Monthly Archives: May 2011

Jamie xx Talks About Working With Gil Scott-Heron

Given the very sad news of Gil-Scott Heron’s passing today, I thought I would chop up a bit from the interview written up elsewhere on this site so you could hear from Jamie xx about some of the process of making his incredible version of Gil Scott-Heron and Richard Russell’s ‘I’m New Here.’

Rest in Power, GSH.


James Blake Interview Part 1

James Blake was a tough interview subject. He’s interestingly portrayed in the media and his music is hard to decipher. Journalists try to do that of artists’ output a lot and I’m sure that adds to the frustration felt by artists. In this first part of my interview – this week’s cover story in the last ever 3D World magazine – we talk about the state of the music industry, musicians as producers, Radiohead, his iPod and his lyrics.

The interview has been edited to tighten up some of the long drawn out questions to their essence, and some of the ‘ums’ and ‘aahs’ and silences between questions.

Part two will air on 2SER’s ‘Soul Glow’ program on 30th May and then be uploaded here.

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Here’s the full story from 3D World:

James Blake is a daunting interview subject. After several postponements and the late chance that this interview may serve purpose to promote a tour rather than one of the most hyped debut artist albums of the year, there’s a general line of questioning one wants to go down that may rub the oft-maligned artist the wrong way.

 

His debut self-titled LP was released by Universal offshoot Atlas in February 2011 after a few EPs that had elements of Dubstep, RnB and minimal Techno in them. His cover of Feist’s Limit To Your Love dropped jaws across the world, no doubt due to the poignant timbre of his voice and his pairing of brutal Dubstep bottom end with haunting piano playing and traditional song structure. Not since Radiohead had electronics and musical instruments had such a hypnotic pairing, yet Blake does not look to Radiohead for influence.

 

“I don’t know a lot about Radiohead. A lot of my friends were in to Radiohead,” he says. “I did like one of the things I heard. I am kind of fascinated by them now in what they’ve done in their career.”

 

Name-checking piano music, Arthur Russell, Destiny’s Child, Brian Wilson, Andre 3000, Quasimoto and Stevie Wonder as what he ‘swings’ through on his iPod, it’s the inclusion of Madlib’s helium-voiced alter-ego that provides an easy segue way in to the question of Blake’s own use of technology to alter his voice. Blake is not writing in a persona, nor is he disguising his vocals to distance himself from the subject matter of the lyrics.

 

“The pitch shifting is pure,” he says, sounding somewhat irritated, like he’s been asked the question a million times before. “It’s a thing that happens in the moment. It’s not something I do for any self-conscious reason. I like this sound, this effect on the voice and in certain songs it demands it, I think. Certain songs sound like they need it.”

 

Exploring busted-up relationships and family quarrels, James Blake’s debut LP is not an easy listen. Particularly when it’s disguised in sometimes ear-shattering EQ and effects. Still, he doesn’t see the subject matter as off-limits or some sort of brave statement.

 

“Most artists do that,” he reckons. “It’s only brave from the perspective of a producer who then goes and does something slightly more, I don’t know ‘bold’… I didn’t consider it bold or brave at all, that’s what I wanted to do. It’s been a long time coming that I’ve been able to sing on a record and produce it myself. I always wore my heart on my sleeve when I was growing up. I think I went through a phase, I wore my heart on my sleeve and then realised it wasn’t working for me because people tend to use it against you. I went the other way and became a lot more guarded. I didn’t let more people in. With this album maybe I was trying to go back to that. That innocence that I wanted back.”

 

 

Blake, somewhat like Kanye West has had a gaggle of journalists at his feet demanding explanation. It’s as though journalists completely fall over themselves when an artist makes a clear statement that’s so uncompromising. By letting us in, has Blake opened up a Pandora’s Box and now finds himself in a position where he’s asked to give away more than he wants to.

