A as in Animal Collective:
We embarked on a trippy tour together. They were very foolish—before we even met them they let us travel on their tour bus. They’d start their live sets and this massive cloud of ganja would rise into the air. Their audiences were really peaceful, good-feeling crowds.
B as in Beats:
Making beats is a daily habit, part of laptop life. They’re like sketches in a notebook. You can get into your own zone and lose hours getting into little grooves.
C as in Chopper:
A wooden instrument created by Dave Sylvester and Mica. It has eight strings with a wheel and picks and you use a rod to play it. It sounds like the strumming of a guitar, but more constant, more mechanical, less human.
D as in Dancing:
Pulling shapes. At the same time as playing a gig you can get a sweat on. It moves the music forward.
E as in Englishness:
Sort of an old-fashioned term. We have such a shared culture online and those distinctions feel more and more irrelevant.
F as in Feeder:
Raisa: The title of an EP I put out a couple of years ago. It wasn’t as fun without these two, which is probably why I haven’t put out anything else since.
G as in Good Sad Happy Bad:
The name of our new album, but it could be the name of the band. The songs are either real downers or peppy uppers. The title says everything and nothing, which is ideal for us.
H as in Matthew Herbert:
A mastermind. He made an album where he reared a pig. For his live shows he’d have a chef on stage. Smelling bacon during his set was off the hook.
I as in Improvisation:
Improvisation is equal parts math and cosmos. We always thought that improvisation was this thing that you had to train many years for and we’d never be able to do. It felt satisfying coming together for the jam that became Good Sad Happy Bad.
J as in Joyful/Jarring noise:
Is this a description of our music? Otherwise, big up Sun Ra.
K as in Kwes:
An amazing soul and an absolutely natural musician. He’s got an unbelievable set of ears, a beautiful voice and beautiful lyrics. Plus, his productions are tactile and personal. He’s also a great facilitator of other people and he’s very patient and committed. He can play several instruments to a really high standard, as well as use a computer. More often than not, you don’t see those two skills together.
L as in London Sinfonietta:
We did a live performance with them called Chopped & Screwed that involved the Chopper. We were worried about it. These musicians are absolute virtuosos, specialists in modern music, and able to read and perform incredibly complicated notation. We gave them some written material, but the order of how it was played had to be committed to memory, which put them in a vulnerable position. We were surprised at how much risk they felt that involved, but we were all totally out of our comfort zone. Everyone had to risk something.
M as in MC’s:
Brother May came up with the name Micachu, and he’s the main MC that Mica works with. He’s part of the much-treasured group around us who are interchanging roles and making music together. This community is the most important thing.
N as in Notation:
It’s like a drawing, but a detailed drawing instead of a big sweeping thing. To compose with notation is pretty Zen, but we don’t write out our stuff because we’re talking to each other and have it committed to memory.
O as in Optimism:
Yes, please. It’s not done on purpose, but if you hear optimism in our music, that’s really great.
P as in Post-punk:
It felt like we were making punk music for this album. There’s the driven, sketchy energy of the music but also our own explosive compositional attitude—it’s full of sudden changes in direction and mindset.
Q as in Quantization:
We avoid it mainly, but every music technology has a place, even Auto-Tune. It depends on what the purpose is.
R as in Rough Trade:
We were choosing between labels, and [founder of Rough Trade] Geoff Travis listened to five seconds of Jewellery and said, “Well, I don’t think I’ll sell much of this, but I like it so I want to put it out,” and we were convinced. He was truthful and unfazed. The whole ride with the label has been a pleasure, and we’re very lucky.
S as in Shipping container:
We mixed our album Never in a converted shipping container. The studio was in a neighborhood of containers holding office spaces, homes and workshops. During the process another container two doors down became available and Mica went for it. Later, Kwes moved into another. The whole area is around East India Docks. It’s right opposite the Millennium Dome and under the flight path of London City Airport. There’s very little phone signal and no Internet, so it was a good place to write music and poetry.
T as in Tunings:
The moment in between songs. Non-standard tunings expand the harmonic world of the humble barre chord. We don’t use many weird tunings anymore because half the set was spent getting in tune! Those tunings aren’t patently unusual, just to Western ears. In Indian music, Western music scales would sound strange too.
U as in Under The Skin:
A film directed by Jonathan Glazer, starring one Scarlett Johansson, with a soundtrack by me, Mica. Has it changed how I work? I’ve gone back to my old ways.
V as in Vacuum cleaner:
Mica used to use a vacuum cleaner to distort her voice. It sounded like hell on earth and it nearly killed her. A Hoover is never a safe thing to put near your mouth while it’s on, kids. Especially every night on stage!
