A beat like a pulse. A chime. Synthesizer sounds that start harmonically, almost groping, slowly getting darker, softly droning, gently driving the pulse up, while beautiful voices keep wafting through the track. “Fir“, the title track of KIDSØ‘s debut album, pulls you in an almost magical way into a sound that you want to hear and feel at the same time. It is what could perhaps best be described as danceable melancholy. Or, as Moritz Graßinger (analog synths, piano, percussions) and Martin Schneider (drums, e-percussions, video installation), sometimes smilingly say, “electronic music for people who otherwise don’t listen to electronic music that often.” Both somehow hit the mark. And somehow also not, or only insufficiently. Because what the two produce as KIDSØ can hardly be squeezed into style pigeonholes or brought down by euphonious adjectives. It is electronic music at its core, that’s for sure. But not the finger-in-the-air-let-us-rub-against-one-another electronic music, but rather what a Jon Hopkins produces when he has eaten the right mushrooms. With the difference that KIDSØ record this sound mostly analog and organic. KIDSØ songs also have that special, other-worldly, melancholic vibe that many mixes of the terrific “Late Night Tales” series carry, for example, or the electronically embellished pieces of an Ólafur Arnald. And yet Moritz and Martin can turn their yearning compositions live to thoroughly danceable and euphoric, as if they were written for the blue hour of a club night.
But here it should be first of all about the album: It’s called “Fir” and comes out March 18 via Embassy of Music. Which makes them labelmates of, for example, Monolink, David Guetta and Björk – which somehow all fits quite well. Whereby KIDSØ release on the new sub-label esc/ctrl – a new cooperation between Embassy and ease agency, who for example conceive and execute the social media campaigns for Rammstein, Milky Chance and many others. KIDSØ recorded and produced their album in their own studio in their hometown Munich, mastered by Robin Schmidt, who has worked for HVOB, Fritz Kalkbrenner and Mumford and Sons. So also an all-rounder who is at home in the electronic, as well as in the analog – which also fits very well.
The title of the album “Fir” goes back to the song of the same name. For Martin Schneider, a perfect choice. On the one hand, “because that’s my favorite song on the record and I worked on Moritz for a long time that we take it. On the other hand, because we find the word very beautiful and fitting for our sound world: ‘Fir’ also means fir tree and our songs often have this Scandinavian vibe. We also often work with nature motifs in our videos, with Nordic forests, snowy expanses. But I think it’s especially fitting because it shows that we don’t just make music for the living room, but also have this drive that works in the club or at a concert. ‘Fir’ as a song and as an album carries both poles.” Moritz Graßinger, in whose basement studio in Munich the music of KIDSØ is created, adds, “We are more like the typical musicians who still like to play with instruments, were socialized in bands and then at some point discovered the opportunities and possibilities of electronic music for us and integrate it more and more into our work. This is especially evident in our live setting: we always wanted to maintain this energy that such a concert triggers. We’re not so much rave-goers – although our music would work there by now, too.” For Moritz, “Finja” – his personal favorite song and first single – captures the two poles of the KIDSØ sound just as well: “The song somehow has everything in it that makes us tick. It starts very melancholic, very tender with this female vocals and the cello we recorded and then develops into a very danceable piece towards the end. This contrast fascinates us. After all, it would be boring to stay melancholy throughout. But it’s just as boring to hit it full in the face from the beginning.
If you watch the video for “Finja,” you’ll experience another component that makes this Munich duo so exceptional: they don’t just think about the listening experience at home or in a concert setting, they also place great emphasis on the aesthetic level and the visualization of those images of nature that their songs trigger in your own head cinema. They often show these in hard, fast cuts or artfully collaged, with surreal moments when, for example, deserts, forests and mountains suddenly form into gigantic-looking tubes, skyscrapers sink into the earth or entire cities defy gravity. Martin, who is responsible for the aesthetic component, explains: “The visual experience is an absolute part of our art. Moritz’s focus for us is on sound and production and songwriting, and mine is on video, graphics and image production. We want to capture the mood we’re looking for in our music in the images as well.” The album’s artwork, a painting by Polish artist Michał Mozolewski, proves just how well they succeed. The beautiful face, the closed eyes, the pondering but somehow contentedly smiling lips, the artistic streaks of color, the night black around it – all these elements convey very nicely how beauty, darkness, melancholy and warmth wrestle with each other in the album’s eight songs.
But KIDSØ also take the time for wonderful, quiet moments where the drum beats rather gently massage the heart. “Breathing,” for example, is actually inspired by a concert experience when they were at Ólafur Arnalds together, according to the pair. Martin Schneider’s playing here is downright tender, while Moritz Graßinger plays a piano melody that is as simple as it is beautiful, nonchalantly proving that the two could just as easily have made a neo-classical record, as they are so highly prized by many right now. In songs like this, or also in the album closer “Woodbird”, one hears particularly well, how detail-loving the two work. Which is a curse and a blessing at the same time, but Moritz obviously has a lot of fun. In any case, he says: “That’s what we love about electronic music: there are just an infinite number of tools that you can use somehow. You can record a saxophone and shred it 42 times or whatever. But that’s exactly why we take the organic elements of our music very seriously. We don’t always want this hard, cool drumbeat that demands movement. We also sometimes let leaves crackle or Martin plays drum elements on a piece of wood. We both get bored when techno or electro always falls back on the same sounds and strings them together in a new way. That’s why we’re looking for sounds, but also vocal samples for our songs that you haven’t heard a thousand times before.” Martin adds, “Moritz really has the whole basement full of synthesizers. It’s great and does our music good that we can fall back on all that equipment. And he’s always on the lookout for new sounds. There are not only analog synthesizers, but also sounds that are created digitally. There are so many fricklers out there making little plug-ins like that that you can generate amazing effects with.” That effect is perhaps heard best in “Fall,” a track that begins rather classically with a catchy vocal sample and, by minute two, is humming, clacking, wafting and buzzing quite beautifully.
“Fir” feels both as a “milestone” in their joint creative work that they have been doing together for eight years and since about 2018 as a duo under the name KIDSØ. Martin Schneider says, “When we met nine years ago, it quickly became a very good friendship just through the intense connection of music.” At first, he says, they played in other band constellations with others in the process, but he and Moritz somehow had a constant drive that led them to the realization that it works best in pairs. Moritz Graßinger says: “You have to be crazy to invest so much time in music in your private life. You have to find someone who ticks the same way.”
The friendship and the dynamic of the two becomes especially visible when you see a live concert or a filmed live session of them. The way they intuitively pass the balls to each other there and at the same time react to the dance joy or mood of the audience – that’s already a joy to watch and even more so when dancing along. And although they missed the shows during the pandemic, perhaps it also had something good. Martin Schneider says: “We wanted to put out an album for a long time, but at times we had difficulties finishing the songs. Maybe also because we often kept pushing them in different directions in the live setting.” The pandemic situation changed that, he says – and so finally, after the already very successful EP “Apart” (2018) and strong singles like “Father”, “Childhood” and “Hologram”, there is a full album with “Fir”. And with it, eight more songs that you would like to see them perform live soon, where you can then watch two exceptional musicians at work, dancing melancholically, and lose yourself in projections, stage fog, flickering spotlights and your own mental cinema.
Text by Daniel Koch (DIFFUS Magazine, Musikexpress)