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KITO + REIJA LEE Under Your Skin

Maaike Lebbing and Reija Lee Thomas
Maaike Lebbing and Reija Lee Thomas

Maaike Lebbing and Reija Lee Thomas, as musical collaborators and childhood friends, have the kind of bond that transcends genre, continent, and convenience. Physically reunited in the studio after years of WA-to-UK dropbox transfers, they’ve just released EP II, an atmospheric, heart-on-sleeve collection of bass tracks. After years of respect from Skream, Diplo, and Mad Decent Block Party audiences, Kito productions like Under My Skin and Starting Line are finally getting hard-earned airplay from Triple J. Back in WA, Maaike and Reija caught up with ZOE KILBOURN.

“This is the first EP we’ve done where we actually had our own studio in London, which we got last year,” explains Maaike. “The Sweet Talk EP we did online when we were living in different countries. This was the first EP where we were working in the studio together. That was the greatest thing about writing it – the process of us being able to write it together. There’s a magic in the studio when you’re actually with someone and you can bounce off each other, which you can’t really create on the Internet.”

Maaike has been producing as Kito for years, while Reija draws upon her extensive rock and metal performance history to develop lyrics and vocal lines. What results is a bass-informed pop that works in – but isn’t confined to – the club.

“I think that comes from me being in rock bands,” says Reija. “Regardless of those influences, though, we’re not trying to be an act that only fits in clubs. We are writing music that is not a subgenre. Whenever we write a song, it’s not for the club. It’s great when it works in the club, but our intention is never “Let’s write a banger.” Well, I mean, I hope some of ours are, but we’re open to so much music.”

“We collaborate in a very creative way and a very organic way,” Maaike says. “It’s not like I send Reija a beat and she writes a vocal over it. We’re in the studio together every step of the way. If your work overlaps, I reckon it’s pretty easy to step on each others’ toes. It gives you a lot of freedom to, I don’t know, use your skills, to not have to take a back seat.”

West Aussies with a deep appreciation for the Perth community (Maaike cites Ta-Ku and Pendulum as particular path-setters),  their career has been overwhelmingly international.

“We as a duo haven’t played here much at all,” says Reija. “This Friday’s going to be our first official show together in Perth. But yeah, it’s my first home. Maaike grew up down south, in Denmark.”

For all of Perth’s strengths as a bass music hub – Reija’s brother is Viper Recordings’ ShockOne – Europe offered a younger Kito musical experiences not easily available anywhere Down Under, let alone down south.

“I had a lot of friends down here who were into electronic music. We were all buying records,” she says. “But I moved to Perth as soon as I finished school. I went travelling when I was about 19 and stayed in London. I had a boyfriend there at the time, so I had a few reasons to go there, but I had also sent Skream some music and he released my first record. Dubstep hadn’t really touched Australia then. I actually wanted to be involved in it, experience it as opposed to making music that wasn’t touching on the country I was living in. Which it did eventually -” (“Everyone was into dubstep”, adds Reija) “- but that was part of the reason. I didn’t actually intend on staying. I’ve been there for about five years now.”

EP II’s BPM and drumlines are similar, but Maaike “would never call our music dubstep, ever. Even if that was where my first releases started, it was such a different thing then, anyway. It was actually pretty chilled. The kind of music I was making was pretty ambient, and dubstep was pretty ambient – it hadn’t gotten into the really aggressive stages, whatever, testosterone music.

“At that time, I was travelling and listening to Varial a lot. I was listening to Squarepusher, and J Dilla – the classic people producers listen to when they’re starting out. Probably my first release was really influenced by atmospheric dubstep.”

Reija, a bassist and vocalist with rock and metal acts, studied music performance for a year at TAFE and visual arts/photography at uni.

“After I was in London and we were making music [online], sending it back and forth, I started working on Reija, being like, ‘Come over! Do it! Quit the degree you’re doing you probably won’t be able to get a job from, and do something you probably won’t be able to get a job from!’” says Maaike, apologetically adding to Reija, “If it hadn’t worked out, you probably would hate me right now.”

“Everyone in my family plays in a band, and my dad’s a sound engineer,” says Reija. “I think it was just kind of expected that that’s where I would end up. I never thought I would end up in electronic music, though – I always played in bands. That’s the surprising part about it. Once me and Kito had written our first EP together and she was like, ‘Come to London, we’ll work together,’ and I was just like, oh well, might as well run with it and take this opportunity. I’m glad I did.”

“We did the Mad Decent Block Parties last year,” says Reija. “Which were huge and scary, and as you’d know, those parties are full of really hard-hitting dance music, especially with the trap wave. Our original music isn’t really anything like that. It was pretty daunting going into those shows not knowing how people would take us.” (Maaike:“Those were, like, our first shows!”)

“But I think we learnt so much on that tour, and we’re always working on our set, and I feel like that’s something we’ve really mastered,” Reija continues. “We have fun party sets now – we incorporate our own music into that, we incorporate other people’s music, I put some vocals over other people’s tracks and kind of just mash it up a bit, have fun with it. We’re more spontaneous now, which is a lot more enjoyable.”

“I think in a club show you have to be more spontaneous,” says Maaike. The duo play “anything we like, really. We like electronic artists, producers. Some stuff from Mad Decent, other labels we like, more UK stuff. And also, we love hip hop and RnB.”

“Especially with the kind of vocal things that I do,” says Reija. “We love getting me to sing RnB vocals over an electronic track, which is kind of fun – we do -” [Maaike: “Don’t say!”] “- I was going to say the one that was in our mix, but we’ll keep it a surprise.” (Reija ad-libs RnB lines over the electronic tracks Maaike’s laying down – a kind of third, live, vocal mixer. Rap, she stresses, is out of the question. “I haven’t got it in me.”)

The Perth leg of their national tour is part of the Get Weird series – which last brought pseudo-‘80s pop freaks Client Liaison out west – so it’s bound to be conducive to their newfound spontaneity. “And I think we have lots and lots of friends coming to that show,” adds Reija. “I think that show’s gonna be a little bit insane.”

“We have to catch a flight to Bali after that show the next day, six in the morning,” says Maaike. “We have to go straight from the club at four in the morning. I think it might be a little bit of a hectic plane ride as well.”




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