Audioccult Vol. 130: The Shriek of 2014

Light a candle. Draw the required sigils. Now, raise your arms above your head and slowly, gently, exhale your soul. You won’t need it here. This is Audioccult, and it’s time to get low. Illustration: SHALTMIRA

It feels weird to think about music when there’s so many utterly fucked things happening in the US right now. I debated writing about them instead for this week’s Audioccult, but I decided that others are doing a much better job at it, and they probably don’t have the urge to interject with some humorous music babbling. This holiday season, I suggest that you interrupt all family gatherings by loudly placing your laptop on the dining room table and opening it slowly to this article.

Anyway…Because EB isn’t doing a Best Of 2014 list, and because this column rarely focuses primarily on music these days, I feel compelled to mention my aural loves from the past year on a smaller scale by compiling my 20 favorite tracks in no particular order. Each of these songs move me in different ways at different times, and so I’m not interested in ranking them—they’re all great. Next week, I’ll cover 20 more, and the week after this column will just feature pictures of dogs I like.

ac-best2014-shaltmira

 

Ballet School – “YAOI (LP Version )” [Bella Union]

The penultimate cut from debut album The Dew Lasts An Hour by Berlin-via-Scotland shoegazers Ballet School ramps up the original version with powerful vocals and perfect pop hooks that are pinned down by glistening, driving guitars reminiscent of the sort of 4AD-style post-punk I worshipped as a kid.

3TEETH – “Dust” [Artoffact Records]

I could go on about these guys for ages, so suffice to say that if you love industrial music, this song (and LP, and the remix LP) need to be in your collection. Grinding riffs, obliterating beats, and pure vocal carnage make this one a dance floor destroyer.

 Croatian Amor – “Tonic Water Bridge” [Sleeperhold Publications]

While Caviar Glowing flows like a single track, it’s the first movement—all pulsating, twinkling ambiance sliding slowly into a quicksand of techno rhythms—that grabbed me the most from this beautiful little EP.

Rind – “Understudy” [Rotted Tooth Recordings]

The sound of Lee Relvas rests comfortably between early No Wave experimentalism and the mutant, electronic punk that gave us angelic weirdos like Lauren Bousfield. Foreboding piano plays tag with bursts of static noise, jagged guitar, and Relvas’ commanding voice. The entire thing is available to download for free on her website, too!

The Soft Pink Truth – “Satanic Black Devotion” [Thrill Jockey]

Why Do The Heathen Rage? is possibly one of the best records, ever. Queer, shattered electronic interpretations of black metal classics like this Sargeist cover are equally terrifying and orgiastically delightful. If your face doesn’t light up in a smile when that Snap! sample hits, you’re 2 Brvtal 4 Lyfe.

Azar Swan – “And Blow Us A Kiss” [Zoo Music]

This fantastic track, a beautiful mixture of tribal drums, industrial-grade synthpop, and Zohra Atash’s confident vocal coos, prefaces Azar Swan’s sophomore LP of the same name. It’s a stirring opener which made me smile so hard that a nearby cat became angry and attacked me. Zohra also recently penned a great essay on influence, which you should check out here.

The Devil ft. Johnny Cash, Pesci, Converge, Alley Boy, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Cocaine & The Grim Reaper – “KILL RADIO KILL / THE RIDE” (Self-Released)

Of all the “dark” hip-hop mixtapes I’ve heard this year, Violence is undoubtedly the most raw, nihilistic, and straight-up weird of them all. Packed with bleak samples and multi-genre bursts of other musicians (like the insane selection above), it’s an essential listen for anyone who loves noise and rap in equal measure—or as the perfect WTF closer to a DJ set. Grab it for free at livemixtapes.

Vashti Bunyan – “Holy Smoke” [Fat Cat Records]

Somewhere between regal maturity and ageless innocence, Bunyan’s final album Heartleap is a stunningly lovely Autumn portrait of one of folk music’s greatest hearts.

Mondkopf – “Hadés III” [In Paradisum]

When trying to engage people who enjoy industrial music but aren’t really into techno (of which I am one, sort of) there’s a few albums I have found that can change their minds. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve added the monolithic Hadés to that list. The majestic closer, “Hadés III,” with its rising ambient synths and harsh, trumpeting denouement, is a case in point.

