Listening to Exempt can become an intensely personal experience. It'd be hard to listen to a track such as “Promised You” and not find yourself thinking or feeling something deeper and darker than what was there only 4 minutes ago.
His synths and vocals are like audio liquid: translucent, washing over you. His heavy, circular use of motifs give his music a meditative effect. His ideas and melodies never stir too far from one another but rather, closely interact to create an experience that moves inwards rather than outwards. Deep.
Born in Kazakhstan, Bagdat Baimagambetov spent his teen years in Wales and now lives and works in Berlin. Here we meet just a few days before he returns to University in Cambridge. He's calm, thoughtful and thought-provoking; or just like his sound, “Chill”.
You may, or may not be, surprised to learn that “Chill” as a musical genre for Exempt came to fruition via the 21st century porthole we're all thankful for, Soundcloud.
In this case, Bagdat's calling came from Sun Glitters. “He was the one who actually sent me samples to his song and he was like, 'Go on, remix it'. I was really like 'Oh my God, someone's contacting me'. I was really following his music, to me it was something completely different. I'd messaged him a few times saying that I really like his music, keep doing what you're doing and then he just messaged me with the samples.”
When I ask Bagdat if the music scene here has helped him at all, his answer is neutral and in a way, universal, compared to the thousands of techno or house-heads who move to Berlin solely for the music. Instead, he explains that “it was the people that I met here who influenced me quite a lot, like Thomas (Skrobeck). He made my video and we're making a song together. He's constantly busy and that's inspirational. That's what I like.”
Perhaps Bagdat's resistance to Berlin's techno-seduction is a reflection of his audience. Thinking about where he'd want to be based as a musician, he considers his Soundcloud. “I dunno, I was thinking more – if I look at my Soundcloud – there's more people listening to my music in America than anywhere. Well in the UK also 'cos I live there and I think most of my friends are there. Also, I've been in touch with a producer in Australia so I'd like to maybe do something there. I'd like to travel.”
Travelling or being in transit is no stranger to Bagdat. He tells me how he had to move from his home town in Kazakhstan to Wales, where he only learnt English as a teenager; a fact you wouldn't pick behind the guise of his eloquence, accent and style.
In Kazakhstan, Bagdat learnt how to play traditional Kazak instruments which are now as foreign to him as his previous way of life. Yet even through such a split between lifestyles, music has always been around. “My Auntie was a Violinist in Germany where I'd visit and mess around on the piano but not really anything. They tried to teach me...So when I was growing up music was always there.” And it's here to stay.
Like quite a few of us, Bagdat began producing thanks to a friend who introduced him the good ol' Garageband. “I was just hanging around with my friend and he was saying that there was software on a Mac that you could get and make music with. I was really excited. I worked for quite a while, saved some money and bought a Mac desktop so that I could have Garageband (laughs). It changed my life – for the best.”
However just as Bagdat aptly phrases, you can have “all the gear, no idea”, the right software doesn't necessarily make the muso a musician. Structure is an element that Bagdat reveals as a weaker point for Exempt. “I've actually had quite a lot of problems with it lately; I'm trying to build tension in a new song and there needs to be a build. So that's what I'm working on right now. I was thinking to do an album but for an album, I think I need to progress as a producer more to actually produce the top stuff and actually make a difference. What's the point of making some shit? “
A good point. One that Bagdat discusses with humility. “I was thinking that I could do it really quickly but then I kind of thought about it and there's people that take years to finish and album. I don't wanna just rush things. An album is something that represents you and your first kind of...here I am.”
With his international audience continually growing you might just believe that Bagdat has already arrived “here”. Mentioning the idea of a tour he says, “I think that'd be amazing. I think that's the main goal – to actually make it your, my, kind of life-style thing.”
Regardless of dreams in the pipeline, what I like about Bagdat is his awareness; of himself, his music and where he wants to go. “When I listen to any other musician, they seem to have so much more stuff – I think that's something I might be lacking. I'd like to actually really get into it (software, drum computers, MPCs – all the gear, with an idea). So it's kind of like a hobby but I mean at the end of the day, I'd like it to turn into something.”
Something seems to be well under way for Bagdat with future collaborations poaching him from all pockets of the globe (he hopes to soon be working with Hanami from London, The Hypergiant from Sweden, Galimatias from Denmark and a producer in Australia). And before that LP lands in our lap, or laptops, Exempt's plans for promotion are blog-based – a scene that has helped him thrive in contrast with labels that have approached him all-too-eager for something that he doesn't want to offer, or sacrifice.
As for what attracts people to Exempt?
“That's a tough one (laughs). Um...I dunno, I think because I just produced it for myself at the time, and in my bedroom and I just thought maybe there were different sounds, sounds that weren't generic probably. I try to make it more interesting but I don't know exactly. I just put it on Soundcloud and hope that people like it.”
Oh yes we do.