Kenneth James Gibson is a living conspiracy theory, stubbornly clinging to the pop ether like a Tom Cruise rumor. Local underground dwellers have heard of him for sure, but it’s hard to find his factual basis. It’s almost as if you have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to produce his corpus. He’s not necessarily wily on purpose. But he’s performed under so many guises, recorded for so many little indie labels, and deejayed at so many subterranean parties, he’s a moving target.
Gibson thrives online, at least. You might find footage of him, under his nom de DJ [a]pendics.shuffle, spinning (or pressing buttons behind his laptop, rather) at a Droid Behavior warehouse party. His releases flourish on the database Discogs.com, where he’s listed under seven — count ’em — aliases. I heard about him in an interview with DJ Kazell last year. The spinner mentioned Gibson as part of a rising wave of techno artisans in L.A., “an amazing group of talent here that’s ready to explode globally.”
It makes for a tidy story line: Kenneth James Gibson, 35, is a core and cutting-edge voice in L.A.’s burgeoning techno community, one of a handful of artists, including John Tejada, David Alvarado, Acid Circus, putting the city on the map by producing innovative music. His dub-driven tech-house, produced mainly under his [a]pendics.shuffle, Reverse Commuter and Dubliner guises, is up-to-the-minute, Humboldt-hazy goodness, minimal in its melody, maximal in bottom end, West Coast in its laid-back sway.
Gibson produces more beats than an EKG machine. “My whole thing is sort of chaotic and crazy,” he admits.
As Reverse Commuter, he dropped his Exposed full-length in April on DJ Three’s Hallucination Limited label, and he’s just put out an [a]pendics.shuffle EP, Endangered Emergencies, on the Persistencebit label. Culprit, a label recently launched by L.A. techno trio Droog, has ordered up a full-length from Gibson. And he just wrapped up a series of remixes for star DJ Damian Lazarus to use in the Brit’s live sets. The yet-to-be-released rerubs are based on Lazarus’ new album, Smoke the Monster Out, which just came out on Booka Shade’s Get Physical label. Lazarus moved from London to L.A. last year and immediately hooked up with Gibson to work on music.
“I was moving here and I wanted to find someone local” for remixing, Lazarus says. “I decided to get in touch with [a]pendics. I had never spoken to him before, but I had a close affinity with a lot of his music. Literally, the day after I made that decision, I got an e-mail from him saying that he heard I was moving to L.A. — if I needed anything, to contact him. He even offered a place to stay.”
Gibson’s a man with no manager and no one label to call home. Certainly, Lazarus, Droid Behavior and the Compression party series have helped to pull Gibson from obscurity and into L.A.’s techno-resurgence spotlight by booking him and promoting him.
“Every time he plays, his sound evolves,” says Compression founder Robert Pointer. “It’s tribal, deep and, probably like an aspect of his personality, twisted. He has a driving groove that is rooted in techno, but he’s developed a sense of the atmospheric and musical flair that really moves the audience. I’m hoping for the day when L.A. is seen as musically relevant as the major cities around the world noted for techno — like Berlin and Stockholm. People like John Tejada and Ken will be on the forefront of why that has taken place.”
Gibson was born near Toronto and raised in El Paso. His father taught him to play guitar, and by the time he was 19 he had convinced a girlfriend to buy him a four-track recorder. The girl is gone, but the love affair with cut-and-paste noise remained, even as Gibson formed a post-punk band with art-industrial elements, Furry Things, which moved to L.A. from Austin, Texas, in the late 1990s. He says King Coffey of the Butthole Surfers gave him his first sampler, inspiring him to be more digital in his sideline music. When the new millennium dawned and the band was long gone, Gibson was a solo artist anew.
Then the L.A. techno resurgence landed on him. While he’s been received and even recruited by the leaders of the L.A. bleep-osphere, Gibson remains elusive. Ask him and he’ll say his sound is more house than techno. And don’t get him started about his art-rock band, Bell Gardens, which signed recently to Lazarus’ imprint Parkside Rebels. Techno, in fact, is just one of many avenues Gibson navigates.
“I’ve never been part of any specific scene,” he says. “I’m a part of a little bit of everything.”
North of Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park there’s an early-20th-century apartment building with red Chinese script above its entrance. I walk the creaky steps up to the second level, down the plank walkway, and turn right: Gibson welcomes me into his hardwood-floor studio. A bong and a glass of wine are not far from his Alesis studio monitors and glowing PowerBook. An oil-based portrait of his father, a doctor, flickers in the candlelight. Gibson, sporting a scruffy red beard, an untucked oxford shirt, jeans and bare feet, selects a few tracks in iTunes.
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“Spacey, druggy shit,” he says, describing a dub-driven number that features Isaac Haile Selassie on vocals. “Late-night shit, you know?”
Sure. But then he puts on some of that Bell Gardens music, from the forthcoming album A Series of Farewells, and my jaw drops. It’s gorgeous, rapturous pop balladry with candy-coated Beach Boys falsettos and pre-afro-Phil Spector production. It’s weightless with gravitas. Gibson might be the techno flavor du jour, but this is the stuff that will mark his place. I found him.
“It’s kind of funny because I won’t even listen to techno at home,” he says. “Not at all. I listen to old country music, dub, psychedelic stuff from the ’60s. I don’t listen to techno at all.” Reverse Commuter, Exposed (Hallucination Limited)
[a]pendics.shuffle | Endangered Emergencies | Persistencebit