M.E.S.H. – “Captivated” [PAN]

Despite the fact that Jamie Whipple is one of my favorite Berlin DJs, his musical output doesn’t always translate to the dance floor. That’s fine with me, as the excellent Scythians EP operates on the dance floor of the brain. Let his beats do the talking while your lobes do the walkin’.

Trust – “Capitol” [Arts & Crafts]

I’ll admit that, at first, I wasn’t convinced by this sophomore album. I’m still more into the first Trust album, because I’m a dour fuck. However, after repeated listens, it has grown a lot on me, and this particular slice of joyful synthpop deliciousness more than the rest. This is perfect headphones music for knocking your goth ass up a few notches towards positivity.

The Bug – “Fat Mac” [Ninja Tune]

The Bug’s massive performance at Unsound Festival remains one of my favorite live shows ever, thanks in part due to how much I played his new LP Angels & Devils during the month leading up to his appearance. The lurching, lurking viciousness embedded above is a highlight in an album full of highlights, with Flowdan’s growling verses sounding meaner than ever.

Gazelle Twin – “Human Touch” [Last Gang/Anti-Ghost Moon Ray]

Gazelle Twin’s meaty new LP, Unflesh, feels almost like the poppier offspring of the classic Matmos surgical-sample album A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure (though the word “pop” is used very loosely here). “Human Touch” pulses with a stuttering, after-dark synth and slightly dehumanized vocals, which makes for a delightfully weird and woozy experience.

Ariel Pink – “Not Enough Violence” [4AD]

Whatever you think about his public persona, there’s no denying that Pom Pom is Pink’s best work in years. Shedding many of the dull trappings of AM radio-rock, he’s returned triumphantly to the stranger, cartoonish aspects of his work. “Not Enough Violence” is an infinitely catchy, washed-out, mock-goth sleaze anthem that makes me want to buy a black Ferrari and crash it into a wall, for sex reasons. “I recommend it.” – Daniel Jones.

Jabu – “Empty Days” [Ramp]

The Bristol-based crew Young Echo has some insanely talented members, and you’ll see more of them in the next edition. The duo known as Jabu is probably the most unexpectedly delicate act in the pack: soft-spoken word poetry with sparse, melancholic instrumentals. The pairing of guest vocalist M.S Harris with Alex Rendall’s stark flow makes this a perfect tune for heartbreak, introspection, or just vibing out.

Crow and seagull attack the Pope’s peace dove [Life]

Even though the current Pope is actually pretty chill (you know, for a Pope) this still counts as a major musical moment in my life. When those two flying fucklords dropped down on the symbolic emissary of peace, I heard a choir of angels scream. Currently working on the remix.

 The Body – “Hail To Thee, Everlasting Pain” [RVNG Intl.]

The Body’s Haxan Cloak-produced I Shall Die Here is an exquisitely-crafted slab of hate. I don’t think a week has gone by without me playing at least one track, and the above more than them all. It’s pure, howling evil with low-end that makes you feel like you’re being sucked into a black hole.

Marissa Nadler – “We Are Coming Back” [Sacred Bones]

Rather than showcasing the standard attitude that so many albums about lost love portray (which oscillates between “Fuck you forever,” or, “I’m lost without you,”) Nadler’s July acknowledges the truest nature of these situations. We don’t always want what’s best for us. Sometimes, we simply want.

Sewn Leather – “Unclear War” [Hundebiss]

Sewn Leather (now Skull Katalog) doesn’t just make some of the scuzziest synthpunk in the game; he also puts on an insane live show. I chipped my tooth slamdancing to this one, which isn’t a big deal, really. The first time I saw this dude play, he broke his nose in the first minute of the show. 45 minutes later, he was still going strong. Hardcore.

Fugazi – “Merchandise (Version)” [Dischord]

Speaking of, when I heard these demos were coming out, I did a high five with my friend and our feet lifted off the ground. Ascent into heaven? This is the music of skate angels.

 Scott O))) – “Brando” (4AD)

The only bad thing I can say about Soused is: now that they’ve made the Perfect Album, where the hell can either of these bands go from here?

Stay tuned for Part II of our Top Tracks of 2014 — coming next Thursday!

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Dorian Concept— “I realized that the biggest challenge for me would be to do something simple.”

