Kai Hugo is a real artist, someone who makes music to dance to, but music that is constructed like a proper song with a real narrative. Whether making it for the club, at home or a film, it is his quest for unusual harmonies and absorbing grooves that stands him apart, as well as his complimentary work in video clips and 3D animation.
He works with a minimal toolset, often on tape, so he can focus on structure and emotion rather than production. As a live artist he is the same: someone who puts his collection of old synths into storytelling mode and sets off into a surrealist yet welcoming unknown.
He does this as group orientated collaboration Palmbomen, or on his own as Palmbomen II, which was also the name of his 2015 album on Beats In Space. It found him “program the rhythms, arrange the harmonies, play these together, and record to tape,” in a simple yet effective process that conjured up an album of perfect imperfections. On it, you can hear him ride Oberheim DX faders in real time, improvise Arp 2600 patches at the turn of a track and drip sweat across Roland TR-909 keys. Imbued with a sense of the sci-fi atmospheres he loves in shows like X-Files, the extra-terrestrial mood takes you from this reality to the next with a sense of intrigue and inquisition.
After that came a conceptual four-part 12" project built around eulogised muse Cindy. Typically melodic and rather insular, it gave rise to music doused in otherworldly nostalgia and grainy atmospheres that was all cooked up intuitively and instinctively. The morose melodies and haunting atmospheres of the album came even more to life with Palmbomen’s self-scripted and directed videos and films. Hugo’s visual practice provides a separate view of the Palmbomen II venture: a surreal, neo noir-ish California dislocated by the no-frills aesthetic of its music, and the tragicomedy of its imagined characters. Sombre, surreal and absorbingly melancholic, the album was a complete realisation of a unique and imagined musical universe that seemed devastatingly real.
Of course, he also works as Betonkust & Palmbomen ll with Betonkust, and together the pair crated the beautifully nostalgic, hardware only album Center Parcs for Dekmantel in 2018. It was an esoteric electronic pop record with hazy melodies and roughhewn edges, fuzzy house and dusty grooves that followed EPs on 1080p and Pinkman. The pair also play live together and take you into a similarly dreamy, heartwarming musical world something akin to an imagined retro paradise.
The future will see Palmbomen’s Cindy presented as a pop singer, “somewhere between Britney Spears and Julee Cruise” as well as many more albums and projects. All of these are ways for this multi-instrumentalist and esteemed composer to get lost in a world that is part imagined future and part reimagined past.