Interview: Chaos Theory

"I’m naturally attracted to things that confuse me. I’m naturally attracted to things that make me feel out of my comfort zone because I’ve never really felt like I’m in my comfort zone" - Kunal Singhal.

Chad caught up with Chaos Theory’s head honcho Kunal Singhal, ahead of the promotion’s annual festival, 12 Years of Chaos on the 26th of February to discuss the line-up and how the pandemic has affected Kunal and his team.

(((O))): What can you tell me about the line-up in terms of how it compares to previous years?

Kunal: Well, there are a few different things; it’s a one-stage event at The Black Heart (Camden) compared to two in previous years because I’m being gentle to myself after the pandemic. So, it’s gonna be different because it’s not a constant wall of music going downstairs for one band and then upstairs for the next. There are still going to be gaps, so people can have drinks and breathers. I’ve mixed a few different genres into one day. We’re starting off with drone, avant-garde, ambient stuff, and then, some more synth-pop/rock stuff from Eye which is Jessica Ball from MMWWB’s new project. Then we’ve got contemporary, classical, avant-garde dark stuff from Maud The Moth.

(((O))): (in reference to Maud The Moth) Who was on last year’s compilation album, 11 Years of Chaos, right?

Kunal: Yeah. It was a fundraiser for the artists and we donated a percentage to The Black Heart because the venue is very important to me.

(((O))): I can remember watching your Prisa Mata gig at The Black Heart about 5 years ago, it was my first time there and it’s very nostalgic for me to remember meeting the Chaos Theory crew at that time such as Magda and Alan. Saw a lot of fun math-rock gigs back then. It was good times.

Kunal: Good times indeed. I’ve gotta say for the math-rock crowd, we’ve got Colossal Squid aka Adam Betts‘ solo project, it’s absolutely amazing, he said that he was gonna take time off from gigs in London and South East but, he’d make a rare exception for 12 Years of Chaos. We’ve also got Rad Pitt, who are fucking amazing. Have you seen them?

(((O))): No but, I checked out one of their singles and it sounded like power-pop/pop-punk kind of stuff to me.

Kunal: I’d say they’re more post-hardcore but, they actually have a range of sounds. The new album is even broader and more diverse than their previous stuff.

(((O))): I think the audience is gonna enjoy thrashing out to those guys after a few beers.

Kunal: That’ll be nice yeah. We’ve then got Shooting Daggers which features Raquel, the drummer for Prisa Mata (who you mentioned before), and Sūrya. They did a really cool interview that I read which was interesting because they’ve got so many ethics behind what they do and they’re a hardcore punk band but, they’ve got so many sounds because Raquel has got the doom and post-metal influence and they’ve got some Riotgurrl and Punk influences and stuff like that. They’ve written Queercore on their Bandcamp. It’s great, covers a lot of genres.

(((O))): It’s got levels.

Kunal: Yeah, it’s got levels, and Chaos Theory is all about that. I really like them, I’ve never worked with them and have not seen them, which is the first band I’ve not seen that I’m putting on, except for Eye.

(((O))): Would you say this is your most diverse line-up?

Kunal: I wouldn’t say it’s diverse. More than half the bands are led by female-presenting people but, without me trying to do that. I didn’t make a point of that in promoting this because I don’t really want Chaos Theory to become a promotion that is trying to have a cause, apart from the fact that we’re trying to be fair to musicians and bring audiences who may not know they like a thing, and musicians who may not know how big their audience could be, together. I’m happier that it’s getting easier to book more diverse line-ups without compromising on the music but, I want you to come to Chaos Theory because you expect good music rather than to support a cause. I do have my beliefs, for example, I’m aware of how much waste we create with paper that we use for posters and the leaflets, so, with the new hoodies, which are a bit more pricey to be fair, they’re £30, but, they’re going to an amazing undiscovered new artist and it’s all vegan-friendly. It’s all ethically made and sustainable and that’s really what I want to be putting into the world. Someone from The Progressive Aspect magazine pointed out that the 10 Years of Chaos festival featured a higher proportion than the Musician Unions’ recommended rate of female-led bands at the time and I hadn’t even noticed.

