AVA Mix 012: Mount Palomar
The twelfth edition of the AVA Mix Series comes courtesy of Neil Kerr aka Mount Palomar.
Kerr’s résumé includes many accolades across many mediums including DJ-ing, producing, screen-printing and fashion photography. He’s collaborated with Joshua Burnside and Enola Gay, thrown parties with Visual Spectrum and Salomé Pressac and curated art exhibitions to coincide with the release of his EPs. Booked to play at the world-famous Berghain for his second gig, Neil went on to play the iconic venue 4 times within his first year, culminating in a peak time set on the main Berghain floor for their Pride party.
Neil returned in November 2022 with his new critically acclaimed EP, Brace For Impact, selling out his two 300 capacity return headline shows in Ulster Sports Club, Belfast.
Read on to see what he had to say about all these things and more.
So Neil, what was your approach to this AVA Mix?
Given that this is my first ever recorded mix, I just went with my gut and chose songs that I felt worked well dynamically, without sticking to one particular genre. I’m not a big fan of mixes being too predictable, I don’t like knowing by track 3 what’s going to be in store for the full mix. Despite my love of synthesizers, I opted not to just go with big synthy tracks throughout and it ended up being less melodic than I had initially expected. Thankfully, the tracklist ideas came quite easily and hopefully there are a few curveballs that make for a more interesting listen. Of course, once I finished it, I thought of dozens of other tracks that I wished I had stuck in but I guess I’ll just have to do more mixes soon, scratch that itch. I recorded it using the Xone 92 and a few effects, fuelled by tea and easter eggs.
You’ve been a veteran producer for a long time and only started DJing in more recent years. How has your tenure as a producer informed your craft as a DJ?
I am a complete audio nerd at heart and love timbral layering, so that always inevitably creeps into my sets at different points. Being fascinated with music production and how different sounds compliment or enhance each other always excites me, so I’m happiest when combining different sonic elements in order to present tracks in a way that they maybe haven’t been heard before. Producing music also helps tune your year to the ebb and flow of tracks and so, if I’m doing this DJing thing right, that sense of dynamism should hopefully be present in my sets. Like I said, I’d get bored just playing a load of really similar tracks, may as well just stick on “Now That’s What I Call A Westie House Party 2005” and have a sandwich.
You’ve had some big collaborations lately, including Joshua Burnside who loaned his voice for your track Simmer? How did that come about and do you have any other future collaborations in the mix?
Josh was one of those names I had seen pop up loads of times but had never actually heard any of his music. During the pandemic, I was going through a nightmare time with my greedy landlord who sold the house I was living in, or pretended to sell it, so that he could bump up the rent and evict us, to help further line his pockets. Anyway, my head was melted and so on evening walks with my dog, Mylo, I was listening to music to try to escape the stress. The name of Josh’s latest album, Into The Depths of Hell, and the artwork intrigued me and so I stuck it on one night and it blew me away. I then listened to his back catalogue and it was just one incredible track after another. I reached out to him about working together on a track and he was really positive and up for it and so Simmer was born.
Vocal features will continue to pop up in my work going forward, I used to be a singer-songwriter many moons ago and so enjoy writing songs that aren’t all exclusively instrumental. I’ll be working with the Enola Gay boys again soon, I have a track underway with Manchester band, Maruja, and a couple of years ago I wrote a track that features Dana Masters, that will be released pretty soon. They’re all quite different from each other so I haven’t a clue what people will make of them.
You recently did an event at Ulster Sports Club, giving it the Mount Palomar treatment, flying in Salomé Pressac to dance alongside you. How was it?
It went really well, exceeded my expectations. Salomé and I are working together on a Mount Palomar music video that I am just finishing off, so we had already formed a good working relationship, having shot in both Belfast and New York. I knew she was incredibly talented and assumed that her performance skills would translate well to a live gig setting but I didn’t know what the reaction would be. Thankfully, the night was a real success and the response from the crowd was extremely positive throughout. Despite it being my first home-soil live show, post-pandemic, the night sold out and Salomé’s performance, alongside the lighting installation by Visual Spectrum, made for an event the likes of which Belfast hadn’t seen before, which was really satisfying.
