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Restless in Lockdown, He Started a Music Career

KidMotor knew he couldn’t stay still. Recording an album, he says, is ‘making me feel alive right now.’

Aly Laube 22 Jan 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Aly Laube is a multimedia journalist with a passion for amplifying underrepresented voices. She is also a queer, mixed race woman living with chronic health conditions. Email her or follow her @godalyshutup.

“I have no idea what it’s like to start a career in a normal world,” says 24-year-old Oskar Flowers, who graduated from Emily Carr University of Art + Design and debuted his music solo project, KidMotor, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May, instead of walking across the stage in cap and gown, Flowers joined a video conference on the day of his convocation to accept his bachelor of media arts. With the film industry in lockdown and his family back in Mexico City, Flowers, like some of us, found himself home alone with little to do.

This wasn’t the future Flowers imagined when he moved to Vancouver for school six years ago. But as a recent graduate with a part-time job and time to kill, he found an outlet making music, and KidMotor was born.

He spent day after day locked in his room, combining sounds and progressions that matched his mood and reflected current events. He tried out idea after idea, frantically writing lyrics on his arms and recording melodies on his phone. In the dark of his bedroom — or sometimes, his living room transformed into a makeshift studio — he put together the collection of pieces he hopes to release this May.

His first recordings as KidMotor were made with a standard bedroom musician’s setup: a laptop, amplifier, microphone and digital audio station, which is software used to record audio and MIDI. Flowers usually starts by laying down an electronic drum beat but writes and records everything else himself using an amp, a computer and a phone.

The product of this bare-bones setup is evident on his earliest recordings, which deliver the dissonant vocals, fuzzy guitars and ticking drum machines of ‘80s New Wave. His newest single, “Into the Darkness,” delivers the squealing guitars of Siouxsie and the Banshees, distorted vocals of Sonic Youth and the plodding bass lines of New Order.

KidMotor songs are a slow burn, kept moving by droning melodies and playful instrumentation. The music is smouldering, set to both English and Spanish lyrics.

Without the experience of lockdown, KidMotor may have never been created, Flowers says. He went to school to work in film but always loved to escape the confines of academia by making art. And escaping from reality has a particular allure at the moment.

“It’s making me feel alive right now, even if I’m alone, even if I’m locked down. All these factors COVID brings, music makes me get over it, makes me feel content, makes me feel like I’m doing what I need to be doing,” he says.

“I cannot stay still.... I knew I had to do something, create something, to make movement inside my head because I can’t go out, otherwise I’m risking myself, I’m risking other people.”

Flowers thinks sitting still is “one of the worst things you can do as a human” and he wants to inspire other artists to keep thinking, writing and progressing.

“It’s the only way through this pandemic, I think. It’s helping me,” he says. “Starting my career during the pandemic is me saying, ‘Don’t stay still.’”

582px version of KidMotor.JPG
Becoming KidMotor and creating music was one way to avoid the ‘stillness’ of the pandemic, says Oskar Flowers. Photo by Alan Narvaez Navarrete.

Being alone with himself in quarantine made Flowers rethink every aspect of his life, from his career to his art and emotional stability, an experience that’s reflected in his lyrics.

On “Connexion” he repeats in Spanish, “Connection with yourself is the only thing you need,” a personal mantra that helped him through this year. On “Descontrol,” he writes about struggling with his identity and feeling a loss of self. And on “Going into Darkness,” he reflects on the many political events of 2020.

“It says if you want to control things outside of your own head, you’ll be lost in the darkness. We live in a world where power means more than a life, and money means more than a life. The song ends with a closing line of, ‘It makes me sick,’ and it’s true,” he says, loosely translating the song into English.

“All of these political events have inspired me to not take anything for granted — not my life for granted, not my friends’ lives for granted, not my family’s lives for granted — not anything,” he says.

“And with COVID, you can’t take anything for granted.”

The pandemic also pushed Flowers to develop his online presence and connect with audiences around the world. Listeners from Russia to Texas have been buying his music, giving him his first creative opportunity to reach faraway folks. He mostly sells his tracks through Bandcamp, although KidMotor is also on Spotify, Soundcloud and Instagram.

Flowers recently posted a set playing guitar on IGTV, Instagram’s video application, and received enough positive feedback that he decided to launch Jam Solo, a series of short performances in the home submitted by anyone.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by KidMotor (@_kidmotor_)

“COVID is creating and expanding our practice and connecting us. It’s not something really serious,” Flowers says of the series. “It’s just a space for people to share their work if they don’t know how to do it because of the pandemic. I have so many friends who make music, do so much art, and think there’s nowhere to put it, but there is.”

“There are no deadlines, submissions, requirements, and people can do it from their home, so it’s easier for people. We just want to keep it fun right now. As a friend and artist, I want to encourage others to put their work out there.”

Being under lockdown showed Flowers that he works well alone. Now he takes pride in doing everything himself. That includes promotion and distribution, which he encourages artists to learn while people are still spending a lot of time on their phone.

In his experience, the biggest challenge to launching a career is competing with everyone else on already crowded social media timelines.

“If you don’t like something in the first five seconds, it’s like, ‘Swipe. Next thing,’” he says. “Some of my work gets lost in the ocean of content that comes every day, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. I see that as something unavoidable,” he says. “It’s more of a challenge to me, to find ways to make that work, to put myself out there and get my work heard.”

His advice to artists considering launching their career is to remain “fully and deeply passionate and believing with all your soul in whatever you love to do.”

“When I thought about starting KidMotor, I loved the idea of being part of this legacy of young artists resisting a global pandemic, not falling into stillness, and the importance of our work in the community in these blurry times. I think we all have something great to share,” he says.  [Tyee]

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