Kunal: What I’m really excited about is this range of musicians and the fact that they’re all very special and they’re all very unique. If you don’t look for diversity, then you find it in other ways. I’m not after style, I’m after music that genuinely takes me places, even if it’s using familiar styles and tropes, as long as there’s something different about it and all of these people achieve that. Somebody else pointed out to me prior to 10 Years of Chaos, that the crew are the most diverse they’ve ever seen in a music promotion anywhere in Europe, in terms of ethnicity, gender, age, identity, sexuality. But, I didn’t notice any of that. What I’m trying to say is that diversity is quite easy to achieve if you only look for things outside of your comfort zone, but we mustn’t start patting ourselves on the back if we achieve a fraction of representation, we should keep trying, as these lineups still aren’t that diverse, even if they might be more than the average UK experimental lineup. Whether you’re looking for someone to run the box office or the merch, you’re looking for someone good, regardless. The same thing with art, I’m looking for fresh perspectives because I want to be challenged. That’s not gonna happen if I just pick things that are familiar to me. There’s enough of that in the world, I want Chaos Theory to be a place for people that don’t know how they fit into the world. I wanna be a place for that and that’s where diversity lives. When you don’t look for familiarity, you look for something special and you automatically find diversity in the forms of people with different lifestyles and backgrounds and different countries of origin. Different identities. I think that’s cool but, I just want people that are different and interesting to me. Although thinking about it, there isn’t anyone who isn’t Caucasian on the line-up.

(((O))): Would you agree that by having a greater diversity of backgrounds and perspectives, you get a more diverse range of sounds from the artists?

Kunal: Yeah, I’m writing an article about that actually: How To Avoid Tokenism. It’s lucky that I don’t just promote one type of music or one type of genre, that makes it easier to find diversity. I’m naturally attracted to things that confuse me. I’m naturally attracted to things that make me feel out of my comfort zone because I’ve never really felt like I’m in my comfort zone so, I’m naturally more comfortable outside of it. So, I look for these experiences and I look for things that challenge me. It comes with my friends, with my people, with work, with music and art. I want things that give me new and interesting experiences. Every band I’ve booked for Chaos Theory has helped me experience something new. I think they’re doing something really special within their realm. When I started Chaos Theory 12 years ago, there was a lot of talk about how male-dominated, Caucasian, cisgender, and heteronormative the music scene was. A lot of people were inspired to play music but, they were young and now they’re in their early twenties and it’s getting easier. They’re all in bands and now I can book them. It’s great. So, it’s getting easier to be diverse but, to say it’s a diverse line-up is not really true. Out of the all-dayers, it’s probably the most female-presenting that Chaos Theory have put on but, it’s not really gender diverse because as far as I know, it’s mainly male and females on the line-up. That’s two categories from the wide spectrum of gender diversity. I would like things to be different. I would like to show people that anything’s possible; we can be anyone we want, we can live any lifestyle we want. Anything is achievable and it’s easier once you see someone else doing it. I never liked My Vitriol but, to see a British-Asian singer in a band, when I was a teenager, that meant the world to me! Surrounded by people telling me I couldn’t do it because I’m not white. I already would have to act more white and English and posh than anyone else to have even a similar chance to people who aren’t that. Then I see him singing in a band and I felt like “ah so, I can do that too”. I just want people to have an amazing time and discover amazing music because that’s what it’s about. The artistic experience. I also want to include more arts and media into the events, particularly visual arts where possible. I want to keep exploring different types of art where possible.

(((O))): Who is headlining?

Kunal: I’m working it out because I feel like there are several headliners along the day, I think Maud The Moth is a pretty big headliner, Colossal Squid will be a big pull too. But, the way I always try and curate Chaos Theory events, is to try and create some kind of flow musically, so there’s nothing too jarring, like fans of electronic pop being thrust straight into a doom set, because I don’t think that the bands who are playing will get the benefit the audience. I want there to be a little bit of a flow so, the audience can appreciate things fully. If there’s a good flow to the music, then as an audience member who maybe hasn’t seen some of the bands, the ones you haven’t seen will fit more with what you’ve just seen then you’ll be in the right frame of mind for it. If I’m in the mood for doom and I go to a mathy thing like AKDK or something, it’s not gonna do it for me, even though I love them. So, I can’t tell you who’s gonna headline but, it will be somewhere between one of those three bands. Do you want to hear about everyone on the line-up?

