People’s best pieces are made in the shortest period of time. Making music or art, whatever you’re creating, is a reflection of your mood at the time, and you’ve got to get that all out while you can.
Originally a maker of hip-hop and grime beats, Corin Bornoff now produces emotive and visceral dubstep under the alias Karma. With two vinyl releases and shows on Inner City FM, Rinse FM, Radar Radio and Methods London, he’s gained himself an ever-growing fanbase and the attention of some the scene’s biggest labels. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the young producer; after a stint in Japan and months without inspiration, he’s only just rediscovered his drive to make music upon returning to London. While Karma’s music is primarily sample-based, it’s far from some of the formulaic homages we’ve seen in recent years. With their grainy, rough-around-the-edges warmth, tracks like “How Ya Feel” and “Heal” have a powerful nostalgic quality while also managing to sound fresh. It’s little wonder why they’ve been in steady rotation on DJ sets for years – a fact Karma didn’t know until recently. Ahead of his second Innamind release and a double pack on System Music early next year, I met Corin in his hometown for a caffeine boost and a chat about production, patience and his personal struggles with making music.
Thanks for meeting me. For those who don’t know, could you tell me a bit about your background?
My name’s Corin, 25 years old, I live in Penge, South London. I began producing at school when I was 15 using GarageBand. I started off making hip-hop and grime beats, and I then got into DJing when I was about 17. I wasn’t into dubstep or electronic music much at all; I got decks because I wanted to be a scratch DJ. I used to collect hip-hop records, ‘90s East Coast stuff like Black Moon, DJ Premier, Eazy Mo Bee.
How did you go from hip-hop to dubstep?
I was listening to a lot of reggae, dub and jazz, collecting records, and a mate of mine played me some RSD. That was my first introduction to dubstep; I really liked it because to me it doesn’t like electronic music. It sounded like reggae, like hip-hop – rough, sample-based – and that’s what was appealing.
A lot of your samples come from reggae, like Buju Banton and Alborosie, but you do it in a way that sounds completely different to a lot of the dubwise stuff coming out at the moment. What draws you to a sample and how do you go about using it in a track?
There are reggae acapellas, but there aren’t many floating around so I make use of what I can find. All my music’s sample-based, everything, but it’s not like I specifically chose those samples because I think they’d work well in a track. I was just collecting loads of acapellas anyway and then started a track. For a while, when the whole brostep thing exploded, the underground alternative was stuff that Youngsta was playing, like the mid-range, tech-y, early SP:MC stuff. I was like, “yeah, this is sick”, but then it became too much of a good thing. I started to think about the music, and there’s not much musicality or creativity involved; in a lot of it, it’s more engineer-based. It’s all about the textbook clean, perfectly engineered mixdowns. Everyone’s got their own taste in music, some people like hearing everything very clean and crystal. But because I used to listen to hip-hop and acoustic music, I was never really in to electronic music, so I like things to sound rough. I don’t like perfect mixdowns, it’s more about the ideas.
Your first release on was on MindStep, then almost out of nowhere you were on Innamind, System and Back to Chill? How did you get all those relationships going?
It all started going to FWD>>. The first time I went to FWD>>, I remember it was Hatcha and Crazy D and Tubby playing – that got me into the music; I understood what it was about more. I’ve been to a few raves before. The first dubstep night I went to was a Dub Police night at Fabric, and I was like, “yeah, I’m not feeling this wobbly stuff”. Then a friend of mine took me to FWD>>. When I got the first taste of dubstep and started collecting and downloading stuff, I couldn’t differentiate because I didn’t understand the people that were behind the music. Another thing I found appealing about FWD>> is I met all the people and producers that went there. I didn’t know anyone at the time, but I realised that this was a scene happening right now on my doorstep, and I felt in a way obliged to get into it.
I used to hang out with [DJ] Crises quite a lot, and then I met Goth-Trad. The first time I met him was at Outlook in 2010; I didn’t actually chat to him properly because I was a bit starstruck at the time. I was wearing an old Back To Chill t-shirt that a friend of mine had given me, and he was like “Ah, you’re wearing a BTC t-shirt”, and I was like, “Goth-Trad, nice to meet you, see you later”. The same friend was friends with Goth-Trad and introduced me when he was playing in London. We ended up chatting for quite a while outside in the smoking area. It’s quite funny, my friend said to Goth-Trad, “Corin’s mum’s a wicked cook, you should come over”, and then he said “yeah, alright”. Next thing I know there’s Goth-Trad in my house eating dinner, cleaning the dishes with my mum. I was playing him some of my tracks, and he liked “Meanings” and said “I’d like to sign this to Back To Chill”. That came out on the BTC compilation.
