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Kayla Painter | St George's Bristol

Artists in Our Midst: In Conversation with Kayla Painter

Kayla Painter’s immersive AV performances—created in collaboration with visual artist Jason Baker—present a soundworld of landscapes and colours that have marked her place as one of the most exciting experimental electronic producers to come out of Bristol. Deeply rooted in collaboration and a passion for nurturing the future of the arts, her latest release, Infinite You—often bristling with her own field recordings—is as ever-questioning as it is exquisite. Ahead of her upcoming performance at St George’s alongside KMRU, we caught up with Kayla to talk consciousness, collaboration and the Bristol scene.

“It’s the future. I really believe in the arts and the young people hold the future of the arts in their hands and that needs to be supported and nurtured.”

What does the Bristol arts scene mean to you?

I stayed in Bristol because of the arts scene and I saw Bristol as a really creative hub. I found it really vibrant and exciting so I think that’s what drew me here and kept me engaged with the arts scene. It’s the variety of events and things that happen live that, again, I find really exciting and make the city such a nice place to be, whether that’s stumbling over secret exhibitions or gigs in weird places. There’s also such an attitude of collaboration and of supporting each other in a grassroots way that I really love as well and because of that, there’s a lot of pushing boundaries on what art is.

Infinite You was your biggest release to date. Can you tell us a little more about the concept behind the EP and the way the duality of real and surreal manifests in your work?

I had quite a concentrated time writing it so the story and narrative guiding it came together as I was writing it. I was thinking a lot about the rules we live by on earth—and our concept of time—but in space, when you take this away, none of these rules apply. It’s only how we’ve decided to construct our existence and understanding of time passing—the sun rising and the sun setting. Interpreting that and making art out of that concept was part of what Infinite You was all about—not taking everything for granted in the way it is here.

Kayla Painter | St George's Bristol

I think a lot about our reality and our consciousness. Ultimately my reality will be different to yours but we wouldn’t be able to figure that out because we don’t have the language or ability to do so. The reality can also be surreal—we take it for granted as concrete, physical and measurable when it’s actually fairly loose and it’s the relationship between the two that Infinite You touches on.

Visuals play an important part in your live performances. How do visual elements interact with and influence the music you create?

When I started writing electronic music, I always had a sense of it being a visual experience. Then I met Jason Baker who started making bespoke visuals for my music and that’s when I feel my live show really developed to have that AV element.

It’s a cool process and we’ve worked together for a long time so we have a creative language that makes the visuals make sense. I take it for granted now but for years we developed this understanding of each other. It’s very much an open collaboration in that way. There’s still one main aesthetic—that loosely futuristic palette with a nod to sci-fi—but it’s very much intertwined with the sound choices.

From lecturing various subjects to working with music charities and mentoring, community is clearly at your heart as an artist. How important is this to you and why?

It’s where everything happens really, isn’t it? Having those kinds of opportunities made available to you can lead you into an art form that you may have never considered. Working with young people and charities to make technology and instruments accessible to people is so important—it’s such an amazing thing to do and everyone should get the chance to do it. I also feel like it’s such a learning experience for me as a person—it’s such a two-way dialogue and you’re always learning from each other.

It’s the future. I really believe in the arts and the young people hold the future of the arts in their hands and that needs to be supported and nurtured. It’s more important than it’s often given credit for in terms of funding so whenever there’s opportunity to ensure that growth and nurture is happening for young people it’s paramount that it does.

How does this impact your own musical experimentation and approach to the industry as a whole?

Having my links to radio keeps me quite grounded—constantly hearing so many different production styles—it just means you’re constantly thinking and that is inevitably going to come through to your work in some way. It might be something small like an effect or the way you layer sounds in or something more process-driven in the studio—it’s about staying engaged with it.

Something that I try to keep true in my practice that I also try to take forward to teaching is the idea that you don’t have to have spent a lot of money on expensive studios to make art—you need to find a way in any way you can and be resourceful. A few of the songs I’ve include sounds recorded on my phone—they’re not recorded with high-end microphones—and it’s important in terms of a wider message that this necessity for expensive equipment just isn’t true.

As we bask in summer’s afterglow, what can we expect from you later this year?

I can’t wait to play at St George’s. I’ve always loved the space and it feels like a really amazing moment to get to that. I have some other upcoming live shows in Bristol but the main thing I’m working on is finishing my record.

If you could choose one dessert island track, what would it be?

CMYK by James Blake – it’s a bit of a throwback I suppose!

Words by Louise Goodger
Images by Laura Crouchley