Brixton has changed a lot since Kamixlo was younger. While recent media reports have focused on local gang violence and linked it to the emergent ‘drill’ sound, preying on racial anxieties that have existed since the Brixton riots of the 1980s, for many Londoners the area is synonymous with rapid gentrification. Property prices have risen by an average of 76 per cent since 2006, while the campaign to stop the Brixton Arches redevelopment highlighted the tension between the area’s older residents and its newer, wealthier, whiter demographic. Growing up, Kami says the area was “super scary”, though he’s just as wary of the gentrification the area is undergoing today. “Pop Brixton, I hate all that shit,” he says. His feelings are perhaps best articulated by the rapid succession of mixed statements he makes about the area: “It’s changed a lot. I mean, it’s still trash. But I love living in Brixton.”
We’re sitting in a park around the corner from the housing block that he and his family have lived in since 2002. Kami, dressed in black with electric blue, shoulder-length hair, talks about growing up here surrounded by a loving and supportive family, symbolised by the tight bond he shares with his older sibling, Uli K – he’ll often use the word “we” instead of “I”, as most of his stories involve Uli in some way. There are less happy memories associated with the area, too, stemming from his and Uli’s inability to fit in with others their age due to their nonconformist appearance and outsider identity. Kami doesn’t talk about this too much, but says that his music – a dark, visceral, and experimental strain of club music influenced by reggaeton rhythms and nu-metal abrasiveness – is one way of conveying his feelings. “Music’s an emotional expression,” he says. “I’m not very vocal in music, or in life, about the shit I’ve been through, but I do it in my music. An oppressive, distressing sound comes from a real emotion inside.”
Kamixlo broke through in 2015 with “Paleta”, a track from his 2015 debut EP Demonico that crashes with a infernal energy. It was a powerful statement of intent, and it proved influential in certain parts of the underground club scene, its inspiration resonating across Soundcloud and in DJ sets. Soon, Kami found himself touring clubs around the world, DJing at fashion parties, and having his music played by artists like Aphex Twin, one of his early influences. Earlier this year, he brought a sound that originated in his Brixton bedroom to Berlin’s hallowed Panorama Bar.
He’s also used his platform to shine a light on a diverse set of artists with Bala Club, the crew, party, and record label that Kami co-founded with Uli and likeminded producer Endgame. “I do sometimes think how crazy it is,” Kami says. “The situation that me and my family were raised in – we were broke. I’ve been to Japan through my music, I’ve been to Korea, I’ve been to America. This doesn’t usually happen. It’s not meant to happen.”
Kami’s mother was a political refugee, having fled her home country, Chile, after Pinochet came to power following the US-backed coup of 1973. At home, she would talk to him in English, while his father would speak Spanish. In the early 2000s, he spent some time in Chile, a marked contrast to the UK. “In Brixton, me and Uli were just isolated and alone in our rooms,” Kami says. “We didn’t like going out. The kids around us, they were… they weren’t really nice to us. But in Chile, we had all our cousins, cute weather – we were always out doing stuff.”
In the UK, Kami was always an outsider. “We dressed differently, we had different hair, Uli would always be wearing make-up,” he says. Later, he and Uli stopped going to school. “It was never a choice to leave school and be homeschooled,” he explains. “It was just too bad for us. It was safer to stay at home.” Still, his family was always accepting, and they encouraged Kami to do what he felt was right creatively. “They wouldn’t let us be brat children, but they were like, ‘If you want to do this, go do it. You love music, go do this. You love video games, play this.’ Creatively, we didn’t have boundaries.” By being able to express themselves however they wanted, Kami says, “we were naturally a bit more different. And people don’t like different.”
