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INTERVIEW: Michelle Kestrel

Kadupul is the new EP by percussionist and producer Michelle Kestrel, due out on Seattle's Eklectic Sounds, a new, multi-genre, sister label to the iconic West Coast house music mainstay, Uniting Souls Music. 

Deeply influenced by ambient, world and underground dance music, Michelle's compositions are a confluence of dreamy synths, haunting dub crashes, lush tabla, percussive polyrhythms and shuffling dance beats. We caught up with the artist at her Pacific Northwest home, and here’s what she had to share.



Can you tell us a little about your experience? Where are you from/how did you get into music?


I grew up in Seattle and I was very young when I discovered the rich underground dance music culture of the city. I was obsessed with all kinds of music from around the world, ambient music, hip hop, industrial, tribal house, trance, downtempo, reggae, dub, samba, afrobeat, qawwali, bhajans, ghazal, taiko, anything I could get my hands on. I would check out everything I could from the public library, from friends and a record store called Orpheum Records.

There was a Saturday morning radio show called Positive Vibrations that always started the morning off with classic, early dub. I loved the stripped-down bass and drums, the heavy reverb and meditative melodies. I knew I wanted to produce my own music, I wanted to make my own kind of dub. I wanted to innovate.


I began studying Indian classical tabla in 2001, after many years of casually playing hand drums like dholak and darbuka. I studied tabla in Los Angeles and in Kolkata, India, and when I returned from my concentrated months of study, I wanted to merge my love for underground dance music with the rhythmic compositions I had learned.

I played tabla for many song writers and devotional music groups around Los Angeles and was in a live electronic band for many years in Seattle. I began using Ableton Live in 2014 for performances and to record. We played a lot of very fun festivals, club nights and private parties. As a dancer myself, playing music that people wanted to dance to was so exciting!.


How did the Kadupul project come about? What inspired you, and what do you want to convey in this work? 


Kadupul started as part of a live set I wrote for my 2023 performances. It was originally titled ''Caravan”, I wrote it especially for a global dance music night of the same name that happens monthly in Seattle. Kadupul is a special, night-blooming cactus that I have had for 13 years that finally bloomed, it became a metaphor for my own long-awaited blossoming as a solo musician and producer.

I was inspired by my own dance floor experiences post pandemic, the type of music that was moving me was funky, it was dreamy, it was a little weird, but absolutely uplifting. I wanted to make music that felt like flying, but grounded. Strange, but graceful.


I wanted to convey the boldness of my own new start, to celebrate my musical sovereignty and honor the abundance of emotions that compel me to keep creating. Grief and love, pleasure and longing, heartache and healing.  All the elements of life, the beautiful and tragic drama of these last few years on the planet. 


How would you define your sound? How do you manage to combine such disparate genres? How do you manage to give them unity and harmony, and what do they have in common for you? 

I struggle to define my sound or place it within a genre, Organic House is a pretty good description though. Sometimes it can be very groove based, four on the floor, other times it gets minimal with half time polyrhythms and breakbeats.I like to think of “ The Groove” as a kind of intelligent being that finds its way through all these different sounds as I weave them together. When it happens, it's undeniable.

My love for each individual element matches them together. I love the warm tones of raw basslines, conga and tabla, the dreaminess of a pad synth,  santur rolls and the other worldliness of samples captured in far away lands, they all produce the same feelings within me so in that way, they match to me and I believe that’s where the unity happens. Through my own intention of a feeling I wish to convey and an experience I am eager to have myself, I bring these elements and instruments together and the music seems to take on a life of its own. I am just another instrument that the music moves through.


Do you feel confident now to play a more experimental sound? 

Yes!  I have spent many years playing with and learning from amazing musicians, and I always played it safe.

I was trained to be an accompanist, to always listen and accommodate the other players. Now, I have complete freedom of expression and the tools I need to create any idea. I realize that there are so many people making music for their audience, for their market. I just want to push myself to make music I can be proud of. Music that may connect with others, music that might help me feel understood. Something real. Something risky.


How do you feel your music influences or impacts your listeners?

It means so much to me when people tell me what they like about my music. A specific feeling it evoked, a memory, a moment that happened while my music was the soundtrack. I hope it gets around them like the fragrance of flowers, that they can almost forget where they are for a minute and step out of their own tension and pain. I’ve had people say my music helped them shake off a tough day, made them feel romantic, got them out of their head. That’s just priceless to me. To be a part of someone else’s life experience like that, it is an honor. 


Can you tell us something about your current or future projects?


I am currently writing new music to perform in 2024. I have a few remix collaborations with other producer friends and I am working on a track with an amazing vocalist from Argentina. I am pushing myself to do more vocals as I find my voice and to play with more live looping and hardware in my sets. I am actively seeking out other world music instrumentalists to collaborate with so I can feature more tabla and continue to grow in my own playing.





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