(((O))): Sure, let’s do it, I think it’d be good for the readers to know a little bit about each band.

Kunal: Hmm, Black Helium; Alan recommended them, Alan really loves them. (Alan Pride who’s an essential part of the Chaos Theory team). I just listened to their record on Bandcamp because I always stalk everyone on my news feed. He bought them and mentioned them to me, so we got some psychedelic and stoner rock which is great. Rad Pitt, I love them and the first time I booked them was the first time that Chris Wood, who’s a part of Chaos Theory, was the first one he came along to, so, when I asked him if there’s anyone we should book for 12 Years of Chaos, he said Rad Pitt straight away. Mountainscape we worked with at the last ever Facemelter. (The night we used to do monthly for nine years, almost ten). They’re just a really, really, really good post-metal band. Really epic, really strong, great sound, great production, really great composition, and solid tunes

(((O))): I think they have one of the most apt band names I’ve seen for a while. Their music makes me feel like I’m moshing my way through the three peaks.

Kunal: Really, really excited about seeing them again. Heronnoreh, who used to be THEO, most Echoes and Dust readers probably know THEO but, basically, it was a solo drummer/guitarist who stands in the middle of the room behind a drum kit playing guitar loops and then sits down and plays beats to it. But, Heronnoreh, is basically that, with another guitarist. I haven’t heard the new stuff so, I don’t know if they’re playing old THEO material with an additional guitarist or something entirely different. The opening act is Alice Karveli, who I met at New River Studios at a Skronk night we were both performing. Aliki is a very talented artist who does amazing contemporary art performances, is an amazing painter, an amazing tattooist, and a really interesting spiritual person, who has a very spiritualistic and ritualistic approach to life. We had a really interesting jam session where she taught me vocal techniques and I showed her my conch shell and how I play that so, she’s using that in her set now as well as dance, drums, keys, sings and loops all of this to create long-drawn-out sets which are all semi-improvised. She’s just dumped a whole bunch of new material on her Bandcamp. She’s going to be performing as Black Arrows which I believe is the name for all her musical output now. This is why I put Alice Karvelli/Black Arrows on the poster because a lot of her stuff is still under her real name as opposed to the moniker. The main thing about Chaos Theory is that if I’m gonna be doing fewer events a year and make them big, that means I’m not gonna be able to showcase newer bands in smaller events, so I’m gonna have to start introducing new acts at the start of the bigger shows to introduce new concepts and new ideas. I have some big new ideas coming, which you’ll also find out about later in the year.

(((O))): This year is different from the previous, I believe because you’re filming it as well, is that right?

Kunal: We’re not filming it, Hotel Radio are streaming it… Chaos Theory will be eventually, as Simon Kallas (Photographer), Emily Bailey (VJ and visual artist), and myself have invested a lot of time into it. But, Hotel Radio is permanently installed at The Black Heart. They’ve got a really good set up and they’re very supportive of the artists as well. They have to cover their costs and make it worth their while as well but, they make sure to try and support the artists as much as possible. They’ll be streaming it which is great for accessibility for people who are shielding or vulnerable or have mobility or social anxiety issues. They can now stream the event for free. Viewers can also tip the artists and buy their merch and there’s also gonna be a prize for the top tipper that will be a big bundle of merch from all the artists. Hotel Radio have even made an official 12 Years of Chaos t-shirt as well which you can buy online. I’m chuffed. You don’t have to be able to make it to still be involved in the scene and enjoy some really great new acts.

(((O))): Have you seen one of their streams before? I was curious if they do any stylisation or VJing of the acts?

Kunal: I think it’s just very straightforward because it doesn’t really need to be stylised. They have really great sound and lighting in The Black Heart as well as both handheld and static cameras filming. It’s just mixing between angles to get the best shots, I’ve watched a few of them and they’re really good. They’ve been doing this long before the pandemic and have been doing an amazing job with it.

