How Electronic Duo Kedu Carlo Faked It Till They Made It

Jess Penson and Carly Gill will envelop you in the lush, annihilating sound of acid-house

Carly Gill (left) and Jess Penson. Photo / Supplied

Jess Penson and Carly Gill of live electronic music duo Kédu Carlö had a baptism by fire experience for their first live set.

They had posted their deep acid-house banger lje lje on SoundCloud, where it was noticed by promoters in Wellington and Christchurch who’d subsequently reached out to book them for a series of DJ gigs.

“We told them we had a live set… which we didn’t really have,” Carly laughs.

“That was a lie,” Jess grins.

“But we wanted to play live and had a couple of months so we thought, ‘S***, we better get a live set together’,” Carly continues.

They scrambled together a one-hour live set, augmenting it with a one-hour DJ set to fill out their allotted two-hour slot, although they admit that back then the live component topped out at around 45 minutes.

“We were trying to figure out how to build a live electronic set. It was a lot of problem-solving and a lot of growth,” drummer and percussionist Carly says. “We figured it out through shows.”

Proving the old adage “fake it till you make it” true, the pair continued refining their set, swapping various music gear in and out of their live set-up and booking shows. Their work paid off when an explosive gig at Wellington’s house and techno venue Club 121 blew up and got people talking.

“That was the first performance that was really, ‘Oooomph! Kédu Carlö!’” Carly smiles. “I remember it being a really good vibe.”

After that, the pair’s summer quickly booked out as they stepped on to the festival circuit playing various configurations of DJ sets, live sets — or both — at events like Rhythm and Vines, Flamingo Pier Waiheke Festival, Newtown Festival and Splore.

READ: Festivals, Frivolity & Fine Beats With Flamingo Pier

“We were still trialling our live set, seeing what worked and what didn’t,” keys player and vocalist Jess says.

“We were also learning the scene,” Carly adds. We have quite a versatile sound so we fit into a lot of pockets. We were trialling out the events we wanted to play and the pockets we wanted to be in.”

Pausing for a second, she says, “It was overwhelming.”

“It was completely different,” Jess continues. “That was our first summer. We were just getting going.”

“But we learnt quickly,” Carly says. “I feel a lot more settled now.”

Because of their initial success down the line it’s a common misconception that the duo hail from Wellington (“We get that a lot,” Jess laughs), but the pair actually met when they were at Takapuna’s Westlake Girls High School.

“I was friends with Carly’s sister and Carly wanted to put together a band for Smokefree Rockquest,” Jess says. “Her sister was like, ‘Jess is a singer, she plays keys, you should ask her’. That’s pretty much how we became friends, through a little indie rock band in high school.”

After school they went their separate ways. Jess moved to Melbourne, Carly to Wellington to study music production and DJing. But, after a few years, the old friends hooked back up.

“Carly asked me to sing on a song — which ended up being lje lje — and from there we were like, ‘Should we just do this?’”

“We were like, ‘Yo, we’ve got a little vibe down, let’s keep going’,” Carly grins. “We knew we wanted to work together because we were already best friends.”

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By the middle of last year they had their live show down, gigs piling up, and were regularly releasing new music. In May their debut EP Let’s Get to It came out, showcasing their versatility and variety of influences, their trademark cool irreverence and outright musical skill. They quickly followed it up with the sassy single Don’t Call Me on My Birthday in August.

They were generating buzz and could feel a tangible momentum building behind them. And then lockdown pulled the handbrake up.

“It was crazy because we had a Shed 10 performance three days before they announced the lockdown. We were like, ‘Oh no! We probably have Covid!’” Jess laughs.

“I found it initially very challenging because Jess and I weren’t in level 4 lockdown together, and over the last two years it’s very rare for us to spend even a day apart,” Carly says. “It was challenging navigating how we were going to continue working together without being together, as well as the emotional realisation of how much creatively I rely on our dynamic together.”

As soon as Auckland dropped to level 3 the duo hit the studio, working 12-hour days and jamming until one or two in the morning.

“We were so motivated, smashing out stuff,” Carly says. “It was such a creatively invigorating time.”

This summer they played at Club Festivus at Coromandel’s Coroglen Tavern and at the 10,000-strong Plane Sailing Festival in Auckland’s Victoria Park. Only unlike their first gig, they were feeling a lot more relaxed.

“Rather than learning everything it feels like we’ve got more grounding and solidity,” Carly says.

“So much change and growth happened this year,” Jess says. “We’ve both grown in our personal lives and professionally.”

“We’ve been reflecting on the year we’ve had. It’s been really positive because holy crap, I feel so blessed and lucky to do what we do,” Carly says.

“The fact that, more or less, this is a living for us and we see a long term career path is such a blessing. Waking up every day and getting to do what we love makes me happy. I’m so proud of what we’ve learnt and the way we’ve conducted ourselves through the year. I’m personally really stoked for what’s coming next.”

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