On grime, gqom, Somerset, Goon Club Allstars, parties, hardware and leaving his Moleskin moniker behind.
For artists, the decision to change moniker never seems to be an easy one. There’s things to way up, personal brands to consider, reputations to uphold, potential legacies to preserve. For Kamran, formerly known as Moleskin for the best part of a decade, the decision was simple. “I almost changed it a couple of years ago you know”, he explains sheepishly, “but I’m glad I didn’t.” Kamran on the other hand — his Iranian birth name — has helped usher in the most productive writing spell of his career and as our FaceTime window opens up early on Saturday afternoon, I find him typically warm-spirited, relaxed and looking forward.
“I wrote more material in April and May than I had in the previous five years combined”, he notes, “honestly, so much stuff.” Based in a studio in Walthamstow, the lockdown period has been kind to Kamran; “it’s been a massive period of contemplation for me”, he concedes, “it’s given me so much time to think about the person I am and connect with myself, what I want to do and what I want to achieve.”
Born in London to an Iranian father and British mother, Kamran moved around quite a bit as a child. His family relocated to Wiesbaden in Germany for a short period when he was 11 — he bought his first ever CD from one of the city’s record stores — before moving back to the UK and settling in Somerset, where he spent most of his high school years. He learned to speak Farsi fluently before he spoke English too — “I’ve forgotten most of it now, although random phrases still pop into my head” — and recalls his dad taking him to an Iranian film festival when he was in primary school. “My mum tells me the reason I stopped speaking Farsi was because I went to school and clocked no one else was speaking it”, explains Kamran. “I definitely felt a little bit different but I didn’t really become hyper aware of it, like it never came up, until I moved to Somerset because in London everyone is different. My mum tells me that in the next town along, there’s a little pub and the kitchen’s recently been taken over by an Iranian guy, but I mean for the most part, you didn’t see many people from outside the area.”
“My mum tells me the reason I stopped speaking Farsi was because I went to school and clocked no one else was speaking it.”
“One of the first things I did when I got to Somerset … I mean we got there in the summer and I knew nobody at all … was go down to the local skate park where I saw kids hanging out”, he continues. “I got chatting to this one guy and he was like, ‘oh, where you from?’, and I told him I was from London. He was like ‘oh, I’ve never been to London before’ and we carried on chatting and he was like, ‘but I went to the next town along once’. The next town along was about six miles away or something. That was the time it kinda dawned on me that I was different, you know.”
It was in Wiesbaden though, a city in Western Germany about an hour’s drive from Frankfurt, that Kamran first starting buying music. He would save his pocket money up and head to one of two big CD shops in the city centre every few weeks, digging through thousands of releases. “I think the first CDs I ever bought were … actually I remember buying a triple-pack Cypress Hill album and then I bought Nirvana – ‘In Utero’, I think they were two of the first. I mean I was really into grunge, UK and US punk. Loud and noisy music basically. I was never really into dance music back then, I was only exposed to the cheesy stuff on the radio, as well as other pop music.”
It was only as a 16 year-old that he’d first come into contact with grime, which he recalls friends putting onto him as UK hip-hop. “I eventually found out it was actually called grime a little while after, but I had quite a big collection of tracks by that point”, Kamran recalls. “My all-time favourite grime track to this day is still this MP3 I’ve got and I’ve got no idea who it’s by. It’s just called ‘Gifted Dub Freestyle’. I’ve sent it to a few people over the years but nobody can work out who it is. I just loved the energy.”
“My all-time favourite grime track to this day is still this MP3 I’ve got and I’ve got no idea who it’s by. It’s just called ‘Gifted Dub Freestyle’.”
