A Couple Two Three Palm Fronds and A Wanderlust’s Playlist
In Conversation with Kai Hugo of Palmbomen II
Although the electronic scene is currently stuffed to the gills with Dutch DJs and producers, the 25-year old Kai Hugo, who goes by the alias Palmbomen, has no trouble establishing his own brand of electro-synth music. Here's why: According to his bio, he seeks to deliver “a tropical escape from the mundane.” Appropriately so, Palmbomen means “palm trees” in Dutch, where, incidentally, no such plant grows natively. (He's in L.A. now, another location that needs to import the palmed plant). For many, music is a means of transcending the physical world to another destination known as the imagination. Palmbomen’s debut album, Night Flight Europa, embraces the listener into a mystic haziness with ghost-like vocals sweetened by lulls of melancholy and a yearning for the past, playing like old VHS recordings of simpler times. This evening Hugo will put on a live performance, whisking away party-goers to his own dimension of a tropical paradise, at the ICA Miami Time Capsule Party (RSVP here)—a city that has its own native palm plants, but also chooses to import.
You’ve been likened to several electronic music pioneers. Which musical artists inspire you to begin to create music? What kind of music do you hope to inspire in the future? Ah wow, that’s a pretty impossible question. There’s so much. For this project, Palmbomen II, it is a lot of early '80s electronic artists. What I like about this period of time is that people finally could afford to buy synthesizers and drum machines to have at home, and therefore didn’t have to work with engineers, like in the '70s. That made them free to be really experimental. So for me early Chicago (house) records from artists like Jamal Moss, Steve Poindexter, Larry Heard, and Virgo Four were important, together with European electronic artists from the same time such as Alexander Robotnick, Das Ding, Philippe Laurent, and many others.
You’re known for including a wide array of live visuals—including LEDs and lasers—during your live shows. Where did the idea of these extensive light shows begin? I like to create an atmosphere, to get a more total sensory experience. And I like to create aesthetics. My approach to creating music is very visual, so I want to see the world around it. The lights are a way I am able to present everything in the process without being too literal, like with projections of video. It's still abstract and open to interpretation.
Your music has a tropical feel and your name is Dutch for palm tree. Do the tropics influence your music? Do the Netherlands influence your music? For me, it’s about the "longing" for something that’s not there. That’s total tragedy. In Holland, when we do have palmbomen (palm trees), it is in a strange context—indoor swimming pools, with fake palm trees and jungle plants, creating a paradise for vacation. It smells like fries and chlorine. And I like this melancholic feeling it give—you hear that in a lot of Dutch music for the average man. They create tropical music too, about losing their hearts at the beaches Mallorca, singing from their cold homes back in Holland.
After moving to Los Angeles this year you began work on your new solo project Palmbomen II, how has the city been an inspiration for that project? Well, Palmbomen has always been my solo project, but for my previous album I worked with a band. I decided to split it up my 'band' and 'electric' sides to form this new project. Palmbomen II is my electronic side. It’s me with synthesizers and drum machines, but no computers. Th
e sound is closer to what I did in my DJ sets. The first release of this project will be with Beats In Space early next year as Palmbomen II, and some EPs on some nice labels will follow.
In addition of Palmbomen II what else can fans expect from you in the near future? At the moment, I'm finishing a music video for the first single of the Beats in Space album. After the release of the LP and EPs for Palmbomen II, I will return to my band side, Palmbomen. Also I’m scoring a feature film now (after having scored a game for Sony Playstation), which should come out early next year.
What are your thoughts on Miami? I love it, it’s one of the first cities in the US where I visited a lot, because my then-girlfriend lived there. It kind of feels home every time I go back, which may sound strange coming from a cold place like Holland. Miami is more the paradise we always long for.
Written by Leona Cheung