Pure Kindness or (Serendipity in Pop Music)
On October 13, 2014, Adam Bainbridge, known musically as Kindness, celebrated the release of his second full-length album, titled Otherness. Recording the LP entailed the British musician making a criss-cross of eclectic American locales—Marfa, TX., Germantown, NY., New Orleans, Los Angeles, and New York City—to bring the project to life. Otherness is a collaborative effort with Bainbridge channeling idiosyncratic voices like Robyn, Kelela, and Dev Hynes, along with production cues from the industry’s finest. Otherness is not bound by a unified theory, but is in its own way a patchwork of contemporary music history. The result is progressive and ambitious, though, at times, disjointed and confounding upon first listen. Bainbridge was never trained as a musician, and for most of his upbringing hadn’t dreamed of making a record. After being gifted a music software program, he learned to piece together DJ mixes, even make his own music. Suddenly, years of searching through catalogs of sound became a practice in sonic translation.
Bainbridge became a record store hound at a young age, looking up to his father who had been a DJ in his day. His dad’s love for Motown and Philly soul music fostered Bainbridge’s open ear and early affiliation with American music culture. “In a similar way to me, he came from a provincial, small town environment,” he says of his father. “He knew there was something better, and that he had to get out.” His mother, on the other hand, preferred stability. “My mum was originally born in South Africa to Indian parents,” he explains. “She already had a pretty wild story. That’s part of what attracted her to calmness and predictability, I suppose.”
Digging through music old and new gave Bainbridge a sense of possibility, of a world outside suburban comforts. He listened to hip hop, R&B, and house music, thinking to himself, This is the sound of the city. This is the sound of sophistication.
Cosmopolitan dreams led him to a small university in Paris. The experience promised a chance to meet like-minded, interesting people and a blank canvas for self-reinvention. He dropped out only a short time later.
“It’s taken me a long time in life to accept that I can’t excel in everything and be perfect at things. That pressure of being 18 or 19 in school and realizing: Wait I was the best in high school, what do you mean I’m not the best anymore? What do you mean this work is tough and I don’t understand it? You freak out because the order of the universe has been disrupted. You’re like, they must not be teaching me right, fuck this.”
He returned to London and re-enrolled only to call it quits again. “I was a cocky little academic, but you realize that you might have been the smartest kid in Squeaksville, Cambridgeship, but Paris and London—it’s tough out there.”
And so began the “DJ hustle.” For Bainbridge, making music was never a career choice; it was about following a vague possibility. He was DJing on a regular basis, and often doing so gratis. Playing selector to ambivalent crowds was less than fulfilling, and it certainly didn’t pay rent or utilities, but it did serve to hone his craft and broaden his musical catalog. In the meantime, he landed gigs taking pictures for magazines. “My parents, they were pragmatic, and that sounded more doomed than being a musician!” he says with a grin. “They let me do it; they bailed me out once, and that’s it. ‘Literally it,’” his folks warned. “‘Be more wise with what you are doing with your future.’”
In 2012, Bainbridge released his first solo work under the name Kindness, a full-length debut album titled World, You Need a Change of Mind, named after the Motown soul hit by Temptations co-founder and singer Eddie Kendricks. The album title held as a binding resolution to pay homage to the foundations of twentieth century pop. World… is a heavily sample-based project that’s danceable upon first listen. Twenty-fourteen’s Otherness, on the other hand, serves as a tightly-packed studio gem, and while it holds plenty of negative space to breathe, the details are meticulous. Recreating this in a concert setting, however, is easier said than done, Bainbridge reveals. “Every now and again a voice of reason would walk through the studio and go, ‘How are you going to play this one live?’”
“Shut up!” he’d shoot back. “We don’t think about that. This is art—that’s…something else.”
“There was an energy that kept the crowd in gear,” he says of the first record “This time you’re going to lose people.” To counter the substitution of kinetics for headiness, Bainbridge directs a live band of skilled musicians who navigate crowds between new exercises and older sure-things. “I’m just the weirdo in the middle of all of it,” he says.
It’s commonplace for an artist to take pride in staying true to a creative vision, but ignoring the realities of the twenty-first century’s ephemeral media landscape would be naive. The old commercial music model always favored radio hits; today, the blogosphere can make a star in a minute and forget about them the next. At least the classic one-hit wonder could make a buck before being lost to history. “People burn so bright for such a short time now,” Bainbridge recognizes, scoping the longview. “Maybe there’s a value to being somewhat misunderstood or difficult to discover,” he muses. Strangely, he likes to think of his songs as an itch, “Sort of irritating at first, but you just have to give in to the pleasure of it,” he says with the slightest of smiles. Bainbridge is already looking ahead to the next record, one to act as an equilibrium between the ups and downs of his discography to date.
That’s not to say that the music of Kindness is extreme in any sense. It’s perfectly sensible art pop that gives nod to its forefathers while gently pushing the genre forward. Dev Hynes, who makes music as Blood Orange along with producing indie hits for pop starlets the likes of Solange Knowles, Sky Ferreira, and Jessie Ware, describes Bainbridge as a talented creative director. “Adam’s like a painter who will have his idea, add in certain bits, then give the canvas to others to get their take on it. But it’s still him. Like an artist with assistants.”
Bainbridge and Hynes have been friends since their days back in Dalston, East London, before either garnered name recognition in the music world. Ameatur music antrhopologists in a way, the pair would share Youtube links, archival pages, and Wikipedia entries, “It could be lost Neil Young albums or disco edits or weird 90s U.K. indie,” Hynes remembers. Mutual trust between the two gave Hynes a unique perspective on the genesis of Bainbridge’s compositions. “I’ve seen each of the two [Kindness] albums since their beginnings, their skeletal point,” says Hynes. “I listen to this new record and I’m marveled at the songs and what they’ve become because I remember the loop snippets that held the original ideas.”
Otherness was produced in part by Jimmy Douglas, a four-time Grammy winner who, during his time at Atlantic Records, shared the studio in service of Aretha Franklin, Hall & Oates, Roxy Music, and The Rolling Stones. Bainbridge also stood under the wings of legends Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, a production duo that have penned more than seventy top ten hits in the U.S. and U.K. since the 1980s. “In the studio, you just have this kind of perilous moment on the edge of the void where I’m like, Wait, who am I in the room with, and what’s happening?!” Bainbridge says candidly as he steps back to consider the legends that contributed to Otherness.
One lesson he’s learned is to keep things simple. He avoids being overwhelmed by possibility through a selective approach in sound design and instrumentation. Bainbridge was marveled how simply Jimmy Jam would pick a single instrument to use for the day’s studio session. Sometimes the choice of gear came before he even knew the tune. Bainbridge asked Jam and Lewis, “Is this how it worked back in the day, when you were writing a song with Janet [Jackson] or someone?”
“Yeah yeah!” Jimmy said.
“Serendipity in pop music. Holy shit. It’s a good approach.”
Stylist: Claudia Cifu
Photo Assistant: Camilo Fuentealba
Makeup and Hair Artist: Rubi Jones
Special Thanks to Bon Duke