Interview: One artist, many instruments and a ‘melting pot’ of genres – FKJ brings his unique style back to Hong Kong

FKJ interview 2

By Martina Igini

After an electrifying performance at last year’s Clockenflap, multi-instrumentalist FKJ is returning to Hong Kong this May for a more intimate performance – the first of its kind for the Frenchman.

FKJ. Photo: FKJ.

In an interview with HKFP ahead of the show, the artist talked about his first steps in the music industry and different influences and collaborations that shaped his style. He also revealed some upcoming projects including a new live album and a studio album, both set to be released this year.

Less than two months after borders reopened and days after authorities axed a long-running mask mandate, FKJ debuted at Hong Kong’s biggest and longest-running festival.  

“I had a blast. It was such a good festival, one of the best festival energies I’ve seen in Asia and my first big show in the city,” the singer and musician – also known as French Kiwi Juice – told HKFP ahead of his solo show next month. 

Fresh off a world tour for his latest studio album Vincent, FKJ revealed he is taking a break from live performances this year to work on some “ambitious” and “exciting” projects, including the two upcoming albums. 

FKJ. Photo: FKJ.

“My May show in Hong Kong is my first proper show, my first headline, a real actual show in a concert hall. I’ve never done it before. I was really curious, that’s why I decided to give it a go,” he said. 

It is among a handful of other “carefully chosen” live shows he is set to perform this year, all of which have a “particular intention” or are something he has never done before. 

‘A Big Melting Pot’

Exposed to music from a very young age, FKJ has always been drawn to experimenting. His unique music style, a blend of various genres and sounds, has been shaped by some of the greats. 

“I spent my childhood going through whatever my parents’ library had to offer. James Brown, Pink Floyd, Santana, Jimi Hendrix. It wasn’t just songs you could sing along to. It was more about the music, the harmonies, the musicians. This definitely influenced me,” the 34-year-old said.

FKJ's studio
FKJ’s studio. Photo: FKJ.

As he entered his teenage years, FKJ – whose real name is Vincent Fenton – was introduced by his school friends to hip-hop icons of the time such as Timberland and Dr Dre, and later to Jamaican music, with dancehall, roots music, and rocksteady making up his “main source of influence” until the age of 18.

Growing up in Paris, French electronic artists including Nicola Jar, Justice, and St Germain also influenced FKJ’s unique style, which he described as a “big melting pot” of genres. 

“In each of my songs, I can tell you where the jazz or the Jamaican influence is. All these genres are in my music but you can’t really distinguish them,” he said, adding that there is no right way to describe his style.

“My wife June calls it ‘expanding groove,’ which I like. There’s always a groove to [my music] and it maybe comes from the first song I ever heard – Another One Bites the Dust – which is the grooviest song ever made. And that feeling of groove never left me. I like to call it optimistic, positive optimistic music because there’s always some kind of hope in it.”

All-round artist

Early on in his music production journey, FKJ began experimenting with different sounds as a way to replicate some of his favourite genres, quickly developing exceptional multi-instrumental skills. Despite playing the saxophone for a short period at the age of seven, the first instrument he picked up was his sister’s guitar five years later.

FKJ plays music in his studio.
FKJ plays music in his studio. Photo: FKJ.

“I started playing songs I knew pretty quickly and maybe a year after picking it up, I started composing original music with it,” he explained. 

With the help of his mother’s colleague, a music teacher who introduced him to his first interface, the teenager set up a home studio to record his original sounds. 

As inspiration from new genres kicked in, the young musician began exploring new instruments, starting with a toy keyboard his parents owned.  

“I picked it up and one by one, I started replicating each note from different chords I was playing on my guitar. It was a very long process. I never planned to learn the piano but years later, I suddenly realised I knew how to play it.”

His guitar skills led to him picking up the bass, while his self-taught piano skills “opened many possibilities” to experiment with other similar instruments, including a drum machine, accordion, organ, and melodica. He also eventually picked up the saxophone again after his parents gave him one as a high school graduation gift. 

“I picked it up from where I had left it 13 years earlier. It was like riding a bicycle, you don’t forget it really.”

The artist plays a multitude of other woodwind instruments, including the flute, and is now learning to play the drums. 

Visual influences

Aside from different artists and genres, visuals and surroundings also play a critical role in FKJ’s musical journey. “The setting definitely influences the music I’m making,” he told HKFP.

FKJ. Photo: FKJ.

His first EP Time for a Change, released in 2013, was recorded in his hometown of Paris at a time when – as a sound engineer – he was heavily involved in its club scene and mostly surrounded by producers.

