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May 1st, 2013 12:01 am WW Staff | Cover Story

Best New Band 2013

10 local acts that Portland’s music insiders think you should hear.

IMAGE: Patti Miller

7/8. (tie) Natasha Kmeto

  • 34 POINTS
  • FORMED: Started performing solo in 2010.
  • SOUNDS LIKE: A superstar R&B diva back from the future.
One of Natasha Kmeto’s fondest childhood memories is of the day her father brought home the family’s first subwoofer. “I literally just sat next to it and played everything with the lowest bass,” the 30-year-old singer-producer says, peering out at Northeast Broadway from her seat at Swift Lounge. It was a formative moment: As a teenager, Kmeto’s fixation with pure sound blossomed into a love of electronic music, which now underscores her futuristic brand of R&B. Unlike a lot of her laptop-leering peers, though, Kmeto doesn’t want listeners just to feel her music—she wants them to feel it, too. “Not to say I don’t geek out on tones still,” she says, “but I feel like I’m coming more from, ‘Does this feel like what I’m trying to convey?’”

In other words, Kmeto is a beat maker who thinks like a songwriter. On the two EPs she’s released through Portland-based label Dropping Gems, The Ache and Dirty Mind Melt, the Sacramento, Calif., native humanizes the low-rumbling bass, glitchy rhythms and moody, digitized textures of modern electronic music by cutting it with the emotional undercurrents of hip-hop and soul. It’s an aesthetic that’s allowed her to cross over in a city still a bit leery of music made on machines. Her live performances have certainly helped, too. Singing from behind a computer, mixer and drum machine, Kmeto defies the image of the disengaged producer hunched over a laptop. Though she admits preferring to work by herself, it’s not just about control: It’s a feminist statement.

“I want to present the music for what it is, which is all me,” she says. “A lot of people have come up to me and asked, ‘Who makes your beats?’ They wouldn’t ask a man that.” 

Kmeto’s upcoming full-length debut, Crisis, is arriving on the heels of a stressful year, the details of which she declines to discuss. She’ll say only that she was “plugged into a way of life I didn’t agree with.” She hints that unplugging from that lifestyle was painful but cathartic, and that she’s poured it all into the album—both in her words and her sounds.

“Through the process of getting more honest with myself, my music has become more honest,” she says. “Not to say it’s been dishonest before, but I was hiding more, because I was hiding from myself.” MATTHEW SINGER.


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