W as in Withasee:
I, Marc, produce bands and artists as a facilitator under this name, and a few solo bits. The name was given to me by school friends who noticed I introduced myself as: “Marc with a ‘c.’” I was named after Marc Bolan and I’m proud of it!
X as in Xylophones of light bulbs:
American composer/instrument builder Harry Partch created a tuned percussion instrument called the Mazda Marimba, which used Mazda light bulbs as keys.
Y as in “You Know” (from Never):
It’s the story of a quick rejection at a long house party. For the video, we dressed up like our friends in colorful clothes and had them boogie to a drum ‘n’ bass track while drinking non-branded beer.
Z as in Tirzah:
Doesn’t start with a Z—this is cheating! However, Tirzah is a chic goddess babe.
A as in AFRICAN HEAD CHARGE: African Head Charge was a psychedelic dub band I first produced back in 1981. Consider it an attempt to inject some “holy voodoo” into dub. The lineup changed a lot over the years but it’s centered on percussionist Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah. There was a lot of talk of African influences in Jamaican music during the ’70s and ’80s, but the heavy Afro percussion that Bonjo specialized in wasn’t so common. Most Jamaican roots tunes tended to use lighter percussion like repeater and bongo drums. With Head Charge we emphasized heavy beats, samples, chants, down-tuned vocals and backward-mixed tape. By Jamaican standards we made tracks that were pretty wack. Still, I stand by them to this day.
B as in BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY: God alive! It’s clear that British foreign policy is anything but just British, especially in light of “our” peace envoy Tony Blair’s criminal foreign policy adventures.
C as in CULTURAL CROSS-POLLINATION: Pollination is essential. Stop poisoning the bees! Cultural cross-pollination is great in music if the ingredients are properly seasoned.
D as in DYNAMICS: There’s a dearth of dynamics in modern music. What’s more important are dynamic people and relationships.
E as in ENGLISH DUB PRODUCTION: The originators are untouchable but time marches on. The Jamaicans have a saying: “Each one teach one,” and many producers in the UK—and the entire world over for that matter—have been attentive students who learned from the best. They understood the lineage and pushed dub into the future.
F as in FATHERHOOD: The best productions I’ve ever been involved in are my children.
G as in GRAVITY AND GROOVE: Both are strong forces that pull you about and lift your feet off the ground.
H as in HIGH WYCOMBE: What can I say? It’s a small satellite town west of London where I spent my formative years and forged lifelong friendships that have shaped me to this day. Glad I left when I did, though.
I as in IMPORTED WAX FROM THE CARIBBEAN AND AFRICA: Like receiving messages sent from another planet.
J as in JAH SHAKA: The pre-eminent sound system warrior and producer. I’ve been listening to him for over 40 years. Most people don’t know that he’s a jazz aficionado as well as a dub master. I still marvel at his ability to work his sound system non-stop for 12 hours straight. When Mark Stewart and I first started working together, the first thing he did was play me a cassette of a Shaka dance. The cassette was heavily distorted, like most live Shaka recordings, but Mark’s tape was particularly hot. I thought he wanted to record tracks in the vein of Shaka’s steppers rhythms but I soon realized that he really wanted his record to sound like Shaka’s sound system blowing up.
K as in KUKL: We often crossed paths with the Icelandic post-punk band at John Loders’ Southern Studios in London. We would wait for whoever was in the studio to finish, be it Crass, Exploited, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Subhumans or Minor Threat. Only then could we get our own sessions started. In the meantime we’d have funny chats in the kitchen over cups of tea with Björk and the rest of that strange and lovely crew.
L as in LYDON, JOHN: I first met the former Sex Pistol with [professor, journalist, author and musician] Viv[ien] Goldman. I came across him later on through Ari Up while I was staying at her mum’s house. Ari was the daughter of John’s girlfriend, who later became his wife. I really liked John. He had a video player, something I’d never seen before. I spent a few nights with him watching films like A Clockwork Orange.
M as in MEDITATE ON BASS WEIGHT: I’ve always thought the bassline is as important as the melody. Most of my favorite tunes are all about the bassline.
N as in NOSTALGIA: Being nostalgic is all well and good, but when you’re making music and pine for a time gone by or for things to be or sound a certain way, you better be careful as it can spell the end for you.
O as in OVERDUE PAYMENTS: An issue in all our lives.
P as in PINCH: aka Rob Ellis, dubstep pioneer and head of Tectonic Records. He’s genuine, intelligent, funny and I’ve just made a great album with him!
Q as in QUALITY CONTROL AT A RECORD LABEL: I’ll relate this to the old music business. When they were minted it seemed that large record labels didn’t have much of a policy regarding quality control. These labels were often run by tone deaf A&R people and businessmen who seemed to think that being financially successful meant they had quality acts. Anyway I guess quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
R as in RACIAL TENSION: It’s stirred up over and over again to stop us fighting the real dogs.
S as in SIGNATURE SOUND: Something to strive for. Most of my favorite producers are those whose style you can recognize instantly.
T as in TEENAGE YEARS: Not the best years of my life, probably because I was stoned and unable to speak for most of the time. Now I remember those years fondly because that’s when I discovered Jamaican music.
U as in UNCLUTTERED SPACE: A very important musical tenet. Carving out a specific place for each instrument and sound effect is what I love to do best. I like being able to isolate each part so I can grasp how one element plays off the other. I think this comes from my early experiences recording multiple musicians in a single room at the same time. Even after overdubbing, I made sure that everything could be clearly heard in a dynamic, three-dimensional field. Uncluttered space is vital to many modern productions. Tracks these days have become super minimal, though they’ve never had so much sonic power.
V as in VIOLENCE IN JAMAICA: The history of the island is cruel and violent, but let’s not forget how the CIA funnelled weapons into the country during the ’70s. Political shenanigans are played out in the poorest areas with the drug business and gangs fueling ongoing problems. It fills me with sadness.
W as in WHERE IS POLITICAL MUSIC TODAY?: Good question! Sadly, I don’t think artists are as political as they should be. With the exception of Sleaford Mods I can’t think of many articulate, angry new bands coming up.
X as in XCITER APP: A new app for your phone that’s supposed to enhance the sound of compressed MP3s. I’d like to have a go with it, certainly sounds interesting. It’s just another tool but possibly a great one considering that most people listen to low quality digital files these days.
Y as in YOUR INFLUENCES: I’m clearly influenced by things from the past that I’m admittedly a bit nostalgic about now. On the other hand, finding new influences is a must. See N! Generally these stem from working with and meeting new people, as well as seeing and hearing things that impress me and make me wish for something new.
Z as in ZERO ZERO ONE: God. The beginning. Perfection. And also, funnily enough, the code for phoning America.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine. Click here to read more from the magazine.
Producer and A&R stalwart Craig Leon fills out our latest ABC column.
Music history is often shaped by people out of the limelight’s glare, background figures who incubate the artists and sounds that define scenes, cities, and generations. Craig Leon is one such figure. The 62-year-old Miami native played an integral part in establishing the key acts that dominated the Downtown New York music scene of the late seventies and early eighties, with the likes of Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Suicide all passing through his hands, both as a producer and A&R rep. Leon’s own music has recently come to the fore thanks to the reissuing of Nommos on RVNG Intl., which first appeared on legendary guitarist John Fahey’s Takoma imprint in 1981. The album, a minimalist ode to a Malinese creation myth, is an enduring electronic classic that sounds as hypnotic and fresh today as it did more than thirty years ago.
A as in Art: “Art is my dog,” is a premise I can stand behind. It’s better than what an A&R man—a now defunct job at a record label where a producer/employee helped to guide the career of artists—once declared to me during lunch: “Sushi is my life.”
B as in B, Sirius. R U Sirius?
C as in CBGB: A place from a time in our lives. A place to develop. I did not eat the hamburgers.
D as in Dub: A fluctuating sound that was a big influence on the reverbs of the first Suicide album. A technique I learned working on Martha Veléz’s Escape from Babylon in 1975 with Lee Perry and Bob Marley.
E as in Everglades: Proof that hell can filled with water.
F as in Folk: What pop and rock music used to be before they got corporate. You can’t really have corporate folk music by the nature of the beast, though they’re trying.
G as in Ginsberg, Allen: Equal parts poet and rock personality. He had a unique singing style. So much of his work and outlook is important to me but “Father Death Blues” is an amazing song as well as a beautiful poem.
H as in Hell, Richard: The unfortunate victim of me breaking one of the cardinal rules of record collecting. On my way to a meeting at Richard’s house I passed by a second-hand record shop. There was a big old pile of Jamaican dub records and white labels which were rare as hen’s teeth in New York at the time. Since I was in a rush I made a mental note and said I’d pick them up on my way back from Richard’s. At the meeting I told him about the find. We both ran down to the shop and of course they were gone except for some miserable compilations. So when you see it, grab it.
I as in I: I’m not used to writing so many sentences that begin with “I.” It’s a strange feeling and not easy for me to do.
J as in Jamaica: A place that is very close physically and musically to where I grew up. There’s the emphasis on heavy bass that’s just like Florida soul.
K as in Kosmische: The people from the German experimental spacerock label Kosmische Kuriere had a hilarious fashion sense, particularly in their use of aluminum. They recorded one of my favorite groups to this day, Ash Ra Tempel, who also did an album together with Timothy Leary. Unfortunately, Kosmische sometimes misinterpreted what a record company can or can’t do. Issuing an artist’s recordings without their knowledge is a cardinal sin. Before that, I recommended signing their label to Sire when I worked there. It didn’t happen. I dislike it when a composer’s or artist’s work is released without their consent and against their will.
L as in LinnDrum: A drum machine by Linn Electronics with fifteen sampled sounds, especially popular in the eighties. I played around with one of the first ones. I think that a lot of musicians misinterpreted that its best use was along with other percussion rather than on its own.
M as in Machen, Arthur: A master of sci-fi and horror fiction. I once gave a copy of one of his 19th century novels to a lady who wanted something “out of the ordinary.” She claimed that the words kept changing on the page every time she read it. Correct assumption.
N as in Nommos: Recorded in the seventies before the advent of easy digital electronic sounds. It’s speculative fiction as a musical album.
O as in Ostinato: A musical motif that continuously repeats in the same pitch. One of the delightful ways to induce a trance.
P as in Polyhymnia: The muse of poetry and dance in Greek mythology. You can count yourself as being very fortunate when she comes to visit you.
Q as in Que Viva Mexico: An incomplete film by Russian avant-garde director Sergei Eisenstein that I would love to have written a soundtrack for.
R as in Ramone, Tommy: A truly demented genius. He rates up there with Michael O’Donoghue [see Z]. He started a band steeped in performance art and then created a song called “Beat on the Brat” in an attempt to give the Bay City Rollers a run for their money in the commercial sweepstakes. I guess that I’m a bit demented myself since I believed him.
S as in Stein, Seymour: Founder of Sire Records, now vice president at Warner Brothers, responsible for signing lots of important acts, from Madonna to Talking Heads. You definitely want to go to a tacky Chinese restaurant with him for dim sum. You just may be lucky enough to hear him do an a cappella vocal presentation of the B-side of any given doo-wop 45 at the drop of the hat. It was once said that he has “shellac in his veins.” This is a true statement. For those who are scratching their heads, shellac was the primary ingredient used in making 78 rpm records.
T as in Talking Heads: A unique group of artists. It’s amazing how they were able to become one of the earliest “crossover” groups. Their potential was evident even when they were in their rawest form when I first saw them play their earliest gigs. They’ve continued on today in different areas of music, David on his own, Chris and Tina on their own, and they’re still doing it really well.
U as in Unsound Festival: We performed a 40 piece orchestral version of Nommos. There was a great reaction from the audience, but I’m sure some people didn’t get it. It’s not easy listening.
V as in Vega, Alan: One half of the legendary band Suicide. The most unusual vocalist I know of. I once taught Luciano Pavarotti “Blitzkrieg Bop” but I wish that I had taught him “Frankie Teardrop” instead.
W as in Wine: Lubricates the soul when used in moderation. Has proven an excellent writing aid through the centuries. It also primes your mind for reading “M” or listening to “X.”
X as in Xenakis, Iannis: Like Bach, his music starts with a mathematical premise and then creates its own unique universe. There’s no doubt that his job as an architect had quite a bit to do with this. Easy listening for the future generations who will be more evolved than ours.
Y as in Youth, AKA producer Martin Glover: I always wondered if he was going to keep his nickname when he got older. He has.
Z as in Zeitgeist: I used to look forward to the issues of the literary journal Evergreen Review that had the comic strip “The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist” by Michael O’Donoghue and drawn by Frank Springer. I remember one story contained the line “Your buttocks will be devoted to lyrical themes such as Fortitude Slaying Avarice with the Lance of Sagacity.”
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2014/2015 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine. To read more from this issue, click here.
Read Gilles Peterson’s ABC column before it’s published in the forthcoming issue of Electronic Beats Magazine for a chance to win tickets to his performance at the EB Festival in Warsaw.
BBC Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson filled out the latest ABC column for the next issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, which drops next month. We’re publishing it a little early to give you guys the chance to snag a pair of tickets to the first EB Festival of 2015, which takes place next Friday, February 27 in Warsaw. This one’s a two-parter; one of the shows stars Metronomy and takes place at the Palladium, and the other’s an after hours dance/jazz blowout at Basen with Peterson and Motor City Drum Ensemble. To enter the ticket giveaway contest, comment below with your favorite tune from Gilles’ label Talkin’ Loud and make sure to enter your email in the form so we can hit you back. Our esteemed judges will determine which entrant chose the best tracks and pick the winners. The contest ends this coming Monday, February 23 at 17:00 Berlin time.
A as in Abarbanel, Tsvia:
If you’re talking about sound quality, the best nightclub in the world is probably the Block in Tel Aviv. One of my favorite moments last year happened during a set I played there when I dropped a 7-inch by an artist named Tsvia Abarbanel. The record is an amazing hybrid of traditional Yemenite singing and Western jazz funk. It was recorded in 1970 but never had a proper release, so it was rare as hen’s teeth. Lucky for us, an Israeli re-release label called Fortuna pressed a reissue. I like to mix the intro into a track by Acid Arab called “Samira.” It’s a special combination.
B as in Body clock: I’m lucky in the sense that I’m a master of the power nap. I can quite happily do twenty minutes here or there. As my wife tells me, I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, and it’s been a saving grace in my career. It’s an art.
C as in Censorship: In 1990 I lost my show on Jazz FM for speaking out against the first Gulf War. I think I learnt my lesson, so now I just stick to the music. Funnily enough, I was the first media victim of that war in Britain; there were articles in the paper and everything. It actually helped my career because it added a certain subversive aspect to my character. Now that I’m on the BBC I have to be very careful about what I say.
D as in Dingwalls: Dingwalls was home to one of my most renowned and enjoyable residencies. I was there at a mad, exciting period before acid house and acid jazz exploded. I’d had quite a lot of residencies before Dingwalls but it was the club that shaped my musical ethos. Putting on live music, mixing genres together—that’s something that came to its climax at that club. A lot of people think of it as a jazz club, but it wasn’t really. We’d play hip-hop, house, soul, and disco. It was also a club where a lot of the DJs who’d been playing the night before would come after their sets, so it became the after party spot for a lot of people. It incorporated a lot of different aspects of the London scene.
E as in Electric Ballroom:
Electric Ballroom was another London club but it was strictly about heavy jazz and Afro-Cuban music. I’d play upstairs on a Friday. Downstairs there was Paul Anderson’s party holding about a thousand people, but 50 or 60 dancers would end up battling upstairs on my floor. The music I’d have to play in that environment was hardcore, fast, furious, Afro-Cuban fusion, and these dancers would battle at high intensity for five hours at a time.
F as in Fusion:
Fusion music in its purist sense comes from the ’70s—it’s those records that are electric but jazzy, and a little bit improvised. “Liberated Fantasies” by George Duke or “Shiftless Shuffle” by Herbie Hancock. That’s jazz fusion. It was such a big part of what made these clubs so intense for dancing.
G as in Gang Starr:
Guru rest in peace. I was so sad when he died. Younger MCs like Joey Bada$$ and Kendrick Lamar are finding the Q-Tips, the Phifes, and the Gurus, which is great to hear. Actually, Guru and Premier used to come to Dingwalls; I’ve got a picture of them there. I used to help out Premier, and I still do. One year he was in London and he had to do a remix for the Dream Warriors. He was like, “Oh my god, I haven’t got any samples,” so he came and borrowed records from me. He took Black Byrd by Donald Byrd and made a track out of it. “Jazz Thing” was such an important tune for Gang Starr. It has that whole Spike Lee New York vibe going on.
H as in Hardcore Continuum: For me, English dance music goes back to sound systems. It’s sound systems that made England special in terms of the culture and music it created—it’s what set us apart from other countries in Europe. The Jamaicans brought that sound system culture which became a big part of the heritage for people living in London and Birmingham. That’s obviously had a big effect on the evolution of dance music in the UK. It unites everything from happy hardcore, to jungle, to garage, to grime—so I do agree somewhat with the idea of the Hardcore Continuum. This British musical heritage and evolution is one of the reasons I find it hard to leave London as a base, because for me, everything comes through here. London is still constantly fostering growth in the music. If I was living in Berlin, it’s all very techno and very narrow. In England we’ve got hybrids of different aspects. It’s another sort of fusion.
I as in Ibiza:
The depressing thing about Ibiza is that a lot of people see it as the nirvana. It’s like Las Vegas, commercial nonsense. Everything I despise about capitalism is there in Ibiza. However, I still feel that it’s important to go if Carl Cox asks me to play at Space. I think back to when I was fourteen and one of the few people in the back room of the club where you’d hear the DJ play something freaky, a cool track you wouldn’t have heard if you were in the more mainstream room. So in that sense you can’t close Ibiza down, but if I had the option I’d rather not go.
J as in Jersey club music: Whether it’s Baltimore club, footwork or any of those types of hybrids, I always get really excited about it. Everyone throws terms at this stuff, but I don’t know the difference between deep house and hard house. I’ve lost it. I just play music now. I probably play Jersey club, it sounds like the kind of thing I’d spin.
K as in Kuduro: Kuduro is a genre that’s a lot easier for me to understand because I’ve been quite tuned in to it. My trips to Portugal showed me a lot of that broken sound. It can be a little bit dancehall, or like broken beat with a tropical twist. It’s very big for me, stuff like Buraka Som Sistema. The other thing I enjoy about what I do is that I end up playing on a lot of different circuits and many different scenes. So one day I’m off to Lisbon and suddenly I get a big dose of kuduro. It’s great that it gives producers and DJs something to focus on and a way create their own history. It’s a positive thing.
L as in London club crisis: In a way, London is the best place in the world to go clubbing. Yet it’s the only place in the world that doesn’t have a good club at the moment. London is about pop-ups and one-offs. People who are into music are a bit sick of the commercialism of clubbing. They don’t want to spend thirty pounds to go see a DJ. The other reason I find Ibiza awful is because you spend a hundred quid in five seconds. It’s not fair. A club like Output in New York, or the Block in Tel Aviv, or Air in Tokyo doesn’t exist in London.
M as in Mala:
I think Mala represents everything that’s great about London. His sound system, his ethos, and what he’s given to music as a producer could only have happened in London, though he’s living in Antwerp now. It was a great experience to work together in Cuba on his album, and now he’s got a new LP of recordings he’s made in Peru coming out soon.
N as in Northern Soul: Northern Soul is very much part of my culture. It takes me back to those younger days when I was looking for something secret and special to do with my friends, something that other people didn’t know about. We’d find these little rooms blasting Art Blakey records and full of eccentric people coming up with these bonkers dance moves. There was a lot of range in the music, but sometimes that led to the DJing being more about rarity than quality. On the whole though, I thank god for these odd little scenes because they unearth nuggets of great music.
O as in Ocarina:
The ocarina is a properly ancient instrument that I haven’t come across so much, but I’ve seen a lot of thumb piano recently, which is of a similar vintage. It’s been in the hands of Stanley Cowell, the pianist and co-founder of the fiercely independent jazz imprint Strata-East. I’ve seen him on the thumb piano quite a bit because we’re putting on a night of Strata-East music at the Barbican in London.
P as in Pirate Radio:
I got my start and made a name for myself on pirate radio. At the age of seventeen, I had my own little radio station called South London Broadcasting. It was a two hour broadcast—one hour from me and the other by my next door neighbour. We’d record it on cassette, then my dad would drive us to Epsom Downs in South London. We’d connect the cassette player to a transmitter, plug in an aerial, and power it all with the car battery. Then we’d go listen to see if anyone phoned us on the local phone box. We’d get one or two phone calls and be buzzing off it for weeks. One day this other station gave me a call. It was Invicta, the first pirate black music station in London. They got busted and had their transmitter confiscated, but they heard there was some young boy in South London with a replacement. I was that boy. So when they asked if they could borrow it, I said yes—on the condition that they give me a radio show.
Q as in Quo Vadis?: Where am I going? I’m continually looking for new places and going outernational. There’s talk of making a record in Indonesia. I’m going back to Cuba. I’ve been asked to perform my Brazilian record Sonzeira: Brasil Bam Bam Bam at Rock in Rio, which is just insane. There’s so many things happening, so many different places to make records.
R as in Retirement: I’m enjoying this too much to stop, and I don’t know when a DJ stops DJing. I always thought that I didn’t want to be that old bloke playing records, but here I am. There are plenty of older guys who still inspire me. I had Francois Kevorkian sitting in the booth with me when I last played in New York. He’s like the professor, and he’s still teaching.
S as in Spiritual Jazz:
Contrary to popular belief, there’s loads of modern spiritual jazz. There’s an album coming out by an artist called Kamasi Washington who signed to Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder. It’s spiritual jazz all the way. I consider Flying Lotus part of the spiritual lineage. I remember going to see him a few years ago when he was playing with a drummer and Dorian Concept on keyboards, and it was like going to see an Albert Ayler concert in 1968. Spiritual jazz is very much alive.
T as in Talkin’ Loud: Working on that label was a learning experience. I had to get to grips with how the global music industry machine works. We made some records that I’m very proud of from artists like M.J. Cole, Roni Size, Carl Craig, and The Roots—we had an amazing period there. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time because I was zipping through it at such speed that it was hard to take stock. In the end I had to get out because it was too intense.
U as in Universal language: I buy into the cliché that “music is a universal language.” As Albert Ayler said, “Music is the healing force of the universe.” I totally accept and believe that. Music is something that gives us all hope. There aren’t enough people in the world who listen to music. You don’t need therapy when you’ve got a record collection.
V as in Vertical integration in the music economy: In the old days, each link in the music supply chain was relatively autonomous and separate. Now anyone can be a producer, label, and distributor. Once upon a time, the majors and their distribution partners controlled everything, but now it’s wide open. In terms of art and creativity, it’s very exciting.
W as in Worldwide Festival: It’s the best thing I do. Over the years it’s become a meeting point for all my friends and everyone I meet around the world. Plus, we’ve got a gorgeous location in the South of France. I was tired of going to festivals where there was always something missing. I wanted to create a festival that provides a well produced, great experience, whether it’s a live band performing or a DJ spinning. You can’t put on a festival like that overnight. It’s the culmination of my thirty years in the music industry.
X as in X-Ray Spex and late seventies punk:
I liked X-Ray Spex, but in 1977 you were either into jazz funk or punk music. I loved punk and the clothes, but I was a soul boy. I remember one day coming back from an all-dayer on a bank holiday. I walked out of the party with my mate who was wearing a pair of pegged trousers from a shop called Jones on the Kings Road. A punk from our school saw him walking out and beat him up. I did a runner. Whatever tribe you were from, it was a passion. You had to be careful, you had to defend yourself, you were part of a gang, and I loved that. Whether you were a mod, a soul boy, a casual, a ted, or a punk, you had to make that decision. I don’t think there’s enough of that these days in music.
Y as in Young Fathers: I was quite impressed when they won the Mercury Prize last year. I was there, actually. I didn’t think they were going to win it. My money was on Kate Tempest.
Z as in Zouk: This is a traditional carnival style from Guadeloupe and Martinique that was supplemented with synths and modern technology in the eighties. I have a residency at La Bellevilloise in Paris where I play loads of these sounds from Guadeloupe and Martinique. I’ve been playing a lot of stuff from the Reunion Islands, too. There’s so many great little variations in the styles coming out of the Caribbean, and people go mental for them.
This article will appear in the Spring 2015 issue of Electronic Magazine, which comes out in March. Gilles Peterson will DJ at the Electronic Beats Festival in Warsaw on February 27. You can buy tickets to the event here.
Photo: Ben Roberts
As a performance artist and founding member of Throbbing Gristle, Cosey Fanni Tutti helped permanently alter modern musical consciousness with sonic and visual transgressions rooted in electronic experimentation and socio-political confrontation. Together with Genesis P-Orridge, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson and future partner Chris Carter, TG created the blueprint for the industrial genre and then spread the good word through their label Industrial Records, releasing such acts as Cabaret Voltaire and spoken word pieces by William S. Burroughs. Following the band’s initial break-up, Chris and Cosey (today Carter Tutti) would go on to become one of the most prolific and influential experimental electronic acts around. Thankfully, they have not chosen to rest on their laurels. In the Winter ’13 edition of EB Magazine, Cosey gave us her version of the alphabet; needless to say, it’s right up our alley.
A as in All Tomorrow’s Parties: Nico’s voice echoes in my head whenever I see this written down. I’m immediately transported back to my youth. My seventeen-year-old self chilling out with my friends. Dope, acid, mescaline times. A mind expanding era for me with Nico, Velvet Underground, Beefheart, and many more as the soundtrack.
B as in Bourgeois: I’ve never been a member of that club but oddly enough I’d class some of my friends as bourgeois.
C as in COUM Transmissions: It was then. It ended. This is now. But that’s not to deny the importance of my work with COUM.
D as in Death Factory: The music from the death factory came specifically from Throbbing Gristle working in the basement studio at Martello Street which was a factory built on the mass grave pits for the victims of the plague. So effectively we were more or less on the level of the burial grounds in a factory making music.
E as in Ethics: Imperative, yet sadly lacking in so many people.
F as in Fetishes: Wonderful fetishes, what would we do without them? My deepest fetishes are mine alone, except for whom I choose to share them with.
G as in Guitar: My sound weapon of choice. After more than thirty years playing guitar I “feel” it as an extension of myself. I still get such a buzz from playing, discovering, and generating new sounds with it. I can’t even remember what made me choose to play the guitar but I remember well getting Chris to cut down the body of a cheap and ugly seventies “Raver” guitar into a slick stick guitar to make it easier for me to handle. Then I gradually gathered my arsenal of effects pedals.
H as in Heartbeat: Little did I know that this word would come to have quite a different significance from when we used it as the title for the first Chris & Cosey album. The irony isn’t lost on me that my unpredictable heart condition, arrhythmia, is actually a rhythm problem!
I as in Industrial Records: The beginning of the industrial music genre. Founded by myself and the other three members of Throbbing Gristle in 1976. It was, and still is, an extension of TG and our related works.
J as in Jokes, bad: How many roadies does it take to change a lightbulb? One, two! One, two! One, two!
K as in Kitsch: I love some kitsch, and done well, or badly even, it is just so, well, kitschy.
L as in Love/Hate: I don’t buy into hate, neither do I agree with the saying that love is another form of hate. They are opposites, one positive and enriching, one negative and destructive.
M as in Making music with your partner: We fit like a glove. We have a wonderful symbiotic relationship, so making music, video, or doing photography together is second nature to us. There are very rarely any moments of conflict. Plus, we both have separate projects so we get some space to expand on our creativity individually. That in itself brings new life into the work we do together.
N as in Nick, MY SON: The best Chris and Cosey production… ever!
O as in Occultism: Occultism is a private issue, but I will say that my interest in occultism lies in the broadest sense of the concept. Certainly I’ve embraced spirituality and I feel that a deep sense of self is essential to fulfill one’s potential. This also goes for maintaining a connection to a seemingly hidden dimension that is possibly out of reach if one conforms to restricted notions and established modes of thought, expression and ways of living and communication. Having experienced my own death and resuscitation after undergoing a heart procedure some years ago, as well as the loss of so many dear and very spiritual friends, my thoughts on the subject now have shifted somewhat. When your light goes out you cease to exist. When we are vital organic life forms, our potential for ‘being’ is in our hands and is determined by our ‘self’. Whether one chooses to achieve that through occultism or other practices is a personal choice. But in my mind occultism—or, other channels such as organized religion, Scientology and so on—act as facilitators. Practices alone do not provide any given rite of access to our deep inner self. It’s understandable that some people seek the mysterious in this world of vast scientific discoveries and knowledge. But that’s a kind of “blind faith” when you think that at the same time as seeking mysteries and higher truths they so readily accept science and technology such as the Internet, or mobile phones to access information on the subject, or the science of aviation to fly to remote spiritual retreats and locations. That technology and science actually disproves some of what they base their “belief” on.
P as in Performance Art: I prefer the term “art action” to differentiate between a performance, like theater, and an action. It can be great, inspiring and profound and it can also be disappointing and devoid of meaning or power.
Q as in Quo vadis, Industrial?: As a genre “industrial” means something quite different to us, to TG. People take the meaning far to literally. It’s not just about hard sounds and driving rhythms. You just have to listen to all the different styles of music TG have produced over the years to figure that out. Our Industrial Records label is nearly thirty years old and still alive and kicking and doing very well. We have a series of unreleased TG projects planned for next year.
R as in Radical Politics: Although it can be incredibly divisive in either a good way or a bad way I guess it’s necessary even if just to emphasize that something is definitely very wrong. I despair at the human race, its ignorance and capacity for destruction and malevolence.
S as in Sex Pistols: I guess they were pivotal in their own way but they were essentially a manufactured boy band nevertheless. I’m just pleased John Lydon went on to do some good work in his own right. His Country Life butter ads on TV were so cutting edge and anti-establishment.
T as in Transgression: Always good and even better when it’s genuine and not done to gain attention or notoriety. My work’s often been described as transgressive but I never think to myself, “What can I do that’s transgressive?” I just am and I do what I feel best expresses my feelings and myself. I’m an innocent really—or as Chris always says “49% angel and 51% devil.”
U as in Utopias: Somewhere we dream of when we seek escape.
V as in Vicious ignorance: Far too prevalent I’m sad to say.
W as in William S. Burroughs: I’ve never been as interested in his work as much as the other members of TG were. I was “discouraged” from being involved on a personal level when meetings with Burroughs were arranged. I was told he was a misogynist. Or maybe it just wasn’t “cool” to have a woman with you when you go to meet and want to impress your hero.
X as in XXX Film: Oh yes, nothing like a good Triple-X! Although, as with music, my appreciation can be colored by over analysis.
Y as in Yearnings: All my yearnings are towards peace and quiet. Ironic… or maybe understandable considering the amount of time I spend making noise.
Z as in Zyklon B Zombie: Lest we forget, one of the lowest, most horrendous periods in human history. ~