(((O))): Is the live stream going to be available as a collated release at a later time?

Kunal: The stream will be available for 24 hours after the show for people in different time zones or people who can’t watch it live. There are quite a few people that will buy tickets and be there in person and then watch the live stream back the next day to relive it.

(((O))): Last year you were only able to celebrate the anniversary with a compilation release, can you tell us a little more about that?

Kunal: That was a learning curve as well because I started the process way too late so, initially I had a bunch of artists that I wanted to collaborate on tracks and a few of them were up for it but, I realised heading into Christmas that there wasn’t enough time.

(((O))): Working in a venue, I remember that going into the first lockdown, we predominantly felt like “ok, see you guys in six weeks or a few months or whatever”. Did you think “We’ll still do the festival next year”

Kunal: No. It takes like ten months at least to organise and promote a festival. So, we knew that by the time autumn would arrive it’d be too late. I wasn’t being pessimistic, I’m not pessimistic, it just wasn’t happening. I had two shows that I had to postpone with Jarboe, one of them with Maud The Moth at The Old Church in Stoke Newington.I knew by May that I wouldn’t be able to do a festival and by Autumn, I was finally in a space where I felt like I could do something it. Because obviously it had been an awful year for everyone and I had a terrible pandemic living situation. So after that, I was ready to start doing Chaos Theory again. I’d love to do more of those compilations but, it’s a whole other job, it’s a learning curve and you get better at it but, there are simple things like…mastering. I didn’t realise since all the tracks were mastered they’d still have to master the album as a whole. Which makes me realise I’m a bit thick. Then I remembered this and then, Paul Kolme, eva3, who just realised a stunning vinyl, is a freelance mastering engineer so, he gave me loads of tips and then basically did it for me! So, that was really, really, amazing of him. Dan Strange, who’s normally an illustrator did a great job with the graphic design on this. He was trying to work with a lot of genre ideas and stick them all together into one image. The order of the album with it being such a diverse range was tricky as well, some people just put it into alphabetical order because it was a compilation. I really enjoyed the process of curating it, listening to the album in lots of different orders. It drove me a bit mad at times but, I enjoyed it.

(((O))): Don’t you think that’s parallel with what you said before about how you put a line-up together for the festival so, it was kind of a similar anniversary experience for you?

Kunal: I’d do it again. I thought about making it a regular thing but, I don’t know when or where. There are so many things I’d like to do with Chaos Theory but, there’s only so much I can do. I don’t think London is as devoid of great promoters as it was when I arrived, New River and The Black Heart and Old Empire and The Dev are all putting on great gigs. It makes less sense to be a promoter in that sense as another person in the middle with costs hiring the venue. When the venues can just put on the bands directly, why am I there?

(((O))): When you did the compilation was there a plan to try and use the bands from that as a basis for the line-up for the 12 years?

Kunal: I did ask a lot of those bands but, a lot of them weren’t available because of work and life and rescheduled tours and shows and shielding and different rules in different areas. There wasn’t a clear-cut plan, because I had no idea what was going to happen.

(((O))): That’s part of the fallout as well, a lot of bands are still playing the same show they were supposed to be playing two years ago so, I guess it makes it tough to book things

Kunal: I didn’t think we could do anything but, I decided we could do something at The Black Heart. I thought it was gonna sell out really quickly at first because we sold half the tickets straight away but, I think as people started getting omicron, suddenly stopped from Christmas and New Year but, since mid-January things have picked up again. The line-up is all UK bands so, everyone can travel and make it and we have some backup opening bands in case anyone can’t make it. We’re also doing refunds for anyone who can prove they have covid with a test or an e-mail or whatever.

(((O))): From my experience working in a venue and putting on shows, I can confirm that I’ve never seen such a high ratio of on-the-day sales.

Kunal: Yeah, I do think there will be the bulk of the sales will come on the last day.

(((O))): What comes next for Chaos Theory?

Kunal: We’re working on more multi-media, multi-stage events, we’re working on incorporating new forms of art and media interacting with and/or in a separate room from the same diversity of music we’ve always had.

(((O))): So, do you think the future is more all-dayers, festivals, and events that aren’t just the traditional three bands playing back-to-back?

