrid sounds are more attractive to me than refined and accomplished examples of a specific trend.
I looked for these qualities and came across NAH.
His music is laptop conceived, accompanied by insistent and persuasive percussions and shouted poignant lyrics. It is difficult to place him anywhere within the music scape and it would feel perverse to limit him to a genre. Aurally and visually prolific as drummer and designer, the well of talent from which Michael Kuhn (in art, NAH) draws songs is vast. “Yes, in my case the two things are very much conceived together. The music represents the visual and then the visual represents what is being felt through the sound,” he explains, as I meet him at The Phoenix Arts Club after his exhaustingly long bus journey from Brussels to London.
I want to hear what he has to say about his own music production and whether he finds that he fits the descriptions, as he has been reviewed as “industrial”, “electronic”, “hip hop” and “punk”: “If there is a trend for punk ideas or hip hop ideas to be meeting at a certain point, those ideas have been intertwining for a few decades since the ’80s. I don’t feel it like a trend. I grew up listening to lots of music, having a very young mum. There were definitely lots of electronic ’80s songs which were cold, programmed sequence sounds and then, in 1994, I was 10 and moved my interest to hip hop, but also listened to Nirvana and Weezer and guitar music in general. Have been playing in punk bands since I was 14. The set of influence is very broad.”
On electronic music being perceived as cold: “I was actually thinking about this recently. As I grew up, I performed in lots of punk bands and I wanted to retain that nasty sound, and even though I sometimes produce a clean sound, I never happen to like it ‘clean’. I automatically want to damage it, to hurt it, or to do something wrong to it, and prefer it to sound like something that’s being blasted at you in a dirty basement…”
And it does! His performance the following night at DIY is dynamic, spontaneous and the crowd is immediately taken, involved and responsive. There is no trace of coldness in the venue when NAH is on stage.
I ask how the industry reacts to him as an almost unclassifiable, ferocious, impulsive act: “I don’t care. I try to do what I want and in order to do what I want, I think I have to say no. Ultimately I am walking my own path. I don’t really care about the so-called ‘music industry’. If along my path I find someone who understands what I am about, then I am happy to work with them, but it is not essential.”
Hence his chosen name: NAH – a no to the conventional constrictions and a reaction to the preconceptions, conveyed with an original and eclectic sound, electronically produced and emotionally processed.
Find NAH on Bandcamp
Cover photo by Phil Rudich