Kamixlo and Uli K, the south London sons of Chilean refugees, have taken their sheltered childhood and turned it into the best thing to happen to the city's nightlife in years.
As the internet continues to democratize access to art and culture, it's inevitable that all the weird, disparate sounds and visuals you'll find online are going to start affecting the creative output of the people absorbing them.
London's Kamixlo and his brother, Uli K, are one perfect example of how this is playing out in music. Their reggaeton-meets-club-rap is structured around ballads as much as it is bangers, and it's loaded with live vocals, twinkling melodies, and pummeling drums. It's a very modern sort of sound that maybe couldn't have been imagined just a few years ago. Their look—probably best described as a kind of "Latino Coal Chamber on the ISS"—has captured the imagination of the fashion crowd, with photographer David Sims already shooting the pair for Arena HOMME+.
Their background, their influences, their look, their sound, their club night, and their philosophy has been forged in a hinterland between their two homes, Brixton and Chile. They're grounded and aware, while being simultaneously otherworldly and outrageous. Everything about them is diametrically different to the legions of men-in-T-shirts playing "Pulse X" to warehouses full of students every weekend.
Through their night Bala Club—and its sister club Endless, as well as other nights like Evian Christ's Trance Party and the NTS-affiliated Tropical Waste—Kami and Uli are frontrunners in a scene that is continually pushing against an increasingly predictable club land, where promoters second guess the attendees, offering the same formula week after week. It's not hyperbole when I say their latest Bala Club mix is the most exciting thing I've heard come out of Britain in years.
Meeting them in the Brixton branch of Nando's, surrounded by off-duty cops making their way through Fino sides, it's clear they have strong opinions on the matter. "It's both the music and the people," says Kami, who, under his Halloween blue hair, reminds me of a young Marc Bolan. "If it's too, like, macho, gross vibes, I can't fuck with that. Or if the DJs are just really sticking to one genre, I think that's the most boring shit you can do."
Uli, the older brother, continues, "You know you go to, like, a grime night and you kind of hear the same beats per minute the whole night, and that's just kind of boring, because if you have the platform to do something you should take it somewhere it hasn't been before. Otherwise, why keep doing what everyone else is doing? Unless you're just trying to make money, which is good if you can, but, like, be innovative and create your own world."
A few days later, we meet at the brothers' mom's flat in the mid-rise, post-war sprawl of Loughborough Junction, where they're working on a mix, twisting a vocal sample by screamo also-rans the Used into a reggaeton stormer. I'm surprised they remember the Used, being in their early-twenties, but it turns out nu-metal—alongside that other stalwart of Bush-era American culture, wrestling—has had a massive influence on what they do.
"As kids, we just always watched a lot TV, I guess. We were watching a lot of wrestling, and the popular music at the time was nu-metal. As little kids, at seven or eight, it just seemed so different when we turned the channel over to it," says Uli. "It felt like everyone was kind of going crazy toward the end of the 90s, like everything was getting more and more ridiculous. As a kid, it just looks like a whole different world."
The pair definitely have a unique brotherly connection—a shared set of references, inflections, and philosophies. An unusual childhood seems to be at least part of the reason for this intimacy. "We never went to school or anything, so me and Kami were like each other's only company as kids, so we'd be at home just consuming this, and it kind of formed our outlook," says Uli. "In a good way or a bad way, I'm not sure—but it kind of helped it."I ask Kami about the way they're perceived by others, referencing a tweet of his where he lambasts "ugly English families" staring at him and Uli as they walked through Heathrow. "I hate it," he says bluntly. "Although I don't feel like I want to sink in and be a part of everything, at the same time it alienates you, people staring at you, thinking like, Who is this? It kind of makes me laugh, but sometimes it's kind of like I want to say, 'Fuck you—why are you staring?'"
I wonder if they have always looked different and how much of a part that played in their slightly outsider upbringing. "We kind of made our own minds on what was going to look good or bad," says Uli. "Like in primary school, I couldn't go because I was wearing, like, nail varnish and hoodies and stuff. They would try to make deals, like, 'You can come to school wearing anything you like, but you have to be in school,' and it would last one or two days, and I'd be back out again. In a way, we did it to ourselves, but at the same time, we didn't really relate to what kids liked at the time."
