Since his early releases as Kamandi through Soundcloud in 2012, Ōtautahi/Christchurch producer and beatmaker Tyrone Frost has released a steady stream of emotive and imaginative electronica to local and international underground acclaim. That led him overseas to opportunities with Red Bull, and even occasional funding, for his considerably indie tunes. Late October saw Kamandi’s release of short album (or long EP?) ’Sinking But Upwards Cassette’, Luke Baatjies took the opportunity to catch up with him.
Tyrone Frost is a self-proclaimed loner. The Christchurch musician likes to think that he is not of this world, but chooses regardless to participate in its societies as an artist, creating emotional ambient electronic soundscapes. He produces this art under the name Kamandi.
“It’s based loosely on this comic. The gist of the storyline is that he’s the last human on earth where animals have replaced humans – a real backwards kind of world. More than anything, I liked the tagline ‘The Last Boy on Earth’, and the name sounded cool at the time!”
He recalls his mother playing her CDs in the car and says that punk music was a common sound in their household while he was growing up, just as frequently as Bob Dylan and The Cure. With all that to digest, it wasn’t until he entered his teens that Frost started finding his own taste in music.
That the first CD he bought was by 2Pac may surprise, but it’s not so far-fetched considering comparisons one could draw between early hip hop and punk. He had a poster of ‘Pac on his wall as a kid, and also recalls how he used to record Eminem verses onto tape and write them out, as a way to deconstruct the music and learn.
By the time he was pursuing a law degree in Wellington, Frost was finding the world of music more interesting than study.
“As corny as it sounds, I’ve truly felt it was what I had to do,” he says, recalling one flatmate thinking he was crazy to work on music all day, and barely move.
Having adopted the artistic persona of Kamandi, Frost has sought to create emotional responses with his art. Kamandi is an electronic artist with a flair for manipulating ambience, unafraid to insert vocal samples or birdsong to paint the picture he desires.
His debut album ‘Voices’ showcased an ability to weave between settings, opening with a grand cinematic experience perfectly suited for science fiction, then pulling back to intimate guitar-driven moments, before widening once again. ‘Voices’ even includes a dance track with Anyway Friday, a song that has amassed over 1.1 million streams on Spotify since release in 2019.
His October 2021-released album, ‘Sinking But Upwards Cassette’, again opens with a science-fiction spectacle. When an artificial voice introduces itself as Kamandi and thanks the listener for spending time with him, the artist reaffirms his concept of isolation with a synth-powered swell. It is as if whoever was spending time with him had left – or he was leaving them – to drift off into space and be lost among the stars. The song is titled Please Stay.
Community through music is something that Frost speaks of fondly.
“I’ve always felt like an outsider until I moved to Wellington. Then I found my own place with the musicians that had become my friends.”
Alongside his liking for 2Pac and Eminem, he had also embraced trap, with the Three 6 Mafia being a notable part of his developing taste. Frost has since actually got to work with DJ Paul, one of the group’s founding members. He says this in a nonchalant manner, following up with mentions of also working with rapper Waka Flocka Flame, and that he once opened for Chance the Rapper during a House of Blues set.
Kamandi connected with those artists during a stint in Los Angeles, where he mainly worked with a handful of impatient up-and-coming hip hop artists. It’s plain that he has already seen where his talent and dreams could take him, and stopping now is not an option, he’s just getting started.
“The first time I went to L.A. it was over the top with the Red Bull stuff. We had our own mansion and a chef! It’s two different worlds!”
A year before he first visited the US, Frost had become interested in the concept of manifestation. He remembers telling his girlfriend at the time that he was going to L.A. with his music, albeit with no feasible plan to make it there. In the meantime he was working on a song with frequent collaborator Azizi Gibson and doing gigs. After one Kamandi performance in Auckland, he was introduced to someone with connections to the Red Bull Sound Select events – a programme dedicated to showcasing emerging musical talents across the globe.
Only a week later, he learned that Kamandi had been chosen to take part in the Sound Select programme. Everything had fallen into place, and he says he still can’t help but feel that his off-handed comment had come to fruition with the power of manifestation. As a result of that opportunity, he now has friends and music connections all over the States.
“When I work with someone, I want to know that they are also interested in pushing the envelope.”
Frost regularly hops between producing for Gibson and his own projects – though it is with his own music that he communicates his most personal ideas. Like many, he initially started making music on his laptop, but in recent years has been experimenting more with synthesisers and analogue equipment. While his diverse taste in music has already been highlighted, it must be noted that he has immense respect for pop music.
“When music works, it is the closest we can get to sharing a thought in its rawest form,” he states after a meditation on the concept of objectivity in music and its intersection with emotions and their interpretations.
The interview closes with the question of what the future holds for Kamandi?
“I’ve got tons of unreleased stuff that I could put out,” Frost replies, before giving a half-chuckle, followed by talk of venturing into a new artistic field and standing behind a camera. One translation reads that we’d be best to enjoy ‘Sinking But Upwards Cassette’ now, rather than anticipate more new music anytime soon.