MDC Interview#46 "Kilbourne"

Destined to devastate, Kilbourne’s singular interpretation of hardcore draws from her background in industrial and club music. Her DJ sets showcase an unrelenting drive and spontaneous selection, and she has toured widely across North America and Europe at venues such as Berghain, Boiler Room, and Tresor. After critically acclaimed releases on Industrial Strength Records and Ophidian’s Meta4 Recordings, 2021 sees her joining the PRSPCT agency and label with a rattling statement of contemporary hardcore techno and terror.

Q. Where are you from? What kind of environment did you grow up in and how did you encounter music?

I grew up on Sourland Mountain in Hopewell, New Jersey. My parents’ house is deep in the woods and we’ve seen foxes, raccoons, hawks, owls, and even a bear from the porch. There’s lots of farmland and protected wilderness around us so everything is very green (and very Blair Witch when the leaves fall off the trees). The oldest part of the house is from the early 1700s. My grandfather was an opera composer, and when he finished a production of Der Freischütz we hung these three prop skeleton archers on horseback in the attic. The town was a 10 minute drive away and pretty sleepy. There’s lots of malls if you drive further. New York City felt relatively close (a little over an hour train ride away) and my mother commuted there for work.

I always remember waking up in the morning to my parents listening to music downstairs. They would play classical, folk, rap, punk, and rock music of all kinds. They have a healthy CD and record collection and I was very into burning the CDs to my hard drive when I got my first laptop. My dad would sing to me and my little brother every night before we fell asleep (sometimes my mom would sub in). I went to my first concert in 8th grade with my dad and saw Interpol. The “alt” kids from the high school were there too and I was like, holy shit, I wonder if they’ll see me, how do I hide my dad. I listened to lots of music in high school but was especially into punk and crust. My first exposure to electronic music was seeing Justice in their first US tour—they had the massive grid of (unplugged) Marshall stacks and I was blown away. Shortly after that my friends and I started regularly making the trip to New York and Philadelphia for raves and concerts.

Q. When did you first learn about Hardcore Techno? What was your first impression of it?

The first hardcore track I remember hearing was Bass-D and King Matthew - Like A Dream in 9th grade in 2007. Really, this is a happy track, but I liked the distorted kick drum. A friend lent me a Bonkers mix series CD, and the third disc was all hardcore. This is how I first heard artists like Lenny Dee, Ophidian, Neophyte, Promo, and the rest of the founding fathers. At the time I don’t think I processed this new sound thoroughly. It felt like yet another lovely square in a rich patchwork of electronic music, and I didn’t know where to go hear it besides a friend’s car stereo.

Q. When did you first go to Rave?

I have trouble delineating what the first “proper” rave I attended was. I do remember feeling super opened up by a Bikes In The Kitchen show I saw when I was 16. The lineup was Ninjasonik, Cerebral Ballzy, Juiceboxxx, among others. I was in heaven, just a big sweaty warehouse being swallowed by a crowd of dancing freaks. The lineup was also very expansive; there were rappers and punk bands alongside DJs, which cemented that there’s something generative and exciting about breaking down the borders between genres.

Q. I think Industrial Hardcore is an important part of kilbourne's music. What is the appeal of Industrial Hardcore to you? Are you also influenced by US Industrial Hardcore outside of the Netherlands and Europe?

I agree! Industrial Hardcore to me represents a fervent attention to distortion and noise and an aesthetic acknowledgment of an industrialized world. All hardcore shares the primary joy of overdriving sounds, but Industrial Hardcore to my mind adds a second layer of distortion that moves a track into an uncanny valley between music(al) and mechanical. I am thinking of projects like Ophidian as Raziel or parts of the Enzyme Catalog where it’s not really appropriate to call something a “bassline” or “hihat” because it’s been twisted by filtering, distortion, saturation, etc. into something less easily defined. Ophidian’s To Sing Of Desecration is a really inspirational piece to me, along with a lot of the Meta4 catalog (Forsaken Is Dead from Arizona is a fav). I draw a lot from the early Industrial Strength catalog, I love that blown-out, noisy, mechanical sound.

