Kris-Ko: Both sides of the vibe

There are some DJs who inadvertently find themselves behind the turntables without having followed the “normal” DJ path. Kris-Ko is such a phenomenon. A drummer first, a wordsmith second and a DJ there after, the man behind the Kris-Ko moniker is Kris Swales – and he’s got a headband for every occasion.

The simple beginnings for Kris started at the age of three when the pots and pans were pulled out every time My Sharona came on the radio. It quickly established his love for meters and structure. Just as the drummer lies in the background of the band, music has always been in the background of Kris’ life. With a grandfather from the “hottest country band west of Mitchell” during the 1940s, to his parents as the proud owners of a rather expansive vinyl collection, music was a staple of his diet in his formative years. Picking up drum patterns quickly in year 8 music class led to him bugging his dad for a drum kit. With ears already tuned to the rebellious side of music, Guns n Roses merely honed his love for layered textures and unruly vibes. His love for words also developed over time, as he studied Journalism in Toowoomba to hone his writing skills to a fine point.

It was during his first year of university that Kris’ eyes were opened to the infinite possibilities of music – and where a drummer could find their niche in electronica. “I discovered dance music in 1995,” Kris notes. “Carl Cox’s F.A.C.T Compilation – I was listening to it all the time.” Cygnus X’s The Orange Theme would also prove to be another popular album, one which Kris acknowledges as when “the penny dropped kind-of-moment”. A few weeks later a performance from DJ Angus spelled out that this was the path forward for Kris. “It was an eye opening experience,” Kris recalls. “Seeing music from a different perspective – seeing there was something more in it.” Then, in 1998 he saw The Bird and it really drove the whole thing home. “Seeing an electronic band with a real drumming line – it hooked me.” He would continue dabbling away at his drumming, until a jam with guitarist Simon Dennes started the process of bringing Kris to Brisbane, headband firmly keeping his curls in place and his feet tapping to the new rhythms of D-Ko.

The years of D-Ko would prove heady, as the trance/breaks/tribal/house band took live instruments and applied them to the electronica format. The five piece would take Brisbane by storm, touring along the east coast to perform alongside prominent Australian artists. While D-Ko were successful for a time, Kris was keen to branch out and explore his own musicality. “All I ever wanted to do was play kick arse dance music,” Kris explains. “It was at the end of D-Ko where I eventually came to the decks – DJing was a natural progression. I started with Abelton and got into my DJing and producing. But soon, Abelton got boring for me. I wanted to put a bit of spontaneity in it. Really, I came to the decks and electronica in a backwards kind of fashion. I went from drums to computer to CDs. I’m a drummer who writes music and occasionally DJs.”

As the Dance Editor for Time Off Magazine Kris’ talent for literal structure is as tight as his drumfills. His wit and knowledge abounds in the narrow columns of the popular street magazine. And, whilst the era of D-Ko has come to an end, his prowess as a drummer continues to shine in the DnB outfit Silent Shadow; a collaboration with local DnB DJ/producer Operon that recently signed to German label Camino Blue. With so much going on, Kris has been careful to find and choose his priorities. “I’ve made a conscious decision to not focus on too much. Rather than wearing twenty hats, I wear less and do a good job. I was thinking, ‘How can I contribute to the scene?’ I wanted to be a good writer, have a good idea of scene and be a good drummer. So, Time Off is definitely a priority. Words are my day job and music is my outlet. I’ve done everything – released tracks, performed in bands, written about music, written music. I have a good insight into the whole creative side. I know both sides of the vibe. And I’ve achieved for what I do – not who I am.”

As a drummer, Kris notes that he has always tried to “play what a producer would program and give it a human feel – like random shots on snare”; while DJing over the last 3 years has given Kris new objectives. “With D-Ko, there was a purpose for writing a track, But after D-Ko there was no purpose for writing. I couldn’t write just about anything. It has taken me a while. So I’ve got back into production again after a couple of years break, and have tracks out on local label Dektek now and originals on Argentinean Ricky Ryan’s Avangardia label, as well as remixes on Dektek and Destroy The Ego – who incidentally, released D-Ko’s Tribal Gathering’. I have simple goals: make every track better than the last, injecting positivity into my music and make tunes where people lose their shit on the dancefloor. These days I’ve got a lot more of an idea of what I want to play as a DJ. The goal is to eventually play my own music and see the reaction. When you live and die on the quality of the music you buy and listen to, there’s extra pressure when you’re playing your own music. DJing is not second nature for me yet – I still feel nervous when I DJ.”

And thus the chance to see Kris-Ko behind the decks with headband firmly in place is on offer this Saturday May 30 at Barsoma for Logic’s 4th Birthday Cosmic Disco Fancy Dress Extravaganza. Kris will be getting out the progressive missiles, playing back 2 back with local infamy Cosmo Cater. “Logic throw great parties,” Kris confirms. “Look at the names they’ve booked over the years. They were the first to bring Paolo (Mojo) to Brisbane – and now he’s playing at Family. Those guys are the tastemakers – watch the Logic space. The night itself will be interesting,” Kris asserts. “It’s really going to be fun – Cosmo and I have very similar musical tastes. We’re both a bit cheeky and don’t take it too seriously,” Kris notes, a pert smile lighting his face. “The set will have a progressive flavour – with plenty of cheese bombs!”

Don’t miss Kris-Ko at Logic’s 4th birthday this Saturday May 30th.