Grime would inspire him to start digging deeper and Kamran soon found himself on blogs, websites and forums searching for new music. He was also sent a pack of instrumentals — including Youngstar’s ‘Pulse X’ — by one of his oldest childhood friend’s brothers, which drew his attention away from vocals and more towards beats; it was a time of feverish discovery. He’d also downloaded Virtual DJ and had started being asked to play at friend’s parties and local gatherings in and around Somerset. “My laptop had a busted screen”, Kamran explains with a pained expression etched across his face, “so if I ever wanted to DJ anywhere, I’d have to bring a separate monitor. One time, and I can’t even remember how I got this gig, but I got asked to DJ in Bournemouth so I had to get down there with my busted laptop and a big, old CRT monitor. If you go from where I was in Somerset to Bournemouth, it’s not one direct train, you have to go to Dorchester and then walk for about a mile to get the other Dorchester train station and then catch another train into Bournemouth. Anyway, I’m there with my bag with my laptop and clothes in it, and this huge computer monitor that I had to lug all the way down there. It was mad, really.”
Location would also skew Kamran’s exposure to and understanding of how grime was developing in London. “You’d get pieces of the puzzle but no one would be putting it together for you”, he explains. “I’d listen to Wiley, Dizzee, JME and people like that, then I got sent the grime instrumentals and even some dubstep and garage stuff which I was really into. It was actually only when I got to university and I started talking to people that I got put onto radio sets. That’s when it all clicked for me, you know. I feel like I kinda reverse engineered grime, I discovered everything in backwards order.”
“The genesis of me wanting to DJ myself actually lies with this guy Pete, who used to DJ as Mistabit and now has something going on as Ishmael Ensemble, a jazz group he fronts”, Kamran continues. “He went to the same college as me and he was always playing at all these sick parties my mates were throwing. In Somerset, no one goes to clubs because there are no clubs, so everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone who has a piece of land. People would put on parties wherever they could. If there was a party, you knew Pete would be DJing because he was sick. I remember seeing him shell one particular night and it just made me want to DJ. My intention with DJing is still the same now, I just want everyone to have a good time.”
“In Somerset, no one goes to clubs because there are no clubs, so everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone who has a piece of land. People would put on parties wherever they could.”
After leaving college, Kamran attended Leeds University, moving to the city shortly before his 19th birthday. It was there that he’d meet Jordan Randhawa, whom he’d later co-found Goon Club Allstars with three years later. They shared the same halls of residence and were put in touch after news of a house party on one of the top floors failed to materialise. Congregating in the courtyard outside with hordes of others, one of his friends introduced him to Jordan, who was also interested in DJing and records. “Jordan was like, ‘ah you should come over to my flat and make a tune or something’. At this point, I’d sat down with someone when they’d written a tune but I’d never really made anything myself. I went over, we sat down and made a track that we eventually put out through a friend of a friend.”
That tune was ’Hurt’ — “it sounds like someone’s first tune but there’s a sick remix from Optimum on the 12” — and it was released by Hit & Hope in March 2012. It also served as the world’s first taste of Moleskin, the moniker that Kamran adopted for the first eight years of his production career. “I chose the name in about 30 seconds”, Moleskin says, smiling. “In Somerset, the way it was for me anyway, you started DJing and then you’d join a sound system, that’s just how it worked. Every time that system would throw a party, you were immediately playing. I was DJing loads of blog house, funky, garage … just stuff that was popping up on the internet at the time really … and I got asked to join this sound system called Skanky Soundsystem or Skanky Sounds. It was predominantly a drum & bass sound system but it was mad, it was constantly developing in size … there’s some crazy, crazy photos of it somewhere. Shout out Matt forever for inviting me to be part of that. I remember playing in town halls … I actually remember playing ’Stupid’ by Redlight and the bass being so intense that a piece of the ceiling came down, it was mad. At the time, I was going by the name of Technicolour, but I clocked there was a different DJ called Technicolour, so one day Matt phones me and says ‘yo, we’re doing the poster for the next party, can you let me know what your new DJ name is?’. I kept swerving it because I didn’t really know and then a few weeks later, he called me again and told me he needed to send the poster off ASAP. I remember looking around my room and clocking a Moleskine notebook I had on the side and there and then was just like, ‘Ah yeah it’s Moleskin’. He was like, ‘how’s it spelt?’. I didn’t look at the notepad properly and missed the ‘e’ off by accident when I spelt it out. It’s stuck around ever since.”
