Further Than Left Field

Kid Smpl’s brave new world.

When confronted with limitless options, your best bet is self-imposed limitation. That goes for creating music with a laptop’s infinite palette or for treasure hunting at a well-stocked record store with $20 in your pocket.

Most of the time Joey Butler does the former, recording languid, longing electronic music under the name Kid Smpl. This morning the Sammamish native is doing the latter, shuffling quietly between bins at Easy Street Records in West Seattle.

Butler hasn’t bought records for a while, so many catch his eye as he flips through stacks of vinyl, including the soundtrack to an old television horror series and a bunch of indecipherable Japanese imports. What he brings to the register: Drums of Passion, a classic 1960 release by acclaimed Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. He’s never heard it, he says, but it looks interesting.

Like Butler’s selection at Easy Street, the inclusion of Kid Smpl in this list of Best New Music is a positive example of Seattle’s broadening sensibilities. Butler’s output is abstract, amorphous, almost a-musical, beholden more to atmosphere and empty space than songcraft.

Skylight, his breakout debut from last year, was described by this magazine as “an auditory existentialist meditation.” It’s an anomaly that stands out amid Seattle’s musical landscape as much for its unusual form as for its emotional impact.

“Over the last few years there’s been a resurgence of electronic music. But not just dance music—the full spectrum is being explored in Seattle now,” Butler says. “People are more aware.”

For that awareness Butler credits Seattle’s Decibel Festival, the electronic music festival that will celebrate its 10th incarnation this fall, and the sharing of sounds that the Internet facilitates. “There’s been a resurgence of interest in young producers and the electronic music young people are making now, rather than older ideas of it.”

At 22 years old, Butler is among the first generation born into electronic music—electro-natives, as it were. A few years ago, he entered a phase of playing guitar in what he calls “angsty high-schooler” bands and emerged before long with the sense that his greatest creative capacity came not from playing with others but alone with a Macbook and the entire digital universe at his disposal. (“Almost everything I do with music is on my laptop,” he says.) Butler has since cycled through hip-hop, then dubstep and now the ethereal style known as night bus that he records as Kid Smpl.

Butler is showing up on more bills in Seattle and receiving glowing recognition from national outlets like XLR8R, MTV and The FADER. He recently played second on a three-act bill of electronic artists at the Crocodile, sandwiched between veterans rocking the dancefloor with hard-thumping house and old-school breakbeat. Butler’s set was more Sunday morning comedown than Saturday night rave, the music defiantly beautiful, booming but delicate—the sound of a new, faraway world slowly coming into focus.

Photo by Tim Willis