Matthew Herbert is a British musician who uses dance and pop music forms as a vehicle for visceral experimental art. Whether making house and techno music for clubs, working with big bands, or constructing installations for concert halls he is committed to the radical political potential of sound.
Much of the producer’s early work utilises sounds from our personal environment, focussing them into overpowering and rhythmic music. 1998’s release Around The House under the name Herbert utilises everyday kitchen objects, and 2001’s Bodily Functions uses detailed sounds from the human body, but for all their technical wizardry, the found sounds here serve little political function. It is on albums like 2005’s Plat Du Jour, and 2011’s One Pig, both of which examine our relationship to the food industry by using food as sound material, where Herbert makes the personal environment political. Cuts like “The Truncated Life Of A Modern Industrialised Chicken”, from Plat Du Jour, are quietly harrowing in their cartoonish depiction of chicken chirps slowly being consumed by knife sounds, but One Pig pushes Herbert’s obsession with the grizzlier side of the food industry to an unsettling conclusion. Herbert’s album portrays the life cycle of a pig reared for slaughter in month by month depictions with tracks like “August 2010” using synthesised squeals, dripping blood, and chewing sounds to make its listeners face the uncomfortable reality of the origin of their next meal. The 2013 album The End Of Silence was perhaps Herbert’s most explicitly political yet, stretching only a five second sample of a pro-Gadaffi plane dropping a bomb on Libyan civilians into a chilling sonic portrait of war.
Herbert’s consummate showmanship naturally extends to live performance too. The composer is heavily influenced by jazz and regularly returns to the big band format, which he sees as an abstract model for democratic society, and has created theatrical installations to present his concepts to an audience. His live band for One Pig, for example, enter the stage dressed in butcher’s coats and play instruments such as a pigpen whose ropes are filled with pigs blood, while Herbert wafts the smell of cooking bacon into the auditorium.
As the head of experimental imprint Accidental Records, Herbert has also played a vital role in fostering eccentric talent. Perhaps Accidental’s most notable artist, aside from the composer himself, is British musician Micachu, who has contributed remixes to the label’s output and counts Herbert as a major inspiration, inviting him to produce her debut album Jewelry in 2009.