‘It’s no shock to see the system collapse’ | Kristian Craig Robinson

The Malta-born, UK-based underground musician Kristian Craig Robinson, aka Capitol K, speaks to TEODOR RELJIC ahead of the release of his upcoming mini-album Birdtrapper, which follows from its Malta-inspired and in many ways Malta-crafted Goatherder by offering a richer complementary soundscape to accompany the more primal beats of its predecessor

 Capitol K (Kristian Craig Robinson) performing at the Ghar San Brinkat Cave, Gharghur on August 3, 2018 as part of the Kinemastik Cave Sessions. Photography by Ali Tollervey
Capitol K (Kristian Craig Robinson) performing at the Ghar San Brinkat Cave, Gharghur on August 3, 2018 as part of the Kinemastik Cave Sessions. Photography by Ali Tollervey

Your previous album, Goatherder, was made up of songs brought into being from instruments constructed out of found objects across the Maltese landscape. Birdtrapper feels very much like a technologically-enhanced follow-up to Goatherder’s raw primitivism, while still very much retaining resonances to the previous work. Could you talk a little bit about the ways in which the new album was constructed, and whether or not it serves as something of a mirror image to the previous one?

They do work as a mirror or continuation of each other, yes. I had a vague idea for a trilogy in mind… a very classic sequence of ‘primitive, merchant, modern’. The source material for a lot of Birdtrapper came from the same sessions as Goatherder, and I put them aside as the primitive was my focus then. I spent a long time developing them afterwards in my London studio and once the collection took shape, I made further trips back to Malta to write a few more pieces that would complement and complete the album.

The narrative idea of using bird trappers and hunters as a theme came early, as an analogy for the people’s interaction with the land and a contrast to the idealised idea of nature as a human-free zone. It was also, probably, an instinctual statement on the intertwined dynamics of trauma, cruelty and pleasure.

An example would be the track ‘Scarred Land’. There’s an old farm which I’ve been walking by all my life. I was shocked to suddenly find it full of diggers ready for development, so I climbed the wall with my little saw and collected a stack of reeds (all farms grow them for fencing and trellises), I made a couple of flutes and percussion from them and they emitted this screaming painful timbre. I then spent a few years then returning to the recordings, like a process of mourning and resolution. Other tracks started by placing a mic in the yard at home or on the roof and improvising with the bird song from my neighbour’s roof (he has a large collection...).

In a previous interview, you’ve described Goatherder as ‘calm’ when compared to your more ‘relentless’ previous work. While Birdtrapper certainly feels a lot less ‘lo-fi’ than its predecessor, I would say it still retains an immersive or meditative quality. Was this an important element for you to maintain, and what kind of overall effect do you hope the album will have on the listener?

I use theatrical, magical play to create. These pieces conjured a darker and unsettled message. If they work meditatively, I’m pleased to hear that I’ve managed to convey balance and harmony through them. After a good summer spent raving, I found a fresh love of dancing and wanted this record to work in that way, so lots of work went into subtle shifts in frequencies, beats, and low frequency. One big difference to this album was in the mix. Goatherder was almost untouched, but with Birdtrapper I’ve manipulated everything: channels are run multiple times live through many layers of analog filters, outboard compressors, hot diodes. Lots of altering reverb spaces.

I made them with the alternative dance floor in mind. How they will work now, I cannot say. I feel I’m releasing them into a very different world than the one in which they were made…

These are tough times for everybody, freelance artists perhaps most especially. But as an artist who appears to wear their indie/DIY badge with pride, do you think you may be better equipped to roll with the punches? What kind of lessons would you wish to impart to other artists who may feel cowed or intimidated by the challenges we’re currently facing?

I’m naturally analytical, so I’ve been following a lot of threads on the situation. Coming from a DIY background it’s no shock to see the system collapse. I think it’s important now to continue to build community. The concept of social distancing and living through an interface is normalised, but it’s still just a tool, it’s not everything! In this period to follow there will be crazy liquidity of ideas, though borders will exist everywhere and authoritarians will be attempting to gain ground. Creative resistance comes from free thinking and being fearless in exploration of ideas, but it’s also important to back yourself up with good research.

Also as many casual roles in society are replaced by machine learning AI and robotics, these will have predictable, perfect repetition. Art, craft and music can go further in imagination, fallibility, emotion and humour.

What role does Malta and its associated imaginary continue to play in your work?

I’m in London, and not sure when I’ll be able to make it back. But I still have a small studio set up in Malta waiting in boxes for when I return. I have a clay pot drum that I’ve been wanting to use in the summer heat aided along with synths towards some ambient pieces…

Birdtrapper will be released on vinyl and digital platforms on April 24. For more information, visit: www.capitolk.com