Interview

Interview

Get to know KiLLOWEN before Parklife 2024

The 24-year-old multidisciplinary rapper takes us through his love of pubs, sampling and Chelsea football club.


Manchester’s biggest day festival, Parklife, is back for its 2024 edition on the 8-9 June at Heaton Park, with a line-up of some of the biggest global acts in electronic music, as well as some UK rising stars. One of which is 24-year-old London-based rapper-producer KiLLOWEN, who went from making music in his bedroom after working shifts at Tesco to playing his biggest stages yet at Reading & Leeds festival 2023.

After the release of his debut EP, Pub Therapy, in October 2023, the success of his viral Amerie-sample hit ‘One Thing’, and collaborations with Arlo Parks and p-rallel, KiLLOWEN has become a buzzworthy name on many dance and hip hop fans’ radars. Ahead of his Parklife set, we caught up with the British-Irish rapper to talk all things sampling, learning to DJ at 13, and how he’s preparing for the biggest show of the summer.

One Thing (VISUALISER)

You released Pub Therapy last October, what was the inspiration behind that project sonically and lyrically?

The idea came about just from everyday life, growing up in my environment in Britain. The pub just seems like something you go to – parties, weekends, and even family events. It’s quite a big part of people’s lives. Me and my mates would go once a week maybe, and just have a few drinks and talk about the things that you didn’t talk about so much – say your boss annoyed you at work or you had a falling out with someone or something. So, I wanted to make a project that explored where I come from and how that’s turned me into who I am today. And I felt like the concept of pub therapy and those sorts of environments gave a great platform to be able to say what I needed to say.

In terms of musical influences, it’s a combination of things. I started DJing when I was about 13 or 14, then started making my own music and got into rap when I was a teenager. So, it was a mix of all the dance music that you play as a DJ, with rap influences.

Do you still DJ now?

I can still do it, but it’s not my main focus. It’s my older brother who was the DJ – that’s kind of what got me into making music in the first place.

I know you’re like a person who wears many hats – producing, writing, DJing. Is that a key part of your creative process?

Yeah, I think I will always do a lot of the musical stuff just because it’s what I like doing. However, I am working with quite a few more producers and other artists now that this is my full-time job. So, I think more collaborations are on the way, for sure, but I still will be producing my own stuff. I’ll still be sitting in my studio, my bedroom, wherever, making music by myself… because that’s fun to me.

Talk to me about sampling, because you’ve got some big samples on your projects: you’ve got ‘One Thing’ by Amerie and ‘Time Moves Slow’ by BADBADNOTGOOD. How did those come to be? I even heard that you made ‘One Thing’ in one day…

I grew up listening to dance music and rap, which both use heavy samples. So, I feel like I’m carrying the torch a little bit and just doing it in my own way. Samples sometimes can be controversial because people say “Oh, you sample because you can’t make it yourself” or whatever. But I feel like that comes from people who are just not educated on the sound, where it comes from, how amazing it can be when you do it right, and how hard it is to do it the right way. You hear flips by J Dilla and Alchemist, and you just go “wow, how did they do that?” you know? I think a lot of the music I listened to and I aspire to become all use sampling.

And ‘One Thing’ that happened quite fast. It’s weird because songs can take a while to make – you hear people say, “it took me two months to make that song”. But I think with ‘One Thing’ I was lucky to just do it the first time around and it felt good. Usually, I make a whole song in one sitting anyway, because I find it hard to come back to things and finish them. But with ‘One Thing’, I got it done in maybe five or six hours, it was a few days before the Reading and Leeds festivals, and we thought “we have to play this one here”. So, I sent it to be mixed and mastered, and that mix was great. We got lucky there.

Bar Fights & Poetry (Official Music Video)

My favourite song on the album is ‘Bar Fights And Poetry’ because it captures that idea of your Irish heritage, growing up in London and being in pubs. Is that central to your work?

‘Bar Fights And Poetry’ is a special song for me because I feel like it was the one that kind of springboarded this whole thing. I made it before I knew that Pub Therapy was going to be a project. It sets the premise, and I feel like that really helped me to figure out who I am and what I’m talking about. I think certain things are part of you and will always be with you, and for me that’s my Irish heritage and how I feel about who I am. But I don’t think I will always centralise all my music on the themes of Pub Therapy. I want to evolve and still stay true to myself.

The hardest thing about music, I think, is that people treat it like “you’re popping”… you have to put out one song, another song and another song or another project. But to make good music, you just kind of have to live your life before making more projects.

You’ve got Parklife coming up, but what is your favourite gig that you’ve played so far?

Reading Festival for sure. It was the biggest one. I think before Reading Festival, the biggest one I did was to 300 people, then I played at Reading and it was about 7000 people. It was insane. I’m waiting for the day that happens again, to take in that feeling.

How do you normally prepare for a show?

Me and my DJ will go through the setlist a few times. For me, all I have to do is learn my words, but by listening to the music and making it you know all the words anyway. So, it’s just a case of planning it out and having some sort of understanding with the DJ of what songs will go straight into the next one or what moments need to wait a little bit. But we don’t rehearse crazy heavy because I just feel like sometimes you can overdo it. And then, the sets are getting a bit longer because there’s more music out so it’s also just about getting the stamina up by hitting the treadmill every now and then.

What is your dream venue to perform at?

It’s not even a music venue, but it’s only because I love football and I love Chelsea – I reckon playing at Stamford Bridge stadium would just be insane. I don’t know if anyone’s done a concert there. But I just think it would be amazing.

Lastly, how did you come up with your stage name?

My mom is from a place near Cork, called Killowen and it’s a very small village. There’s one in Northern Ireland, but the one I’m talking about is in the Republic of Ireland. It’s a very small parish. I don’t even think you’d call that a town because it’s so tiny. And my name is Owen. And “kill” is – I’m not actually too sure what it means but they use it everywhere like Kilkenny, Killarney, Killowen – it’s like a thing in Ireland. So, I just thought, you know, I’m British and Irish. My name is Owen. How can I feel like I’m being myself while paying homage to every part of me? That’s how the name came about. I also just thought it sounded cool, to be fair…


See KiLLOWEN, Doja Cat, Kaytranada and more at Rockstar Energy presents Parklife Find tickets here.