If you were involved in the late 2000s ecosystem of auteuristic European hip-hop labels like Kindred Spirits, Nod Navigators, LuckyMe, and Arkestra Discos, there’s a fair chance you came across Dorian Concept’s YouTube videos. The Austrian producer’s single-shot uploads focused squarely on his fingers, which flickered back and forth across the keyboards of his microKORG and Casio SA-21 synthesizers. The clips are still absorbing displays of memory, improvisation, and trickery that enthrall keyboard nerds—and they’re also a cool-as-hell way to see hip-hop played live.

Today, Ninja Tune released his second LP, Joined Ends, but it’s not a throwback to those one-man keyboard days, which we documented in a past SLICES feature. Instead, it’s a pleasingly cohesive journey through downbeat hip-hop, jazz, and lopsided pop that simmers with life. We caught up with Dorian Concept to talk about playing live, his self-taught skills, and how being from Austria taught him how to think about hip-hop.

What have you been doing in the years between When Planets Explode and Joined Ends?

DC: I still had my solo live show; built around me improvising on the microKORG, mostly over backing tracks through my laptop. By 2011, though, I’d saved enough from all the shows to step up my set-up, as it were. I invested in some new gear.

What did you buy?

This whole journey started with the Moog Prodigy. For a long time, the microKORG has been the budget, universal synthesizer—indie bands use it, but so does Pharrell Williams. I’ve got a great history with it, but the Prodigy is different. It’s an older synth, one that I associate with older jazz and funk artists like Herbie Hancock, and electronic music production from the 80s. Having a vintage instrument has really helped me to rearrange my head musically.

What is it about the Prodigy that helped with writing Joined Ends?

On the one hand, there’s this charm to the limitations of older gear. The modern way of working with soft synths on your computer has become so simple: switch through presets, scroll through the history of synths with a few clicks. With my history as a keyboardist, it’s very important for me to actually own the instrument rather than replicate it. I’m intrigued by what gets lost in the process. The things that become a bit more complicated with the analog approach, and the culture attached to it.

I find Joined Ends to be a much less frantic and club-orientated listen than When Planets Explode

Looking back at my earlier material, I realized that the biggest challenge for me would be to do something simple. Once I had the arrangements going, I managed to hide the franticness in the tracks. The complexity and layering has to do with a kind of density, or loudness. It feels weird because, while the tracks may feel mellow, there are these layers tucked into it all. I still have that energy in me, but it’s now about my weird way of controlling it.

But surely that energy is already “contained” in a way, if it’s all just you?

I’m definitely aware of and have accepted the fact that the whole keyboardist thing is a real hook for me. I’m definitely not shy about my skills. It’s something I have fun with doing, but it’s also used to separate me as a performer and me as a producer. I’ve been trying to reconnect the two with how I was self-taught through my love of jazz. To be honest, I think it’s that I’m now old enough to be sentimental for the first time in my life.

What were you sentimental for?

I realized that I grew up with downbeat music in Austria—people recording a Rhodes loop, and having a hip-hop instrumental with it, was my first exposure to hip hop—even though it was basically Austrian lounge music.

What’s particularly Austrian about that style?

The Viennese… when you look at the city and its creatives, there’s this introverted energy. We have Christian Fennesz, who’s this very unique character in ambient music. He lives in Vienna. And there’s the work of film director Michael Haneke: dark and macabre, close to reality and then not at all at the same time. I think it comes down to the fact that the city isn’t exactly overwhelming.

There’s very little struggle for the Viennese. You don’t feel the energy from outside as much and because people need friction, you begin to struggle within yourself a lot more. Vienna is the birthplace of psychology, after all. That’s why the album is built on more introverted energy. Working with struggles within, rather than without.

How did that work itself into how you feel about hip-hop?

I think I was so drawn to hip-hop production because as much as I love jazz, it’s a much “busier” sound. Hip-hop found that loop. When you listen to jazz there’s often that one segment of the song that you think, “That’s it.” Hip-hop notices that energy. It’s interesting that the hip-hop loop happened through technical limitation.

The reason the album is called Joined Ends is because of the craftsmanship it takes to find that right loop. Its something I feel that I’m reconnecting with—finding the energy in repetition, in the beauty and the simplicity of having the right segment forever, you know?  I’ve always felt there was certain bravery in doing something not overly spectacular and bright. You don’t even need to work within certain tempos or clear rhythms to make it hip-hop. It’s more about the hip-hop mindset of discovery.  I wanted to try and tame that on Joined Ends by positioning myself as the sole reference point.

