In the mid-’00s, Adam Bainbridge was spinning and producing grime tracks — including a remix with London legends Ruff Sqwad — and sleeping on hotel room floors as the touring DJ for Dev Hynes’ mid-’00s dance-punk group, Test Icicles. Just a few years later but light years in artistic development, Bainbridge was crafting a new brand of outsider pop as Kindness, hitting No. 13 on the Next Big Sound chart in 2015 and becoming the go-to producer for Solange, Robyn and Hynes’ Blood Orange.
Robyn is even featured on Bainbridge’s upcoming third album, the self-produced Something Like War, out September 6 on their Female Energy label, also featuring Sampha, Seinabo Sey and Jazmine Sullivan. “I’m trying to give people an opportunity to flex,” says Bainbridge. “To be the best, or the most free, version of themselves they can be.”
Years before Bainbridge covered “Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work” on Solange’s breakthrough 2015 EP True, they met at a mutual friend’s wedding on an island off Cape Cod, Mass. “We were stuck on an island with several other eccentric pop musicians for three days, and at some point we reached out to each other in solidarity, because some of the [wedding attendees] were batshit crazy,” says Bainbridge.
Two years later, Solange enlisted Bainbridge to participate in several New Orleans studio sessions that took place in a converted church, which helped shape her acclaimed 2016 release, A Seat at the Table. “A song on the record that is three minutes long, we might have jammed on for 30 minutes to two hours,” they say. “A few weeks later you might be invited back to do more work, but now the song would be five minutes instead of 55.”
Bainbridge ended up co-producing a handful of tracks, along with Solange, Sampha, Kwes, Dave Longstreth and others. A Seat at the Table was Solange’s first album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. (Its follow-up, this year’s When I Get Home, debuted at No. 7, giving Solange three albums that debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard 200.)
“It’s funny that we started out as complete idiots, reading Alternative Press in bad Travelodge hotel rooms,” says Bainbridge of their early years with Hynes, also recalling the one-year anniversary since the death of Sam Mehran, a founding member of Test Icicles and a close friend of Bainbridge’s. “Dev and Sam were so full of life and confidence that it was infectious,” they recall. “I found myself so besotted and by everything that they were into.”
Over their 16 years of friendship, Bainbridge learned about the merits of Fall Out Boy and Avenged Sevenfold, all while becoming an integral part of Blood Orange’s artistic evolution. Early on, Bainbridge remembers sending “embarrassing text messages” to Hynes about Blood Orange demos, asking him why a certain song sounded so lo-fi, or a beat was so rough, and offering to polish it for him. “It took me a full decade of listening to his music as a fan, more than as a collaborator, to understand that all of these aesthetic choices are deliberate and instinctive, and because he wants them to be that way,” they say.
With that understanding intact, Bainbridge has gone on to direct the video for Blood Orange’s “Chamakay” off Cupid Deluxe in 2013, produce and arrange Freetown Sound three years later, and harmonize with Los Angeles newcomer BEA1991 on “Saint” last year on the album Negro Swan (recorded in an impromptu, alcohol-abetted session in a studio on Saint Mark’s Place in New York City). All three albums hit the top 20 on the Top R&B Albums chart.
Robyn is featured in Bainbridge’s video for “Who Do You Love?” on their 2014 album Otherness, in which she wears a Cupid Deluxe baseball cap. Bainbridge’s cousins and the Swedish alt-pop star’s friends and family all made cameos as well in the clip that was filmed in Stockholm. “My mum and sister had met Robyn before, but I don’t think any of our family members knew each other,” Bainbridge says. “Now, some of those family members and friends are even better friends because of it.”
More recently, the pair played hot potato with the track “Send to Robin Immediately,” which samples Lil Louis’ 1989 house classic “French Kiss.” Originally intended as an entrant into Kindness’ discography, the moody, low-lit track ended up on Robyn’s 2018 album Honey. “It’s enjoyable having a small catalog of songs that we’re working on still, it’s a mystery as to where they’ll end up,” they say. One of them, the heartrending “Cry Everything” on Something Like War has already been released.
Besides Bainbridge’s long-running artistic friendship with Robyn, three other Swedish vocalists guest on their upcoming album. They say: “Swedish artists are so precise in their own work.”