 

“In my mind, if I’ve opened this Pandora’s Box maybe soon it’ll be me on this operating table being tested and having experiments done on me and to extract the pure essence and emotion that is maybe coming on the next album… hahaha I don’t know,” he laughs, for the first time in the interview showing signs that he’s not as serious as he’s portrayed in the media.

 

“Hahahahaha – I don’t know what I just said. That was totally ridiculous!” He interrupts, either genuinely enjoying poking a bit of fun or having to completely backtrack and retract that last statement that again, seems to be exactly what the media want you to think of him: defensive and cautious of what’s being pinned to him.

 

Like a recent interview with Jamie xx, there’s certainly a few P’s and Q’s being minded, here, with James Blake at times taking a similarly guarded approach to the press junket.

 

“It’s not irritating. It’s interesting. It’s kind of… it’s definitely biographical rather than autobiographical,” he says of the process.  “A lot of people are attributing things to me that possibly are fabrications. I don’t really seek to dispel any of those things,” he says, moving right along.

 

It’s here where we almost come unstuck. What seems to tick James Blake off the most and give him such a bad wrap is his having to explain his agenda or process of making music.

“I’m not trying to do anything,” he says. “I’m trying to make music I like. The main misconception of people has been that I am trying to mix styles or I am trying to bring Dubstep to Singer-Songwriter people or pop or mainstream to Dubstep or Pop people or some sort of laboratory experiment. It’s irrelevant. I am just trying to make music I like and when it goes on record and gets sent to shops and distributors, at that point people will either buy it or they won’t Dubstep fans will either buy it or they won’t or Pop fans will either buy it or they won’t so then it becomes this Dubstep or Post-Dubstep or Post-Pop/Experimental/Leftfield/Populist/Sell-out/Underground (inaudible)…”

 

 

Blake sees production as one of they key points of his work. With those aforementioned ear-bleeding moments and the albums subtler acoustic points it’s the production as much as the lyrics that get the LP to its lofty heights.

“When the lyrics are written they’re done. Production takes longest. It’s the labour of love. Singing comes more naturally in some ways.”

 

Asked whether he is worried if some of the subtleties of the album are missed via current methods of listening (i.e low bitrates and laptop speakers), Blake says this:

 

 

“Not at all, listening to things on laptops speakers is quite useful. There are some things I  have only listened to on laptop speakers. If I am in the airport and have no headphones, I listen to it on laptop speakers. I am not purist about stuff like that.”

 

Certainly a product of his generation he’s not an audiophile who has to listen to things on the best gear to get the full experience, stating that “People listened to a lot of music on transistor radios that don’t put anything more out than a laptop speaker.”

 

Surprisingly though, Blake is spruiking the vinyl version of his album when pressed about its bonus tracks. He talks about the listener’s investment when having to go back to the device and flip a side or change a platter every ten minutes.

“(The vinyl only tracks) are much more experimental offcuts in a way but they are things I am just as proud of as the rest of the record. As a CD it dragged. As a vinyl LP it didn’t so that’s why it’s like that,” he says. “There are moments of the album you are going to want to skip,” he chuckles to himself, no doubt referring to the crescendo in I Never Learned To Share. “I don’t expect everyone to sit down and listen to the whole album every time,  although I like to do that. The CD literally is less than the vinyl in every way, from the weight, in importance, utility, in historical importance. CD is the worst format… it’s just not as good as having the vinyl, is it?” He asks, suggesting there’s somewhat of a common passion going on here, for the first time during the course of the interview.

 

“I love it, I love vinyl, I love the format. The CD is only going to be put on computer and it will then only exist in the computer. It is useful cos you can put it in the car, people buy it so they can have it in their car. It might as well just be called ‘car’… might as well be renamed,” he says of the format.

 

Finally, he made his name from some underground dance EPs that switched styles rather vigorously which either suits the short-attentioned span generation to a tee or is commercial suicide, before flipping it once again to a more singer-songwriter with electronics style for the LP. So is he planning on switching it up for the next release?

 

“Yes. I will be releasing a chord-less, vocal-less 12”,“ he says, deadpan.

