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Jesse Kivel of Kisses Talks ’80s Freestyle + Its Influence on New Album ‘Kids In L.A.’

Cascine

Featuring Jesse Kivel of indie poppers Princeton and his fiancée, Zinzi Edmundson, Kisses is a Los Angeles-based duo specializing in a warm, sensual type of synth-pop that sounds like a million bucks on a pair of headphones. Signed to the Cascine label, Kisses recently released ‘Kids in L.A.,’ their sophomore album. Produced by Saint Etienne’s Pete Wiggs and Tim Larcombe, the nine-song collection is stuffed with creamy synth runs, hyper-melodic bass and guitar lines and vocal hooks around every turn.

One of the standout cuts on ‘Kids in L.A.’ is a brooding dance track called ‘Huddle.’ Fans of ‘80s Latin freestyle are sure to dig it, as it sounds like some lost 12-inch single from Cynthia, Noel or some other great singer from that era. Kivel has been championing Latin freestyle as of late and has even DJed a weekly party dedicated to the genre at the L.A. watering hole the Short Stop. Diffuser.fm recently caught up with the singer to get the lowdown on his love for the largely forgotten sound.

Listening to both Kisses albums, you can hear hints of classic synth-pop and the downtempo sound a lot of folks referred to as the Balearic beat. But on a track like ‘Huddle,’ you can hear a definite Latin freestyle vibe in its feel. Was that something you did consciously?

Absolutely. While I had written a bunch of songs for the second Kisses LP, I was struggling to find a production style that inspired me. I kept hearing these killer tunes on [Los Angeles radio station] 92.3 and wondered what those aggressive, driving beats were about. I looked more into it and found out a lot about the freestyle movement and some of the key artists. I also noticed that freestyle, despite its great production, did not have amazing top lines. I thought it would be cool to bring some more structured song writing to those beats.

What drew you to its sound?

I liked the gated snare sounds and how rhythmic all of the songs were. Also thought they were grooves that had not been overdone, especially since they were a part of such a short lived movement.

Do you think freestyle could ever make a significant comeback?

I actually don’t think so. After spending a good amount of time with the music, I see why it has never made a super strong comeback. It has popped up in fits and starts with certain pop artists, but ultimately, I don’t think it will come back because the truth is people don’t really like to dance to it. Unless you play a freestyle hit that everyone knows — maybe Debbie Deb’s ‘When I Hear Music’ or Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s ‘I Wonder If I Take You Home’ — the grooves are not that easy to fall in line with. Most of the songs are a little too fast. Since freestyle is so pulsing and relentless, I think someone would really have to chill it out in order for it to pervade the mainstream.

What are some of the essential freestyle records you think anyone getting into the music should check out?

I think Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam is probably the easiest to love. To me, what they did borders the most on contemporary pop music and would be a good intro into the genre. I also think Nu Shooz and Sweet Sensation are good starting points as well. But when in doubt, you gotta go with Debbie Deb!

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