The Ever-Expanding Groove of FKJ
Originally published on STATUS Magazine, July 2018.
Surrounded by countless instruments and his trusty software, producer and multi-instrumentalist FRENCH KIWI JUICE is only interested in how far he can push his own limits.
Don’t be fooled by FKJ’s singular presence on stage. The French musician, born Vincent Fenton, is more than capable of capturing the utmost attention of any crowd size. Growing up in the center-west city of Tours, he began composing at the age of 12. He observed the rapid change in French music, commenting that his influences aren’t only boxed in that particular domain. “I wouldn’t say that the French music scene is what really influenced me, it’s more the people I hang out with in France and the towns where I was,” he states. “In each town, the music that people were listening to was changing all the time.”
FKJ credits his interest in electronic and house music to his relocation to the French capital. He says, “In Paris, music is more focused on electronic and house. So when I arrived seven years ago, that’s really when electronic took a big part of my music.” Spending more time composing and experimenting rather than just listening to music has equipped him with the skills to create and perform as a one-man show, but his artistry delves deeper than just albums and end goals.
Your brand of music is very intricate and sounds like a fusion of genres. As a listener, it’s very hard to kind of pin it down to just one label. As its creator, how would you personally describe it?
It’s even more difficult for a creator to describe it, but a friend of mine told me once that my music always has that touch of groove that expands to any kind of genre. I thought that was pretty cool, and I kept that name. So when people ask me what kind of music I do, I tell them that I do expanding groove. I’m never like, “I’m gonna start a song in this genre.” Most of the time it starts in my head, and then I translate the melody in my head into the instrument, and it ends up in a particular genre. But I never decide the genre at first, it just ends up being it.
During your solo shows, it’s just you up on stage. Which piece of equipment is the most important?
They’re all super important, really, but the brain of it is actually my software. Without it, I wouldn’t be able look at my instruments. I could still do a show with just my software and one instrument, for example, but it would be more difficult for me to do a show with all my instruments and no software. Because I’m alone, I need to have that ability to create layers. Without the brain of my live set, which is my Ableton with all my loopers inside, I wouldn’t be able to create those layers. That’s the thing people don’t see. When people come to the shows, they see the instruments everywhere, but they don’t see actually what’s happening in the computer because I always hide it but that’s actually where all the layers are taking shape. So yeah, it’s the least exciting thing when I talk about it, but it’s actually the most important.
Do you think you’re ever going to include touring members in the future?
I’m really thinking about it. Being alone onstage is interesting. You don’t see it a lot—solo musicians on stage. But it also has its own limitations, like you can’t play three instruments at the same time if you want to bring those three at a certain moment in the set, so that’s why I’m thinking of creating a trio in the future. I could have someone taking care of the rhythm and someone taking care of the bass, and I could layer all those other instruments that I play on top with them. This what I’m working on right now, basically.
“But I think at the end, a show is not about having the perfect setup and the gear. You can have the gear, the most well-organized event with the best equipment ever, but it’s not necessarily gonna be the best gig if the energy’s not there.”
You’re no stranger to the international festival circuit. You’ve performed in huge events like Coachella and Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival. There’s an obvious distinction between those two festivals, seeing as Malasimbo’s setting is more rooted to nature. Because of your music’s atmosphere and complexity, does the setting of where you perform affect the technicalities of your performance, or does it remain the same all throughout?
In really remote places like Malasimbo, it can because it’s basically in an island, so you do with what you have and they have. You can’t ask for as much as you could at Coachella. For sure it will modify the performance a little bit, depending on what I ask for or the certain amount of equipment I have when I go onstage. In some cases like this, they can’t have the total thing. But I think at the end, a show is not about having the perfect setup and the gear. You can have the gear, the most well-organized event with the best equipment ever, but it’s not necessarily gonna be the best gig if the energy’s not there. In a festival like Malasimbo, it doesn’t really matter because the setting is so amazing and the crowd is so connected. Even if it might not be as technical a show as Coachella, it will probably be a better show.
You’ve been releasing music as early as 2013, but you only put out your full-length debut record in March of last year. Why the long wait?
I put some EPs out before, so it’s not like it was the first thing I released. It’s just that an album is not that essential nowadays, you can have a career without an album, you can have a career releasing just EPs and singles. An album just wasn’t calling me at that time, so that’s why I didn’t really rush it. Eventually, I had a lot of material and I found that the album is the best way to release it. I’m not attached to the concept of an album but I decided to do it. I’m going to do it again, but it’s not something that is calling my project.
“I wouldn’t consider this album as a body of work that you would’ve done in two weeks non-stop where you have the same vision for all the songs. Each song has a different story, a different vision, a different color. For me, it’s a compilation of moments, not an album as a body of work.”
You said that you had a lot of unreleased tracks that you put into the album. How long ago were these tracks created and did you leave any as it is or did you go through the entire process of fixing them and making them better?
Some tracks were created two years before the album while some songs were created two months before the album. I didn’t really modify the songs I created two years before. When people ask me how I would describe the album, it’s a compilation of little stories from those two years. I wouldn’t consider this album as a body of work that you would’ve done in two weeks non-stop where you have the same vision for all the songs. Each song has a different story, a different vision, a different color. For me, it’s a compilation of moments, not an album as a body of work. I would rather make people listen to one song individually than in the entire thing.
You said that the songs are like little stories, little moments. Where did you find majority of your inspiration for the album’s lyricism?
On tour, love stories, travelling, self-reflection—it’s really different moments and different places, different situations. When you compare the tracks I did two years ago and the last few songs on the album, you’ll see that I wasn’t even the same person I was two years ago. My mindset has changed.
You’re a fairly young producer. How do you hope your sound will evolve in the next five years?
I’m not hoping for anything, really. I don’t want to go there, and I don’t have a goal to get there. I just want to keep learning. I want to keep pushing the limits of my composition ability. I just want to compose beautiful songs, and I want to keep being able to surprise myself in composing the songs. I don’t have a goal to go for that scene or that style of music with those people in particular. I just want to push my own limits and see where that brings me.
“Most artists are afraid of sharing what they really have in their heart, and that’s what I’m aiming for. It’s not the genre, it’s the process. I’m aiming for this process where you don’t care at all what people will think and you’re not afraid to be wrong.”
So it’s really a journey of self-improvement for you.
Yeah, it’s really that. It’s pushing it and trying to not care about anything around you, which is often the case with artists. They care about what people think and are afraid to be wrong, or often look at what works around them. Most artists are afraid of sharing what they really have in their heart, and that’s what I’m aiming for. It’s not the genre, it’s the process. I’m aiming for this process where you don’t care at all what people will think and you’re not afraid to be wrong.
Written by Sophie Caraan
Photographed by Jack McKain