Last beatmaker on Earth

Words: Sam Wicks Photography: Tobias Kraus

Inspired by a retro-future comic book hero, working with LA rappers: this Christchurch up-and-comer marches to a different beat

In October 1972, DC Comics released the first issue of Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth, by Jack Kirby, the legendary comic book artist who worked with Stan Lee to co-create superheroes like the Hulk, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Kirby fashioned a brutal post-apocalyptic world in a future where an extinction level event has wiped out almost all of mankind. Kamandi, a teenage boy, ventures outside of the safety of a bunker to find the new world controlled by bipedal, intelligent creatures and a handful of human survivors devolved into savagery.

“Sometimes the freshest sounds come from things that are so far out of the box”

The comic only lasted for six years, but its hero’s survival mission has found a new lifeline in the make-something-from-nothing maxim of Christchurch native Tyrone Frost, who, as Kamandi, fashions break loops and samples into strange new shapes. Like his namesake, 23-year-old Frost is a hyper-resourceful scavenger who has built psychedelic beats in Christchurch’s sound-rich, post-quake environment.

Among his layers of drums and synths and sampled finger clicks are recordings he made walking down a street under construction, clicking cicadas, and other sounds of the city. “Sometimes the freshest sounds come from things that are so far out of the box,” says Frost, taking time out from recording sessions at Red Bull Studio Auckland. “There’s always a place for happy accidents in my production. For me, experimentation is key.”

In June, Kamandi’s instrumentals were given a shot in the arm when he joined forces with Los Angeles MC Azizi Gibson. The collaboration, months in the making, gave Kamandi the chance to add studio polish to his lo-fi beats. The seeds of the partnership were sewn by studio manager Dan Woolston. “Dan told me he was going to LA and wanted to know if there were any artists there that I wanted to work with,” says Frost. “I’m a huge fan of the LA beat scene and Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder, so Azizi Gibson was top of the list. I knew he was versatile, and that he could work with anything within an experimental electronic genre, which is where I sit.”

While Kamandi had no expectations that any of the names on his wish list would answer the call, his first choice happily took up the invite. After Woolston forwarded a Kamandi demo to Gibson’s team, Gibson added tongue-twisting verses. The track would become Crown Violet, which has been played more than 200,000 times on SoundCloud. The Garden City-meets-City of Angels connection didn’t end there.

Gibson reached out to Kamandi, telling him he wanted them to work together again, but this time, face to face. Woolston again facilitated, inviting Gibson and Kamandi to join the bill of New Zealand’s inaugural Red Bull Sound Select Block Party at the Nathan Club in Auckland, alongside talent like Flatbush Zombies, Panama and Team Dynamite. While in town together, the two hit the studio.

Fast-forward to a Monday in late June, and Kamandi is alongside his LA collaborator in the Red Bull Studio control room, two days into sessions that have led to two new tracks.“I feel like I’ve got a sense of where his taste lies because I’ve been sending him music ever since the first exchange we had,” says Kamandi. “He still surprises me, though, because he prides himself on his versatility. I showed him another beat I’d been working on, that I’d been thinking about releasing on SoundCloud, and he was like, ‘Yup, that’s the one – that’s what I want to work with.’”

“There’s always a place for happy accidents in my production. Experimentation is key”

That selection became Toast, a track that sees Kamandi mix US rap and UK grime, presenting Gibson with a lurching backdrop on which to paint his rhymes. The other song is Backwards Books, the title track from Gibson’s recent EP. There’s talk of Crown Violet making the cut for Gibson’s forthcoming LP, an album credit that would see Kamandi’s name alongside some of the LA beat scene’s big hitters. For now, though, the reward is the instant studio chemistry between the two, and the promise of more music to come.

“We’ve already got an understanding of each other to the point that, even after a day of working together, he could look at me and I’d know what he was cueing me up to do,” Kamandi says. “I’ve worked out that anything I’d enjoy making, he’d probably enjoy using – and that’s as good as it gets when it comes to a producer-rapper alliance. We’ve got a lot in the pipeline and we’ve got lots of ammo, so this is definitely one to be continued.”

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09 2014 The Red Bulletin

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