Q. You are also in a band called Trophy Hunt. How long have you been playing in the band?

I’ve been doing vocals (and some electronics) in Trophy Hunt for nearly two years now. I have been playing in grindcore and hardcore bands for the last decade, and this is the first one that has really struck this perfect balance for me between grind, screamo, black metal, and crust. We are releasing a new 7” next month (you should get it cause then you get to hear the vinyl-only hardware jams I recorded for it) and are in the process of recording our first full-length LP The Branches On Either Side. This is the first big project where I’ve written most of the lyrics, and it’s been so cathartic crafting these songs. This band has been a lifeline during quarantine—doing something physical like screaming at practice once a week takes me out of the staring-at-ableton-for-hours torpor. I am so hyped to be able to tour on this record when the time comes. We are talking about touring the US and South America, and one day I want to finesse a simultaneous Kilbourne and Trophy Hunt EU tour where I sneak off and do a Kilbourne set after each of our shows. Imagine all the money we’d save on gas and lodging.

Q. Interesting that you have Crustcore/Grindcore musical roots. How does that genre mentality connect to the Rave Music/culture mentality in you?
I think the speedy spirit of Grindocre can be connected to Rave Music. But I think Crustcore and Rave Music are contradictory, can you find a connection between them?

As you mentioned, a big part of the connection is speed. I like how grind and modern crust push the playable tempo, and I love hardcore that does the same. I assume the tension you’re alluding to between Crust and Rave Music is the huge business infrastructure that has developed around raving. There are alternatives to this like freetekno, and punk is not ideologically pure, but I think crust has retained an anti-capitalist/radical culture reputation where dance music has not. That said, both genres share an emphasis on experiencing the music live. Crust shows and raves are really how you become identified with the respective cultures, and both encourage a physical engagement with your own body and the crowd, it’s a crucial window into understanding the music.

Q. Let me know your all-time best song Top 5.

Wow this is going to be inadequate but:

1 Stephen Schwartz - The Burning Bush (from the film The Prince of Egypt) — I really love movie soundtracks and themes, especially these epic ones about faith, sacrifice, and transcendence. This song reliably makes me cry, and I sampled it in my track Honey on my Industrial Strength EP.

2 Ophidian - Butterfly V.I.P. — Mad Ophidian tracks could be on here (So Many Sacrifices, Forgotten Moments Remix, Angel, etc), but the raw emotion and vulnerability, like how do you top that?

3 Panopticon - En hit ravns død — I love the whole double album, truly intimate shithead-free black metal.

4 The Strokes - Hard To Explain — A family friend gave me this CD when it came out for Christmas when I was 9. Julian is a genius brooo.

5 Burial - Come Down To Us — Really unhinged timing and sound collaging. I first heard this in my friends’ Marci and John’s pool looking down on LA. The sample is so corny it has backfired into profound.

Q. Had you been making electronic music before Kilbourne? Why did you decide to make electronic music?

Kilbourne is my given last name, but I decided to make it my artist name a few months after I started messing with Ableton Live. Initially I was just curious about using Ableton to DJ (I wanted to be able to play at house parties) but the more music I played the more I wanted to know how the track was made, could I do that, could I do it better, etc. I was very in love with electronic music and being able to create it felt like a new level of intimacy.

Q. When did kilbourne start? Do you have a concept for this project?

I think my big goal was to DJ for friends. This was 2010 and I had just started college at Wesleyan University. I am a control freak with music, like I live for dominion over the aux chord, and DJing seemed like a pumped-up version of controlling the YouTube queue in someone’s car. I tattoo when I’m not working on music, and part of me wonders if it’s all a subconscious scheme to make someone listen to what I want to hear for a few hours. Production is very different, to me that is about achieving a kind of expression or fluid communication. It’s a very self-referential love of the art form, like I love hardcore techno, and I want to make the most unique and authentic-to-myself hardcore techno possible.

Q. You released "Evnika" from Meta4 in 2018. Please tell us how this work came to be released. Meta4 is a very important label in the Industrial Hardcore scene, did anything change for you after the release?

I sent a demo to Meta4 with zero expectations—I figured there was there was no harm in writing to them but there was also no way they would take the EP. Writing Evnika I had been listening obsessively to the initial Meta4 V/A’s and La Chronique du Chat et du Chien as well as the more recent EPs by Sacerdos Vigilia, Somniac One, and Exome, so when I heard back I was blown away. While not as prolific as some of its peer labels, Meta4 Recordings to my mind has a real attention to quality, like they don’t do throwaway releases. So having an EP on this somewhat elusive label, run by one of the most interesting people in hardcore, felt huge to me. I think because of its loyal fanbase a lot of people were hearing my music for the first time and giving the tracks real attention.

