“I try to not reproduce what I’ve already done in the past, even if that’s easier said than done.” Cabasa on his versatile production technique

In a candid email interview, we speak to prolific London-based producer Cabasa – real name Kevin Pleinnevaux (1994) – about everything from childhood memories of junglist relatives in Namur to venturing for the bright lights of London.

Visuals taken from Cabasa’s throwaway camera shot exclusively for The Word Magazine.

Let’s start with the basics: you originally hail from Namur. What was your childhood like?

I actually spent the first few years of my childhood in Greece even though I was born in Belgium – my mum came back just for the childbirth because Greek hospitals were not to be trusted back then apparently. In 1999 we moved back to Belgium and I spent the next 12 years around Namur. I actually went to school in Ciney, which is an even smaller town than Namur. A lot of my relatives live around Namur though, so I spent quite a lot of time there too. I then moved to Liège for high school and graphic design studies at ESA Saint-Luc. Philosophy lectures by Kanar, an illustrator for Le Soir were particularly memorable: I was never taught philosophy, and his way of linking it to graphic design was very interesting, sometimes even mind-blowing. He also used to iron his laundry during oral exams.

I moved to Brussels to start a masters at ERG with two of my best mates from Liège. I was the only one to pass the entrance exam though, which was quite disappointing, and I somehow never felt like I fit in the school anyways. Their education was completely different from that of Saint-Luc, so I decided to drop out and take language lessons – English, Dutch and Spanish – for half a year instead. From then on, I begun working as a bike courier and planning my move to the UK.

Right, so this was when you first started thinking about making the big move?

Yeah, I first moved to Birmingham in February 2017. Birmingham might seem like an odd choice, but it was actually very convenient as I already knew quite a few music heads over there. So I moved into this little student house in Selly Oak with the Circular Jaw guys, namely Nuvaman, Werdna, Foxmind – he didn’t live with us but was always about – and Ignas, bringing nearly all my stuff from Belgium by train. A real pain in the arse! I am so thankful to these guys for helping me settle in the country, sort out paperwork and whatnot. I couldn’t have found better people – they’re still very much my best friends even if I don’t get to see them much. Having said all this, I quickly came to realise that Birmingham might not be the right place for me. The city was nice but there wasn’t much to do in general, and I didn’t feel so inspired music-wise. One day, I went out in London to meet some Internet musician friends at a Boom Ting Recordings – a label I released on in early 2017 – night. The atmosphere and energy I felt that night convinced me that I had to move to London. What’s more, my good friend Ganesa, the label head at Jelly Bean Farm was pushing me to move there too – I don’t think I would’ve done it so quickly if it weren’t for her! In June, I moved in with Liam aka Truska and two other girls and started working at Rye Wax, a record shop-cum-venue in Peckham. I mainly do bar work, but also help out in the record shop sometimes when needed. I landed the job thanks to one of my best friends, Camille aka Marcy, who I met through A-Sim. I feel really lucky to be surrounded by all these amazing people, at home and at work.

You come from a strong musical background, with a junglist father (DJ Lium) and relatives (UNREzT, Th!n Consolation) all based in the local scene. What was it like as a child growing up in such an environment?

I guess it’s the same as getting immersed in any environment from a young age: it was normal for my dad to constantly introduce me to new music, even if I wasn’t especially into his sounds as a kid. I just considered it as “the music my dad and his mates listen to.” In fact, I’ve always been a big music addict, but was initially into rock and metal. I took guitar lessons for about six years until I finished secondary school. It was only a few years later that I started coming along to electronic music events with my parents, slowly developing my own interest for it. I began DJing and producing at 17, simply for fun at first. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to produce something I would be satisfied with. I quickly got the hang of it though and it’s become my main preoccupation since! Fast-forward to 2012, and the huge hype surrounding dubstep and drum and bass. My older sister got me on to UKF record label’s YouTube channel and took me to raves all over Belgium. It definitely wasn’t the best dubstep and bass music out there, but it is what got me into it; I have so many great memories from this era because this is precisely when I started going out, a degree in graphic design, DJing and producing. 2012 was a key year for my music! I even started a label called Convex Records with my dad, releasing drum and bass records and throwing parties ourselves. This came to an end at some point because it didn’t fit what I wanted to do anymore, but it did still give me a good insight on the ins and outs of running a label and hosting nights, and I’m very thankful to my dad for being so keen and wanting to teach me!

I could never leave Belgium for good because I love it so much.

When making an Exclusive Mix for us almost a year ago, you mentioned that you “used to produce perfectly arranged tracks – with club-use definitely in mind”, but that digging into beatless global sounds and other genres was reshaping your productions. Is that still the case? How has your sound evolved in the last year?

Yes, definitely. I don’t like putting myself into a box; it’s always hard for me to explain my music because I don’t feel like it can be categorised into just one genre. I like to experiment with lots of different sounds depending on how I feel. Also, I’ve been feeling more at ease with experimenting with different BPM and time signatures. For instance, I went for more organic textures for my recent EP release Uncle Sigmund.

