GLOO – The DIY universe of Iglooghost, BABii and Kai Whiston
Knowledge, imagination and independence... followed by something as boring as hard work
Knowledge, imagination and independence... followed by something as boring as hard work
When Seamus Malliagh and Daisy Warne moved into their new place the first thing they had to do was pull up the carpet because it was saturated in motor oil. That’s what happens when you build a home in what used to be an MOT garage.
Between theirs and their neighbour’s door are 13 Teletubbies strung-up and awaiting modification, a burnt mannequin head upcycled into a flamethrower, and a Chopper bike converted into a synthesiser: signifiers that you have entered a resourceful and resolutely DIY space, but this is clearly not Seamus’s and Daisy’s stuff, whose work is defined by its modern gloss and originality rather than elbow grease and reconstitution. Their home has freshly painted yellow floors and an ordered busyness.
Shortly after I arrive, when Kai Whiston says, “I always catch a cold whenever I come here – you can practically see the germs in the air,” he’s not referring to the cleanliness of the place but the lack of external windows, the small square footage and the trio’s work ethic that allows little time for breaks in the fresh air. Kai doesn’t live here, although Seamus and Daisy are trying to convince him that he should. They’ve even offered to pay him to move in – £16 per month. First he plans to finish his “bullshit marketing degree” at Bristol, which is about as far away from this end of Kent as you can get. They’ve set a room aside for him anyway, which allows the three of them to continually work together when he’s in town, on music and whatever else they goad each other into.
Expecting us today, they’ve made a set for our photo shoot, neatly covering the wall in an assortment of posters, zines, album sleeves, caps, hoodies and scarves featuring their illustrations, logos and artworks. There are stickers and patches and plates of painted glass and hand-stitched teddies, all designed and made by them, some of it available as merch, some of it made for videos, some of it just cuz. And there are figurines, of frogs and babies and Godzilla and Pikachu and indecipherable creatures from forgotten graphic novels and fantasy cartoons. This wall is the GLOO universe in microcosm, trying its best to hint at its true scale. Because GLOO is not a mere collective. It’s not simply these three electronic artists coming together, even if they’re about to release a collab record under the name.
Kai explained it to Paper in 2018 as, “Think like, Donda by Kanye but just fun creative shit.” The vagueness was intentional. He went on to say: “If Iglooghost [Seamus] decides he wants to build and sell furniture, he’ll do it under GLOO. If I wanna sponsor a wrestling tournament, I’ll do it under GLOO.” It’s a catch-all term for whatever, and as random as those two examples are, I wouldn’t put either past them. The GLOO mindset has always been to never let an idea die, however ambitious or seemingly disconnected from music. It’s led to extravagant A/V live shows, costumes, films, books, a new interactive club experience and out of the ordinary apparel, launching soon and including berets and socks. No creative idea is rejected, although self-sufficiency is constant – they’ll figure it out between the three of them, without the help of anyone on the outside.
“We design it all first and then figure out how to do it after,” says Daisy.
“I’m scared to mention it in case we do it, but Daisy was saying let’s do glassware,” says Kai, “and learn how to do that glass spinny bollocks [glass blowing].”
“Kai wants to do a perfume, and I’ve got a friend who works at a perfume company…”
“It’ll smell like trees and dog piss,” he says.
“The good thing about the dynamic of us three is that we’ll sit around and say all of this stuff and then we force each other to make it,” says Seamus, “so it doesn’t become some stupid, wanky idea that’s never going to happen.”
Last month Daisy put out a collection of scarves with music embedded in them, stitching in QR codes that led to an exclusive track of her covering one of Seamus’s songs, ‘Clear Tamei’. It was in support of her debut album, HiiDE– a slick and strangely beautiful collection of sad bangers released under her moniker BABii. Her next album is ready to go. Kai put out his debut earlier this year too. Kai Whiston Bitchpointed towards his sense of humour in name and sent for overly serious bass music in sound, revelling in its utter lack of subtlety as it relentlessly smashed together dubstep, trap and chattering samples at pace, throwing in metal references whenever it felt like it, ambushing acid house on the track ‘Mushy Seize’ and quickly making ambient ugly on ‘For Fuck Sake’. “I made it with a bit of a chip on my shoulder,” he says. “Like, I’ll fucking show them – I’m going to do what I’ve been doing to its fullest. And I think I did that to an extent, so now I’ve moved on, which I’m trying to stay quiet about.” Seamus is more commonly known as Iglooghost and is four EPs and a 2017 debut album deep into his career.