If you’re knowingly creating a body of work to be sampled for your own album, that’s something of an inversion of the standard hip-hop approach.

Well, yes. Because I knew I was going to sample only myself, I went into it with a different state of mind than, say, what Mala did on his Mala In Cuba LP. When those musicians were being recorded, they were divorced from the final product. For me, once I had the loops down, I tried not to cause any outward tension. I have a weird internal chaining system that’s hard to explain. I wanted to have you look at the credits, only see my name, and be surprised.

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“When you’re in a room by yourself in the dark, who are you?” – An interview with Kelis

Photo by Hans Martin Sewcz

Louise Brailey talks to the enduring and outspoken R&B star Kelis about the central role food plays in her life, the importance of family and why people who ask her advice on being an artist really shouldn’t bother.

 

Kelis Rogers has been an enduring, uncompromising star in the R&B firmament since 1999’s rage-fueled “Caught Out There“. Oh sure, she’s had hits, massive ones actually—”Milkshake” from her Neptunes-produced third album Tasty is a modern and much-played classic—but selling shedloads of units never seemed Kelis’ style. When she relaunched herself, post-very public break-up, as a steely Eurodance diva singing about motherhood over arena-sized David Guetta-produced choruses for 2010’s Flesh Tone, many critics balked—and the album tanked. A few months and a handful of EDM thinkpieces later and the story could’ve been different, but by then she’d moved on. Now, in a musical age characterized by maximalism and groundbreaking production, she’s chosen to sign to independent label Ninja Tune and strip things right back: Food is a record steeped in nostalgia. It revisits the sounds of sixties soul tropes—updating them with Dave Sitek’s flashes of hip-hop production—and the memories of her Harlem upbringing they trigger as involuntarily as certain smells and tastes. If the food metaphor is obvious, the fact she studied at La Cordon Bleu may not be. Louise Brailey sat down with the artist at Berlin’s Soho House to talk about the central role that food—and by extension, family and style—plays in her life and why people who ask her advice on being an artist really, really leave a bad taste in her mouth.

 

 

Watching your video for the first single “Jerk Ribs” off of your new album Food, I was pleasantly surprised to see that you’d resisted adopting a less adorned fashion sensibility to accompany the more stripped back sound of the album.

Fear not!

The video shows you being preened and prepared; having your make-up applied while you look unbothered. I was wondering if it was somehow a critique show biz fakery or a celebration of a heightened femininity?

I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I guess it would teeter more toward the celebration. It’s funny, I was on my Instagram a few months ago and all the people who follow me were like, “It’s ten years since the release of Tasty!” I was like, “Good God, that’s a really long time!” And Tasty was my third album! This is 15 years of doing this and I think that I come from a different era of the music business, a different era of music in general. I’m not a new generation artist and I have no desire to be. I own the decades and time that I’ve put in. And this is what it looks like. I mean, I’m never going to pare back the fashion. It’s something that I love, it’s part of my existence. What you put on and what you adorn yourself with, it’s a way to present yourself to people without speaking.

It’s interesting that you mention your Instagram. You’ve wholeheartedly embraced that as a means of presentation, too.

Well, here’s the funny thing: I’m not a social media person. It’s extremely narcissistic, but I do have a few issues. First thing, people are no longer able to be present in the here and now which is irritating to me. If you’re talking to someone and they’re on Instagram, it makes me want to throw the phone through the window. It also shows lack of attention span and almost a lack of intellect. Growing up, if I said “I’m bored” to my mom, she’d be like, “If you’re bored, you’re boring”. Second, even though I get why social media is great and I like the idea that there’s so much access, it gives me anxiety. I’m a bit of a control freak. I prefer to stay oblivious. Although I’m on Instagram I don’t follow anybody; although I’m on Twitter I don’t follow anybody. I hardly ever “hashtag”. I don’t even get that. I don’t like the fact that everyone feels the need to exalt their personal life. It gives me the creeps.

You mentioned your mother, who was a fashion designer. Your dad was also a musician. Do you feel like the tone of the record, its references to a certain musical era and mood, was a way of exploring memories of growing up in New York City and Harlem specifically?

I’m big on that feeling that you get when you listen to something and you think about how perfect it is, when it reminds you of that summer where that song was played every day. I never wanted to copy that or duplicate that, I wouldn’t even dare. It seems almost disrespectful. But I really wanted to capture its essence more than anything else.

