aleb Cowie's musical journey began as a bass player in his brother's band that was trying to "cross over electronic and live music". The scene was non-existent at the time in Australia and wasn't necessarily ready for a live trip-hop band (which is now commonplace in Denver). Nevertheless, his love for genre-bending & UK electronic music pioneers would later inspire the K+Lab project which allowed him to tour throughout the world, become a cornerstone of the continuously evolving glitch-hop/funkstep sound, and have one of his tracks used in the Spiderman Homecoming trailer...
Captain K+Lab landed in Portland, OR in late October 2023 as a part of his US Fall Tour and we had the chance to chill at a coffee shop the day before his show. This was his fourth time coming to America from Australia this year (16 hour flights) but his massive music career all started when his older brother gifted him a guitar.
I started playing music 'cause my older brother had a band and he bought me a guitar when I was 10. I was playing around with that and then he needed a bass player, so I was like, "I'll play Bass." That was kind of the start of it, we were playing trip-hop live and then we were getting into electronic music. I started playing the bass lines on synthesizers and then we had samplers... We were just inspired from music in the UK, a lot of Bristol music. Massive Attack, The Prodigy, DJ Shadow, Portishead. All that stuff was what made us wanna make music.
Cowie practiced instruments and experimented with the emerging electronic music technology for years before starting the K+Lab project. It wasn't until he heard Tipper's "Ton Of Brix" that he knew he wanted to be a music producer and contribute to a genre that was still in it's infancy. The combination of "drum and bass and hip hop together" enthralled him and inspired him to create his first track in 2010, "Wrecked". The first track of the K+Lab project would be remixed by Opiuo, a little-known artist at the time. And the rest is history.
It was about 2008, 2009 [that] I would've heard Tipper's Ton of Brix. And I was like, "This is the shit. This is hip hop and the sounds from drum and bass. This is what I wanna do, drum & bass and hip hop together." So in 2010 I released Wrecked. It was my first single and Opiuo remixed it and that's how I became friends with Oscar.
In retrospect, it seems like the K+Lab project could do no wrong in those beginning stages. Aside from pushing the limits of the glitch-hop sound individually with originals like The Mothership or remixes of Howlin' Wolf, K+Lab also had a knack for attracting collaborators that are now mainstage names. K+lab met Stickybuds at a Melbourne show they played together and they instantly "vibed". Their work together began with K+Lab's remix of the Stickybuds track, 'Bouncy Bouncy' but their chemistry was so strong that they would eventually have one of their collaborations (Clap Ya Hands) used in a Marvel movie trailer.
We got booked for shows in Melbourne and we met there. It was me, Stickybuds and Qbert playing and we hit it off. We had a pretty similar vibe and around that time I released The Mothership and every Canadian DJ was playing [it] so then I got asked to play Shambhala. Then I did a remix with Tyler [on] "Bouncy Bouncy". It's a reggae tune and then "Clap your Hands" was the one that ended up getting picked up for the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer. We just became good friends.
Although not all of K+Lab's collaborations end up on feature film trailers, they all are worth a listen. Over the years K+Lab has made tracks with Manic Focus, Late Night Radio, ill-esha, Defunk, The Funk Hunters and more. He's also remixed heavy hitters (old & new) like K-Theory and Maddy O'Neal. Looking through K+Lab's collabs is almost like looking through a glitch-hop time capsule.
I try to work with people I really get along with. That seems to be like the main thing. That's why I prefer to do collaborations in person and not on the internet. Sometimes you have to do that, but it's normally just people I resonate with [and] we feel like we can add something unique to each other's tracks.
Looking at K+Lab's collaborations is a good way to realize the longevity of the project and how involved it was in the growing glitch-hop scene, but the creative inventiveness of his original tracks is how he got those opportunities. If you've been tapping into K+Lab's recent releases you would see that the New Zealand-born producer is adventuring into heavier bass, downtempo , and everywhere in between. He made his 2022 Beasts album during the pandemic and it has a much heavier sound that was inspired by "early Prodigy and Chemical Brothers and, Crystal Method, all that, big beat stuff." His new track "Soopercharged" (a collab with Stickybuds) just may be my favorite track of the year as it is perfect example of how much the glitch sound has evolved and where the scene is going.
I love how the scene is getting a lot more full spectrum. People aren't just playing one genre anymore, you can go and see a set and it'll be like, bass hop drum & bass, bass house, dubstep -- all in one set. That's something I really like. I mean obviously EDM has blown up [but] I think the underground stuff's gonna get a bit more limelight, which is nice. And I love that people like drum and bass now.
As if to prove he could do no wrong, K+Lab recently dropped a downtempo EP on Philos Records. It's the perfect joint smoking music for a rainy day and makes you wonder what else K+Lab has in store for us. Once you start listening to K+Lab tunes, you enter a different world and Captain K+Lab is showing you around. From the incredibly psychedelic cover art that he makes himself to the "breakbeat backbone" in every track, K+Lab knows how to make an impression.
It's always changing but it's always got a breakbeat backbone. It's always got a bit of hip hop. It's always got a bit of funk but I don't restrict it. I like to take people on mood rides. Sometimes I'll do the artwork first and try [to] make the track to it. It's like trying to create the world. Create my world -- visually and sonically. I got into the visual stuff 'cause I started doing gigs and people would make posters for me [and] I'm like"Oh, it doesn't really feel like me." So I started making posters and then I went to design school... But now it's perfect 'cause I can make a track, make the art, and then make it move on the screen while I'm playing.
Stay on the look out for the Beasts Remix album and Palm Trees Vol.2 on Philos Records which will be both coming out soon! Make sure to catch K+Lab headline Denver's Meow Wolf with Danny Grooves supporting on November 9th because he may just give you a flying keytar solo and jump into the audience like he did in Portland!