Kami’s Chilean cousins introduced him to nu-metal groups like Korn and Linkin Park, while other members of the extended family would play reggaeton, but he credits Uli as the one who most shaped his music tastes most. “Everything I know basically came from him,” he says. “Even as a kid, he was showing us Mr. Bungle and all this super weird music. We’d listen together.” He started to learn bass and drums, though he “couldn’t tell you scales or notes”. He wanted to form a band and, when he was 13, and briefly played in one with Uli and a friend. But it was after discovering the music production software Reason that he found a way to more easily express himself. Though Kami still says he’s more interested in bands than electronic music (he illustrates this by showing me the Misfits tattoo he has on his leg), making music on a computer was perhaps a better fit for his indoor lifestyle.
“Everyone has some demonic-ness in them, and they’ve got the angel in them too” – Kamixlo
Wrestling is another of Kami’s major artistic reference points. His eyes light up when he talks about the first time he and Uli saw a wrestler – he thinks it was either Kane or Sting – on television as a kid. He rhapsodies about The Hardy Boyz, two brothers who brought “multi-coloured hair and these crazy clothes” to the arena. “Jeff Hardy was my idol when I was a kid,” Kami says. “He’d do the most death-defying things. He’d jump off 20-foot ladders through tables. He’d destroy his body for the match. Him and his brother Matt, they just stood out from everyone. They didn’t look like wrestlers, they were, like, beautiful models. They changed wrestling with destruction, fun, and craziness.”
The same could perhaps be said for Bala Club, two siblings with colourful hair changing club music with exciting, destructive sounds. It even takes its name from Japanese wrestling group Bullet Club. “Bala Club is a bit tongue-in-cheek. It’s meant to be fun, it’s not meant to be uptight. I take that from wrestling,” Kami says. The Demonico EP was likewise inspired by the sport. “It’s supposed to sound like wrestling moves, but in sonic form,” he explains. “I tried to make it feel like it’s beating the fuck out of your ear drums.” Kami’s music is a perfect confluence of his interests: you can hear aggro-metal, reggaeton’s slow but energetic swing, the punching sub-bass of trap rap, and wrestling’s taste for theatrics.
Still, Kamixlo’s new EP, King Kami, showcases another side to the artist. There are turn-up tracks like “Mi Sabor”, but there are also more abstract and melancholic sound pieces like “NXB4VA”, which he describes as the song he’s most proud of so far. It’s a balance that Bala Club have always struck: while artists like Kamixlo or Endgame might put out a ferocious, futuristic club weapon, they’ll also release a strange bit of bedroom pop by Organ Tapes. You start to see this side in Kami when he talks about how his favourite film is Mean Girls, or how he once sold a bike so that he could afford tickets to see Lady Gaga, or how he wonders if people miss the humour in Bala Club’s flyers.
Then there’s “I don't run from my demons... because sometimes I become them”, a track that continues the demon imagery of Demonico and its follow-up, Angelico. “Everyone has some demonic-ness in them, and they’ve got the angel in them too,” Kami says. “Demonico came out when I was kind of in a down place, and Angelico came out when I was the happiest I’d ever been.” King Kami, he says, is the result of a year “in the most up and down place”, its mood reflected in its contrast between those high-octane tracks and its more pensive moments.
King Kami is likely to be Kamixlo’s last EP before he starts working on an album, although he’s weighing up whether he should release a mixtape in the winter. In the meantime, he wants to produce for other Bala Club artists, like Blaze Kidd and Yayoyanoh. He’ll also continue touring, and hopes to finally take Bala Club to Chile for his family. “The whole family, they were disappointed when they knew we weren’t playing instruments anymore,” Kami says, “but over time, they got it. My mum’s never seen me play, but she really wants to. Obviously I don’t know if I should take her to a club…”
“I went to a family reunion a couple of years ago,” he says. “My grandad put on the Demonico EP on vinyl.” It’s hard to imagine the machine gun drums of “Paleta” piercing through the air in any situation other than a club. “It was playing all this shit while the family was there!” Kami laughs. “It was so awkward. But it was really sweet.”
Kamixlo plays alongside Umfang, Shyboi, and Peach for Concrete Lates: Discwoman at Southbank Centre, London on August 30