- Words Jack Ramage
Fronting the new The North Face NSE drop, we quiz Kam-BU on the collaboration, UK rave culture, the post-lockdown party scene and finding peace in the outdoors.
Kam-BU is the rapper fusing industrial rave sounds with poignant lyricism. Growing up, the south London artist was immersed in the UK’s vibrant free-party culture: reclaiming derelict spaces with sound systems, wide-eyed ravers and brazen hedonism. Nowadays, when not hitting up a rave, in the studio, or on tour, you can catch him finding solitude in the serenity of nature.
As one of the hottest rappers coming out of the UK scene, his electrifying approach to songwriting is a nod to his past and present raving lifestyle, as well as his Jamaican roots. But it’s his storytelling that reflects on the gritty reality of 2020’s Britain, the importance of community and the environment, that really sets him apart.
The last year has seen Kam–BU take streaming platforms by storm, from 2022’s invigorating singles “Eton Mess” and “Pickney”, to a collab with p-rallel and BXKS on “Evening Time”. His latest, the sound system-ready “LIVE-O” – an ode to free party culture and forest raves – dropped this month exclusively alongside his NSE campaign.
Opposed to the many rappers who rely on hyperbolic narratives, Kam-BU’s storytelling is embedded in honesty and originality – something that rings true throughout our lengthy chat over Zoom. As a passionate climate activist and conservationist who works closely with the London Wildlife Trust, his ethos is simple: to spread the message of environmental awareness – not by preaching, but through engagement, storytelling and music.
Kam-BU has partnered with The North Face for the first NSE drop of the season, NSE. Inspired by the all-night hedonism of the early 00s, the latest collection boasts punchy new colourways emblazoned onto the brand’s iconic pieces. The wardrobe-disrupting launch includes the Men’s Dryvent Carduelis Jacket, the Women’s Seasonal Denali, and two new iterations of the VECTIV™ Taraval – with each piece taking influence from an amalgamation of the industrial and natural environments. We quiz Kam-BU on his collaboration with the NSE drop, as well as UK rave culture, the post-lockdown party scene, identity and finding peace in the outdoors.
You’ve been about on the music scene throughout your early twenties. How have you grown as a person and an artist in that time?
That’s a deep question. As a person, I guess as you get older and wiser you start to figure things out a bit more. In relation to music, it went from not taking it seriously, from it being bedroom [producing], to actually caring a bit more about the craft. So yeah, thinking about making a mark – I’ve always had that in mind when it comes to a project. What do I want this to stand for? What does it represent, and how will I make it last? For me anyway, that’s always at the forefront of my mind.
Now, I’m making music because I want to have fun. I want to make sure I’m enjoying myself at the studio. That’s where my head’s at right now.
Your music feels inextricably tied to your identity, both lyrically and in the sounds you put together. Do you consider your music an expression and extension of who you are?
100%. For me, the records that stand out the most are the ones where people are being themselves; having something to say about themselves, who they are and where they’re from. People can then relate to that and draw their own parallels. That’s always been at the forefront of my mind when writing. It’s something I’ve always looked up to and aspired to be able to do.
When I used to put stuff on SoundCloud, the songs that were the most personal to me were always the ones that did the best. With some of those songs, people have messaged me to say that it really resonates with them. There are not many things that can give you that level of satisfaction.
You’ve described your new track, “LIVE-O”, as a “rave-ready anthem about the reigniting of adventure through the power of music, an ode to free party culture and forest raves”. Can you tell us more about your songwriting process for this track? Why were you inspired by this free party culture?
When I was 16 I used to go to free parties, across London and outside of the city. That’s always been a big part of me. With my last project, I was exploring my story and where I came from, and now it’s where I’m at and where I’ve been. So that was what inspired my thought process when it came to writing “LIVE-O”.
The industrial sound that comes in at the beginning of the track takes me back to being in a festival tent, or the feeling of walking into a rave with a drop coming in and feeling you need to get as close to the speakers as possible. That’s what was in my head when I was in the session writing that song.
What do you think of the current, post-lockdown party landscape? Where do you go to let go, feel free or find adventure?
Post-lockdown, I think different types of parties have popped up, which is cool. I think a lot of people had to find ways to entertain themselves. It pushed people more into bringing back that culture of linking up with a few people and putting on a party somewhere secluded. Also, it encouraged people to find more adventures and get out into nature, people realised that things were right on their doorsteps.
