KCW, the alias of electronic DJ Kellen Wohl PZ ’13, is one of four student bands performing at this weekend’s Kohoutek Festival. A music major and math minor, Wohl strives to combine elements of multiple different genres into his DJ sets. He will be playing Friday, April 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Pitzer College.
TSL: First, could you explain the type of music you create?
Wohl: So my artist name is KCW, it is my initials, and it is a project I have been working on for two and a half years now. I play piano and guitar, but now I have been working on more electronic keyboards, working with more computer music and more contemporary types of electronic production. I am trying to incorporate some of the stuff I have learned in my piano lessons. I’m learning all different types of genres; I started off with classical piano and that kind of thing and then delved into rock and blues and jazz … Then, more recently, it has been following the trends of electronic music … in recent years I have been getting into that, and I still try to bring in some of those influences from the other genres that I play.
TSL: So what genre would you categorize it under, if you had to?
KW: It’s electronic, dance, and I try to bring in other genres as well. It is not just one particular style of dance music.
TSL: Is this your first time playing at Kohoutek?
KW: No, I actually played a set last year, and then as a freshman I played with a folk-indie band and I was playing piano for them. That had acoustic guitar and violin and bass and piano, so it had more instruments in that regard. Now I have moved toward more solo production.
TSL: What do you enjoy about playing at Kohoutek?
KW: I think Kohoutek is a great opportunity to play at a festival that is completely student-run. It is free to the public and to the 5Cs and it is just a great opportunity to embrace all the creative things that Pitzer students and 5C students like to do. There are going to be a lot of great art and music and food and fun activities for the weekend. I have been part of the committee this year, so it has been interesting to be on both sides of it, both the organization as well as being a performer in it. I think it is one of the best events in the spring semester. So I am really fortunate to have an opportunity to play.
TSL: How long does it take you to put together a 30-minute set?
KW: It takes a little while. I have a good collection of music that I have produced over the last few years and to condense that into a 30-minute set is a challenge … Also, to figure out which songs will fit at the time of day, which songs flow well together, I play around with different tracks and how they move toward each other and how they flow together. To condense it into a half hour, it really has to be something good.
TSL: Will you be playing all original music?
KW: Yeah, everything I play is my original music, and then I will be adding some keyboard stuff on top of it.
TSL: Who are your biggest musical influences?
KW: I have a large group of influences. I have always been big into Radiohead. More recently I have been into Kaskade and Calvin Harris. The whole Electronic Dance Music (EDM) genre is blowing up and there are a lot of producers that play their own stuff as well. I think that is who I look up to, the people who have the abilities of putting on a great live set, but also have the musicianship to produce their own stuff in the studio and to create music that connects with people emotionally; it is not just loud and forceful music.
TSL: Do you ever remix other people’s tracks?
KW: I have started getting into that. It is a challenge to do that because the key to a good remix is to have your own originality, as well as borrowing stuff from other artists. In my music, I have a framework with chords and melodies and I also bring in some samples as well. I try and incorporate some samples I find as well as some of the stuff I record myself and try to create that into one piece of music. It takes a lot of effort.
TSL: What is it about EDM that you like so much? Why this genre?
KW: I think there is a lot of freedom in it, because as a musician, at least in EDM, you can create a sound that is exactly what you want it to be. You can replicate an instrument very well now with computer technology, and I know that there is nothing that really replaces live instruments, but I try to do my best as a composer/arranger/producer to make a full sound, have all these different elements in the music. I think it is just a genre of music that people can connect to. It has a good driving rhythm, melodies, and bass.
TSL: I think EDM is the most fun to see live as well.
KW: Definitely! But that is also the challenge of it, because you have to have a presence up there so that you are not just standing in front of your computer screen. What I have been trying to do is to find a balance between the live keyboard and some of the pre-produced tracks, so I am … having a pre-recorded set and layering live instruments on top of that.
TSL: What was the process by which your EDM education happened?
KW: [Laughs] Well, I have friends at Pitzer who are into it as well, so we work together and talk to each other about the new programs and software we have got or just share music with each other using Dropbox or whatever. I think listening to the music, you hear stuff—at least with a musical background, you hear chord progressions or different ways that artists format their music that can influence your own music. I think that is what I am trying to do. I am not trying to be just a DJ or whatever that plays other people’s music, I am trying to take my influences and what I listen to and bring my own vision to it.
TSL: So you learn by doing? As opposed to sitting down and reading a manual?
KW: Yeah. I went to lots of shows and concerts, especially when I studied abroad in England, because there is a lot of EDM there and a lot more underground stuff, like drum and bass, and house, than has caught on in America. There are a lot of sub-genres and varieties that I try and explore.
TSL: What do you think about the live music scene at the 5Cs?
KW: There is a lot of cool music being done here. I have seen both my share of the art music that is put on by Pomona and Scripps, as well as at different parties where there is a lot of live music and DJs playing, especially at Pitzer. There is such a vibrant live music scene here.
TSL: Is it a supportive environment?
KW: I think it is a very artistic and creative community and we try to foster that kind of creative expression, whether it is through the activities we put on, events, or just having a space for musicians to play on campus.
TSL: What would be your advice for someone who is looking to start making this type of music?
KW: I mean, it is good to have some type of musical background. Knowing piano has really helped me out in terms of hearing chords and making a melody that sounds good and can work with other instrumentation and that type of thing. If you want to pursue it, just work hard at it. Do some research on what type of stuff you can access. In terms of software, you can work your way up by starting with something cheap and easy and then, as you progress, make the investment to upgrade your software and instruments.
TSL: What software do you use?
KW: I use Traktor, which is performance software, and Ableton, which is music production software.
TSL: Is EDM where you foresee your future going?
KW: I mean, it is definitely something I am passionate about, and if it could be something I can do in my future, that would be awesome. I do it here because there is the opportunity and my friends like the music I make, and it is really fun to showcase what I have been working hard at. I know that if it were something that could develop in the future, I would definitely be down for that. Being a musician is just a good way to bring people together, but it is a difficult path and it is not always beneficial in the short term.
TSL: Why should people come and see you at Kohoutek?
KW: Overall, it is going to be an awesome festival and there are a lot of great artists playing. I am playing a late afternoon set and it will be a beautiful day. It is going to be an exciting day, with fun music to listen to, and just hang out with your friends.
TSL: Which other artists are you excited to see?
KW: I am really looking forward to Taylor McFerrin, the son of Bobby McFerrin. He is a beat-boxer and plays really sweet jams. Curtis King is playing on Friday and is this hip-hop artist from San Bernardino. It is just going to be a really, really good weekend.