In conversation with the fringe-fringing producer

There’s a bracing melancholy Adam Bainbridge, AKA Kindness, transmits in conversation. Darting from caustic comebacks to self-deprecating wit, there’s grounding humility that roots it all. Kindness may be basking in the afterglow of their new full-length, ‘Something Like A War’, but the sheer energy disbursed as their once private reverie becomes part of the public domain is taking its toll today.

“I don’t know that the responsibility of releasing a record allows for joy and care,” Kindness says. “It’s why I’ve been feeling off-kilter these last few days.” Charting the ebbs as well as the highs and uncloaking the burden behind the daily grind, it’s invigorating to hear such candour in an era where mass-produced music makes it difficult to discern where the artist and the person reside. “There’s a massive disconnect between the perception of an artist,” they continue, “and just how inherently tough life can be no matter what your achievements are or what the end result of the process may be.”

Since their arrival on the scene in 2009 with a funktronic re-work of ‘Swingin’ Party’ by punk-rock outfit The Replacements, not many can say they’ve endured the ephemeral side of the music business a decade later. Being a self-cultivated artist may mean more creative autonomy, but unless you’re compliant with the blueprint of homogenisation, it’s a rocky road at times.

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Kindness wears jumper by Marni
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“I’m fringing on the fringes,” Kindness laughs. “If I didn’t get income from work in fashion, or DJ gigs for private clients, I would not be able to subsidise my records. Before, I didn’t understand the true precarity of the business; things were slipping out of my control. A big part of being independent is educating yourself on making smart decisions, being aware of the pitfalls and learning to be thrifty.”

Nostalgia seeps into Bainbridge’s ripostes as they trace their history. Born in Peterborough to an English father and Indian mother - an exile from South Africa - Bainbridge’s early career was riddled with crude misnomers and erasures, writers failing to isolate the fluidity of musical expression from their “lissom” appearance and “indie” disposition. “It’s this dissonance with who I feel to be and who I’m seen to be,” Bainbridge reflects. “Around the time of the second album, NME called my sound “blue-eyed soul”, which I think is quite offensive to a mixed-race person.”

“Before,” they add, “I was often written about by white men with this latent hostility. They thought the music I was making was pastiche or too referential to things they wouldn’t necessarily listen to. It’s less of an issue now, but music media is still a dystopian landscape - if you’re not at the top it’s a struggle.”

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Kindness wears jacket and trousers by Loewe, earring by Lanvin
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Since the release of 2014’s ‘Otherness’, Kindness has worked on music’s most epoch-defining releases, accruing partnerships with the likes of Robyn, Dev Hynes, Kelela and Sampha. Yet it was co-production for Solange’s black polemic ‘A Seat At The Table’ that garnered them their first Grammy award. Masters at tapping into their own psyche, this band of outsiders extract the pain from seismic shifts in their lives, transmuting it into something transcendental.

“On some level, all of us have experienced difficult moments. Rather than shy away from the enormity of it, we allow a sense of creative perspective to fuel us.” Kindness pauses. “We make music out of necessity because it’s an important process of channelling something bigger than ourselves.”

From the opening incitement of ‘Sibambaneni’, Kindness does just that. ‘Something Like A War’ centres artist Lora Mathis’s “radical softness as a weapon” tenet as a revolutionary act of self-preservation, foregrounding their emotional core, making the personal political. “Self-actualisation is a powerful thing in itself - to stand up and be counted, it is a political act,” Kindness declares. “The varying aspects of my identity that place me outside of the straight white cis male normativity means that some of what I’m saying is charged in a different way.”

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Kindness wears dress by Paco Rabanne
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To augment the defiant feel of the record, Kindness enlisted a veritable who’s who of vocal technicians from all over the diaspora - disparate voices bound together by Bainbridge’s dexterity as a producer. From Cosima’s ethereal alto on ’No New Lies’, to the ’90s heartbreak melodrama of ‘Hard To Believe’ with the rousing soulfulness of Jazmine Sullivan, these voices juxtapose against Bainbridge’s tenor, playing out a unified harmonic dream - reaching beyond the physical for the salvific.

How does Kindness approach the art of vocal pedagogy? “I’m not a true vocalist, but there is value in the honesty of imperfect voices. I like the challenge of trying to sing songs that are poppy in a register that is typically inappropriate for that. I’m trying to use the limited tools I have in the best way possible.” With reference to singing with powerhouse vocalists? “It’s like being an amateur painter and getting advice from a renaissance master - it’s humbling and interesting all at once.”

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Kindness wears shirt by Loewe, trousers by Marni
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Does Kindness believe this is their best work? “I think so,” they respond. “There were weaknesses on my last album, things I tried to address on this one, whether that was making it more coherent or pushing myself harder. There have been moments where I’ve thought this was something exceptional, and that’s immensely satisfying.”

The recent loss of close friend and collaborator Philippe Cerboneschi, a pioneer of electronic music, casts a bittersweet shadow over Kindness’ release. Cerboneschi’s profound bearing on Bainbridge informed not just their approach to song craft but their outlook on life in general. “The beautiful thing about meeting him is that we discovered that music is secondary, friendships and collaborations are more important. There’s something beautiful about the mutual understanding we had despite our differences. Because of Philippe, I learnt to have fun in the studio again.”

“I’ve learnt that life can be cruel and arbitrary,” Kindness finishes. “Live life in a bold and proactive way, ideally to find the joy in as much as possible.”

Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Photography: Sam Wilson
Fashion: Warren Leech
Grooming: Aga Dobosz at Carol Hayes Management using Glossier and EVO
Photography Assistant: Sam Henry

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