“I remember looking around my room and clocking a Moleskine notebook I had on the side and there and then was just like, ‘Ah yeah it’s Moleskin’. He was like, ‘how’s it spelt?’. I didn’t look at the notepad properly and missed the ‘e’ off by accident when I spelt it out.”
Once ‘Hurt’ — written alongside Jordan, then producing as Elkat — was released, the pair found themselves tuning into to Rinse FM almost religiously, checking in to see if DJs were playing their tracks. “I’d started sending some Moleskin tracks to DJs and whenever I heard someone play it, I remember just feeling so gassed”, Kamran beams. “It was so sick, just a sick, sick feeling. It’s so abstract on the one hand because you’re making tunes and sending them off to people you’ve never met but it feels tangible, you feel like you’re in the room. Actually, so Jordan lived upstairs and I remember we’d both lock into Scratcha’s show on Rinse in the mornings. I used to text in like ‘big up X-Y-Z’ and that’d be just a funny name I’d call him sometimes or sometimes I’d text in like ‘wake up’ because he wasn’t answering his phone. We used the radio to talk to each other, basically.”
After deciding to drop out of university after his first year, Kamran stayed in Leeds and his friendship with Jordan continued to bear fruit. Bouncing ideas off each other, the two were now living and breathing music; “all I did was listen to music and make tunes in my room once I’d dropped out”, Kamran notes. These tunes — including a Baltimore Club edit of Wiley’s classic ‘Ice Rink’ instrumental which he used as a DJ tool, a bridge between grime and club music — were soon in circulation with the pair’s friends. Through Soundcloud, he also discovered Samename (now producing as Florentino), who’d remixed Wiley’s ‘Colder’ — “it was such a sick remix” — which in turn inspired a conversation that’d change the trajectory of their careers for good. “I just remember saying to Jordan, we should just start a label. I thought it’d be a sick thing to do, but also because I thought it was as easy as finding a tune and putting it out. Jordan was like ‘sick, sick, let’s do it’.”
And so Goon Club Allstars — “I came up with the name because we were just a bunch of silly guys who’d go to clubs and dance around” — was born. Originally the pair had planned to run Goon Club for an initial six months, but it soon dawned on them that building a label was a long game and so mutual friend, Ed, came on board. “Ed was the glue that got us out the blocks and to be honest with you, he’s always been the person to keep things moving”, concedes Kamran. With Ed’s guidance, GCA001 was released on white label 12” vinyl in March 2013, nearly a year to the day since the release of ‘Hurt’. Comprised of Moleskin’s ‘Ice Rink’ edit and Samename’s ‘Colder’ Refix, it immediately put the label on the map, earmarking Moleskin as a producer to watch but moreover, the label as skilled curators. “The reason we wanted to start with vinyl and have continued to release the majority of our stuff on I since was because we all met through playing records for each other”, explains Kamran. “We wanted to pay homage to that and inspire the next generation of producers and friends to buy these records and get to know their peers.”
If their first record made a splash, Goon Club’s second made a wave. Mssingno — now widely regarded as one of the UK most iconic, if elusive producers — was an unknown quantity in 2013, but not to Kamran, Jordan and Ed. Signing four original tracks that came together to form the ‘Mssingno’ EP, including the anthemic, tears-in-the-club wizardry of ‘XE2’, Goon Club released it in November 2013 to widespread critical acclaim. Seven years later, it’s a record synonymous with the fabric of UK dance music and copies of the record are going for upwards of £110 via Discogs. “I feel like every record we’ve released has stood up on its own two feet and been successful on its own terms”, explains Kamran, “but that one definitely put us on the map. We certainly didn’t expect it to be as big as it was.”