These are solo projects, but if one artist needs a hand from another – on a beat or a video or artwork – they’re there. “We do 90% of our own shit, and then cross-pollinate a bit, but it doesn’t extend out of us three,” says Seamus. So they started to stamp their GLOO logo on everything they do. “I wouldn’t call it a collective,” he says, “it’s more proof that it’s our own work, and there’s no one else pulling strings.”
Iglooghost didn’t have a rough time on the label he was once on. Brainfeeder were in fact his dream partners, owned by his hero Flying Lotus, who he once threw demo tapes at during a FlyLo show. From 2015 to 2017 the label released two Iglooghost EPs and his debut album, Neō Wax Bloom. But there’s since been two companion EPs (Clear Tameiand Steel Mogu) released via GLOO, with little chance of Seamus releasing via anyone else again. Similarly, Kai Whiston Bitchwas a GLOO release following Kai’s Fissure PriceEP for Big Dada, and although HiiDEcame out last month on niche Austin label Death Waltz, Daisy says that future BABii music is likely to also come via GLOO.
“It’s really hard to explain this shit and not sound like a brat who doesn’t need anyone’s help,” says Seamus, “and it’s really nice that I’ve worked with a label before who’ve been really good and listened to my ideas, but there’s this point where you figure out how it all works, because it’s all on the internet at this point. You know what they’re emailing people, so you can send that email also. You know that they use this press company, so you can hit those people up. You break down what a label does in 2019 and it’s feasible to do that in your pants when you wake up. There’s not a lot that you can’t replicate.”
Seamus might be neglecting the importance of a hyper engaged fanbase here (few artists attract the level of completest superfan that Iglooghost does, previously nurtured on Brainfeeder dollar) but what he’s also downplaying is the graft it takes to release your own music in the manner that he does, providing you have the talent in the first place.
In an email to me before we met up he described everything GLOO does as “Hella DIY”, and it was worth him reminding me of that. It sure doesn’t look DIY, and that’s because Iglooghost and GLOO aesthetics are as misleadingly slick as the proudly digital music they accompany. In issue 90 of Loud And Quiet, in November 2017, Seamus spoke about how Portastudio tape hiss is no longer the default sound of home recordings; “it’s clean as fuck,” he said – “I want my stuff to sound like an honest representation of its medium and era, so I don’t try to obscure that glossiness”. Iglooghost’s illustrations – and BABii’s graphics too – follow suit, rendered in 3D and floating in a white, sterile void that gives off the impression of a professional design company working to a brief. And that’s to say nothing of the special effects videos, the deluxe vinyl packaging, the signature embroidered eyeball baseball caps and music-embedded scarves. Can three friends really be doing all of this themselves, without any outside help, to a spec that is more Supreme than Suicide?
Daisy does have a manager and a press team behind her Death Waltz debut, and she shares a booking agent with Seamus and Kai. But the guys don’t even have managers. This feature was set up by me DMing Seamus on Instagram – it was refreshingly quick and simple to arrange.
“Daisy’s a friendly, polite, understanding person who can listen to other people’s ideas,” says Kai, “and me and Seamus are evil, stubborn bastards who hate everyone. We’ve also had too many people do wrong by us.”
“We’ve had too many brief encounters with people who’ve nearly fucking ruined everything,” says Seamus. “People who’ve lost us thousands of pounds when we were kids, not even when we could afford it. After the sixth time that someone tries to be your dad in music, you realise that it’s not worth the risk.”
“We never really disagree on stuff, because we trust each other,” says Daisy. “And it’s funny, because we don’t trust anyone else.”
How Seamus, Kai and Daisy found one another is serendipitous. They are, after all, three young people who feed off the same very niche and intense strand of creativity. Their music – aggressively hyperactive in Seamus’s and Kai’s case, and too strange in structure to be easily pop in Daisy’s – is not for everyone. And what are the chances of someone else buying into your trees-and-dog-piss perfume dream enough to give you their spare bedroom? It’s quite something, then, that Seamus and Kai grew up in the same dead town in Dorset, where nothing’s happened since Ridley Scott filmed an iconic Hovis bread advert there in 1973. “Kai’s a damn baby,” says Seamus, referring to the fact that he’s three years younger and was introduced to him via his younger brother.
