All great things have their genesis in a dream. Whether lucid or deep within stage-4 REM sleep, the kernel makes itself known before blossoming into a fully realized concept.
Such was the case with Nick Gaffaney, drummer and founder of Cairo Knife Fight. While some might think his concept of a drummer and guitarist making full-bodied, relevant music can be attributed to living in the relative isolation of Christchurch, New Zealand, it really boils down to one person thinking outside the confines of what is normal and accepted.
“It sounds crazy,” said Gaffaney, “but I had a dream in which I was playing drums, keyboard bass, looping my drums, and the guitarist was playing stereo amps… and I just thought that’s what we can do. So, I drew it out in a stage plot of how it would look and that was it.”
And while the band was originally a six-piece, it soon became apparent that he could not tour with that many people, from a financial standpoint.
“I’d never thought about being in a duo before that point,” he continued. “I had a tour booked, so we put this together rather quickly and went on the road after a couple of weeks. It was driven by a financial imperative, but when we started to do it I realized it was a really exciting direction and opened up a lot of possibilities.”
Cairo Knife Fight, or “CKF” as Gaffaney refers to the band, formed in 2009 and have shared the stage with Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures and Queens of The Stone Age, among others. Performing real-time layered loops with a rock and industrial edge, CKF have a sound that belies the fact that it’s just two people making this glorious cacophony.
The journey through sonic exploration is a familiar path for Gaffaney and is based upon his background in jazz music; while this live looping, psychedelic tone-creating rock assault on your senses confirms they have a unique sound within the rock world.
“We’ve always had that intention,” he said. “I have a jazz degree, because that’s what I was always kind of into for years. That’s what I played for years and years and did a lot of experimental music in that time. There was a lot of crossover stuff with electronic music in the jazz world, along with soundscapes at that time.
“All of that came together with this project. It was always important to us to have that sonic element about it, as well.”
In 2015, George Pajon Jr. joined Gaffaney, comprising the current lineup. His entrée into the CKF universe added a depth with indulgent soundscapes and incendiary riffs that was heretofore unheard from the band.
Gaffaney confides that it was through friends, with a healthy dose of luck and happenstance that brought him and Pajon together.
“I’d never met him,” Gaffaney said. “He knew some friends of mine in New Zealand when he was out there making a record at a studio some friends of mine run. My friends and I all moved to America at the same time. George has a house in front of his studio and he needed someone to live in it.
“So, my friends moved in and about a week later I moved in. I met George in my back yard. He went home and listened to all of CKF’s stuff and watched all the videos, deciding that he needed to join this band because his regular gig had kind of stopped in 2011.”
Pajon’s “regular gig” just happened to be playing guitar for the Black Eyed Peas for 17 years. He also has numerous Grammy nominations and awards earned throughout his career.
“It’s easy between the two of us,” he said of the chemistry between him and Pajon. “He’s obviously really experienced, having spent time at the highest levels of touring. It still sometimes blows my mind that he’s playing in a band with me. He’s enjoying it, because it gives him a new lease on life. He’s now a full writer, as in the past he was part of a collective of other people.
“The only thing we’re really hamstrung by now is money. We’re doing this mini-tour now and looking to focus on recording again real soon. We’d like to be making an album every year, but for a band like us, we’re not a bedroom indie band. So, we need a certain level of recording studio time, and they don’t come without cost. That’s the only thing that’s getting in our way.”
CKF’s discography begins in July 2010 with the release of their self-titled EP, continuing with Cairo Knife Fight II (EP, 2011), The Isolator (EP, 2015), The Colossus (LP, 2015) and their most recent full-length offering from 2017, Seven.
Every EP and full-length album prior to their most recent seemed to be a laborious process for myriad reasons. Gaffaney explains…
“Initially, it was just to keep stuff moving,” he said of releasing EP’s. “But, we’ve never written music in a prolific, quick fashion. Although, we wrote this most recent record quickly. Most of the time, back when Aaron (Tokona) and I were working together, it was a long process putting things together. The (full-length record The Colossus) got hamstrung. We had some issues crop up; that’s why there are seven writers and four guitarists on it. So, that’s what slowed it down. It just wasn’t working out with Aaron and I logistically, because his life was in a different place, with other things to do. That record should have been released a couple of years before it was. It took forever, but I’m happy with what it was.
“You can hear the difference between that and the next record, which sounds more like what we want to sound like.”
Ed. – Check out The Jester’s review of Cairo Knife Fight’s show in Columbus HERE
Unlike previous CKF albums with “regular” song titles, the letter-number combination of song titles on “Seven” leave much to the listener’s imagination. You are left to ponder just what Gaffaney and Pajon were thinking. Is there some deeper meaning or is this an elaborate joke played on their fans?
“You know, I’m not even sure,” Gaffaney laughingly said about how the titles came about, “because we got to the end of it and we were like ‘What are we going to call these songs?’ And I literally had no time for it. This time, I like the way it looked (Seven’s song titles) with the interludes in between. I mean, it’s not like we’re troubling the Spotify big lists anyway. There’s not going to be that many people listening to our music. I just like the way that (song titles) looks.
“It’s a mathematical code, in some ways. For the life of me, I’ve tried to figure out what would be a wonderful, engaging nonsensical answer to give to people. But, there isn’t one. We got to the end of it (recording) and I just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.”
With heavy rock, EDM, dancehall and more encompassing their sound, there’s a little something for everyone. Make no mistake, they never stray too far from the beats and riffs that Gaffaney and Pajon are laying down.
While each listener will have their favorite track, because what moves a person is a subjective and individual experience (this author’s favorite happens to be A-Nine), I wondered what Gaffaney’s favorite track from “Seven” might be. Is there a track that he prefers playing live over all the others that comprise the album?
“A-Six is definitely the one for me. It’s the first single we released off the record. It’s super-short and I love the way it sounds and feels. I really love the traditional dancehall feel of music back home. To be able to play that in one of our songs was really neat.
‘Lyrically, that’s one of my favorite songs to sing. I just love everything about the way that sounds.”
Cairo Knife Fight are a band that, so far, is flying somewhat under the radar. With the sonic title fight of their live set weaving through the multi-layered soundscapes they create, one would be pleasantly surprised with the listenability of their music.
Cairo Knife Fight ~ A-Six