What role did food play in your family growing up? This album’s called Food of course, and it’s a reoccurring theme throughout.

A huge role. Everything was done around food, and I think that’s another thing I love about it in general too. I love the idea that across the board, people gather around food. I always say that at every major event in someones life there’s always food and music. Whether it’s a graduation or a wedding or a birthday. I like the idea that it has such a huge part in our celebrations, of uniting with one another. For me growing up, my mom went to the Fashion Institute of Technology so she’s a very skilled pattern maker. She started a catering business and she cooked constantly. And of all the Michelin starred restaurants, all the amazing eateries that I’ve been too, my mom is still hands down one of the most versatile and skilled chefs that I know. We also couldn’t even leave the table without finishing.

Do you have a big family?

No. I have three sisters, two are a lot older so they were out of the house by the time I was aware of anything. My older sister was there for a bit but then she went off to school, so it was just me and my little sister. My mom is just very maternal in general, so there were always people in our house from the neighbourhood or people from church. Whatever it was there was always food, always. She’s Puerto Rican and Chinese and both of those are very feedy—they’re feeders, very aggressive about eating. So don’t go over and not eat. You have to eat.

And now you’re doing your own show for the Food Network.

Yes. And I have a range of sauces that I’ve started—my speciality is sauces.

What is it about sauces that you like so much?

First thing is that I hate dry stuff, so I always want sauce. I’m a consistent person in that respect, even just my personal style. I love accessories. When I think about anything, it’s all the extras. Anybody can wear a pair of jeans, but it’s about the extras—the hat, the jacket, all the little things. I think sauce is the epitome of that. It’s the extra, but it’s also the defining factor. I travel so much and when you think about what defines and connects something culturally, there are similarities in food. There’s a dumpling in every culture, but always in a different style. We’re here in Germany and we went out for dinner last night, and I love hot sauce, any kind of hot sauce but they’re not big on spice here. But you can get a mustard with a really serious kick. That for me is what differentiates eating sausage here, from eating sausage in Spain. It’s just these little tiny tweaks that signify who we are.

How do you apply that to your music? 

I’ll be honest with you: I’m not as calculated with music as I am with food. I’m not interested in being so precise. Music in general is more subjective, or based on the listener, whereas with food there’s a right and a wrong answer. I can’t really take credit for why I’m the way I am in music—it’s just the way that I’m made. I think it’s a little bit ahead of how everything is happening today, but I don’t know why because I’m not that aware of what’s happening.

You don’t follow new music?

Well I don’t follow current events at all. I’m completely lost.

Why’s that?

I hate to sound like the Grinch who stole music but I feel hypocritical in a lot of senses. I had this moment a few years ago when I was super stressed out and I asked myself why I was doing this. I think it was because I was going through a dry spell. I wasn’t writing and I was feeling inadequate in general, as artists do sometimes. At the time, one of the things that kept resonating in my mind was why would I even attempt to be as good as the things that made me love music? It seems pretentious and arrogant in a way to believe that I could match these great people who made such magnificent moments in life. So I guess I don’t listen to a lot of new stuff because a lot of it’s not interesting to me, it’s watered down version of things that were better. I listen to music, I just don’t listen to a lot of new stuff. Usually what ends up happening is someone who knows me very well will be like “You should listen to this, you’ll love it”. I have a very small group of people who know me and who know how anti-everything I am. I think a lot of times people hear me say that and they think, somehow I think I’m better than everybody, and I don’t.

So you haven’t observed the new generation of young female artists who have, arguably, come up in your wake in terms of being outspoken and forthright in a way that you were ten years ago?

People always ask me, “What would you tell a young artist?” First of all I would say don’t ask me. Because if there’s another option, take the other option! It’s a lot less painful. I think people emulate artists too much. For me, when I started off it was the nineties and I didn’t have an idea of how people would perceive it, I wasn’t trying to make such grand statement. I was just talking, and it just so happened that I had a platform. I think people put too much emphasis on how this affects the world, and women in particular. It should be listened to and enjoyed. I think people put so much emphasis on artists, people start to emulate these people. They’re just people. Who gives a crap? I’m not more worthy than anyone else. The reality is too that there’s more trash than there is good.  I’m not enthralled at the idea that women have decided to speak. I’m like, “Congratulations”.