Because 18-year-olds don’t want to hang out with 15-year-old babies, Seamus and Kai were “Facebook and email exclusive until a couple of years ago”, but Seamus always had words of encouragement for his brother’s friend. “I could tell Kai was good, so I’d be like, ‘keep doing you’re thing’,” says Seamus today, adopting a goofy voice at the thought of being a roll model. “It’s got to the point now where everything he sends me gets me into fight or flight mode. It’s like a threat. It’s really cool because he’s overtaken me, in my perspective.”
“Some people have the perception that you taught me from scratch,” says Kai. “It was more like an arms race,” says Seamus.
Daisy – who grew up in the Margate area – only met Seamus because Kai couldn’t play their joint tour date in neighbouring Ramsgate. BABii filled the spot on the bill and the pair have been inseparable since.
As we spend the day hanging out on the beach, eating fish and chips in Margate and exploring Fire Eye Land, the hodge-podge creative warehouse and photography studio owned by Daisy’s dad, the three of them make for a cute family unit. Daisy describes them as “competitive and co-operative at the same time”, and Kai insists that they’re “not this happy, hippy commune creating in a dojo – it’s a war room”, but it’s clear how much they love and support each other. Having their photos taken Daisy puts her arms around Seamus and Kai and calls them “my boys”. Kai frequently jokes but complements his two friends almost as often.
When I ask who brings what to GLOO, Daisy – the master craftsperson – is quick to say, “I make stuff with my hands.”
“Kai makes this abrasive shit that I can’t always get a hold of,” says Seamus. “I make a lot of melodic shit that comes with weird sounds that sometimes goes into Kai’s shit. Obviously neither of us can sing, but Daisy is more than that…”
“I’m not just a singing girl!” she yells.
“She produces crazy drum shit as well that my male brain can’t create,” says Seamus, while Kai praises her as a producer. “We’re all perfectly stupid in our own ways,” he says, which pretty much sums up how they tread between self-belief and self-deprecation.
They’re a very fun group to hang out with – funny, sarcastic with each other and instantly welcoming; not an impenetrable club at all, as the control freaks in each of them could easily have it. Perhaps that’s what happens when you take managers and strategists out of the equation; teams of people ‘protecting the brand’ and inadvertently smothering its spirit.
“Seamus, what are you?” asks Kai.
“He’s the king who sits on his throne,” says Daisy.
“Yeah, you’re a pretty creative guy,” says Kai with sarcastic over–sincerity. “You’ve got some good ideas.”
“I’m quite bossy,” says Seamus. “I think I try to control the narrative a bit. I think it works sometimes…”
I’d hesitate to say that Seamus is the creative leader of GLOO if the others didn’t think it too. It stands to reason that, four EPs and an album down, having previously signed to Brainfeeder, Iglooghost’s solo success has helped facilitate BABii’s and Kai Whiston’s. But much of the vastness of GLOO is down to a world entirely imagined by Seamus. The world is called Mamu, and if you’re hearing it for the first time, you might need to read this twice.
Seamus has thematically set his music in Mamu since his Chinese Nü YrEP in 2015. As a kid who grew up on Pokémon and filling sketch pads with his own creatures, he started with the cover art, not the music. For Chinese Nü Yearhe drew a bomb, two pools of water, a cup of tea and two giant eyeballs that would soon become as important as the blue, gelatinous worm in a witch’s hat hurtling towards a wormhole. From there he wrote a soundtrack to what all of this could mean. The four tracks on Chinese Nü Yearwere an intense introduction to Iglooghost’s ADHD brand of wonky: speed garage, dubstep, footwork and glitch all cut at lightning speed to chipmunk yammer and a million tiny bass drops. It was so crammed full of ideas (and completely instrumental) that a fantastical backstory was either completely redundant or the only way to make sense of the sounds we were hearing. Seamus leaned in to the latter.
He called the world Mamu and the worm Xiāngjiāo – a time-traveller hurtling through nonsensical lands. You can hear when Xiāngjiāo has bolted through a portal to another world on the record, signified by the sound of a pitch-shifted scream – a recording of Seamus’ dad, who’s in punk band.