 

 

 

 

 

Africa Hitech Got Mad Bass

Africa Hitech is comprised of the production duo of Steve Spacek and Mark Pritchard who, separately, have been behind some of underground EDM’s biggest records in the last ten to fifteen years. Steve Spacek’s voice is often compared to a modern day Marvin Gaye whilst Mark Pritchard has proved a deft hand at production in the Ambient, Techno, House, Nu-Jazz and Beat scenes with projects like Troubleman, Global Communication and Harmonic 313 but together the two are taking on their current big love: UK Bass music.

The debut album 93 Million Miles precedes two EPs, the Grimey-Garage of Blen and the Acid-Soul of How Does It Make You Feel (the lead track from the Hi-Techerous EP), yet the long-player follows a different path to its predecessors, allowing listeners in to the full spectrum of Africa Hitech’s influences.  Most notably, the duo expose Footwork early in on the album with the single Out In The Streets.

“The sound came from booty music,” explains Pritchard. “It then turned in to Juke and the Juke stuff has different vibes, more of an Electroey rhythm. The claps and kicks are more in Electro patterns but still with the heritage of Chicago House music, you know, with like snippet vocals,” he continues. “When it turned in to Footwork – I’m not sure when, it might be the last couple of years – the rhythms switched and had a more African feel.”

It’s the perfect fit for Pritchard who, as a DJ moves seamlessly through these sort of syncopated dance styles.

“It’s the rhythms (of Footwork), that remind me of Grime, Drum n Bass and early Rave music. When I heard that I was blown away,” he says. “It was the most crazy sounding dance music genre I had heard in a long time. And that it has come out of America… you think of the roots of dance music in Chicago and Detroit, the drum patterns aren’t straight up, parts of the rhythm are syncopated.” However, Pritchard is more enthused by the UK’s rendition of Juke. “If you look through the last twenty years, the UK, for me, has had more of an influence past ‘93, apart from Hip-Hop. I haven’t been as drawn to American dance music for the last 10-12 years but Footwork is there and it fits in with what I play out, from Dancehall or Dubstep or whatever.”

With the newest offspring of Dance music since Dubstep only now finding its feet, Pritchard finds himself fielding questions from journalists keen to know about the emerging style. Do overseas journalists have the scoop over Australian journalists?

“It’s pretty similar. I have found in Australia that a lot of this music, the music I play out, is from the UK and people think the UK people are more on it. If you take Dubstep that’s come out Croydon, at the time people weren’t paying much attention. In Australia, the Garage Pressure guys that were doing their radio show since 2000, they were playing the tougher end of Garage and a lot of the original Dubstep guys have been sending them their music for ages, like when Kode9 came out here in 2003.”

Pritchard goes back to 2004 when what he calls the first wave of Dubstep happened across the world.

“ I remember at that time, I was playing it and in London you would go to (Rinse FM promoted club night) FWD and it’s the only place that people are playing it, so I’d then go to Amsterdam and no one was playing Dubstep,” he says. “So, Australia is as ‘on it’ as other places. I wondered how it was going to go down out here but it’s a similar thing in Europe. It took a while for people to get their heads around it but the energy of the music carried people.”

Whilst 93 Million Miles showcases all of Pritchard and Spacek’s love of dance music, there is also a great deal of attention pad to the more organic World and Spiritual Jazz flavours. The Africa part of the group’s name, if you will. The most notable reference would be the sample of Sun Ra on Light The Way. Pritchard explains the way they went about going after one of the giants of Jazz.

“With the Sun Ra, a friend of mine works for (Dutch record label and distributor) Rush Hour who runs their art house label and takes care of Sun Ra’s catalogue and makes sure it’s done well. As soon as I heard the original track, I thought I could instantly do something with it.”

Having not sampled much over the last few years, the process has made him consider sampling more.

“It’s exactly how you want it to be,” he says of the experience. “Fair. 50/50, reasonable fee plus royalty… you would sample more and clear everything it could be like this!”

In amongst the business of the Footwork rhythms, the sampled vocals of Ini Kamoze and Sun Ra, there’s not much room for Steve Spacek’s vocals to shine through. Used sparingly, one could call it a wasted opportunity, however, there was a time during the course of recording the album that as tracks amassed, the decision to showcase Spacek’s production prowess over his voice became a more clear decision.

“Subconsciously it’s led to that,” Spacek says at a rapid-fire rate. “I have sung on so many things like Spacek, my own stuff (as Steve Spacek), Space Invadas and that’s kind of taken over, Steve Spacek the singer, you know? They speak about the project I’ve worked on and they speak about the other guy as the producer when nine times out of ten it’s my production, with the exception of Space Invadas which is not necessarily the kind of music I would make myself but the music I would definitely sing on,” he says.

Suggesting that there’s a lot more to come, the two allude to a general balance that they strived for in making a well-rounded album that could be listened to in clubs, in a car or at home.

“They have their own life,” describes Steve of the process of making albums. “Singles are more geared to clubs, it’s why we included more listening tracks, to hopefully make it more interesting for people.”

Before the James Blake interview

Try reading this…

http://streetpress.com.au/online_mags/3DN/3DN_1061/ (Pages 10-12)

I’ll be posting part one of the audio shortly.

Then the text.

Then part two.

You Need This: Mo Kolours

I’m not going to write anything about this – let the music speak. Label PR after the buy link. Buy it here http://mokolours.bandcamp.com/

Some records seem to come out of nowhere. Witness this debut EP by the half-Mauritian percussionist & singer Mo Kolours, which unites an array of more familiar influences with the Sega music of his island roots. The rhythms lead the way here, whether the straight percussive workout of Drum Talking or the crafty vocal manipulation that drives the low-slung bump of Biddies, a song that traces an imaginary line between Theo Parrish and Gonjasufi. Dead of Night mines the symbolism of The Beatles’ outwardly chirpy Blackbird while his own Bakiraq (like Burt, the songwriter) resembles a soul classic pieced together from fragments around the flickering light of a fire. Features the first ever remix behind the connoisseur’s edit label of choice: Truth Is Light.

Bibio Interview

Bibio’s new album is just lovely. You should go and buy it. During our interview my smoke alarm went off but he was a sport about it.

Buy Mind Bokeh at iTunes now

(c) Three D World – SPA

Bibio is Stephen James Wilkinson. A prolific producer by anyone’s standards, he’s part of a new wave of artists who seem as adept at traditional musical instruments as he is with technology like samplers and computers that assist in the overall production of a sound that’s hard to pigeonhole. Lazily, the sounds on his new album Mind Bokeh could be described as a mish-mash between Peter Frampton and Boards of Canada but it’s in the title of the LP that we get a much clearer understanding of his influence and purpose on this, his second LP for Warp Records.

‘Bokeh’ (pronounced like ‘bouquet’) is the out of focus region of a photograph. In Japanese it means haze, blur, or even dementia and in this case, the artist is keen on exploring neurological pathways where people experience feelings through sound, somewhat akin to synaesthesia.

“I came across the term fairly early on or maybe mid way (through making the album)”, says Wilkinson. “I have been aware of the effects as long as I can remember but never knew what the term was. Bokeh Is used to describe the spots of light that’s used on my album cover but it’s also used to describe the blurred part of a photograph, like in a portrait where the background is out of focus.”

He’d noticed this effect in films and documentaries before and describes it as “an abstraction of the real world… it’s turned in to a geometric form.”

If this is sounding a little abstract, the best way to describe it, he says, is like glimmers of sunlight coming through a tree’s canopy. Similarly, a listen to the album, which traverses very moody distorted pyschedelia as much as it does sun-drenched folk jams, may sort you out for a better understanding.

“The music inspired the ideas for the imagery, which is why I did the artwork the way I did. I really like that effect and I have tried to build it in to my music,” he says.

The former teacher is fascinated by the senses. Teaching music to teenagers at a college before he got signed to Warp, he says he always used to sneak a bit of psychology in there.

“I wanted to see how students how associated sound and vision,” he says, mirroring label-mate (and director) Steve ‘Flying Lotus’ Ellison’s comments in this magazine about how sounds conjure emotions a few years ago.  “There are scientific similarities between sound and light because they are both erratic frequencies. There’s no right or wrong way to perceive them. For example, ‘bass is a warm colour and treble is a cold colour’…  that is all in the mind of the listener or viewer.”

He hears other people’s music in the same way, describing the Flying Lotus music, as “not entirely abstract but it’s not entirely synthetic It has very familiar, real-world things in there but has this kaleidoscopic, experimental aspect that results in a multifaceted, shimmering effect.”

Bibio first came to prominence for many with 2009’s Ambivalence Avenue, but he’s released an EP in between full-lengthers and has had several releases previously with US label Mush. He dispels the notion that the label has held back material as charming as Mind Bokeh as a way of quickly introducing him to an audience before really letting him out of the cage. A series of general label scheduling duties has just had the releases come out the way they did, which has allowed him to develop both in studio and in public life.

“Through having to do interviews it made me feel I have more in common with a film director than a performer because I use music as an illusion, like being in a place, so I think of imagery when I compose,” he says.

With a background as a guitarist, at one stage being involved in heavy metal, Wilkinson didn’t touch electronic music until he was sixteen. He couldn’t afford a sampler until he was twenty and got in to computers much later do to the constraints of finances and what the machines were actually capable of achieving at the time. Still, he leans on his instruments mostly when making music as his experiences as a teacher have shown him how lazy people can be in front of a computer monitor.

“I think music software, because it’s visual, young people used it as it’s supposed to be used, so that’s a trap,” says Wilkinson. “Young people put things where it’s supposed to be on the grid, like a jigsaw puzzle,” he says.

A musician first, Wilkinson can still not separate the production side form his output as Bibio, which is really the crux of this generation of artists (James Blake, Jamie xx et al) whose sound is often perceived as being very electronic, when, in a way, it’s the cutting edge production techniques they use on the instruments they play that give the listener the perception they’re listening to beats or dance music.

“I don’t see the production as being a means to capturing the music like, ‘here’s an instrument, I have to produce it,’” he says, “I see it whole thing as the means, rather than production being secondary to the music.”

Admitting he used to think electronic music was rubbish and just ‘pressing buttons,’ he puts this new wave of artistry down to the affordability of technology and how that has led to studio time constraints being virtually non-existent.

“You couldn’t really become a producer very easily back then,” says Wilkinson, speaking of a time somewhere from the seventies and eighties all the way up to a little over ten years ago. “At one time, the term bedroom musician suggested some kind of crappy dance music, where now it could be applied to really well produced pop music that’s done in the bedroom.”

Either way, the listener, like Charlie Sheen, is winning. When you have artists as interested in the finished sound as they are the original melodies they sketch out, the end result is a better product. Seeing such sketches through to the expansive journey to be found on Mind Bokeh is what makes Bibio such a welcome addition to the wonderful Warp roster and the fact that he’s so interested in the psychology of music, ain’t half bad, either.

Jamie xx Interview

As published in 3D World Magazine – copyright those guys

Jamie xx Interview by Huwston

Born Jamie Smith, Jamie xx is a key player in the UK music scene that has ushered an influx of ‘bass music’ across clubs’ speakers the world over. As part of The xx he’s turned a generation of dancers back on to ‘guitar music’ (or vice versa) and won a Mercury Prize in doing so. His latest project, a remix album of Gil Scott-Heron’s album I’m New Here sees him adding US Soul to the mix. And now for something completely different…

In 2010 XL Records released legendary poet, Soul singer and proto-Rapper Gil Scot-Herron’s I’m New Here, his first studio record since 1994’s Spirits, produced entirely by label head Richard Russell. Bleak at best, the album depicted a man ravaged by time spent in prison, drug addiction and a life of going against the grain. Helmed across the world as a landmark for its uncompromising look at modern life from the eyes of a man who never fit in, I’m New Here has now been completely flipped by Jamie xx and unintentionally serves the purpose of delivering Scott-Heron’s sermons at the church of what’s happening now.