But it’s still seen as such a negative thing for a young woman to be angry or to have rage—especially a black woman. So surely it is important.

Maybe it’s because I see it from this side now, but I don’t know that someone deserves praise or judgement for doing that. If you’re an artist, you don’t do this for people’s opinion of you. You do this because you can’t do anything else. When people ask, “I wanna do this, what should I do?” I think it’s a stupid question that doesn’t have an answer. I didn’t ask a question! I couldn’t do anything else, I couldn’t afford college. Are you kidding me? You don’t want to be an artist. You have a perspective and it’s different, so people acknowledge it. Shut up don’t talk about it. People don’t have to like me. It helps if people like my music but I don’t make it for people to like it or dislike it or figure out who women are, or who I am as a black woman. I wouldn’t make the same records that I made when I was 17 cause I’m not 17. I made what I made when I made it because that’s how I felt. It wasn’t because I felt like I need to be heard or I’m “black and I’m angry”. Even with the social media thing, people’s opinions are formed by this and it’s dangerous. People don’t think, they just see something and they’re like, “I can categorize all these things.” Who are you? What do you do for yourself? When you’re in a room by yourself in the dark, who are you? Who does God see you as? Do you know who your God is? What’s your source? It can’t be any other artist. Art should be your own personal expression and it just so happens that we make too much money from it. ~

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Live Report: Electronic Beats Festival Prague 2014

Last night was the first EB festival of the season with Diamond Version, Bonobo and Moderat kicking things off in the Czech capital. As always, Team EB was down the front to report back.

 

Lana Del Rey and Karin Park give way to Bonobo and Moderat. Twelve months after the ladies graced the stage of the Archa Theatre, it was time for the boys to rock the dancefloor. Modeselektor, Apparat and Bonobo are staples who have built quite a following among Prague audiences over the years. The last time the Monkeytown duo came to town under the EB flag at the grande Art Noveau venue at the Lucerna Palace, there was no leg or arm that wouldn’t be moving. Simon Green, better known under his Ninja Tune-affiliated moniker Bonobo, is also no stranger to the Czech capital. But first things first. All photos: Tomáš Martinek.

Diamond Version Electronic Beats Festival Prague 2014

Raster-Noton’s stalwarts Carsten Nicolai and Olaf Bender have taken on the unenviable task of the first act, but they had no reservations, oozing a confident, composed and direct mode of audiovisual rapport with the audience, which they had plenty of opportunity to practice during their massive Depeche Mode stadium support gigs last year. Their bass-heavy instrumentals, at times abstract, at others sounding like a man-machine marriage between Kraftwerk and Drexciya. Accompanied by monochrome visuals, Diamond Version actually look like a modern day version of the German pioneers, their laptops emanating stark, minimalist sonics drawing from the wealth of Nicolai’s Alva Noto and Bender’s Byetone ouevre.

Bonobo_2

Bonobo_1

The Englishman returned to Archa after his last year’s successful concert at the same venue, only to reinforce his popularity among the Czech audience. Unleashing his live show—including a drummer and a keyboarder—one doesn’t have to be a music expert to understand Bonobo’s wide appeal. Jazzy inflections and chilled atmospherics interspersed with soothing female vocals are in some way the anti-thesis of Diamond Version’s cool sonic universe. “I always want to concentrate on the human aspect of music, I want to make my music sound human without resorting to emo tactics,” as the global sonic traveller has told us in an interview.

 

Moderat_1

Moderat Electronic Beats Festival Prague 2014

“..In the beginning, it was more of a fun thing. When we did our first album, we didn’t really expect much. But in the studio, we found out there’s this incredible energy between us,” says Sascha Ring aka Apparat. Tonight, they demonstrate their chemistry to the buoyant crowd, who eagerly await the Berlin-based trio, falling under their spell within an instant. Hallo Prague, wie gehts? And then, as the first beats of the biggest hit off their latest album Moderat II fill the theatre hall, the hands are in the air. Bad Kingdom with the backdrop of the hand-drawn imagery from the actual video, projected by their resident visualists Pfadfinderei, is an apotheosis of their set, which also includes older material.

 

Although apparently diverse projects, the three acts have woven a specific musical thread throughout the Friday night, that catered for those eager to dance, sing-along or ruminate. ~

 

Armbander

Apps

Photobooth

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Theory of Evolution: Bonobo interviewed

Ahead of his headline appearance at Electronic Beats Festival in Prague this Friday, Ninja Tune’s understated star and genre-shunning producer Bonobo talks success, saxophone solos and, um, tumble dryers.

