KLEO may describe herself as half girl, half android, but she certainly does nothing by halves. She recently dropped her new single ‘TWDN’ which I described as ‘at once damning and damn hot’, and I steadfastly stand by this. Her sound is distinctive, cerebral but never alienating, yet the visuals she creates to go alongside the sound are not of this world. Reader, if KLEO gifted you with your own 360-degree environment, what would you choose? A human-sized hamster wheel? An Avatar-esque underwater scene? Riding in Akira’s biker gang in Neo-Tokyo?
Also, Speaking of dual identities, there’s a wee surprise at the end of this interview.
(づ｡◕‿‿◕｡)づ SNACK sits down with KLEO to chat(gpt) and what the meteoric rise in AI means for the creative industries and for humankind, whispers of an album in the ether, and her upcoming gig at Stag & Dagger festival.
Can you tell us about what you’ve been up to since you first chatted to SNACK back in 2020?
Since 2020, I’ve been up to lots – mostly behind the scenes. I graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with my degree in Sound for the Moving Image, worked a lot on new music and visuals and built international relationships with other artists, collaborators and collectives. I’ve been speaking a lot with venue owners and promoters in Japan, I’ve been up and down the UK performing and filming music videos, I’ve become a resident of club nights in the North of England like LIMP and BEACON, I’ve started DJing, and I’ve been doing a lot of figuring out what’s next for me in terms of my life, my sound and my art.
In the pandemic you created 2D environments where you incorporated videos and live performances by other acts, are you planning on doing anything like this, or taking it to the next level?
Yes, I did! And I am! Currently, the next edition of Cyber Pop Club will go live on the 30th of April (this Sunday). It features me, Pearling, DJ Joey Mousepads and Diana Starshine. This one is definitely a bit more elevated than the last one as I have created unique 360-degree environments for each artist based on things they like or have requested. For example, mine is a cyber-style dome, whereas Pearling’s is a regal wintry fairy forest, Joeymousepads’ is full of Dance Dance Revolution graphics while Hatsune Miku, and Diana Starshine’s is a crystal rave cave. The last edition I did was a lot more simplistic and featured only one environment for all four artists.
It’s quite a big undertaking, especially doing it all on my own. so I am currently trying to decide the future of Cyber Pop Club. I know in my heart I want to keep them going as they are so fun when they all come together and it gives artists the chance to perform virtually together from all over the world.
How do you see the relationship between music and visual art, and how do you use these different mediums to enhance your performances?
I think the relationship between audio and visual is extremely strong, especially in my mind. It’s what I studied at uni: the relationship between the two and how they can be used together to create a more immersive experience. Having a strong signature sound is a good start as a musical artist, and I think that having a strong visual identity that works in tandem with your sound makes your musical project more immersive. So, when people see certain images or visual themes, they think of you and your music. A performance can be an extension of this: having live visuals, props and sets in combination with the music really elevates the experience. I also think that how you perform, act, speak, and interact with the audience plays into this. It should all work together to make you the unique artist you are.
Your music often fuses elements of different genres and styles. How do you decide what musical elements to include in your work, and how do you blend them together to create a cohesive sound?
I think honestly because I have such a broad taste in music, my own music reflects this. There are so many elements in different genres I really love, so I just take those different things and try to work with them or modify them in some way that makes something new. If I hear something that makes me feel excited about what I am listening to for a specific reason, say a hard techno kick from one song, and a bass house line from another, hats or top loops in a hip-hop track, those sounds will be stuck in my head and I’ll be restless until I use all of them together in something.
How do you balance your identity as an android with your identity as an artist and a human being? And do you feel that those identities intersect or conflict with each other in any way?
I would say that a large part of my identity as an artist is my identity as an android, and by extension, an identity as an artist is an extension of your identity as a human. I’m a great believer in that. So, I would definitely say those identities intersect for me always. Funnily enough, I don’t feel as though they conflict. I have BPD [borderline personality disorder] which makes the whole identity thing very tricky and a lot of the time I struggle with my emotions. BPD certainly has made me feel more like an android with pre-programmed thoughts and emotions, than a human at times, so I suppose that’s why I can so easily identify with that narrative.
At the time of this interview, Grimes has just announced that she’s down for fans to deepfake her voice for AI songs, The Weeknd and Drake’s AI track has been pulled from streaming services, and people are flocking to use the DALL-E style text-to-music generator. How do you see the future of music evolving, especially with the rise of AI and machine learning? And how do you see yourself contributing to that evolution?
I think a lot of artists will begin to/are already beginning to experiment with machine learning to help them write lyrics, melody, production, and even mix and master their music. Some of this stuff can be fun, help you when you have creative block etc, but I recently posted on my Instagram about the dangers of AI to the livelihoods of artists when that whole AI art app that could generate stylised photos of people based on 10 or so selfies went viral.
I believe artificial intelligence should be used responsibly, at most to assist artists and creators, not to do the entire job. I don’t believe it should be used to generate works that are extremely similar to those of human artists who put a lot of time, energy and money into creating them. I warned other musicians on my Instagram that music was next. If you train AI on enough songs, soon enough it will be able to make music better than you, faster than you, cheaper than you. I think it’s a wonderful tool and something we should keep developing and working with, but I think we also need to exercise caution. I’m not sure what my role in all this will be, but I think that artists should look into creating their own AI to play and create with.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians, especially those who are interested in incorporating technology and AI into their work?
I would say: go for it! If you have found something fun, or you think something looks fun don’t be afraid to get involved in it especially if you don’t have a tech or code background. There is so much nowadays that is so accessible and it’s a lot easier to learn and play about with than you think.
You recently released your new single ‘TWDN’, which we loved. Is there anything you can spill about upcoming projects or releases?
I am so glad you guys loved that project! In terms of what’s next, there is another single on the horizon for this year and then I might take a break while I work on a bigger project *cough cough album cough cough*
You said in an interview with SNACK a couple of years ago that AI and robotics make you think about what it really means to be human. What do you think the current dialogue about AI tech like ChatGPT is saying about us now?
I think what this says about us now is that we are clearly in a pivotal moment in human evolution. It’s always been my belief that the next step on the evolutionary tree is digital. Our physical bodies have evolved so little since our species came into existence, but our surroundings and physical (including digital) environments have changed beyond our wildest dreams. I think we are racing towards breaking the machine/brain barrier, first by tackling how we can get an AI ‘brain’ to work exactly like a human one, then by finding the bridge and crossing over so to speak. Uploading one’s mind. This may seem far-fetched, but I would like to point out that a mere 70 years ago when my grandpa was just a boy, his science fiction comics portrayed devices that allowed you to talk to anyone on earth by means of video communication, all before computers were even conceived. Sounds a lot like FaceTime, doesn’t it? In another 70-100 years who knows where, or what, we’ll be.
What can we expect from a KLEO IRL performance?
An IRL KLEO performance is high energy, full of dance, visuals (if the venue is able to facilitate that) and always features a disembodied ‘android’ voice between tracks telling the story and guiding the audience through the KLEO narrative.
Who will you be going to see at Stag & Dagger?
The whole lineup is amazing! But I am absolutely desperate to see Venbee and Alice Glass.
Could you tell that I used ChatGPT to come up with some of these interview questions?
The questions are all really awesome and I enjoyed answering them all so I am really surprised that they were written by AI. I wouldn’t be able to tell you which ones are Chat GTP, but I think that’s really cool.