Review/Interview: Kiffie – ‘Pixilation’

Ange Chan reviews the new album from synthpop artist Kiffie and chats with him about his work.

Daniel Kiffie is the man behind the synthpop artist Kiffie the Dreamer, or Kiffie as he’s more widely known.  He’s got a new album coming out on 1st July, entitled Pixelation with the album available to stream from Bandcamp on 15th July 2022.

He is a hard-working artist having produced twelve albums during the course of 2021 using his Korg MinilogueXD, Roland TR8s, Yamaha P121 Digital Piano, and Gibson SG guitar and Vox amplifier to achieve his unique sound.  This year to date has been no less busy.

The album Pixelation explores themes of needing and wanting and trusting our instincts and feelings around that age-old subject of loving and being loved. Daniel describes is as “an album set in a fictional time and hopeful place.”

Lyrically there’s little room for deep and meaningful introspection, instead the words pack a punch leaving the listener in no doubt regarding its true meaning.  Backed with cleverly programmed synth, drum machine and piano, the lyrics serve to complement the multi-layered facets of musicality contained within.

The album opens with the eponymous track, Pixelation, which feels like a call to arms with its steady rhythmic beat, punctuated with heavy synth sounds to a repetitive lyric. It’s a strong opener to the album and compels you to listen further.  Pixelation is followed by Stay Awake,  which has a Cabaret Voltaire vibe to its backing music.

The next track is quite literally Intense, both in character and title. It opens with some strong synth sounds which meld into a more melancholic vibe both musically and lyrically, with small elements of Morrissey and Pet Shop Boys unintentionally in the mix. Track four on the album is One More Night with echoey refrains of the difficulties of leaving a lover.

In slight contrast, the following track Kissy Kissy is a fast-paced and fun track, which has distinct elements of Sparks coming to the fore.

Track six is Persistence which is a much slower instrumental track and changes the pace of the album, which until this point, has been largely on the up-beat.  It’s almost ecclesiastical in its delivery and demands the listener approach it with the reverence and solemnity it conveys. In the same vein, it’s followed by Where Have You Been which is a lamentable song filled with regret and has the same level of moroseness lyrically as Morrissey, with touches of The Smiths thrown into an electro backing.

Feline Fire Daemon has a ‘busy’ backing with multi-layered musical treatments which lead the listener from one mood to another as the song speeds up and slows down throughout the duration of the track.

The penultimate track is Time has Scottish vibes with bagpipes in the intro as Daniel’s haunting vocals punctuate the mesmerizing sounds of the pipes.  It’s a slower track which is completely discrete to the other songs and themes on the album.

The album is completed with the instrumental track I Love Synthpop which opens with a strong multi-layered melody and yields into other segues, taking the listener to undiscovered yet familiar places.  It’s the perfect end of album track which firmly draws a line, indicating the end of this particular body of work.

Daniel Kiffie Interviewed

I managed to catch up with Daniel to ask him a few questions about his music.

Who are your musical influences, both new and old?

I do not know the answer to this question. I often think that influences are hidden from the influenced. I haven’t deliberately tried to derive my style from anyone in particular. Other people say that they can hear elements of John Foxx, Ultravox, Depeche Mode and A-ha in my music. I always put this down to the fact that I am using synths and drum machines. I certainly never set out for this to be the case. In terms of inspiration to write Placebo, Blur and Bloc Party are big influences I suppose. And 90s indie can be heard in song structure.

Which records did you listen to when you were growing up?

As a child we had five records. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Imagine, Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues, Sparky’s Magic Piano and Peter and the Wolf. I listened to them all, a lot. in1990 I was bought my first ever single, Ride on Time by Black Box. I didn’t own any other music until 1993 and had NOW 23 on tape. Almost all the music I heard was on the radio, and I loved the late-night love section on BBC Radio. Melancholic love songs from all genres and times really touched me. On Top of the Pops the groups that I always looked forward to seeing included The Pet Shop Boys and Erasure. But we’re talking 90s not 80s.

How did they influence you to start producing synth music?

I don’t think they did. I make synth music for two reasons… My Korg is an orchestra in a box, and because I had a personal rediscovery of 80s synth music in about 2017. I only know the hits and one hit wonders. I know almost nothing about (from my perspective) obscure album tracks. I need to start listening!

What is your song writing process?

I start with a tempo and a feeling. Record the vibe. Add the melodies and write the words. My lyric notes are scribbles and from the mess comes the song. Sometimes I hear choirs in the reverbs and phrases in the delays. I record using my Korg Minilogue XD, Roland Tr8s, Yamaha P121 Digital Piano, I sometimes add guitar then pick up the microphone and start singing. I like my lyrics to repeat at certain points. I’m trying to describe an emotion or a feeling and capture it in sound. I’m not trying to write a ballad or a book. I’m almost trying to distil complicated thoughts into simplest terms. Purifying what I feel.

Have you been involved with other bands?

No. I don’t think playing bass guitar to the same 20 tunes in an amateur folk rock band 6 times a year has any bearing on who Kiffie is.

Have you ever considered joining a band or forming collaborations with other musicians?

Not forming a band no. However, I have collaborated with over 24 other artists in the music community. But more than that. I have collaborated with rock guitarists from New England and Wales (Lucas Andrews, Ade Wilding), rappers from Southern California (Emceebrownbear), electronic artists from Finland (Pulse Lab), Jazz virtuosos (Richard Davies) and many many others. Pulse Lab, Lucas, Richard and Emceebrownbear and I formed a one time collaborative group for the Lights and Lines Album Writing Club. I love collaborating because each person contributes something new and we teach each other something new. We grow together as musicians and people. I currently have 4 ‘secret’ collaborative songs in the works.

During 2021 you produced 12 albums. How challenging was this?

I consider 2021 to have been one big album. A continuous period of music production. I don’t know why I did it but I had a goal, keep making more, better music, in terms of structure and production skill. I had a lot to say and still do.

Do you have an established fan base? 

This is what I hoping to achieve. Naturally, the synth community are the people that listen the most, but I try to break down any genre barriers and hope to encourage everyone to listen.

Have you ever played live?

Yes, I supported Sink Ya Teeth (Maria Uzor and Gemma Cullingford) at Norwich Arts Centre in October 2021 with just three hours’ notice. I performed my own two hour set in May 2022 at a local venue in Norwich and I am due to perform in store next month at Norwich HMV on 16th July to launch the ‘Pixelation’ album on CD. I am a regular at Norwich’s Electronic Music Open Mic Night and I have also applied for various festivals.

Who is your musical guilty pleasure?

East 17. Their music is actually quite good. Especially their ‘Steam’ album.

How do you see your career progressing? Do you have any plans?

I try to take small yet powerful steps every day, with the aim of one day being able to replace this mundane life with a life recording and performing music full time. My plan for the next 12 to 18 months is to tour the festivals and perform at Glastonbury. I have plans and a strategy but that’s a secret.

I will quote some of my lyrics…

‘I think I need a change, to start it all again, and grow some pretty wings, and fly out of night’.

‘I choose to live another life, I want to live, not just survive’,

and

‘All the hard work in life so far, should I rip it up and reach for stars?’

Thank you Ange for everything. Daniel

Thanks for talking to me Daniel and all the best for the release of Pixelation!


❉ ‘Pixelation’ by Kiffie released July 1, 2022. Order Digital Album (Streaming + Download) £10 GBP: https://kiffie.bandcamp.com/album/pixelation

 A lifelong lover of music and prominent contributor to Me and the Starman (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon), Ange Chan is a Freelance Writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry.

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