As KAYTRANADA returns to the capital, we take a look back at the illustrious career of Montreal’s finest electronic music export.
When KAYTRANADA announced that he would be playing London’s O2 Academy Brixton this summer, he sent social media into a frenzy. Tickets to see the two-time Grammy Award winner in the big smoke sold out immediately. To meet the rapturous demand, he then announced a second date. Unsurprisingly, these tickets were all snapped up after just ten seconds.
Touted to be the show of the summer, few artists are able to generate the buzz that KAYTRANADA has sustained throughout his esteemed career. It is rare for an artist to achieve both underground acclaim and such wild commercial success. Perhaps the most significant and influential electronic artist of the 21st century, KAYTRANADA is the envy of every music producer on the planet.
Often imitated but never duplicated, his signature sound is so distinct, so refined and so outstanding, that he has captured the imagination of disco, house and hip-hop heads alike. The ability to weld together House, Hip-Hop, Funk, Disco and electronic music in such a beautifully cohesive way is a feat that has not been matched by any other artist, and this has marked KAYTRANADA out from the rest. His music is so idiosyncratic that from the very first kick drum, you immediately know that you are listening to a KAYTRANADA track.
The summer shows in London follow the release of his ‘Intimidated’ EP which came out in November 2021. With a range of features from H.E.R, Thundercat and Mach-Hommy, all three songs are distinct yet through his glamorous production and stellar sound design, remain firmly rooted in the sonic universe that only KAYTRANADA inhabits. Continuing to push the boundaries of his sound, it follows his musical arc so far, which has been characterized by a constant evolution.
Keven Celestin was still in school when he embarked on his musical career. Drawn to the turntables at the tender age of 14 years old, he then gravitated to FL studio which developed into what he called an “unhealthy obsession”. Usurping his school work, he would spend everyday religiously listening to music, digging for samples and making beats. It was at this point he realised that music was his calling, and he dedicated his life to his craft.
He first released music in 2010 under an array of aliases, most prominently as Kaytradamus. Extremely prolific, the stand out releases were ‘Kaytra LaBoom’ and self-titular tapes, which are still lurking on the depths of YouTube.
For mixtapes made presumably in a basement somewhere in Montreal, these early tapes are a testament to Kaytranda’s forward thinking approach to music and still feel remarkably contemporary. Dance music can have a tendency to reach its expiry date and go stale very quickly, but Kaytra’s early music has a timeless quality.
Infused with the flavours of Madlib and J Dilla, these early tapes showcase his astute ear and one can trace the influence that these greats had on his music. Multidimensional, rhythmically complex and littered with eclectic samples, the music feels earthy, warm and organic whilst still packing a heavy punch.
During the ‘Future Bass’ era (as it was known) of Soundcloud in the early 2010’s, where other notable artists such as Sam Gellaitry and Hudson Mohawke were also emerging, KAYTRANADA was periodically dropping beats and remixes on Soundcloud when he had his watershed moment. An instant viral hit, his remix of Janet Jackson’s ‘If’ propelled his career into the stratosphere. He claims he had listened to the acapella for 8 months previously, and having got back from a Flying Lotus concert at 3am especially inspired, he made the remix and put it on Soundcloud. He woke up the next day, and the rest is history. A compelling remix, he recontextualised Jackson’s vocals and brought it into new terrain of the dance music world.
After this, the excitement surrounding KAYTRANADA snowballed. Following his Soundcloud success, he had another viral moment in 2013. His infamous Boiler Room set in Montreal has become the stuff of internet legend. A ‘Live Action Version of a Renaissance Painting’, this DJ set has been dubbed a ‘Divine Comedy’; and was consequently the subject of countless internet memes and fan love letters.
Considered to be one of the greatest Boiler Room sets of all time, the combination of the eccentric characters and KAYTRANADA’s flawless selection enshrined this moment into musical history forever. Having dropped out of school at this point, his decision to pursue music with no Plan B was vindicated and he never looked back.
A flock of fans and musicians began gathering around KAYTRANADA. A record deal with XL Recordings soon followed in 2014, and he began working with a range of artists across the musical spectrum. From GoldLink to Azealia Banks, to BADBADNOTGOOD, Kaytra’s signature grooves had the music world in a headlock. He took his time with his debut album release, ‘99.9%’, which came out in 2016. The music was worth the wait, featuring a roster of rising stars in both the Hip-Hop and Dance world, the project received rave reviews from critics and fans alike, cementing his status in the mainstream.
Tracks such as ‘YOU’RE THE ONE’, ‘ONE TOO MANY’ and ‘GLOWED UP’ became worldwide anthems and mainstays in popular culture. Deservedly, his hard work and brilliant songcraft resonated around the globe and led him to win the Polaris Music Prize.
Three years later, ‘BUBBA’ set the music industry alight once again, picking up where ‘99%’ left off. Eventually winning a Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Album in 2016, KAYTRANADA’s penchant for exploring new musical avenues, coupled with his commitment to authenticity and integrity whilst maintaining a commercial fanbase is nothing short of remarkable. A lush and luxurious album with a pop appeal, it truly transcends genre and is a 50 minute musical masterpiece.
Fast forward to 2022 and KAYTRANADA’S unstoppable ascent continues. Having recently dropped a remix of The Weeknd’s ‘OUT OF TIME’ and with an album on the way, his headline show in London will undoubtedly be a tour de force. If you are lucky enough to have tickets, you will be witnessing a master at work who will be remembered and revered for many years to come.
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