“[Paris] was a very active environment… a lot of social interaction, a lot of culture. All of that shaped the sound of Time for Change.”

This setting, he explained, was a huge contrast to the one in which he recorded his last album Vincent – a rather “contemplative environment.”

“I made the last record almost 10 years later during the pandemic in the Philippines. The environment was different. The canva this time was nature, windows everywhere. It would be weird to make more upbeat music, more danceable music in such an environment.”

Asked whether he has moved on from his old music, the artist said he would rather call it a “new era.”

His yet-to-be-announced new studio album was recorded in a closed space the artist built for himself: “I don’t have a visual canva in front of me and I love it because this really opens possibilities. The music can be anything, it’s just in the head.”

Collaborations and improvisations

The upcoming record, a journey through the artist’s life in the past year, will include “several collaborations” with different artists, FKJ revealed. 

Collaborations have been an integral part of his career. He has worked alongside artists including Jamaican-American musician Masego, English producer Tom Misch, and his own wife, Filipino-American singer and songwriter June Marieezy. 

FKJ. Photo: FKJ.

Chill-house hit Tadow, recorded with Masego in 2017 and released the following year, was a breakthrough for both musicians. The fully improvised song was the product of a day-long recording session soon after they met.

“It was very easy [to work] with Masego. We are both multi-instrumentalists, both have been doing [music] for years and are comfortable doing it. We made 12 one-shot videos on that day, but ended up releasing just one,” FKJ said, adding that authenticity, uniqueness, and originality are the perfect ingredients for a fruitful musical collaboration.

“You want to be surprised, you want them to have a unique journey, unique skills, unique style… and you want them to show you their real self, be honest and bring what they have. That’s when magic can happen.”

And magic happened when FKJ met Marieezy – also known by her stage name “((( O ))).” The pair, who married in 2019, first met online after FKJ recorded and published a remix of her latest EP on audio streaming platform SoundCloud. They performed the remix together in the Philippines just a couple of months later and only a few hours after meeting in person for the first time.

“Music brought us together. We make music together very effortlessly,” the singer said, explaining that, every now and then, they sit together in their home studio and improvise music “for hours.” 

FKJ. Photo: FKJ.

“One of us starts playing and the other one joins. No plan, whatever comes. And after some sessions, we go back and listen to what we’ve created. Our music is always born from improvisation. And the same thing happened with Masego, Tom [Misch], and other artists I collaborated with. I’m not really a songwriter.”

Live album

Improvisations are an essential part of FKJ’s carefully-crafted live shows, too. Over the past two years, the artist recorded hundreds of improvised moments from his live performances. His favourite ones will be included in an upcoming live album the artist has been working on in recent months and which he said is ready to be released. 

The “conceptual” record will include live versions of old songs as well as yet-unheard improvisations from his shows around the world over the past two years, including his 2023 Clockenflap performance.

Hundreds of fans flocked to the festival last year to watch FKJ’s performance. Alone on stage, the artist delivered an immersive and intimate performance, fusing soulful vocals, mesmerising instrumentals, and electrifying live looping.

clockenflap festival 2023
FKJ at Clockenflap Festival 2023. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

A lot has changed since his early performances in clubs all over Paris, he acknowledged. 

“At the beginning, I was mostly booked to play in clubs. Half of the time I was DJing because the clubs would not have big enough stages to bring instruments. But as I started playing in bigger clubs that had bigger spaces, I started thinking of ways to put a system in place that would allow me to do a show by myself,” he explained. 

His early one-man performances involved nothing but a looper and a few instruments. 

“I have eight main tracks in front of me on the controller and I have a looper for each of these tracks that allows me to play some parts over and over for each instrument I’m playing. And I also have playback songs, I’m not playing everything at the same time. I have backing tracks to help me.”

FKJ. Photo: FKJ.

This setting, which he calls a “template,” has remained mostly unchanged, though the team around him has grown bigger. 

“It started with me bringing my keyboard, my soundcard, my controllers with me on the train or on the plane. I did this for maybe three years until I started having a sound engineer follow me, then a live engineer, a tour manager… It became bigger and bigger,” he explained.

Nowadays, FKJ tours with anything between seven and 25 people, depending on whether he is performing solo or with a band, a configuration that allowed his performances to evolve to include a visual element, with dynamic lighting and captivating images enhancing the immersive experience.

“I used to do everything alone… now it’s teamwork,” he said, explaining that a lot of thinking goes in the video aspect and lights when crafting a new show. 

“My template has been the same since the beginning, it’s just getting better.”

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