King Unique on tea, impuritans, and 1970s synths

At Neck of the Woods, we see more than our fair share of ridiculous international and local talent tearing up the stage night-in, night-out. One of the talents we've been most excited about over the last few weeks is the musical stylings of King Unique (a.k.a. Matt Thomas), electronic wunderkind with a self-professed "taste for tripped-out cosmic techno and rough-edged underground house."

So, of course, we had a chat. Turns out that next to international critical acclaim for production and deejaying, Matt can chalk up a ludicrously fluent sense of humour.

How would you define British underground music? Is it confined to any genre?

No, pretty much the opposite – if one thing defines the British approach to dance music it would be the collision of styles, the creation of new genres by putting two or more disconnected sounds together. Overall we’re the opposite of puritans – we’re impuritans!

You’ve personally never actually lived in London, which most would guess was the centre of the scene. Growing up in the idyllic (and supposedly sleepy) town of Chester, how did you come to making music, or even engaging in the scene in the first place?

Yeah Chester is a sleepy place – but that’s because it is flanked by arguably the two great northern musical cities, Manchester and Liverpool, both barely 40 minutes away. Each boasted a key club in the development of house music, the Hacienda and Cream. Cities like that tend to suck up all the cultural and creative life in the area; after giving a band a go for a couple of years in Chester, I tried my luck in Liverpool working in the big recording studios as an assistant/ tape-op/ tea-bitch. After a few years recording jangly guitar bands Matthew and I met up.

How did you and Matthew Roberts come up with the moniker, ‘King Unique’? Can you give us the origin story? 

We’d written a track, along with Matthew’s brother Leon and their mate Cossie, and signed it to Defected. We just hadn’t thought of an artist name, so we were getting increasingly irritated phone calls from Simon Dunmore asking us if we’d thought of a fucking name for ourselves. Each time we’d say, ‘Yeah, definitely going to think of one Simon,’ hang up the phone, and promptly forget.

Eventually he rang one day, told us the record was being pressed that week, that he was finalising the artwork that day, and wasn’t going to hang up the phone until we gave him a name. We threw around a bunch of woeful ideas quickly and then Leon suggested King Unique, a name he’d been considering using for a solo project. He’d seen a film about a teenage latino street gang all called King whatever, and the boss was called King Unique.

We liked it, we told Dunmore, he pressed the record. 

And then there was this one time at bandcamp…

You’re hoarding a few precious 70’s synths in your studio - how often do you play with those?

Not often enough to justify the amount they’re starting to cost in upkeep – but I do love them so. I’m hammering the Eminent Grand Theatre 3000 currently, a 1976 monster from the dawn of the cosmic/prog-rock era. Jarre used a close cousin, the Eminent 310U, for his early albums. It’s a beautiful sounding machine that takes up the same space as a sofa and even has its own lighting system built into the case. Gorgeous instrument.

You’ve been in this business for near on two decades now. Are you adverse to any of the changes that’ve occurred in that time, or do you think we’re headed in the right direction, or?

Things are what they are. If you’re still playing ‘what if?’ about a career that’s lasted two decades you probably need a gratitude transplant. 

How has your own sound evolved in that time, do you think?

It's gone all over the place, from house to techno to electro to bass to prog. The only constant has been a combination of beautiful and ugly sounds.

There’s been a whole lot of travel in that time, too. So far, reflecting on all of it, who’s been your favourite crowd to play for?

I had a pretty lovely experience playing the Eclipse festival in Australia a few years back – turns out that putting tens of thousands of people from all over the world out into the desert for nine days, and then showing them a life-affirming celestial event makes for a really happy crowd. 

As for clubs, I’d say Yellow in Tokyo around 2001, Turnmills in London around 2005, Exit in Lithuania 2007 to 2011, and I’ve recently been playing to fantastic crowds at Ministry Of Sound. There are scores more though – how can I not mention Argentina?

Producing originals, remixing, and performing in front of live crowds - what’s your favourite part of the job?

This is one of those ‘would you rather cut off your foot, your hand or your ears?’ questions; I really can’t choose between them. That said, long before King Unique ever happened I would just tinker with sound, making noises and playing tunes just for myself. That’s never stopped & I doubt it ever will.

Catch King Unique this Saturday (09/04/16) at NOTW.