- Words Liam Cattermole
Meet Downtown Kayoto, the visionary heralding a new sound from his bedroom. Here, he talks otherworldy Pharrell interactions, the power of 'To Pimp a Butterfly' and more.
For the last three years, Downtown Kayoto has been living a double life. Studying biochemistry in Swansea, the 22-year-old spent his childhood wanting to be a doctor. But halfway through his degree, the hotly-tipped singer-songwriter had a revelation. Trading test tubes for the microphone, real name Chiko Chinyadza found his creative impulses too strong to be ignored, and now, the artist finds himself devout to music.
Transcending expectation with a non-conformist approach, Downtown’s ear for the otherworldly has made him one of this generation’s great creative hopes. Inherently influenced by artists across the pond, most audibly Frank Ocean, the Hull native liberates genres like R&B, rap and indie, twisting their tropes into something completely new.
Most recently, Downtown released his new EP, ‘Learning in public’. A dazzling display of self-discovery and acceptance, across six tracks, listeners are taken on a borderless journey, surfing through his sub-conscience while fuzzy guitars, two-stepping and baile funk rhythms lay beneath. It’s a project that not only exhibits growth vocally but proves the fruits of his experimental labour are beginning to show.
As he throws off his mortarboard and bids farewell to Swansea, we sat down with Downtown Kayoto to speak on his musical firsts. From otherworldly Pharrell interactions to the power of ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, tap in below.
First song you ever made?
I don’t even remember the first song I made. I think it was just a trash demo I threw on SoundCloud and deleted it a year or two later but I am a firm believer in progress on progression so I left all of my terrible demos from when I first started making music on my SoundCloud and I encourage people to go back and listen to them, that goes for artists of any discipline. I hope when they listen to those demos and listen to my most recent work they’ll be inspired to continue to make stuff and trust the process.
First time you fell in love with music?
I used to be a big theatre kid in secondary school and I got cast in my local theatre’s rendition of Oliver Twist. Throughout the three-month-long rehearsal, we would hear these gigantic scores of music for the play and I thought they were so good to the point where I believed they were made in London by the Michael Bays of this world and that maybe the theatre had just bought the rights to use the music. However, I found out that the music was being made by the musical director. I remember being shocked because the scores were so intricate, the melodies were amazing and motifs were sprinkled throughout to incorporate familiarity. At that point, I strived to make something to hit that same level.
First CD or record you owned?
The first record that I owned was ‘To Pimp a Butterfly‘ by Kendrick Lamar. I remember buying it on Christmas Day, I think 2015, and I remember buying it with the iTunes gift voucher that I got gifted that same morning. To be honest, I wasn’t the biggest Kendrick Lamar fan and I hadn’t listened to his discography prior to downloading the album but something drew me to it. I remember listening and feeling my musical taste expanding – especially when it came to hip-hop and rap. It felt like being chucked into the deep end, eradicating my prior purist beliefs.
First time you realised you wanted to be an artist?
I wanted to be an actor growing up but that faded away when I started to realise that you don’t really have much control and you’re essentially a small part of someone’s wider vision. So when I found myself being less enthusiastic about acting but still wide-eyed about certain qualities, that’s when I took to making music. I remember making one song and thinking, yeah this is cool, this feels right.
First gig you went to?
This will sound quite braggadocious but the first gig I ever went to was the same year I was performing on the intro stage Reading and Leeds. One of the first acts I saw was Stormzy as he was headlining the mainstage and I remember feeling the bass through my feet and making its way up through my body and thinking, that’s what I want to do you, that’s where I want to be and that’s where I want to perform.
First time you faced an obstacle in your career?
Probably the engineering process. I remember recording with two phones, using one as a microphone and trying to playback music through headphones on the other, thinking, how does Bruno Mars and other artists make the recordings sound so good? It forced me down this wormhole of learning how to engineer and record myself, each time upgrading my equipment and expanding upon my knowledge.
First instrument you owned?
The first instrument I ever owned was a violin. I remember in primary school a violin teacher came and gave the whole class a lesson and asking whether we wanted to continue playing it; I jumped at the opportunity. When I first got the violin, I remember being so excited to go home and experiment with the sounds and play my favourite songs.
First time you felt like giving up?
When I first started working with my manager Willem, who had an events company, he had a show for a big artist and needed an opening act, so I travelled from my uni to London for the night. This was my first time meeting him and the first time playing live in a very long time. I remember bombing the set. I forgot the lyrics, I got awkward and it was quite frankly the worst and lowest moment in my career. I remember thinking I’m never doing this again and contemplating quitting, but I’m glad I didn’t and I’m glad I used that moment to fuel my ambition for the coming years.
First time you felt starstruck?
I think the first time I felt starstruck was when Pharrell played one of my songs on his radio show. When I tweeted about it, he liked the tweet which is crazy because these celebrities and artists that I grew up listening to I usually envision as otherworldly, to the point where they almost don’t seem real. So, for that barrier to be broken and for him to acknowledge my existence and my creativity, I was taken aback. It was a huge ego boost, for real.
First time you ticked off a bucket list goal?
I think it was hitting 1000 monthly listeners on Spotify. I remember being on like the 347 mark for a very long time, so when I had a thousand it was that moment where it was like, OK, I’m growing, this is progress and it felt really good.