Q. I think your music and vision is the new alternative hardcore. How did you come to have such a style and attitude?

I like your use of the phrase “alternative hardcore.” I’ve heard a few others use it, and it seems like a necessary intervention when Industrial Hardcore has become an umbrella term for all “weird” or “leftfield” hardcore. Whatever style and attitude I am bringing probably owes a lot to DIY and punk and radical culture. I am more interested in finding practical solutions in music than deferring to experts or market wisdom. I have come to value fidelity and really yearn to improve my mixing and engineering sensibilities, but I will always be far more persuaded by a messy masterpiece than a sonically spotless but conceptually bland track. I think parts of contemporary hardcore (especially hardcore that seeks to distinguish itself from uptempo/piepkick/festival-trailer-fodder brouhaha) have over-emphasized production quality to the detriment of emotional/conceptual arcs.

Q. Do you think labels like PC Music and Mad Decent have influenced modern hardcore/alternative hardcore as we know it today?

Speaking for myself, my latest EP owes a lot to listening to PC Music-founder A.G. Cook all through quarantine. The sounds are so lush, and the collective’s philosophy around pop music and sound design really resonate with me. I’m not certain if PC Music and Mad Decent have influenced hardcore directly, but I do think these labels have defined modern pop and EDM, which in turn has influenced mainstream hardcore (e.g. cut time drops, dembow-inspired rhythms, “brostep” synth sounds, etc.). Alternative hardcore is more opaque to me, a lot of producers share a reactive tendency towards poppy melodies or stuff that sounds too sweet. It’s an odd balance to strike, I love the saccharine exaggeration of pop music, but I’d be really grouchy if I heard a Sefa track at an industrial hardcore stage.

Q. What is a Philly club? Is this also a musical style?

Some of the first music I made was Philly Club Music. It’s a region-specific house style that, similar to Jersey Club, grew out of the framework laid by 90s and 2000s Baltimore Club. It is usually the fastest of these three genres (140 up to 180 BPM), and features overdriven kicks, chanting vocals, sirens, breakbeats, and an aggressive crunchy approach to mixing and mastering. Which sounds a lot like hardcore! It’s not an accident that many Philly Club producers have also made hardcore techno or club music that draws heavily on the genre (some names to check out: RaEazy, SirPHresh, Get Em & 2Live, GoHard, Shocker). I no longer make club music but I am still a huge fan, and if you like weird, distorted, fast music you might too.

Q. What do you consider most important when writing a song? How aware are you of BPM and genre theories? Isn't it sometimes stressful for you?

Many of my favorite songs began with a simple prompt (a riff, a drum machine jam, a test run of a new plug-in or technique). I started Evnika with the goal of making this viral clip of a girl beating up a tree into a kick. My prompt writing the song Pillsurfer was how obnoxious can I make the lead “clang” without totally turning someone off. That said, I do fall prey to overplanning; I’ll have ten seconds of material and am already assuming I know the exact genre, sound palate, and pacing of the track. Often close-ended ideas stall out where the open-ended ones do not.

I am a nerd for genres, but I am wary of fully aping a style. I love 90s Drop Bass Network acidcore, but I am also making music 25 years later on an unrecognizable interface in a different social and geographic context, so I try to lean towards emulation and reinterpretation rather than mimicry. I am usually happy to commit to a BPM. I do a lot of bouncing of sounds, especially kickdrums and percussion lines, and I find punchy sounds don’t hit the same after Ableton warping.

Q. What equipment do you currently use?

I work in Ableton Live off of two JBL 308 8” monitors and a subpac. I gawked at that product initially, I thought it was for dehydrated frat bros on molly. But using one (especially with headphones late at night when everyone wants you to shut up) has been revelatory. My favorite plug-ins right now are Xfer Serum, NI Massive X and Komplete, d16 Punchbox and FX Suite (Decimort, Devastor, Syntorus, Tekturon, Toraverb), FabFilter Pro-Q 2, Izotope Trash, and of course the defunct CamelPhat and CamelCrusher. For hardware I currently use a Roland TR-8S, an Access Virus TI2, a Novation BassStation 2, and a x0xb0x 303 clone. I occasionally bring in guitar pedals for distortion, saturation, and reverb. A lot of noise textures and pads I use are based on audio I record on my iPhone voice memo app. I know I should probably stop putting it off and buy a proper field recorder, but my phone is always on me and you just can’t beat that 64kbps warmth.

