- Kai Whiston explores his family history in the New Age travellers movement using a mixture of maximalist club music and poignant pop.
- "My philosophy is closer to nihilism than anything else. The poetry of seeing things that way has always appealed to me. I just think it's more seductive than being happy."
That's Daniel Lopatin, AKA Oneohtrix Point Never, discussing his 2015 album Garden Of Delete. In a Tweet posted a week after the announcement of his third LP, British artist Kai Whiston said that OPN record was the "single most important artwork" of his life—a fondness clearly audible on Quiet As Kept, F.O.G., an album that explores the spaces between irony and sincerity, ugliness and beauty, nihilism and deep feeling.
On Quiet As Kept, F.O.G., Whiston uses his typical maximalist club music as a jumping-off point for something more personal, toying with ambivalence to interrogate memory and trauma. He samples his own past tracks, peppers them with new recordings and blends futuristic club mutations with sounds rooted in the past: hardcore, breakbeat, drum & bass. Quiet As Kept F.O.G. also includes live string quartet recordings, other decontextualised samples and layers of electronics and processing that position it somewhere between a symphony and a soundtrack for a psychological thriller that maps Whiston's childhood years, both real and imagined.
Whiston walks us through a fraught journey of self-discovery, reconciling himself with the bohemian upbringing he spent his teenage years lamenting. He experienced the rise of ‘90s hardcore movements first-hand via his parents' place in the New Age traveller community. But instead of relying on nostalgia, Quiet As Kept F.O.G. grapples with the memory of financial hardship, the loss of his father to addiction and his own internalised vilification of travellers.
To this effect, it revels in the grotesque and the otherworldly, confronting the traveller community's alienation, both at the hands of Whiston's adolescent self and of society at large. At times this theme appears in plain sight. "Peace Convoy" borrows its title from a group of several hundred New Age travellers who were met with state violence when attempting to set up the 1985 Stonehenge Free Festival in Wiltshire (resulting in the bloody Battle Of The Beanfield.
Elsewhere, Whiston approaches this theme with more subtlety. He channels trance, breakbeat and hardcore through the persona of his fictional teenage son, Drayan (an alien first introduced in a 2021 mixtape), who contorts and distorts these sounds, each vocal processed to the point of indiscernibility. On "Carrier Signal," EDEN's voice decays in real time. Half-way through "T.F.J." the click of a tape recorder yields silence, out of which a crackling voice apologises, as if for letting out a bad fart. "That's disgusting, sorry. Phewww"—even in this heavy context, Whiston's sense of humour and grotesquerie remains intact.
In spite of its cerebral underpinnings, Quiet As Kept F.O.G. skips past the brain and goes straight to the body. Grandiose instrumentation and gut-wrenching melodies infuse adrenaline, tingling like the anxiety that dances underneath the skin when you're coming up. "Q"—a collaboration with punk feminist collective Pussy Riot—sounds like hardcore made by deliquent school children chanting their disaffections. It charges at 190 BPM, its giddy bass muffled as if contained by walls, invoking the hyper-specific feeling of approaching a free rave.
The delirium is punctuated by moments of stillness that return us to Whiston's confrontation of the past. The voice of Helene Whiston (Kai's mother) haunts the album from start to finish, eventually taking full form in the ten-minute closer, "10-10-73," where she celebrates the out-there aesthetics of the New Age Traveller community. But the contrast between her excitement and the track's orchestral instrumentation make it sound devastating, and her mischievous prods of "Are you recording me? Are you interviewing me?" dissolve into a backdrop of mournful synths.
We're left to decide whether Quiet As Kept, F.O.G. is a celebration or a critique of Whiston's traveller upbringing. How much of his recollection is fact, and how much is fantasy? Is his homage to '90s rave sincere, or parody, or both? Memory is woven into every inch of the album, as voice-note ghosts drift between the album's many soundscapes. It isn't clear exactly which memories belong to him, or to his imagination of a traumatised community, but this ambivalence is exactly where his music thrives, and emotion shines through.
01. Between Lures
02. Q feat. Pussy Riot
03. Carrier Signal feat. EDEN
04. Peace Convoy
07. Div Era
09. Lux 3 feat. Iglooghost
10. 10-10-73 feat. Helene Whiston