A citizen of the world gets back to the roots | Capital K

Accomplished underground musician Kristian Craig Robinson (aka Capitol K) has been paying tribute to his native Malta by stealth over the past few years – his new album, Goatherder, is set to launch early next month

Malta has such a raw landscape, the elements easily fire the imagination
Malta has such a raw landscape, the elements easily fire the imagination

The structure of ritual appears to be quite important for this album – what led to this choice, and how would you say it resonates with the Mediterranean and Maltese imagery (and imaginary) that you’re drawing from?

I really wanted to make my own imaginary music from the mid-Mediterranean, and Malta. I’ve been exploring the concept for quite some time without achieving the desired effect. That is, until I realised that in order to make a music that would genuinely resonate within the listener and make a space away from the modern condition I’d have to create the scenario where I could tune into deeper lost frequencies.

Ritual becomes one of the easiest tools to transcend your daily familiarity and habitual muscle memory and shift perception. When I say ritual, this can also be a game play and fun actions – it’s not all stoicism.

The imaginary and fictional myth making is important here. I make no claim to authenticity towards any Maltese folk lineage. Malta has such a raw landscape, the elements easily fire the imagination. In order to connect further with the landscape of this album, I recorded as many objects and instruments that I found, made and assembled in Malta. In particular a lot of flutes and percussive instruments made from reeds collected around the land.

When you cut a fresh bamboo reed, fashion it to make an instrument and then play it for the first time, it’s quite a magical sensation, and the reeds I collected here have a wonderful tone.

You’re a self-described citizen of the world, but you have roots in Malta. Could you elaborate on your connection to the island, and how this same link continues to inspire your work?

I was born here. My mother is from an old Maltese/Scottish/ English mixed family – my great great Scottish dock-working grandfather settled in Birgu. I left the island with my family as a baby, we traveled Asia, the Middle East then settled in the UK. I’m over in Malta about three times a year, and I give back some creative input into the island in whichever way I can, and whenever I can.

My music has always been restless, now it is getting calm and more focused. Working with flutes and using the flute live is a big changel for me

As a musician with a distinctly DIY/underground approach, what would you say are some of the main principles that define your practice and help you maintain your artistic identity and integrity?

I’ve had a bloody-minded tough ride with music. I started out in a time when there were lots of money and easy record deals, I went through the collapse when digital came along and then the rebirth with a new generation of musicians with a more nurturing attitude that values sharing. I’ve always adapted: running a label, running a recording studio, doing lots of part-time jobs. My overall thing, though, is to help out a lot and put a lot of energy into helping scenes grow. You can’t exist in isolation. The event, the coming together and making something happen, not just talking about it, to see things through, is not easy. I believe that a beautifully made and well seen through action creates an energy that spreads, and we all need that.

How would you say Goatherder differs from your previous work? What are you developing with this album in particular that you haven’t yet had a chance to try out?

It’s calm. My music has always been restless, now it is getting calm and more focused. Working with flutes and using the flute live is a big change for me. I’ve had electric instruments in my hands for decades. I have a rough idea in mind that this album is the first part of a series; I’ve covered the early hunter gathering and early farmer settlement period, next I’m looking at the idea of merchants and traders, and how bartering and the economy influenced the soundscape.   

Kristian Craig Robinson (aka Capitol K). Photo by Nhu Xuan Hua
Kristian Craig Robinson (aka Capitol K). Photo by Nhu Xuan Hua

Who is Capitol K?

Kristian Craig Robinson, aka Capitol K, is a highly respected musician, producer, recording engineer and label manager, based in London, where he runs the celebrated Total Refreshment Studio. A true citizen of the world, born in Malta and raised in various locales such as Arabia, Brunei and England, K channels his respect for and experience of different musical traditions into the creation of a unique hybrid of electronica, lo-fi and pop.

Along with everything from Chinese pop to the marching band music of the United Arab Emirates in his early musical vocabulary, the influence of rave, new wave, grunge, and noise-core would collide to create a bold new sound. His early studio experiments gave birth to his debut, Sounds of the Empire (Planet Mu, 1999) built upon a heady balance of samples and live sources that placed Capitol K at the forefront of the UK’s electronic scene. The follow-up, 2002’s Island Row, was released via XL Records, with lead single Pillow becoming a daytime Radio 1 crossover. Nomad Junk (2005) combined Asian field recordings into a vibrant psychedelic collage, while Notes From: Life On The Wire With A Wrecking Ball (2008) paid homage to London’s squats and free anarchistic artistic spaces of which K was a part for many years. Andean Dub (2012) was an exploratory South American-influenced album of heavy synth laden cumbia sound system tracks.

The last seven years have seen Capitol K’s stature as a producer elevated with his establishment of the renowned Total Refreshment Studio and recording work with musicians such as the Mercury Music prize nominated The Comet Is Coming, global dance act Ibibio Sound Machine (Merge), the pan-Arabic Flamingods (Moshi Moshi), Serafina Steer and her BAS JAN project, and contemporary folk artist Rozi Plain, among many more.

Outside of studio production and his solo repertoire as Capitol K, Kristian has toured as guest musician with multiple bands over the last 15 years, including Brazil’s Cibelle (Crammed Discs), Archie Bronson Outfit (Domino) (whom he also co-produced), and recently Du Blonde (Mute Records).

His last project, Loose Meat, was a collaborative album of poetic dance music received lots of radio play in the UK and toured across the country for a year, performing a number of festivals. He established the Faith and Industry record label which handled his subsequent releases and through which he now releases a number of works of other artists that he develops and produces.

Capitol K will be performing at the Cave Sessions by Kinemastik at the Ghar San Brinkat Cave, Gharghur on August 3 at 20:00. He will be supported by John Johanna (UK). Spaces are limited to 150 attendants, so early booking is recommended on [email protected] Prompt notification of any cancellations would be appreciated by the organisers. The event is organised by Kinemastik, which is supported by Arts Council Malta through its Strategic Partnership Programme