AI – aka Artificial Intelligence – is rapidly shaping the future of music, but electronic outlier Grimes predicted that this was on the cards years ago. Having recently given a keynote on the power of AI at IMS Ibiza, and encouraged fans to use her voice on songs created by AI, she’s since launched her own AI vocal generator platform called Elf.Tech.
Now Grimes has released her first official AI song, ‘Cold Touch’, a collaboration with Australia-born, LA-based DJ and producer Kito. The icy electronic banger has quickly gone viral after Kito teased the creation on her Instagram, and It even caught the attention of Grimes who describes as “transhumanist industrial Taylor Swift with a smattering of happy hardcore” – we couldn’t have put it better. Kito tells NME how it all came together:
“A couple of weeks ago I had a studio session in London with two writers that I love – Nina Nesbit and Fred Ball – and I had just seen Grimes post her invitation for people to use her AI-generated voice. It just seemed like a really interesting thing to try, so I suggested the idea when I got to the studio. Nina and Fred were both into it so no convincing was needed.
Elf.Tech is such a simple concept: you upload a voice, and transform it to sound like Grimes. She’s trained her AI to know her voice. It definitely has a few limitations which they’re constantly improving. I think there’s a lot of confusion with how AI is being used in songs right now, and AI will continue to be messy for a while. It’s new territory for everyone. So much is attached to a voice – an identity, a story – so this idea of mimicking an existing artist without their permission is morally kind of questionable in my opinion; who knows what they’re planning in terms of releases or what stage their project is at creatively?
It’s not AI [making this song] either – it’s humans. It’s just a tool that humans are using to mimic another human, so maybe we need to think about how AI can expand our creativity instead of just using it to replicate stuff? But obviously it’s wild and fun to hear and see that, too. ‘Cold Touch’ was written, produced and put together by humans, it’s just the voice that is generated through AI. Though in order for that to work, you still need a real human voice as a guide, so the AI can map it.
I had never used AI before, but I love all sorts of voice manipulation in production. In some weird way it felt like an extension of that, with the added challenge of writing a song as if it was a collaboration with Grimes. We wrote it from the perspective of an AI trying to understand love. I think love is the most human thing, and maybe you could say that’s what defines consciousness? It’s a terrifying and fun thing to think and write about.
The song opened up a new creative process for me; just sharing something raw and unfinished and having a response which prompted a very fast release… that’s the opposite of how I usually work. I didn’t feel nervous about it, because I just wanted to be part of the experiment. I was hopeful that Grimes might see it, but didn’t have any big expectations. Just like ‘hey this is cool! Do you think it’s cool too?’ I did make jokes about going viral with [producer and DJ] Leon Vynehall though.
Leon and his wife Moxie are very good friends of mine and I was staying with them while I was in London; I did the production for the song while sitting at their kitchen table on headphones. I popped into Leon’s studio so I could listen to it on his speakers. He added some bits and helped me quickly finish structuring it before telling me to sit there while he filmed me listening to it. Which is what I posted online that night.
It exceeded all expectations for me by connecting me with Grimes and chatting ideas with her. The artwork conversation was fun, too. We were into the idea of doing everything different compared to a normal release and involving people with decisions. Especially because we were both very indecisive. At first, the obvious thing seemed to be to use an AI-generated piece of art for the cover, and then straight away that felt gimmicky to me in the context of my releases.
I’ve used artist and photographer Alec Marchant’s art on other covers – ‘Recap’ with VanJess and Channel Tres, and ‘Alone With You’ with Aluna. I’ve seen the deer image before and always loved it… and in a weird way it just made total sense to me for this song. It’s kind of like a metaphor for our slightly weird and awkward relationship with using AI for creative expression.
I remember seeing Grimes perform in London at a festival and being really blown away by her energy on stage and how totally in the moment she seemed. It feels amazing to have her react so positively to the song. It’s a surreal way to collaborate with an artist. I actually joked that this song would lead to that, without expecting it to actually happen. We’re chatting about a Grimes version, and trying stuff, but nothing is finished yet.
I love the idea of collaborating with her IRL, because her creative energy to me seems pretty captivating and I love her ability to do things in her own way with a lot of confidence. Fearless energy!”
‘Cold Touch’ is out now via Mad Decent. Interview by Ben Jolley