Species 2015 was de-frighted to present DJ Kohhna’s first festival appearance. Hailing from Belfast Kohhna was a sparkly gem among of our many talented DJ’s. His set list was a dark diverse whirlwind of what he calls ‘Urban Gothic’ included reverberations of danceable Acid Techno, EBM, Gloomcore, Ambient into Industrial Hip Hop, Gothic vocal-dubstep, breakbeat, Glitch, IDM and the darker more industrial side of UK Bass music with some of the slower and more sombre ends of breakcore.
Kohhna, live at Species 2015
An Interview With Kohhna
aka Conor Mcvarnock
- You have a unique alias ‘Kohhna’ is there a story behind the name?
Yes, sort of. Kohhna is a fairly obscure personal joke that goes back to my childhood and was intended to be my password when I set up my first email account, the @hotmail.com account that I still use to the day. I chose it because it was something that really only I would know, but I got the two things messed up and it ended up being my email instead. Just purely because of that it stuck and it’s what I’ve been using as a handle on various websites and forums ever since. When I started DJing I was calling myself T3h 1n5an14y W0lf and using meme-generator sites to make my own Insanity Wolf .jpegs and that was going to be the brand, but while that was hilarious at the beginning it got old really fast. Nothing ages like 4chan memes. So I dropped all that from the social media accounts and I’ve been just carrying on as Kohhna ever since.
- How long have you been DJ-ing and what drives you to do it?
I picked it up around 2010; it was initially my good friend Dave Corry (aka DJ _encryption_ of Unity and The Asylum) who encouraged me into it. I’ve always been a bit of a music nerd and a dedicated Selekta, I used to throw together Mix-Tapes all the time for the crack, usually for my own amusement but I used to organise a Mixtape exchange on my old gaming forum once a year. I could never play an instrument, I’m way too cak-handed for that, but I’ve always been interested in putting music together, arranging playlists so that they provide flow in terms of the pacing, juxtaposing tracks that have certain affinities in their sound, or time signature or the structure of the song. My Spotify account playlists are quite careful curated and the running order is very deliberate.
From there onto what I’m doing now has been a very slow and gradual progression. I think that what motivates me primarily is that my particular range of interests are fairly unique, if I wasn’t doing what I was doing I can’t imagine too many other people going for it. Really I just want to play the sort of stuff that I would want to hear on a rig or good club speakers but would otherwise have to travel a very long way for, and hope that other people see what I see in it and get into it.
- Tell us about the types of music you played at Species:
In the run up to the festival on the event organizing page I had asked Illioct when my set time was, intending to play a more chilled, fun one if I got a set in the afternoon or a proper hard banging one if I got put on late. In his infinite wisdom he gave me two sets, one early one late so I could do both, so that’s what I did. The first set was the more relaxed one. That one went from Ambient, sound-scape-y stuff with breakbeats into industrial dubstep into a really nice deep sub-y remix of Glory Box (that’s a track that everyone, no matter what their sub-cultural affiliation seems to love) into more recognizable Goth / Alternative dance stuff at a more dance-music tempo. I tried my best to show my respect for the originators of ‘our thing’ by playing a few from the godfathers of Industrial Music and EBM, but I also kept it up to date by playing some up to date new stuff, for example, there’s a track there that’s a rough cut from a banging new Matt Finale project that was just out this year. There’s a little Gloom-y techno and house in there too. One tune that was a bit of a risky pick but I wanted to play was the LFO remix. Mark Bell of LFO was one of the godfathers of house and techno who sadly passed away in the last year. As a tribute to him and his work I played a mix of one of his EBM tracks (he made quite a good range of stuff) which sounded a lot more rave than EBM but got a really positive response from the floor so I consider it a job well done. I could go all day talking individual tracks but suffice to say, everything in that early now was quite carefully chosen and hopefully the people that enjoyed the mix on the day or have been checking it out online will go through the set-list that I now have up on my Soundcloud, Mixcloud and Youtube and dig a little further into the artists if they enjoyed the mix.
The 2nd set was pretty much me having fun and banging out the hardest of the hard, dark, industrial music I know. There’s a lot of Industrial Powernoise there but also a fair amount of Hardcore. If you check the set list there’s some Hypnoskull, a couple of different Ophidian projects and lots of Iszoloscope in there, these are all artists with their feet planted in both scenes stylistically and in terms of the sort of gigs and festivals they play at in places like Canada and Central Europe where there seems to be a healthy amount of fluidity and cross pollination between “Alternative Electronica” and the darker end of the rave scene. It’s just a mix of raw aggression, rhythmic white noise, big kicks that sound like some huge infernal machine cranking away in the dark, horror movie samples and gloomy bass. There’s also some jungle breakbeats in there to mix it up and provide a bit of contrast with the relentless thumping 4/4 as well as a little bit of mash-up and a bit of properly chaotic breakcore at the end.
- What preparations did you do on the run up to species?
Well, I’d just purchased a new Laptop so I needed to export all my music over, the sound card and controller both needed set up and the controlled needed programmed. That was a bit of a task and thankfully I had my friends Al 16bit and Matthew “Dynamatt” Caldwell to help me out with all that. I would say I couldn’t have done that gig as well as I did without them.
In terms of prep for the sets, I threw a load of tracks that I liked with a similar tempo and sound into two folders, I didn’t plan the sets out meticulously so I could be a bit more spontaneous but I did practice each set an awful lot, usually recording the practice sessions and listening back to them after to see what works.
- You also keep a festival and events blog where you wrote a wonderfully atmospheric report on species, how long have you been blogging? What else do you like to write about?
The blog has been going on and off since 2010. It was originally meant to be a political blog with occasional articles on music and cartoons, a continuation of my online presence on web forums where I could collect and archive good posts. That wasn’t quite how things worked out, there’s like two political posts about Palestine and one about an episode of the Nolan Show where they were talking about the issue of Medical Abortions, the rest of it’s about Culture, music, cinema cartoons etc. There was a bit of a hiatus there for a year but I’ve revived it to post my epic Bangface 2015 review and hope to continue to use it for festival reports and maybe the odd one about cartoons.
- What part of Gothic & Industrial culture intrigues you most?
Well, I’ve an MA in cultural history; I’ve studied the history of the literary Gothic back to its origins in the late 18th century and the beginnings of modern industrial civilization. Gothic Art was initially a movement against the aesthetic of modernity; it’s actually quite ironic that late 20th century Goths were to embrace Industrial Music. It’s those sorts of contradictions that I find interesting.
- What is your views Gothic culture in Ireland today?
Like a lot of other sub cultures I’d say that the years after the collapse of the economic system in 2008 have been challenging times for us and ours. Ireland has a fairly small population and any sub-cultural formations tend to be small compared to the rest of Europe in general. We do seem to be very much on the fringes of the Gothic mainstream which seems quite healthy in Europe. Goth Proper seems to be on its last legs in Britain and the USA but what we’ve seen there on the front lines of fashion and youth culture, that as far as I can tell hasn’t quite hit here yet, is the style and dark aesthetic bleeding over and cross pollinating with other scenes. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out here when it does hit.
- What parts of Species did you enjoy most?
Other than playing, just getting to talk to people from the rest of the Island who are involved in our scene. I’m not one of these people who just goes to festivals to get wiped out in a field with my mates (you could always do that sort of thing a lot cheaper if you’re at home) but the things you recall the most from a festival are always the human contact and wee moments of interaction with the other festival goers, getting talking to the organizers and other performers.
- Would you like to be involved next year?