Intern(al): Inside KEXP In-Studios - M.I.A. 11/16/07


review by Justin Wilmore
photos by Christopher Nelson

KEXP offers 400+ live performances a year. Many people get to hear them, either while they are live or from the Streaming Archive. Few people actually get to be there for them, which is sad because each one is different and each has a story. As an intern, I get to watch them, and so for the rest of you, I am going to tell as many of those stories as I can. I’ll start with M.I.A.’s performance from last Friday. I suggest you go listen if you missed it.

Needless to day, M.I.A coming back to KEXP was excitedly anticipated by all of us. I snuck into the control room about ten minutes early to make sure I wouldn’t miss anything. I should mention that the control room has a window into the live room, and that’s where people watch from. I found my place and waited. A few more people trickled in and then not before long the room was totally full. As we waited, we were all wondering what band drew the biggest crowd into that little room. Our engineer, Kevin Suggs, said it was probably Gang of Four. Then M.I.A. came in. She got her headphones on right away and proceeded to warm up, asking Kevin to raise the volumes of this and that. As we listened to this preview, we caught a few swear words in her songs that the FCC wouldn’t care for most folks to hear but that M.I.A. apparently thought we needed to hear anyway. I looked at Kevin and we were both thinking that Jack Walters, who would be manning the DJ booth during the performance, was going to have to keep his hand near the dump button for this one. Fortunately, Jack has a good ear, so we weren’t really worried (if you listen carefully during the actual performance, you can hear a few glitches in the broadcast where the words were cut).


As M.I.A. continued to warm up, I thought it odd when I heard the familiar melody of “Galang” (from the first record) started. She had played it during her last in-studio and it even appeared on Live At KEXP Vol. 2. When she finished the song, she asked if she should play a different song instead and we all said, “Yes!” But of course she couldn’t hear us. Then, jokingly she said, “Maybe I’ll play it every year I come back.”

Eventually, Kevin Cole came in and the live broadcast began. M.I.A’s DJ, Low Budget, started spinning “Bamboo Banga” and all heads in the control room began bobbing, all the way through “Paper Planes,” “20 Dollar,” and, of course, “Galang.”

Right as it ended there were suddenly swarms of people coming into the performance room. I didn’t even know that many people had been in the hallway. M.I.A. had her own entourage (which included her brother) and then there were KEXP staff members and friends of KEXP staff members. M.I.A. was posing for photos while signing copies of Live At KEXP Volume 2 and even someone’s Microsoft Zune. Then as quick as she came, she was gone. I guess that’s the way these things go. Good thing there will always be more.

check out Christopher Nelson’s photos of the session here

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