This drop, like a lot of your work, combines a rave sensibility with a love of nature and a passion for preserving our environment. Do you find a similar sense of peace and liberation being alone outdoors and being in a packed-out dance floor? Is it about feeling like you can be completely yourself in both environments?
For me, it’s definitely the feeling I can be myself in those environments. Even the people I’ve met within the sustainability sector, maybe there’s just a big ego death there, but people aren’t afraid to have conversations and be themselves.
Everyone finds peace in one of those places. It sounds weird to say you can find peace in a rave, but when you go to that kind of party, you don’t feel like anyone is watching you. In a way, you are free, compared to some of the more commercial types of clubs where people are worried about stepping on trainers and what they’re wearing. Even if they’re polar opposites, there are parallels you can draw from them.
This sense of being completely yourself is a core value behind your latest collaboration with The North Face. As a brand rooted in counterculture and exploration, what about their values do you resonate with?
The obvious one is preservation and sustainability, which has been heavily embedded in The North Face brand and the people who originally started it. It’s always been on my radar, the kind of brand that wants to explore the world and different things. It’s about travelling, it’s about counterculture. And with my name being Kam-BU it felt like the right fit, so I was more than happy to be working with them with this.
Your new track is tied to the brand’s first NSE (Never Stop Exploring) drop of the season, which is inspired by the all-night hedonism of the early 00s. What about the collection, campaign and the influences behind it did you connect with?
Pretty much the whole thing. It came at a time when I was pivoting with my music and wanting to make more songs that me and my friends listen to, influenced by raves that we go to. When The North Face approached me wanting to work on the NSE drop about early ’00s rave culture, it just made sense. With the song “Live–O” the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. It was the direction I wanted to go down.
The campaign champions not just the rebellious spirit behind these parties, but also freedom in being original and being fully ourselves. Is this something you try to live by in your daily life and how you make music?
For sure, that’s where the name Kam–BU came from. The ‘BU’ part was a message to myself: when I first started making music, I didn’t ever want to feel like I was doing something just to play a role. I just wanted to be myself. As I’ve built these values around nature, having a direction and following through is where my head is at with it.
Now that you have an ever-growing platform as an artist, is it important for you to speak publicly about the issues you care about and the work you do outside of music? Can you tell us more about your work with the London Wildlife Trust and developing a voice as more of an activist?
When it comes to values and things you believe in, I don’t know how much artists should really tell other people what to think or anything like that. I’d much rather let the music do the speaking.
Working with the London Wildlife Trust and doing more nature conservation, I realised a lot of people face barriers to it. I’ve joined a youth board for the London Wildlife Trust and we link up to discuss how we can make green spaces in London more accessible. Being an advocate doesn’t involve forcing it in your face, I can just show people what I’m up to and people can ask how they can get involved. That’s how it is within the green sector – no one tries to gatekeep and I love that. It’s what OFF GRiD is about, bringing people into green spaces and making them accessible.
You’ve described the new track as having an “industrial” sound. Do you find a lot of your work is inspired in equal parts by exploration of the city you grew up in and nature?
Definitely. The city, and everything about it, has inspired that industrial sound. It’s something that I resonate with because it’s where I came from. The inspiration for my music came from early grime records, Dizzee Rascal and people like that. Being Jamaican has also been an inspiration: sound system culture, jungle raves – it’s in me.
There are also places that I’ve been: industrial raves where police are outside trying to lock you in while they’re just trying to party. I feel like I need to explore more of those stories and keep telling them. My next project is a bit more chilled, music to listen to when you’re looking for mindfulness. Green spaces and nature has inspired me to make music like that.
In your last interview with Notion, you spoke a bit about how important visuals are to you as an artist. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the visuals for this project, and how you translated the ideas behind it?
Visuals are important to me. Going forward, this project and everything that will come after will be stripped back and have a smaller crew, which feels more realistic to the type of filming we would have done if we were getting the message across that we were going to a rave.
Some of the upcoming videos are just footage we’ve had from festivals and other shows. It’s really just bringing people in, making it accessible to everyone rather than doing big-budget videos and people not being able to relate to it.
For everyone listening to the new track for the first time this weekend, what feeling do you hope it inspires in them?
Just enjoy it. And maybe feel inspired to link up with their friends, go to a rave and have a good time.