Xiāngjiāo’s adventures continued on debut album Neō Wax Bloomin 2017, which brilliantly added elements of grime, jazz and ambient to all the maximalism. Mamu’s name was revealed and more characters introduced, most explicitly via the IKEA-like instruction manual that came with the record’s vinyl edition. “Eyes turn into witches & witches turn into Iglooghosts,” read the first pane in the storyboard. But one day two giant eyes fell out of the sky and the life cycle froze. Xiāngjiāo is a witch mid transformation, while a group of witches stuck in their middle form began singing together as the Melon Lantern Girls, trying to cast a spell to fix Mamu – their melodious hook is weaved through the tracks of the album. There’s a mysterious thief called Uso and a monk from a different dimension called Yomi, and an ominous shadow in the sky, which turns out to be the God of Mamu – those giant eyes are his; they’d fallen out of his head. But how? The story ends on a cliffhanger.
Last year Iglooghost followed upNeō Wax Bloomnot with a second album but two five-track companion EPs released on the same day. They compliment and battle each other, just like Pokémon. And again they filled in a few more gaps in the world of Mamu, both records revisiting the world millennia ago, the light disc (Clear Tamei) an origin story of the God of Mamu in training as a baby, the dark an introduction to rival Steel Mogu, who’s travelled back in time from the future to kill the god, Herod style.
Seamus likes the confusion that all of this can create. “I like that moment when someone is like, ‘what the fuck is it then?’” he says. “‘Is this music or something else?’ There’s music, but it’s also all of this other stuff.” He jokes about leaving the realm of Mamu to his future child and making them carry it on when he dies, as if it were a family butcher.
“I think it’s got a lot of merit without the visual side, not to big-up Seamus too much,” says Kai. “I know for myself I have a hard time keeping up with all the world and shit – not to shit on it – but he sends me the tracks without the citations on and it really stands up. It’s nerdy, good shit.”
Kai’s right, as is Daisy when she points out that the world also stands up without the music. To embrace both though gives you something that you can’t get from any other artist, especially in the straight-faced world of electronic music. Being an all-in Iglooghost fan is like being a kid again, with Seamus’s most passionate followers sharing Mamu conspiracy theories on Reddit and turning up to his shows dressed as Melon Lantern Girls. His most ardent fans call themselves Neō Clowns and make fake Iglooghost music and comics. “It’s wholesome,” says Seamus.
“As soon at it became complicated and more than just music, that attracted these people. I like to keep shit loose, and I leave breadcrumb trails over everything. That’s attracted really obsessive, crazy people. It’s what I used to do to people that I loved, like Flying Lotus – ripping music and collecting all the bits and bobs I could find.”
Fans will be sated with a fresh slew of riddles again soon, when Iglooghost releases his second album. He momentarily considered leaving Mamu where it was, but then decided “to do the opposite of that and expand it to a life-ruining amount”. It’s more about the animals of the world, he says. “The last one was about the gods; this one is about the stupid fawner that’s knocking about.” Within its raft of strange sounds will be a local kids choir who Seamus has been working with every Thursday for the last few months. He’s been teaching them a new song, collecting sample food of them making crazy noises, and putting on activities where the children have been creating their own characters to live in Mamu. It’s a no-brainer that kids love Iglooghost. A physical encyclopaedia will be released alongside the album.
Talking over emails a week after I see Seamus, I ask him what Xiāngjiāo is up to now. He writes back: “He’s being used by a mean little type of false gods called the Xao as a source of infinite energy. It sucks!”
The first time I saw Iglooghost’s biggest fans was at the Southbank Centre in 2018. “There were a lot of weird characters in that audience – spooky motherfuckers,” remembers Seamus, recalling the guy who’d travelled from Hawaii, and another from Denmark. It was also the first time that I saw the GLOO logo, and an A/V show like no other.
It was a take on the old I-bet-they’re-checking-their-emails joke that people still say about laptop musicians performing live. “I may as well be – you don’t know,” says Seamus, so he designed the projections to show us the screen he was looking at. The graphics were elaborate – a fictional operating system by GLOO TECH running a fake exaggeration of a music program. While Iglooghost’s music hammered hard we followed the story on the screen like watching a film. Xiāngjiāo was flying through the air while trolls were giving Seamus a hard time on a chatroom popup, slagging him off and telling him to make more music. In order to do that, we watched him follow links to find eggs and hatch them by rebooting his computer. At various intervals in the show the fever dream would come to life as onscreen characters including Meru (a big pink hand in black and white trousers) would dance across the stage in the form of giant homemade costumes made and worn by Daisy. The room would amp up a level. The guy in front of me FaceTimed the whole thing to his son at home.