Goth-Trad has really helped me, he’s been like, “if there’s an opportunity there, you have to take it”, and he gave me a lot of advice on my music and production techniques. I used to hang out with GT when he came to London, and once when he was playing at FWD>> I went with him and Vivek was there. Goth-Trad introduced me, and Vivek was like, “yeah, send me some music”. I sent him “Vacant Mind” and “How Ya Feel”, which I’d made two days before then, and then he phoned me up the next day saying “I want to put this out on number two” – he hadn’t even started the System label yet. There was a moment when Vivek wasn’t too sure with what he was going to do with the System label, so he said, “I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to back you and your music, so I’ll introduce you to Jeremy from Innamind”. So it’s all been introductions. I’ve never liked sending music to people I’ve never met before; I’ve never sent music to people unless they’ve asked me.
Can you tell me more about your friendship with DUBTRO?
I connected with him online before we’d met in person because we were both on MindStep and Back To Chill. The first time I met him was at Back To Chill in Japan, but we became quite close when he came to London after MindStep had one vinyl release which was a DUBTRO release.
Do you find that living in London and being in the heart of the scene helps you create music?
Yeah it’s helped, I feel very lucky. Being able to make these personal connections with people definitely helps a lot. Not only that, but being influenced all the music that’s going on around you, and the city in general. I was out in Japan for like 7 months, and I felt a bit distant. Being away from London, I found it stunted my creativity and drive to make music, because there’s nothing going on there. Some people like that, getting away into the middle of nowhere. Personally, I find inspiration from here, watching the world go by. Moving to Japan could’ve been a life-changing decision, and I did think I might actually end up living there. I couldn’t get a job because of tours, and that stopped employers, because no-one wants someone who’s going to be in and out of the country. So I sat there twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen, and so music-wise I wasn’t really progressing. When I came back to London, I realised what I was missing.
I actually made “Terrorist” as soon as I got back from Japan. Things weren’t going so well for me out there, I wasn’t really in a good place, I wasn’t very happy. I lost my drive for a while, that’s why I was struggling to make music. As I was saying earlier, I felt disconnected from London, and I didn’t finish a track in like 6 or 7 months. I started to make stuff as soon as I got back to London and made it in two days. If a tune takes longer than two days, put it on the shelf or bin it, that’s my philosophy. I think a lot of producers would agree, not just people who make music but artists in general. People’s best pieces are made in the shortest period of time. Making music or art, whatever you’re creating, is a reflection of your mood at the time, and you’ve got to get that all out while you can. Personally, I can’t go back to the track again after weeks and weeks and get in the mood for that. All my favourite stuff that’s been released has been done in the shortest period of time.
What’s the shortest period of time you’ve spent making a tune?
Maybe like a day, but I’m talking not even getting up to go to the toilet. All producers work differently, you’ve got some people who’ve got their laptop in bed, they can wake up in the morning and put some loops together. I can’t really do that, I have maybe a few days in month where I’m on it, where I suddenly get this vibe that I really want to make music, so when I get that I’ve got to make the most of it, so I literally won’t move. That’s like with “How Ya Feel”, I went to Mala In Cuba’s first show in Brixton and Moritz von Oswald [from Rhythm & Sound], he was supporting. I was a big fan and haven’t ever seen him live, and I was blown away by it. When I got back at like 6 or 7 in the morning I started putting some loops together. I didn’t get up for 10 or 12 hours.
You started Methods and you’ve played twice on Radar Radio. Are these recent projects since coming back to London?
Well, Methods has been going on for 4 years now. Me, Oski and G.Goodie started it ages ago. We were just mucking about; we used to do it on UStream. It was just an excuse for us to get together and play music. Since I got back to London, I started doing more gigs, which put me in a position where I could ask other people if they wanted to come and do a show with Methods. That’s how the guests started coming on the show. We tried putting on raves a few years back, but found ourselves at a loss financially as a lot of people know there’s so much competition in London and trying to put on a night costs so much money. It’s almost impossible to start something from scratch, though we’ve had the opportunity to start the Methods night up again recently. We put on a night a few months ago at Rye Wax, with Matt Horsepower, Foamplate and Sun of Selah on the lineup, which had a great turnout. We’ll be putting on nights more regularly in 2017.
