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Interview: Catching Up With Liverpool-based DJ/Producer Kokiri

Kokiri

Kokiri, one of Liverpool’s finest house music producers, is back with the new single ‘In My Head’, which was released via London independent, Perfect Havoc.


It follows a standout 12 months for Kokiri with releases on such vital labels as SIZE, Spinnin’, and the disco-tinged release on Perfect Havoc’ One Thing’, which saw support across the board from Arielle Free on Radio 1 to playlist adds on KISS and Capital Dance. 


Now dropping his most personal track to date, with accompanying artwork designed by Kokiri himself, ‘In My Head’ conveys a world of emotions as the artist opens his heart unlike never before. Check it out below or download/stream via all platforms here: https://Kokiri.lnk.to/Inmyhead.



We caught up with Kokiri to learn about translating raw emotion into music, his musical heroes growing up, and what’s in store for ten years of Kokiri. 


Thanks for joining us today. Where are you writing to us from, and what have you been up to over the last few weeks?


Hey, I’m writing to you from Liverpool in the UK. It’s actually sunny today, so I think I picked the wrong day to be locked away in my studio. The last few weeks have been pretty productive; I’ve had a load of studio sessions, so lots of new tracks have been finished and are ready to be sent off to labels. In addition, I’m building a studio in the garden, so we’ve finally started that, too. The garden is a mess, but at least the studio is now underway!


Tell us about your journey into music and some of your local heroes growing up in Liverpool.


So, my journey was an interesting one. I was brought up listening to a lot of Happy Hardcore and Acid House. I’d dabbled in production previously; I’d had a go on Music 2000 on my PlayStation. My brother showed me a song and told me it was made by someone in his bedroom on his computer. That fascinated me, so it became an ambition to try and do the same. I started making music on my computer, and I’ve never looked back - that was 21 years ago now!


I was a big fan of Happy Hardcore, but also around the time I was getting into music production, a genre called ‘scouse house’ was pretty big in Liverpool. There was a man called Mike Di Scala (of Ultrabeat and now Camelphat fame), and he was basically making all this music that was being played in the clubs on weekends. He was and still is a huge inspiration to me.


Your new single ‘In My Head’ was written during an emotionally tough time - your mum was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and you were feeling lost in your career. How did you translate those feelings into the music?


Translating my feelings to the music seemed to be the easiest part. I wasn’t making the song for anyone but myself whereas usually I’d be a bit stricter with choices. I was like – I’m making this song for me so if other people enjoy it too, that’s a bonus. The music itself was like an escape for me. I could lock myself away for a few hours and play music and not really concern myself with anything else happening. It probably sounds a little cliché, but it kind of just wrote itself. I was just sitting at my keyboard playing things in and recording them. I wrote a few chords that I thought sounded a bit dreamlike as that was the sort of feeling I wanted to convey, almost a dreamlike state. From here I added more and more to it and the song itself began to take shape.


You’ve mentioned that you don’t usually talk about your feelings. How do you take care of your mental health?


I have a strong support network of family and friends who I can rely on if and when I need them. I’m also a huge fan of nature and the outdoors, so if I don’t feel like I’m in the right headspace, I’ll just go on a walk. This always helps with music too; if I’m struggling with a song or an idea, just taking myself away from it, maybe listening to something completely different, usually helps my brain to reactivate.


Kokiri

What advice would you give to anyone going through a dark time?


It does, and it will get easier, regardless of the situation. I always find life has a funny way of working itself out; you’ve just got to persevere. Going through a tough time in your life always shows you how strong you are as a person, so you just need to remember that. In my experience with grief, it’s a weird one. I know I’ll probably never get over it, but in time, I know it’ll become easier to manage. In retrospect, it’s genuinely made me appreciate what I’ve got a lot more and the experiences I’ve been able to have.


The artwork you created for ‘In My Head’ is inspiring. How did that come to life?


I’m a fan of Basquiat; I love the chaotic nature of his work, but there’s always reasoning behind it. It’s almost like an organised mess. I liked the idea of this sort of style for my artwork. Initially, it was the agency who usually do my artwork that was going to create it after I sent them a mood board, but Dan (of Late Night Agency) called me and mentioned that, due to how personal this was to me, it would make a lot more sense if I was to create the artwork. I’m not an artist in that sense, but I gave it a go, and I’ve got to say it was a really enjoyable experience. It felt pretty therapeutic, similar to the song, getting all my thoughts and emotions in my head down on canvas, but this time around, instead of producing sounds, it was colours.


We must confess, we were obsessed with ‘Turn Back Time’ when it came out. Can you recall what that time was like for you, and getting signed to Ministry?


That was a great time in my life. I’d only recently started up my Kokiri alias (I’d been making stuff under Kev Willow for like 10 years prior), and to try and build my name, I was uploading a new song every week onto SoundCloud. ‘Turn Back Time’ (initially just called ‘Retrospect’ to begin with) was one of them. So, I uploaded it, and it got some plays but nothing crazy. 


A couple of weeks later, I got a message from a guy from a record label called Love & Other, saying he was on holiday and over the course of two nights, he’d heard this song played like 4/5 times. He got wind that it was my song, so he got in touch to sign it. It kind of just snowballed from there, really.


All the DJs at the time were playing it; Annie Mac made it her hottest record; it topped the Radio 1 Dance Chart, and people seemed to really enjoy it. Then, Ministry came along and picked it up, which was crazy. I’d been listening to their releases and compilations for years prior, so to be a part of this label was just incredible.



Two thousand twenty-four marks ten years of Kokiri – what a milestone to reach. Do you have anything special planned to mark it?


Yeah, it seems crazy that I’ve been doing my Kokiri stuff for this long. I do have plans to go all the way back, pick a couple of my older songs, and do 10-year reworks. I think that would be a fun little project to do.


What is your biggest goal this year, and how close are you to achieving it?


I’m currently in the process of building a studio in the back garden. So far, it’s just a big square of concrete in the garden, but I’m hoping to have this finished soon. Regarding releases, my aim is to have another 4/5 before the year is out. I’ve got so much finished music; it’s just trying to find the right labels for them. That’s the part that always proves difficult. Finally, I hope to play a couple of shows this year. I’ve been pretty quiet on the show front recently, but I’m hoping it picks up over the summer months.

What is next for you in terms of musical releases?


I’ve been working a lot with SELKER recently - turns out we only live about 5 minutes away from each other, and we never knew. We’ve got a handful of releases upcoming on numerous labels like Armada, Never Worry, and Freakin’ 909. I’ve also got a solo track coming on Lift Me Up Records, which is scheduled for release a little later on this year.


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