 

There’s few more surprised at the success of Bonobo than Bonobo himself. Simon Green’s last two LPs, the slow-burning success Black Sands and its more energized, UK bass-informed follow-up The North Borders have seen him hit a remarkable sweet spot. He won over the heads sure, but, judging from the large venues he frequently sells out, a hell of a lot more besides. When we put a call through to Green, he’s at soundcheck, but not quite sure where—although he’s certain it’s somewhere in Germany. A hefty touring schedule is par for the course when you’re the star of Ninja Tune’s roster—the evergreen independent label has been his home since the beginning, when ‘downtempo’ was the adjective that journalists reached for to describe his then-hip-hop and jazz-inflected electronica. The truth is, Bonobo’s music luxuriates in detail and betrays a deep-rooted love of sound, texture and atmosphere, whether it be of unusual or mundane provenance doesn’t matter. Green’s organic rise, rural background and lush, emotive productions are, in their own quiet way, revolutionary in a mainstream musical landscape in thrall to instant gratification, buzz cycles and click-friendly spin. For it is unquestionably the mainstream which, in typical Bonobo-style, is both a part of and, somehow, apart from.

Bonobo will be playing Electronic Beats Festival in Prague on March 28th 2014, alongside Moderat, Diamond Version and DJ Felix.

 

I recently saw you play at the Columbiahalle in Berlin. It’s a big venue and it was completely full, so it really rammed home how huge the Bonobo project is. However, it’s an understated, slow-building success, it seems.

I think there was almost four-and-a-half thousand people at the show. We’re playing Wiesbaden and places that I haven’t heard of and we’re still having sold out shows. No, there was no point where anything blew up, there was never any hype, it’s been this very steady slope for the last twelve years. But it’s been very genuine and underground…

Why do you think the Bonobo project has connected with people so much?

I can’t really tell, it surprises me as well! Every album, of the last three albums, I thought would be the peak until the next one comes along and it communicates even further than the last one. I don’t know why people are liking it all the time, that sounds terrible but I really don’t know.

Your music occupies a space between worlds, it’s not aligned with any particular sound or scene—it’s something apart. People can come to your music and take what they want away from it.

I was thinking that as well. It exists in a space between lots of genres. It kind of references the UK bass sound and then there’s also elements from all over the place: very leftfield beats and, obviously, there’s vocals. I think the vocal tracks appeal to a different group of people than the instrumental beat stuff. You look out into the crowd and you see different demographics reacting in different ways.

What do you mean exactly?

The young girls really identify with the songs, the heads are more into the instrumental stuff. Not everybody’s into all of it.

Going right back, you started out in a punk band right?

Not really, when I was a teenager I was a little skater punk and I liked alternative rock bands. Then I moved to Brighton when I was a student and I got a sampler. The idea of not being in a band, of just making music by playing things in layers, is when all these other ideas suddenly opened up to me. I think there’s a misconception that it is a band because of the live shows, people think that what they see onstage is how the music is made which isn’t the case.

You work completely autonomously?

Totally. A lot of the time is if I’m having to get musicians on the record I’m getting them to replay what I’ve already done or replay the sample. That part happens in three hours in the studio, it’s me on my own in a room for two years before that.

One of the most extraordinary moments of your gig at the Columbiahalle was during “El Toro”. I’ve never heard an audience attempt to clap along with what is essentially a sax solo before, but they gave it a shot. Was jazz, with its emphasis on improvisation and collaboration, a fundamental aspect of the live performance?

It was something that grew and grew over the years of touring. It used to be a four bar drum break and it’s since become this seven minute epic drum-sax solo battle—it’s a very thrilling part of the set. I think collaboration is important, yes, I tell everyone what to play in the band but I also want to let their own sound come through as well, because that’s where things are going to sound interesting. You might as well have a laptop playing everything if you’re going to be very specific about what people play.

Did you grow up with jazz? Are your parents musical?

My parents are musical, they came from the British folk scene. Especially my dad, he was involved in that whole Cecil Sharpe House scene in the seventies and eighties, so I grew up with a lot of people jamming around me.

Did your father play in any well known bands from that world?