How about your latest Mail Sent, released under Eddy Larkin? Uncle Sigmund has significant tribal elements while Mail Sent is more “angry ambient” and celestial – but both always with your trademark percussions throughout. When working on a new release, do you consciously try to create something different, or do they all fall under the same rubric?

I definitely try to not reproduce what I’ve already done in the past, even if that’s easier said than done. It’s difficult to stray away from certain elements and techniques you like and are comfortable with. That’s why I try to experiment as much as I can in between releases, looking for new methods of production, a feature I haven’t used before, or taking advantage of happy accidents. It’s good if people can recognise your music though, so I also think it’s important to keep your discography consistent with some similarities running throughout it.

Walk us through your production process and gear choices.

Whether it’s a mix or a track, I like building music up in this format: __————_————_ -. The bottom lines are the quieter parts (intro, breakdown, outro) while top lines represent the more intense ones. Of course it depends on the context, but this is probably the “model” I use the most. Equipment-wise, I’ve got some gear that I use all the time, though it’s also not uncommon for me to produce a whole track solely using Ableton. I never force myself to use hardware just for the sake of it. My favourite pieces of gear are probably the Korg Monotron Delay for its crazy sound effects and unsynced delays and the Teenage Engineering PO-32 combined with a Microtonic, mainly as a drum machine but also for designing any kind of sound. Lately I’ve acquired a Behringer Neutron and have been using that loads. Despite Behringer’s reputation, it’s still a great synth and very affordable as well. It’s also really helped me understand how synthesisers work thanks to its big patch bay, which I’m really enjoying experimenting with.

Why did you decide to move to the UK? Did you feel that it had something to offer that Belgium didn’t?

In terms of nightlife, I find London’s more attractive: most of the music I love is from the UK, so getting to see my favourite DJs play every weekend is a blessing. I also feel that people are more musically curious in London – it’s such a shame because Belgium actually does offer quite a lot in terms of music, but most of its people don’t seem to be too keen on discovering or listening to new and unfamiliar sounds. I might be wrong, but this was the feeling I had, and it’s what made me want to move. I also thought my music would get more attention in the UK than in Belgium, though that actually turned out not to be entirely true since there’s so much more competition in London. The only aspect I don’t like about London’s nightlife is the insane use of drugs – but that’s a whole other discussion.

My productivity is actually pretty much “all or nothing.”

I see you’re still constantly on the road though, going back and forth across the Channel. Is that mainly due to touring for your releases, or do you feel like you’re split between the UK and continental Europe?

I could never leave Belgium for good because I love it so much. So my residency with Under My Garage makes a lot of sense, as I try to come back every now and then anyways. I feel like London is the right place for me at the moment, but I don’t reject the idea of moving somewhere else in the future either.

How exactly did you get involved with Under My Garage?

It happened quite randomly, actually. I had reached out to them one day, sending them some of my mixes and productions because I thought it might be up their street. They said they really enjoyed my work and asked if I would like to be one of their resident DJs. It was totally unexpected, especially since I was already planning on moving to the UK by then. The first night I played for them was with Beneath at Recyclart: I played the warmup set but the club was already packed! This was definitely a key highlight. I have so much respect for Dorian Meeùs and Arthur Tixhon for doing their bit to push Brussels’ electronic music scene forward.

Your second to last EP Uncle Sigmund is the first release on the new label Eclipse Tribez, headed by fellow Namurois Serge Taquin. How did you get to know him and decide to release with him?

I met Martin Botte aka Serge Taquin for the first time at the music festival Beautés Soniques’ record fair. I had bought some records off him and we kept in touch afterwards. At some point he suggested I release on his label Unknown References, which was very flattering since I would be the first vinyl release – previous releases were always on tape, and the only other vinyl was actually a corelease with Aidons Antoine’s Le Pacifique Records. We soon became great friends, constantly sending each other stupid memes – which is still probably the main topic of our conversations – while I worked on the tracks. Somewhere along the way, Martin decided to create a new label from scratch as he had new ideas, and this is how Eclipse Tribez was born. We threw an awesome release party at Rye Wax this summer with Simo Cell as our special guest. Uncle Sigmund is probably my most successful release yet, so I’m very thankful to Martin for his trust in my music and all the efforts he put into it.

You manage to churn out music at quite an impressive rate, from back-to-back releases to numerous online radio residencies. How do you handle it all?

My productivity is actually pretty much “all or nothing”. I can get writer’s block for a month or two but can then find myself very inspired and finish off three tracks in a really short period. I guess it just depends on how I feel, what I’ve been listening to, my fatigue level and whatnot. If I ever get blocked, I just accept it and let it go otherwise I’ll go crazy from trying too hard. As for radio, I take it as an opportunity to mix my favourite music and get my DJ friends involved on my shows, which is great.

What can we expect from you in the future? Any plans of coming back home?

I have another release on No Suit Records planned for early next year, among a couple of other EPs which you’ll hear about very soon. And although I do get very homesick sometimes, I don’t see myself coming back to Belgium anytime soon.

Cabasa’s latest EP, Mail Sent, is out on Eddy Larkin.
Cabasa’s monthly show on The Word Radio runs Mondays, from 13h to 15h.