You’re well known for your dubplates. How do you pick tracks to get released properly onto a label?
I’m very specific. I’m not too bothered about releasing music, that’s why I’ve only had two vinyl releases to date. I don’t see the point of putting out music for the sake of it. I’d only want to put something out that I feel is something that justifies people paying money for. Music that doesn’t have shelf life. I used to buy loads of dubstep and stuff back in the day; I’d buy any old thing. Out of my collection, about 3/4 of the stuff I’ve only played once. There’s so much stuff that gets a whirlabout, and I don’t want to put out stuff that’s like that.
Where do you get your records cut?
In London, I always go to Transition. That studio had a very significant role in the development of the music. Everyone used to cut their dubs there; it’s where the community used to hang out. Because [Jason] was a sound engineer, he was partly responsible for crafting the sound, the setting, the texture. No-one understands the context of the music like he does, which is very important when cutting dubs or mastering music as essentially the final outcome is going to sound like the engineers representation of how they perceive the music. I go there because it’s local to me and I obviously love the dubs that he cuts. No-one really cuts dubs anymore, not in the same way that they did back in the day. Except for Foamplate, he gets his dubs cut there.
As a listener, I find there’s a fresh quality to your music; it doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of ‘dubstep’. One of the problems with the genre is that it can easily become stale.
I think producers who’re making dubstep should stop listening to dubstep and instead listen to all kinds of music for inspiration. I mean, listen to dubstep, but there’s no surprise that people are churning out tunes that sound like the last big tune from some artist. That’s all they’ve listen to, so naturally they replicate it. I was like that; I was obsessed with it at one point. I was going to FWD>>, I was listening to every single Rinse show. That’s all I was listening to.
Do you find that your best inspiration doesn’t come from dubstep, but other places?
I get inspiration from dubstep, but stuff that doesn’t sound like anything that has been done before. As a producer, I don’t see the point in making stuff that’s been done already. Obviously there are a few artists that are making stuff pushing it in a different direction, and there are also a lot of producers making really good dubstep tunes, but they perfectly fit the criteria, the ‘dubstep checklist’. They’re great to play in sets, but in terms of its lifespan, a tune like that is gonna get replaced.
What do you think makes a timeless tune? Or is there no specific reason why it’s timeless?
You can have a timeless dubstep tune that does fit the criteria, but it’s made in a way that the producer obviously understands the background and the context of the music. Something on a nostalgic tip done really well so that it brings back memories of early DMZ stuff; some of the stuff Foamplate’s making right now, like “Lionize“. He’s used the ‘08 wobble, but he’s taken elements from that and refreshed it a bit.
What advice would you give to producers starting out or wanting to get signed?
A lot of upcoming producers are trying to get their stuff heard, but I think there’s no point in sending out loads of music just for the sake of getting your name heard. There’s no point if your tracks are mediocre, because people will associate you with those mediocre tracks. I remember when I first started making dubstep, making shit tunes – at the time, they sound amazing to your own ears because you’ve realised that you’ve created this out of nothing. I used to spam people, like on Facebook. I wouldn’t even bother writing a message; I’d just be like, “yo, check this out” (laughs). I know people are in a rush to get their stuff heard and to get bookings, but I think it’s much better to be patient. When your music is at a decent level, you won’t have to bother with sending stuff out to everyone, because the music will travel by itself.
Final comments or shout outs?
I also want to mention another project I’m working on with Si-Dee from Horsepower Productions under the alias “Midnight Express”. As UKG seems to be the “in” thing at the moment, and we’re hoping to bring back some of the darker 2-step sounds. Look out for some forthcoming 12″s we’re putting out together. Shoutout to Oski, G.Goodie and the Methods Crew; Kursk and the Innamind family; Vivek, Foamplate and the System family; DUBTRO, Goth-Trad and the BTC crew. Big shout out to Darkside for all the support. Si-Dee, Benny Ill, Matt Horsepower, DJ Crises, Sam Levo, Shumba Youth, Sagal and the Numa Crew.
A track… by your favourite new artist: 3WA – Encanto you’re currently opening sets with: Karma – Terrorist that you always rewind: Karma – Smear Dub VIP