As a producer you utilise a lot of hardware. In an age when you can do so much with just a laptop what does it mean to you to get hands on with the physical machinery? How has it shaped your journey as an artist?
To be honest, people tend to salivate over hardware too much, myself included. It has taken me years to come to the conclusion that it is no better or worse than software and both absolutely have their place. The amount of time I have wasted trying to get old Soviet synths to work is pretty astounding and I am definitely not as hardware-obsessed as I used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the tactile nature of working with hardware and there are some bits of kit that are incredible and just don’t sound like software but you can make awful music with hardware and make incredible music with software and vice versa. I certainly wouldn’t tell young up and coming producers to go out and buy a load of gear when they’re starting out, the most important thing is how the track sounds and if you can make a banger with Ableton and a tin whistle then who’s to judge?
You also work in a screen printing studio, and curated a gallery-type take over of the National to coincide with the release of your album Brace for Impact. How did you get into screen printing?
By pretending I knew what I was doing. I signed up to a 2 day course at Belfast Print Workshop in 2014 and just paid attention and worked hard on my prints. Then once the course was done, I pretended I had studied screenprinting in Spain for a year and applied to become a member. I must have done ok in the class as they believed me and my membership was instated the following week. I now teach there part-time and printmaking has become a big part of my work as Mount Palomar, allowing me to screenprint my own record sleeves, merch etc… I have some other exciting, large-scale multidisciplinary projects in the works, including the biggest project I have ever undertaken, which is due to launch in London next year.
What were some of your earliest musical influences? Any guilty pleasures?
My first musical memory is singing Frankie Goes To Hollywood ‘Relax’ in the school playground at about age 5. Our idiotic lyrical amendment was “Relax, don’t do it, pick your nose and chew it.” We thought we were being young edge-lords but if we knew what the lyrics really meant, maybe we’d have chosen a different song. I still play Relax in my sets from time to time, it is an absolute tune and I can now enjoy the real lyrics for what they are. Hi Berghain.
Aside from that, I was into Michael Jackson, like every kid in the 80s, then discovered Guns N’ Roses aged 9 or 10, via Elvira’s Heavy Metal Heaven and became a wee metal head. I was into the usual; Nirvana, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine etc… Then, at about age 13 I stole my cousin’s The Prodigy “Experience” CD and so began a fascination with bleeps and bloops.
As for guilty pleasures, I am gay, there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Celine Dion, Kenny G, Backstreet Boys; nothing is too shit for these ears.
If you could work or collaborate with any artist living or dead, who would it be?
I’d be in a band with Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone, John Lennon, Kendrick Lemar, Bjork and Chris Whitley and we’d be called The Guilty Pleasuredome.
Is there anything else coming up you’d like to shout about?
Lots but my hands are getting sore from typing so I’ll just say; come see me play at AVA please, come to my next solo live gig in Ulster Sports Club on July 15th and stop listening to hardstyle.
Tell us your favourite moments from AVAs gone by.
I could easily list at least 30 different moments, every year is a whopper but 2018 was probably my favourite so far. The Red Bull Stage on the slope was heavenly, the sets were so good, the crowd were so sound and I remember having many, many moments of “It doesn’t get any better than this!” that year. Can’t wait for the next one and I feel incredibly fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to take part in the festival over the years.
- Moiré ft Demigosh – Know Me
- Odopt – Chaba Waltz
- Blawan – Fawner
- Pleasure Pool – Night Scars
- Joy Orbison – Fuerza
- Phil Kieran – Polyrhythmic
- Moy – Scattered Disc
- Anunaku – Temples
- Moktar – Silk
- Phil Kieran – Scream (Justin Van Der Volgen Remix)
- Niv Ast & Rina – Staccato Sentimento
- Splash Pattern – Furnace
- Joe Farr – Spectate (Max Cooper Remix)
- Blu Terra – 20,000
- Aloka – XTX3
- Tim Karbon – Boiling Mafé Bowl
- Skee Mask – Reviver
- Ourman – Onward & Downward
- Hassan Abou Alam – Breathe
- Moiré ft Demigosh – Know Me
- Doctor Jeep – Push The Body
- Diggerz – Chat Noir