Q. What is the most important thing to consider when creating a kick?

Outside of the meticulous sculpting, hardcore kicks are beautiful to me because they are so much about intuition. Once I’ve honed in on a sound there’s a bunch of nasty dialing in to be done, but the exploratory stage is so fun, just tweaking until something hits me in a way that is novel. That could be the character or timbre of the body, the timing of different elements like a slightly delayed sub, or any number of elements in conversation. I love making kickdrums but I’m certainly not interested in making “the perfect kick.” I’d rather get something quirky or off-kilter with real character. The kicks that stick around in my head months after hearing them are always the weird ones.

Q. What is the most enjoyable moment in music production?

Showing a friend. I love dragging a housemate into my room to listen to what I’ve been obsessively hacking away at all day, or playing a show and making eye contact with a friend and signaling ‘this is me right now!’ Electronic music is deeply social and the emotional highs of production reflect that. Close runner up would be the second day working on a track, you think everything sounds awesome and new and have no idea that you’ll sit down to listen to it tomorrow and hate everything you hear.

Q.About Bloodrave: Music From Blade. Why did you decide to make this? What do you like about Blade?

So the tape Bloodrave: Music From Blade was a release drawn from a larger project where I rescored the movie Blade (1998) in 2017. Basically I used a 6 channel audio file from the 2001 movie, dragged it into Ableton, and tried to remove the score and other non-diegetic sounds while preserving the dialogue, then redid the whole thing with original music (with a firm emphasis on hardcore techno). Early versions of the songs from Evnika show up throughout the movie alongside many other sketches and riffs that have since shown up in my released music. Blade, like The Matrix, is a movie that really understood the cinematic qualities of dance music, and how to use electronic music to guide a story revolving around action and sci-fi. Like, the bloodrave scene is iconic because of the Confusion Pump Panel acid track. I’ve shown the Blade rescore at film festivals and theaters across the US and Europe, and I just presented on the project as a guest speaker at Harvard University. The project still resonates with me because I think hardcore is filmic in its aesthetics, like this music is so dramatic it can’t be confined merely to night clubs.

Q. Please tell us how QUARANTINETAPES_vol2 was born.
How did you come across Shade? How did you write the songs? This was only released on Tape, will we ever hear this again?

I have been a fan of Shade’s band Code Orange since a friend Seth showed me their record I Am King in 2014. I still drop the title track in sets when I’m feeling cheeky and I sampled other parts of the record in a recent collaboration I did with DJ Narotic. Shade and I came into contact though my friend Luis who performs as Lu2k. Luis is a gabberhead but he also drums in the metallic hardcore band Jesus Piece and goes way back with Code Orange. He put us in touch, which was freaky for me cause they are def, like, rockstar status in my mind, and I learned Shade (who had taken over electronics for the band) was doing a series of collaborative tapes during quarantine. I already loved the way Code Orange was blending industrial and nu-metal electronic sounds into hardcore punk, so working together was very exciting. We mostly just shared a big 30 minute Ableton file back and forth til it felt finished. I drew on a lot of the structures and sounds from a solo EBM project I had started a couple years ago, as well as some slow- and doomcore tracks I was stuck on. I am not sure of Shade’s plans for a digital release at this time. I understand the frustration of not being able to hear it (both editions sold out in a few minutes) but I think there is something charming in its ephemerality. If you’re really hankering to hear it let me know.

Q. How do you feel about the state of Hardcore Techno in the US over the past few years?

I am excited by the future of hardcore in the US. I’ve seen the parties and culture growing in the past 5 years, more and more people are becoming more and more dedicated, and something that I think will really sustain the scene is there are so many new producers. My friend Lu2k makes a lot of really lush oldskool and breaky hardcore, and we have an EP together coming out soon. Plexøs is an awesome producer out of Utah, I rarely play a set without his music. Aiden, who is also based in New York, did this incredible industrial and speedcore record that’s not out yet, very Anticore vibes. Dani Rev, 99jakes, Nurse, and loads of others are making powerful and weird hardcore across the US right now.

Q. Do you see a crossover between techno and hardcore in the US like in the Netherlands and Europe? What kind of people do you think are supporting Hardcore in the US?

While hardcore doesn’t exist in the US on the massive commercially-viable scale of Europe, it has a vibrant scene and fiercely passionate followers. Hardcore parties here are an exciting culture clash of young queer club kids, grouchy grandpas who saw the 90s New York hardcore scene, mallgoths, noisers, ‘regular’ techno fans, and everyone in between. I think there’s a very real presence of people that want to hear harder music and push their comfort zone in the US. A lot of that runs parallel with the hardening of commercial techno, but I think it’s chiefly thanks to the work of underground techno communities.

