Electronic musician FBK wants to keep climbing

Kevin Kennedy, who performs at Cafe Bourbon St. tonight (Friday, Feb. 2), has overcome a kidney transplant and a series of eye surgeries to emerge with a batch of kinetic, playful new songs.
Kevin Kennedy, aka FBK
Kevin Kennedy, aka FBKCourtesy the musician

In recent months, electronic musician Kevin Kennedy, who records and performs under the name FBK, has crafted a handful of new tracks, describing the emerging material as having a kinetic energy and a sense of playfulness he associated with some of his earlier work. 

But these songs have arrived at a challenging time for the musician, who continues to recover from a November 2022 kidney transplant that sapped him of his usual energy, for a stretch leaving him struggling to walk even a few miles. “I’ve been referring to all of this as an extremely rough mountain climb,” Kennedy said in a late January Zoom interview. “There have been parts of the climb that have been incredibly steep, and parts when I didn’t feel like climbing at all. So, my hashtag for 2024 is ‘keep climbing,’ just as a reminder to keep going, to keep moving up.”

It’s not unusual, Kennedy said, for his music to run counter to his personal experiences, with the recording process, at times, serving as a means of maintaining equilibrium. As a result, Kennedy has crafted some of the darkest FBK tracks amid his brightest days, with his most joyous turns often arising during emotional downturns. “Sometimes people think they can tell what was going on with me when I made the work, and I’m like, ‘Good luck!’” Kennedy said, and laughed.

There are exceptions, though, including the downtempo, piano-based “I Woke Up and I Was Blind,” a four-part musical suite Kennedy debuted at Fuse Factory in April 2022. Written at a point in time when he was awaiting a kidney transplant, following an experience in which he temporarily lost his vision to diabetic neuropathy, the song emerged as he quite literally felt his way back from the darkness, drawn to the piano owing to its more tactile nature.

“My vision still isn’t wonderful,” said Kennedy, who also underwent a series of eye surgeries following his kidney transplant. “As a person who for his whole life felt like he had no limits, it’s been the hardest thing in the world to admit that I do have them. I’ve always tried to defy everything, and with this, I haven’t always been able to do that.”

Music, in some ways, has aided Kennedy's recovery, giving him space in which to unpack these complex emotions, but also a means in which he can escape them entirely. Shortly after one of his eye surgeries, for example, Kennedy headlined a DJ set, spending the days leading up to the show wondering if his vision would recover enough to allow him to pull off the performance. “And then I got to the venue, and I could see well enough to do what I needed, and it became an out-of-body experience,” said Kennedy, who will perform as FBK at Cafe Bourbon St. tonight (Friday, Feb. 2). “And that’s one thing I love about performing live: At some point, usually somewhere in the middle of my set, there is a time where my subconscious takes over, and I don’t even feel like I’m in the room anymore.”

Kennedy said his music often operates at its best in those moments where his subconscious takes the reins. It’s one of the reasons he dubbed his home recording studio Sleep Engineering, because he so often found himself creating at points when he was sleep deprived to the point of delirium, which allowed his instincts to take over absent inhibition. 

“It might be my 16th straight hour in the studio, and I’d almost be asleep between minute two and minute five in the recording, and yet all of these things would be happening,” Kennedy said. “A kick drum would come on, and I’d add a break, and then all of these other sounds were being tweaked. And a lot of these were things I couldn’t have done consciously without messing them up, and it was just from letting things flow. And that’s one of the things I’ve always tried to do, to just stay well within the moment and not really worry about the outcomes.”

While recent health struggles might have left Kennedy feeling more vulnerable than in his youth, a more urgent reminder of life's fragile nature arrived with the recent deaths of musical contemporaries Jose “Luis” Vasquez of Soft Moon and DJ John “Juan” Mendes, who were among three found dead in Los Angeles of a suspected fentanyl overdose in January. (Kennedy is dedicating his FBK set at Cafe Bourbon St. to the memory of both performers.)

“The older you get, the more friends you lose, and the more friends you lose to drugs in this scene,” Kennedy said. “And it breaks my heart, and it really brings home the point to me that nothing is guaranteed. So, for me, every set is important. … I sometimes look back, but rarely, and in those times, I realize how much of a miracle it is that I’m still here. … Music can be a very cruel mistress, but I’m thankful I still have the opportunity to do it.”

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