He played with a lot of people, he moved around a lot—I can’t name them all now but he was involved with lots of stuff. There were lots of records played in the house, too, Pentangle, Fairport Convention—he had connections with those guys as well. My mum was more psychedelic, more psych rock, so there was all kinds of stuff going on.

 

 

You moved to Brighton to go to art school, did that have an affect on how you approached your music-making?

I don’t think it had a bearing on the music I made but art school is a fertile ground for a lot of musicians. If you look at the London colleges like Camberwell and Saint Martin’s, it’s the amount of music that comes out of these colleges rather than art that’s noticeable. Art school is just a good three years—with a safety net—where you make mistakes and meet people who have similar ideas. I grew up in the country, I grew up on a farm pretty much so maybe not growing up in an urban environment had a bigger impact on me as an artist. Brighton, too, is a very calm place, you’ve got the sea, and where I grew up is very rural so you have a different mind space. But again, I think there was always this romanticism about the city; I used to go up to London and it was always very big and alienating, the idea of different environments possibly had an influence on my music.

And now you’re based in New York! Why did you decide to move there?

Exactly, I’ve gone in completely the other direction! I made the decision just because it’s New York. I just found that I was spending time in the US touring, hanging out in New York. I had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world and I didn’t want to look back in years and think “I didn’t have to stay in Brighton, I could have gone anywhere”. And it’s great, I love it, although technically I’m never home.

And yet The North Borders, of all your records, really sounded like it was steeped in the spirit of London. Did having this distance from the UK afford you a greater overview of what was happening within UK music?

Well I think, firstly, music isn’t as geographically specific as it used to be. Now, with Soundcloud or Boiler Room, music is instant and global. Still, I was very aware that I wasn’t in London anymore and I felt like I needed to keep one ear on London the whole time, so I was probably paying more attention to what was happening in London than when I was actually living there. Just through fear of missing out! I was on the blogs and listening to radio shows more than I ever was when I was in it. That’s probably why I made a very London record in New York.

Returning to your formative years, what prompted you to buy a sampler and turn your back on rock?

Brighton at that time was pretty exciting. I’d come up through school listening to largely American alternative rock: Pixies, Sebadoh, Dinosaur Junior, shit like that. By the time I got to Brighton I’d really started on the idea of beats, like early nineties hip-hop, but stuff that Ninja Tune was doing and Portishead… Also DJ Shadow was a big influence. The idea that hip-hop could be emotive was exciting to me, the idea of beautiful hip-hop. That was what really interested me, I felt I could do something like that. I was always scouring the B-sides and the instrumentals, and there are all these little moments that happen within hip-hop which are never really up front. Hiding in the background were all these beautiful instrumental breaks and I was really into exploring that and where I was heading with it. The first DJ Shadow album is a great example of that, there were certain things on Dorando records that were happening, almost that dub aspect.

It’s interesting that you mention dub. I’ve always found your records to encourage a kind of reflective, ruminatory headspace; your music is about creating mood first and foremost it seems.

I always want to concentrate on the human aspect of music, I want to make my music sound human without resorting to emo tactics. I think the reappropriated sounds and recontextualising stuff really gives it that familiarity perhaps?

In the beginning you used samples a lot more, was there a reason why you moved away from that?

It’s not a hundred percent sample based like it used to be. I still use a lot of samples but I sample differently now. I’m not looking for big breaks or big chunks of music, I’m sampling more abstract sounds and doing it in a micro way. The sampler is still my main tool for making music, whether it’s sampling myself or found audio. My source material is different nowadays. Especially recently I’ve been using a lot of field recordings. I have a recorder but I also have my phone on me all the time, when some interesting sound is happening you’re not always there with your field recorder. I was in an airport in Hong Kong and an escalator was making this insane clicking sound, anything vaguely rhythmical. Some of the most interesting sounds come from the most boring sources, like there was a really tumble dryer backstage in Boston, it was making this very rhythmic, rolling sound. I used it as the basis of a loop of a kick drum. I don’t subscribe to the idea of recording things because they’re an interesting thing to record, rather that they’re an interesting sound. “I hiked up a mountain in Tibet and recorded the chanting of these monks”—No. I recorded a washing machine because it made a better sound. ~

 

Catch Bonobo live at Electronic Beats Festival in Prague on March 28th 2014. Watch Bonobo live at EBF Prague 2014, below.

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