The ‘Mssingno’ EP also saw Goon Club throw their first ever launch party, run alongside Liminal Sounds at Moustache Bar in Dalston — a small, 150-capacity venue with a then questionable sound system and a tiny bar area. The party, one of my own personal favourite memories of clubbing in London, saw Liminal Sounds, Samename, Murlo and Moleskin DJ to a raucous, euphoric crowd including Mssingno, who hadn’t learned to DJ yet, and a group of his friends. ‘XE2’ was wheeled upwards of eight times during the night itself as groups of friends hugged, danced and even cried their way through an evening that genuinely felt like the start of something. “I just remember ‘XE2’ being wheeled up a stupid amount of times and thinking, ‘this is crazy’”, recalls Moleskin.
A slew of impressive records followed — including Moleskin’s own self-titled EP in 2014 — before Goon Club unearthed their next groundbreaker in 2016. “Did you ever shop on Afrodesia?”, Kamran asks. “It was an MP3 platform that allowed you to share and download loads of South African dance music and house. I used to shop on it a lot and suddenly it just shut down in 2013 and I realised I’d missed out on loads of MP3s that I should have bought. I put it out into the ether that I was looking for a new place to buy South African house music and Blackdown got in touch to introduce me to Okzharp. He sent me a CD of 10 tunes that he’d got last time he was in Durban. On that CD was ‘Ice Drop’ by DJ Lag, ‘Mitsubishi’ by Menchess and a few other tunes. From there, I spent loads of time on the Internet searching for it. I’d just type ‘Gqom’ into Facebook and loads of producers would have ‘Gqom’ listed as their middle name on their profiles. I used to message them to ask about the music and try and get my head around the culture behind it. I’d also use Kasimp3 a lot, which was a website that allowed producers to upload their music to artist profiles, and after a while I’d just download everything I could find and then go through it afterwards. I had so much music.”
Sifting through thousands of tracks, Kamran was drawn to both Rudeboyz (Menchess’ production collective) and DJ Lag, the latter of whom was one of Durban’s most prominent Gqom artists; “everything he made sounded quite icy but also very human as well”, he explains. He found them both on Facebook and messaged to say that Goon Club would be interested in releasing their music, a process which the label found quite difficult; “it’s hard to try and build trust with someone who lives so far away and who you’ve never met”, Kamran continues, “and obviously they had to be sure what our intentions were.”
From those conversations, Goon Club Allstars eventually released DJ Lag’s self-titled EP in November 2016 — featuring the same ‘Ice Drop’ Kamran first heard on the CD given to him by Okzharp in 2013 — before following it up with Rudeboyz’ ’Gqomwave’ EP in spring 2017. Both records helped break Gqom — a fierce strain of drum-focused house music with its roots in Durban — outside of the South Africa for the first time, spawning huge international interest in the sound and wider Gqom culture. For anyone in London right now, the official ‘Ice Drop’ video — shot on Durban rooftops — is currently being shown at The Design Museum.
The EP also laid the foundations for DJ Lag to make huge strides of his own, quickly becoming one of the world’s most in-demand young DJs; global tours, endless press runs and requests soon started to pour in. His crowning moment? Lag was sought out by Beyonce to produce a track for Beyoncé’s Lion King compilation, ‘The Gift’, which was released last summer. The instrumental (‘Drumming’) to ’The Power’ featuring Tierra Whack, Beyoncé, Busiswa, Yemi Alade and Moonchild Sanelly was lifted from Lag’s ‘Stampit’ EP, released by Goon Club in 2018. “I wish someone would just give me a job just choosing tunes”, says Kamran with a wry smile, “I feel like we’d all be sick at working with a big artist and just helping them pick out beats.”