Last month BABii took her new A/V show on the road, which makes use of the scrolling LED signs you see in kebab shop windows. Hers stand upright and rain her own snowflake hieroglyphics. But the timing of her tour meant that she had to miss out on GLOO’s most ambitious A/V yet – an interactive club night that Seamus and Kai launched two weeks after I saw them, in Japan, China and South Korea, called GRID. Seamus explained it to me in an email saying, “We’ve built these weird machines where you can insert these wooden tokens into them that are scattered around the venue to unlock secret songs.” At their home, Daisy showed me the machines, which she’s made into Perspex boxes with colourful insides suspended in thin air, some of it vaguely recognisable as parts of children’s toys that she found at boot sales. Three foil-bottomed tokens slot into the top of each machine, completing the circuit. And then what?
“Well, the tokens are scattered throughout the club,” says Seamus. “Me and Kai are going to be DJing back to back with visuals going on, and then when you find a token hidden under a spilt drink or whatever, you put it in the machine and then it triggers this new visual and it unlocks a new song that we would never release. It’s something that you will never hear outside of the club.” He explains that the token fires an alarm that interrupts the DJ set. The DJ’d music will dip and an exclusive track will take over. The idea came from their own experiences of watching other electronic musicians perform live and ending up feeling bored. “We wanted to give people something to do,” says Kai. “We don’t mind the music being secondary to the rest of the club night. It’s a relief from BABii and the shit Seamus does, because you have to focus because there’s practically a film playing. Let’s just play stupid songs and people can go off on a treasure hunt.”
It’s a perfect example of Seamus, Kai and Daisy dreaming up an idea and then figuring out how to make it a reality, with the added pressure of launching the whole thing in Asia.
Once GRID’s initial run is over GLOO will get back to finishing and releasing their first music together. It’ll coincide with the launch of a new clothing line. “We’re trying to establish the GLOO apparel as more than just merch,” says Kai. “We want to make it into a fashion label. We’ve got nothing against graphic tees, but it’d be cool to also do weird, adventurous bollocks.”
“It’s hard though,” says Daisy, “because we’re trying to find people to fabricate them. It’s quite ambitious.”
“The puzzle is kinda fun though,” says Seamus; something of a GLOO motto.
The item they seem most excited about is the GLOO beret, available in green with pink embroidery that depicts the cell of a plant. There’ll be football shirts too, and possibly socks.
The record is called XYZand, unsurprisingly from a trio of artists who grew up listening to Slipknot and Fear Factory, it rejects subtlety three-fold. Yet while it features some of GLOO’s heaviest ever bass tracks (“It’s for people to go mad in their rooms to,” says Kai), there’s also Seamus’s and Daisy’s attempt at “a cheesy strip club Usher song” (‘Drown U Out’) and almost-slow jam ‘C Thru’.
“It’s like we’re doing alter egos on each track,” says Daisy. “Like, ‘What if we could be like this?’.”
“We’re all just control freaks in our own lives, and I like how that works out,” says Seamus. “We’re trying to all control this thing that we have equal say in, and we make this mental music that has too many ideas, but I like all of them. I really like how this project sounds – it sounds like an argument.”
Thinking of the dumbest, most inappropriate thing they could sample, they landed on the vocal chops from ‘Higher Ground’, the biggest tune from Hudson Mohawke’s and Lunice’s TNGHT project. “It’s the stuff we can’t do in our own work,” says Seamus. “We’ve got total freedom. A lot of weird ideas pop out on this album, and a lot of stupid jokes. There’s these stupid fucking ideas – these imitations of genres that we’re doing for a joke, trying to make it sounds cool. It’s such a fucking piss-take.”
“I hope it stays in,” says Kai. “It’s like a diss. Like we’re sending for HudMo.”
I bet they do work it out, though – knowledge is how GLOO protect their independence, followed by something as boring as hard work.
Before I leave them to their creative bubble, where things only get done if they do them themselves, where projects are not only launched but completed because they seemed like a good idea at the time, like Donda by Kanye but just fun creative shit, I ask Seamus, Daisy and Kai what they do to relax.
“We don’t,” says Daisy.
“I reckon Kai is pretty relaxed,” says Seamus.
“I’m fucking relaxed…” he nods. “I like watching wrestling, I like playing FIFA. Painting is really relaxing for me. What else? I like going to the woods. Drinking pints…”
“What are we doing with our lives, Seamus?!” screams Daisy.
“We’ve got worms in our fucking brains.”
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