Kami interjects: "Yeah, as a kid, it sucks. But if someone was to shout something now, it's hilarious. When we were kids it was, like, mad depressing. They'd be like, 'You're devil worshippers'—all this weird stuff—and we'd be like, 'I thought it was OK,' because we'd look at the TV and see Slipknot doing it."
While their part of southern London has a large South American population, it seems that being from Chile—a country that hasn't seen as much emigration to the UK as, say, Brazil or Colombia—meant the brothers' childhoods were close-knit and family-oriented. The traditional Chilean songs that now inform their club creations were played out in their kitchen and lounge.
"It was very alienating for us because we didn't know any other Chileans," says Uli. "It wasn't [as unified as it is now]—you had, like, Colombians, Chileans, and everyone was here for different reasons. My mum was a refugee because of the coup in 1973. So, literally, they were their own family—they didn't know anyone in London. They had never planned to come here... so you don't know if you're Chilean or British. I never really identified with London, but that also has to do with me and Kami not really being brought up interacting with many people, so I don't know... it's kind of weird."
I'd seen Kami play at Elephant and Castle's Corsica Studios before meeting the brothers, and what struck me was that while the music seemed further ahead of what most other London DJs are playing these days, it was still soulful and engaging—not just idiosyncratic for the sake of being idiosyncratic. It stood out, even in a scene of musically-literate producers and selectors, as if there was an understanding and artistry that surpasses just spinning whatever's hot on SoundCloud right now.
It seems the traditional music the brothers grew up on plays into this. "The songs our granddad would teach us would be traditional folk songs, but we were really oblivious at the time—we just wanted to learn, like, Limp Bizkit songs, but we were learning these folk songs," recalls Uli. "Lyrically, they're super philosophical. Every lyric is about aspiring to be somewhere you can't be. That idea's always been at the back of my head."
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Do they think that, in general, clubs have become more accepting of different sounds and cultures than they used to be? If you're less likely to get people berating you for veering from the 4/4? If you'll get fewer dirty looks for having blue hair or nail polish on than you might have been before?
"Yeah," says Kami, thoughtfully. "I feel like clubs are more like accepting now. A few years ago, if you were to go to a club, you'd just get so eyed up if you weren't, like, extremely swaggy or something—I couldn't fuck with that."
However, being Latin and playing Latin music in clubs still brings presents a couple of issues. "Just because they hear Spanish music, they think that I'm going to play 'Gasolina.' Fucking peak," seethes Kami.
With such a distinctive sound, do they worry about the inevitable threat of plagiarism from other, bigger producers with an ear turned towards the pop market? Do they worry that their sound could be taken from them and marketed away from the inclusive, forward-thinking scene they're so engrained in? Do they fear a Katy Perry version of the Bala Club ideal?
"That's been happening," nods Uli. "It's like, I guess I'd be more frustrated if they were doing really well at it, but they're still just SoundCloud producers doing that shit on there. But no shade to producers doing that!"
"I don't fuck with English kid producers who are doing that with no connection to that culture," says Kami, who's certainly the spikier of the two. "The best you can do is have some kind of affiliation with it before you go out and copy it. Like, actually respect what you are taking from. Become a part of it. Work with some producers who actually do that. Understand where it's coming from and then do it. Not just take that sound and say, 'It's UK music now.'"
How far do they think they can take it themselves? Personally, I think if anyone in the current London scene has the minerals to jump onto a world stage, it's probably them.
They seem in two minds. "I'm with it," says Kami. "It's like, 'Why not?' It would be fun to play in an arena. Like, getting that mainstream money and shit is a pro."
Uli seems more philosophical about it: "It would help us a lot," he says. "But the main idea is that if we do go mainstream—or blow-up, or anything—it would be good to have that platform, so we can continue to do what we do, rather than become a product of someone else. If we can create our own thing and get successful, that would be really good."