While he still holds A&R dreams, Kamran was also balancing his own productions and work co-running Goon Club Allstars with Handsome Boys — a project that began as a grime show on Radar Radio back in 2014 alongside fellow DJ, producer and label owner, Boardgame James. “I lived with James”, says Kamran, “and we also lived with Yamaneko, so that time was really fertile in terms of music and sharing ideas. I had my own show on Radar at the time and I remember people talking about this Mic Ty guy. I watched a few videos and thought ‘ah this guy is sick’, so I messaged him and asked him if he wanted to come on the show. He asked if he could bring Jammz, who I’d not heard of at the time and I was like, ‘yeah, cool’. James came down with me and we DJ’d together, with those two on mic. It was one of my favourite shows I ever did, it was unreal. The chemistry between Jammz and Mic Ty, wow … it was crazy … they were finishing each other bars, trading flows, it was so sick. I asked them back to do the show the following month and I think James played the first hour and then we played b2b and we just loved it, so it became a thing. Handsome Boys was just me and James playing grime b2b every month. We had people like Kwam, Rocks FOE, Nico Lindsay come down to do later shows, I absolutely loved it.”
“The chemistry between Jammz and Mic Ty, wow … it was crazy … they were finishing each other bars, trading flows, it was so sick.”
It’s a relationship that has continued to this day, with the pair uniting as a production unit for the first time on Handsome Boys’ debut EP (‘And The Award Goes To’) earlier this year. Released by Boardgame James’ freshly-minted 1000Doors label, which was established to house weird and wonderful grime from a roster of friends and under-represent producers, it formed a natural extension of the quick-mixing and frantic 8-bar blends of their Radar Radio show. “It’s been a lot of fun being involved”, explains Kamran, “especially creating alter-egos for your work, like with Handsome Boys, which was literally a phrase I used to say. Our mate Bryce does the illustrations for the artwork which has really helped build out that world as well. Whenever I speak to James about 1000Doors, the conversations are always long because there’s so much that can be done with it, there’s a lot of scope for it to grow.”
Talk of 1000Doors steers our conversation to Kamran’s forthcoming ’Transmission’ EP — the first under his new moniker — which explores his Iranian heritage on a record for the first time, detailing use of the Persian tombak drum and spoken word in Farsi by both he and his father. “I’ve been thinking about changing my name and leaving Moleskin behind for a long time but some of the EP tracks … I mean ‘Internal Pressure’, there was a version of that I played on a Handsome Boys show in 2016, so some of the material is quite old”, Kamran notes. “I finished ‘Takeoff In Tehran’ in January this year and ‘Destruction’ was originally started with Wallwork at Nervous Horizon’s studio about two years ago. It wasn’t as though the music I was releasing had to change but because I haven’t released anything for a long time, it felt like the right moment to turn over a new leaf and start releasing a lot more music as Kamran going forward.”
What’s the M.O. moving forward I ask? “I dunno”, he responds contently. “I really miss doing grime sets, that feeling of making a tune on the day, bouncing it, playing it on the radio that night and an MC spits over it … it feels like a finished tune in itself. I miss that. As Handsome Boys, we had everyone from Capo Lee, Darkos Strife Rocks and even Blakie pass through to spit over some of our beats, so I want to revisit that most definitely. I’ve also got so many beats that I’ve been writing sat on my hard drive and there’s so many sick UK RnB singers I’d like to work with on some of those. I’m writing a new concept EP for 1000Doors at the moment too, so yeah, I guess just being proactive is the key. I’ve got so much to do.”
“I really miss doing grime sets, that feeling of making a tune on the day, bouncing it, playing it on the radio that night and an MC spits over it … it feels like a finished tune in itself.”
Having bought a new computer last year, it seems as though time spent in his Walthamstow studio during lockdown — “it’s been a saving grace” — has reenergised Kamran. Inspired by finding the headspace to write a stream of new beats and remixes, even buying a talk box — “it’s a lot harder to use those than you think, but I’ve been practicing by singing people happy birthday messages” — it feels as though this productivity has pooled in various corners of his personal life too. “It’s been so beneficial for me”, he concludes. “Sometimes the person I am and my actions haven’t always aligned in the past so to think about how I can better that has been really helpful.” His name may have changed, but Kamran is still the same artist — always listening, always learning and always focused on how to be better.
Kamran’s ‘Transmission’ EP releases via 1000Doors on September 4: