In January the man born Adam Bainbridge played a show in London that was a family reunion of sorts. We were there with him, watching his evolution from reluctant frontman into a principled force for good who still can't believe his own luck.
Adam Bainbridge, more than most, operates with the full knowledge that no man is an island. Peninsula, maybe. He is out on a limb of sorts, as a white-looking British dude making songs in the sonic vernacular of American R&B and funk and smoothed, post-George Benson jazz in the 21st Century. But he’s not that far out: those traditions have always been open to whoever brings something to the table, regardless of where they got it. Teena Marie forever and ever amen. And Adam gets it. His references are the references of everybody who grew up with grown and sexy on the stereo – back when it was Top 40 and whether it was moms or Radio One that put it on -- and everybody who listens widely, trying to figure out how we got here.
While his taste sometimes makes him the only whatever in some rooms, those rooms are warm and they’re full of like-minded people. Where Adam’s memories cross paths with the subconscious of his audience is where his songs play the best. His bass bin aesthetics are familiar to any Bristol native who proudly watched Nellee Hooper season Soul II Soul’s thumping club classics, or witnessed Smith & Mighty’s shotgun marriage of breakbeats and Bacharach set the stage for Massive Attack's emergence from the Wild Bunch sound system.
“Where Adam’s memories cross paths with the subconscious of his audience is where his songs play the best.”
Live, he weaves his music around and through covers – the kinds of covers that cause hearts to overflow, not the kinds of covers that are a wink and a nudge. In London he and his band did The Replacements’ “Swingin’ Party,” which he released on his first album. A couple months later in Toronto the crowd received Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew” rapturously – though there the Friday night punters in the back room were noticeably down for whatever from the very beginning, fuelled by the funk that drives “Doigsong.” A few days after that, in Brooklyn, he dropped into Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” When Adam pays tribute there are no backroom dealings. There’s no I know that you know that I know that you think you should know this. Adam probably really does put it on repeat and dance in the shower. Like you do. It was those moves his audience relaxed into.
Organized confusion and genial banter loft Kindness shows. The atmosphere is loose and reciprocal. Even Bainbridge’s band members look on wide-eyed, wondering what words will tumble out of his mouth. In Toronto he reminisced about Rick James and Isaac Hayes on The A-Team. In New York he tried, unsuccessfully, to FaceTime with Dev Hynes. In London he put a camera to his eye and shot video of the audience. His band frequently upstages him and about this, too, he is sanguine.
“He’s the enabling host, the one who never lets your glass go empty.”
The megawatt presence of Kindness backing singers Rebecca Freckleton (another reason for that Whitney cover, not that we needed one) and Valentina Pappalardo, the vocal love given Bryndon Cook, the friends he’ll wave onstage to grab a shaker or a drumstick or whatever’s handy destabilize the whole frontman thing. It could be a kind of naivete, a management style that cannot hold. He is hesitant, maybe even not yet musically secure. He describes himself as completely shocked that he's performing with musicians like them, like Robyn and Blue May and Dev and Paul Stanley McKenzie. “All of them are on an elevated level of musicianship that I could only aspire to,” he says. He’s not quite clear on why they all took the gig. “I don’t really know what to make of it, to be honest.”
But he has some idea why they were available. “It’s crazy how undervalued those performers are these days,” he says. This is him shading the industry -- “I’m not sure there are that many gigs where they really get to fulfill their true potential as musicians” – but not the music: “Pop benefits from being understandable and somewhat thought out and laid in a certain way, rounding off the edges of chaos. Whereas what I like to do with these guys is allow that chaos, and allow all of their appetites for expressiveness to just go there.”
Onstage he’s the enabling host, the one who never lets your glass go empty. Not so much orchestrating the whole thing as making time for it. He will appear on his album covers, but he will resist the spotlight. “I can’t really put into words how weird it is,” he says, “when it’s over 2,000 people and they’re all looking in the same direction to the most minute actions of maybe one individual and the words that are coming out of their mouth. It’s unusual. And the energy involved in that is unusual.”
“I’m not sure there are that many gigs where they really get to fulfill their true potential as musicians.”
Cynicism—strong with us, at least—would interpret Adam’s deflection of attention to his band members and friends as an attempt to link his work with theirs, to say what he’s doing is good because we all know what they’re doing is good, and because they fuck with him. But the care he takes with his words, the thought he gives the questions posed to him, and his generous, even courtly, manner makes it more likely that he’s approaching his transition from one end of the mic to the other cautiously. After all, he met Dev when he was assigned an interview with his band by the British magazine Super Super ten years ago. Their beginnings were not auspicious. “Already, at 18 years old, they were somewhat fed up with interview questions and interview formats and the lack of context or information about who they really were as people that was coming through in these music interviews,” he says, talking about Test Icicles, which predates Lightspeed Champion. “From that we realized that we had a fair amount in common.” Wanting music journalism to be better is a degree of investment in culture that is less common than protestations on Facebook would have you believe.
When he talks about Dev, now that they’re partners in crime, he describes the kind of exchange that would be actually helpful between a journalist and a musician, were a journalist and a musician constitutionally able to trust each other. The platonic ideal of an interview.
“The two of us can admit that we know it’s fully imperfect,” he says, when they’re talking about each other’s music. “It’s not quite what we had in mind but we can’t quite get there yet. And knowing that you can be fully honest about all the weaknesses that you probably couldn’t be with other people, where you say, like, ‘Yeah, I know I still didn’t quite nail that.’ Or, ‘That melody sucks.' Or, ‘This verse is nothing, but at some point it had to go out.’ It’s nice to be able to be completely brutal about those things.”
“I never considered that I was working on my own...”
Because what comes through in Adam’s interviews, and stage presence and the work around the music he produces, is that he might still be most comfortable arranging other people’s product – DJing, directing his friends’ videos – but that his own true self is already out here, with us, apparent in everything he touches, even if he isn’t all the way ready for that to be happening.
His friends judged him a long time ago and they have not found him wanting. If they didn’t want to play with him in London, they would have said no. And maybe they took the gig because he values them highly as musicians, because to play that way is rare and barely ever compensated, but they showed up to play his songs. They showed up for him. What he makes stands on its own two, steady and laconic as he is.
“I never considered that I was working on my own,” said Adam. In London, he and his people played to a crowd of 1500. They loved his songs well enough to sing them back to him. And he cried.
A short film by Adam Bainbridge and Yours Truly
A mix made by Adam for you
Videosex - U Sjeni Egzotičnih Trava
Farley Funkin Keith - Jackin' the Bass
Stevie Wonder - Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away
DJ ? - Rock the Boat
Peech Boys - Life is Something Special
Unknown - Track title unknown
Greg Henderson - Dreamin'
Patrick Simmons - So Wrong
Thomas Bangalter - Club Soda
Aly-Us - Go On
New Musik - Planet Doesn't Mind
Dollar Brand - African Marketplace
A Collection of Personal Polaroids
- Richard Hilton from the current Chic band during a 'Good Times' stage invasion. I think if I was playing shows like the one we saw I would also be beaming my face off.
- Dev shredding in Berlin. The haze is smoke from the fretboard.
- MikeQ djing like no-one else can.
- Chic sign.
- The one & only Nile Rodgers.
- Sometimes on tour you lose things, so it's good to remember what you should be packing every evening. These are some precious items, caps from Blood Orange, TDE and Jam & Lewis, and the Uncle Ace vinyl I've still not had a chance to play.
- Georgina Leo Melody
- The good people of Berlin.
- Texts from two dance rehearsals
- NYC DJ gig stress
- Dev gets some Kindness merch
- Texts from dance rehearsals
- Dev lends Adam his seamless account his cards are blocked