Kunal: I always did that, as you’ve seen in churches and Shoreditch town hall basement and stuff, I started with shows with live visuals. I’d like to do that kind of stuff but, there’s not much point in me talking about what I plan to do because the best stuff that has come from Chaos Theory, have been a process of people saying we’d like to have you involved in this event whether promoting it or helping run the event. Stormfield Derek, who DJs at Stormfield, does amazing DJ sets and runs Combat Recordings, he’s good at everything technical. He’s a gifted visual artist, a gifted DJ, and a gifted producer. Just a genius. He and Dan (UKAEA) have got me over because they wanted to start a night about cinema, where they get artists to perform soundtracks/live scores. It’s not a new concept in itself but, I love the idea and have dreamt about doing something like this myself for years. But, what these guys have done; Derek, does nearly everything, he does the poster, he does the graphic design but, he also edits as well. So, the artists have a shorter version to perform alongside. The first one we had was Enter The Void with Begotten was at a Wednesday in December and the most recent one was on the 23rd of February. Force Majeure who performed at Ten Years of Chaos Theory just played to La Jetée and Meshes of The Afternoon. Amousement played an AI-processed version of Nosferatu with a soundtrack created in a similar way. Those shows are currently donation only, with most of the money going to the artists. The artists pick which films they’re going to work with as well. So far they’ve created and I do the boring stuff like the listings online and I do stuff on the door and provide an intro. It’s been really good, I’ve really loved it so far. First one was really intense. Tehkla who are a three-piece had a full table of electronics at the back behind the visuals. Marion (Andrau, Manager at New River Studios) has done a really great job with it. They’ve got a better screen for it now and they’ve worked on the presentation. I do expect people to pay for it though. It’s all donation-based as well so, it’s accessible to anyone.

(((O))): I’ve had conversations like this recently with promoters and collaborators about costs of ticketing and personally, my response to ticket prices and that kind of thing has been “if you can afford to buy multiple drinks at the bar, you can afford to cover the costs of the bands that are playing”. And if you’re really broke, you can always directly contact the promotion and explain your situation.

Kunal: We’ve had a lot of success with it so far, we’ve had to bring chairs from outside to accommodate everyone. There have been people that couldn’t afford to pay, we didn’t turn them away. But, if it keeps growing we’ll have to make it ticketed. As I’m becoming more militant after doing Chaos Theory for 12 Years about my own style and what I’m willing to do after only losing money even after doing gigs for 12 years, I’m not willing to do that anymore because the bands need to be paid, the bands need to be paid and I need to be paid. Frankly, me putting in 9 hours a week minimum or a lot more since the beginning…

(((O))): 9 hours? Isn’t that just the amount of time you spend putting up posters?

Kunal: Certainly, it has been like that for the past decade. But, I’ve been thinking about that and I think I’m going to be doing fewer events and putting a lot more into them. The point is I still want to do things that are introducing new artists and concepts to people and still trying to make them accessible for everyone. Finance is a barrier so at least If we do a donation-based thing and people pay what we can then everyone can come and enjoy these things that we’re creating on both ends. 12 Years of Chaos is gonna be an absolutely exceptional day, again, some of my favourite artists, some of them I’ve known for a long time, some of them I discovered during the pandemic. Another thing I will say is that Chaos Theory, has for the last ten years, been paid for by artists who want us to help run their show for them. We’ve had labels such as Cognitive Dissonance and artists pay us to do our bit to help them promote their work. We’ve also been paid to enable live streaming for people and we now have the technology to stream at a high quality anywhere, it’s the same technology they use for news reporters to stream from the edge of a cliff in the middle of nowhere. So, that’s a thing we can also do with Chaos Theory and it’d be nice to do more stuff and help people realise we do that. I don’t know why we don’t talk more about the fact that we do that, we should make people more aware that we can do that and we do provide that for people who want it. We’re basically gonna use any money we get from that to put into gigs in weird places that we need to pay more for, and there’s a lot more coming but, I’m gonna take my time because I’ve had a shit two years.

(((O))): …and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that “the best-laid plans of mice and men will often go a’ry”.

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