Since moving to Los Angeles four years ago, producer Maaike Lebbing – better known as Kito – has made sunny Californian pop music all her own, bringing a dose of club grit and a knack for layering vocal ad libs and lush melodies to create the feel-good songs of the year. The guestlist on her tracks reads like a who’s who of femme-forward pop greatness – she’s worked with Mabel, Jorja Smith, Empress Of, Bea Miller, Banks, and Aluna, both on their productions and as guest stars on her original EPs like Blossom and Haani.
We recently headed to the studio with Kito to learn more about her creative process, while we watched her make a track from scratch using one of her favorite virtual guitars – ELECTRIC SUNBURST – and a bunch of goodies from our KOMPLETE NOW bundle.
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In making this track, Kito fills out the whole EQ spectrum by pairing deep, resonant MASSIVE X basslines with fairy-like pads from CLOUD SUPPLY, adding unique touches along the way – like dragging her own toms into BATTERY and using effects like BITE, RAUM, RC 24, and TRANSIENT MASTER to shape drums, add space, and tame frequencies. Kito also shows us some of her favorite tricks inside Logic, and explains her methods for sidechaining and bussing. Watch the video for some tasty production tips and read on below for more about Kito’s unique production journey from small-town Australia to the L.A. pop world.
If you were on a dancefloor in the early 2010s, you may have heard Kito’s dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass-oriented productions for labels like Skream’s Disfigured Dubz or Diplo’s Mad Decent, or maybe Electric Empire, her 2012 collaboration with Feadz for Ed Banger Records. While her current records are far from the land of blog house and nu-rave, you can hear echoes of the club bangers she knows so well underneath those bright pop songs – from bitcrushed synth melodies to heavy Reese bass sneaking around under warm synth washes.
Kito grew up in a small town in Western Australia called Denmark, where she started experimenting with beats inspired by Burial, Dr. Octagon, and Squarepusher. She went away to fashion college in the mid-sized city of Perth – about a five-hour drive away – where she swiftly became interested in DJing, working in a record store, and recording. After a trip to England, she became fully immersed in dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass, leading her to eventually move to London with her friend, Aussie vocalist Reija Lee. In 2011, they released the Sweet Talk EP, whose title track was featured prominently in a worldwide Victoria’s Secret campaign and sampled by Atlanta rapper Trinidad James (“Females Welcomed”) and Big Boi (“King Sh!t”).
Where Kito’s future once seemed confined to dark nightclubs, “Sweet Talk”’s mainstream appeal put pop songwriting on her horizon; she started doing studio and writing sessions with Mabel and Jorja Smith, who was recording her 2018 breakout album Lost & Found at the time. Her work on Jorja’s “The One” became a major calling card upon her move to L.A., where she’s worked with Channel Tres, Jeremih, Van Jess, and rising stars like Winona Oak and Bea Miller. She even had a big placement during 2020’s lockdown with Fletcher’s “Bitter,” a song that won major fan love after featuring in Season 6 of SHOWTIME Network’s The L Word: Generation Q. The track, which prominently features our Electric Sunburst plug-in, was a beautiful pandemic success story, completed through bi-coastal internet sessions between Kito and NYC-based Fletcher.
Watch our Real Talk session with Kito where she deconstructs the making of “Bitter."
If you ask Kito, she’ll say what she does now is not such a departure from her dance music beginnings. Since working with Reija Lee, she was always drawn to working with vocal layers, and loves to spend a lot of time creating supporting melodies and cool carrots in tracks by chopping up and effecting vocal ad libs. In a lot of ways, her production process isn’t too much different from when she was making dubstep bangers, either. When you check out her workflow in Logic – her longtime DAW of choice – her fondness for sidechaining to a kick, selecting big bass sounds, and drawing in drums and chords in MIDI, it will appear very familiar to anyone who started making dance music in a certain era.
If there is a difference from those times, it’s that Kito is now in the studio with different artists all the time. Although it can be good to start from scratch, KIto recommends having a stack of melodic ideas and beats prepared that you can bring with you – it helps you be less nervous and gives you options that you can mix and match on the fly in case creative blocks come up. She also likes to kick start the writing process with presets, and then transform those with Logic’s on-board effects or plug-ins (rather than tweaking inside the preset). Most of all, she says the “hanging out and vibing” before the session is one of the most important parts of the day, as it often generates lyrical and track ideas later on. In between studio sessions with other artists and DJ gigs, Kito also finds time to write her own music, releasing EPs and singles that act as calling cards for her talents and a showcase of her own personal style. It’s just one of the keys to weathering the ups ‘n’ downs of this mercurial industry – for other major keys, cute fits, and clues to who Kito is working with next, keep up on her Instagram.