The queer techno crew Unter consistently throws my favorite parties here and their Spinoff Gabber series is always loads of fun. The last time I played was for their Boiler Room collaboration in this giant circus training warehouse. Melting Point is another great hardcore party that raises money for Al Otro Lado, an immigrant advocacy group in the US and Mexico. Their programming is super expansive: one room will be all oldskool early hardcore tracks, the next will be a live noise PA, and the one after that is someone mixing flashcore into nu-metal. I also love the Black Hole parties—while not strictly hardcore, they really prioritize the hardest and fastest techno and I feel thoroughly exorcised when the sunrise greets me after their events. I have done a few tracks with one of their members Buzzi during quarantine that I’m really excited to share. There are, or were pre-covid, so many new hardcore-focused parties popping up at all scales, from small clubs to big warehouses, and I am literally aching to reimmerse myself in this flourishing scene when the time comes. What’s cool here is that ravers are freaks, like these are people that were outcasts in high school, that didn’t fit into clear gender or social roles, and are profoundly invested in subculture.

Q. What is your favorite latest artist or label?

I think there’s a lot of ways to come at that question, but I will say that PRSPCT is the hardcore label with the most consistent and interesting output. My EP Cathedrals will be out later this year (PRSPCT 260!) and I’m truly honored to be a part of their history and catalog.

Q. What do you think are the unique aspects of your generation? Where do you think your generation stands in society?

Millennials grew up with the internet as a source of truth, archive, entertainment, everything. It’s near impossible to conceive of a life or self without it. A big part of that is seeing the pursuit of fame as a moral positive. Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror has a great chapter on this, but relating it back to musicians, social media has made it easier than ever to achieve a degree of celebrity, and for people around my age, when we do something cool, like play a DJ set or write a song, it feels almost wrong not to somehow archive it through the internet. I think these trends will accelerate and mutate with Gen Z, but for now I feel the shared obsession with clout heavily.

Q. Today, the younger generation listens to music with an open mind, and DJs don't just play one genre, they play a variety of genres.(Hip Hop to Jungle to Bass to Gabba,etc)
What do you think is the reason for this phenomenon?

I’d imagine this owes a lot to the growth of the internet. Platforms like Soundcloud, LiveMixtapes, and DistroKid have allowed artists to put out “unusual” combinations of sound with less industry oversight. Hyper-local sounds are now available globally in real-time, and we have a super accessible archive of music through sites like YouTube and Discogs. While the majority of what I play is from the last decade, I am constantly hearing “new” music from the 90s and early 00s that I incorporate in my sets. For me, these are net positive developments. I, as I suspect most people do, listen to a wide range of music, and I enjoy hearing some of that reflected in the events I atten

Q. Currently, Hardcore is being embraced by a wide variety of people. However, I feel that there is an invisible boundary there as well. For example, alternative styles such as yours, [KRTM], Perc Trax, Gabber Modus Operandi are picked up by the media. RA and FACT have released mix of you and TOA. However, traditional hardcore and industrial hardcore will not be introduced in such media. How would you analyze this situation?

It’s difficult to make a firm statement because the media is itself fragmented. Techno journalism probably has a limit to what it will incorporate into the fold. I imagine the gaudy horror-fantasy aesthetic of current mainstream hardcore turns off a lot of would-be writers (to be clear, I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff and think contemporary mainstream is super fun). Also a lot of techno media lacks literacy with hardcore. Rarely do we see music journalism that scratches deeper than “wow, look at this whacky Thunderdome 96 video, can you believe how fast the music is?” Many of the artists in hardcore have had careers spanning at least a decade, which I’d imagine is daunting to a journalist interested in introducing them to a new audience. Like how you do you frame an artist like Angerfist with tens of thousands of superfans and fifteen years of music production as novel? I was very pleasantly surprised by The Outside Agency’s RA appearance. I am a big fan of their work, but to me it isn’t an obvious fit compared to some of the hardtechno-adjacent names you mentioned. I hope unusual things like that continue. I am not a journalist but I trust many are passionate music fans looking to dive deeper than mere 90s nostalgia.

Q. Do you have any goals for the future?

This is a goal met, but I have a new 12” called Seismic coming out on Evar Records this year that includes collabs with The DJ Producer and Buzzi. I want to keep writing and releasing music that feels significant to people. Hopefully touring can start up again in the fall or winter. I’d also like to score a video game, that sounds very fun!

Q. Please leave a message at the end.

Hardcore is for the freaks.

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