“I didn’t really have a plan for each song but I had some concepts for what I wanted it to sound like in the end,” says Smith. “And it was basically all inspired by growing up with pirate radio. The amount of different genres that are played on pirate radio but the obviousness you get when you flip on a pirate radio station you instantly know that it’s not commercial in any way.”

It’s an album that’s hard to think of as a ‘remix album.’ With all of its quirky spoken-word interludes and studio outtakes included, there feels like a real synergy in the recording process, though the two only met briefly a few times. Smith also says that whilst he’s never really listened to remix albums before, he jumped when the opportunity arose.

“I went to a few of his gigs and we hung out before and after but because it was quite intense – he was always about to go on stage or had just come off stage – so we never really got to talk that much about the actual project,” he says.

Offered no direction by the label or Scott-Heron himself, Smith was let loose on the parts from the original album and, save for the occasional FM dial tones and static hisses you can hear on Your Soul And Mine, the modus operandi of We’re New Here comes as quite a surprise.

“It’s the genre of pirate radio, which is a bunch of different genres,” says Jamie. “When I do remixes I basically take everything but the most obvious element of the song and create a new track underneath, so it’s always slightly more like a new production rather than a remix. With XL they are very open to let the artist do what they want, if they don’t like they‘re not going to release it but luckily they liked what I did.”

Smith’s production on We’re New Here injects some much-needed warmth in to the original, though he is a fan of the former album.

“It worked so well as a whole album, every track complimented Gil’s vocals,” he says.

On his interpretation of My Cloud there’s a sensitive, almost lullaby-esque mood created that harks back to songs like Your Daddy Loves You from 1974’s Winter In America. Smith sought not to create a throwback to any of Scott-Heron’s earlier work and any similarities are unintentional. He did however keep a few things all in the family:

“With some of the tracks I sampled some kicks and snares and drum samples from some of the people he worked with in the 70s like Bernard Purdie, who was in his band for a while, so there was little clips of stuff that relates to Gil a lot, amongst other, newer sounds.”

Similarly, on the album’s closer I’ll Take Care Of You he incorporated the work of his current band mates The xx.

“I wanted to put a little bit of Romy and Oli on the record just because we have been working together since we were fifteen, I always want to keep our little group of friends and making music a part of what we do. On the last track, Romy did the guitar bit and there’s a vocal sample from Oliver, which was recorded when we were sixteen.”

Ahead of his next groundbreaking release, the soothing steel-drum club jam Far Nearer for the Numbers record label, Jamie xx is wearing a lot of hats. He’s completed grime mixes for BBC Radio 1, assisted Adele’s second assault on the world by giving her Rolling In The Deep a club booster and remixed the comeback album of one of the Godfathers of Rap, so what happens when the rising star of the underground (he hates that word) wins the Mercury Prize?

“It was very nice,” he says, as bashfully as ever. “It was probably the award that we would have most wanted out of anything, ever. We have been following it since we were kids. We feel very honoured. But as for our normal lives, they’re not really affected,” says Smith, with the kind of reserved manner he has kept throughout the interview.

Being at the top of a heap of high profile projects has seen Smith have to step up his appearances in the public arena. Whilst he’s very quiet, he’s also very clear, giving direct responses and generally having a good go at every question thrown at him. Does he like it?

“No. I’m not very good at it. I used to be able to get Oli and Romy to do that stuff (PR), but it comes with it.”

Suggesting that everyone is a part of the current wave of music where commercial and independent scenes collide, he won’t be labelled a leader of the movement.

“I think now, as far as I can see, in my world, especially in London, genres are getting so convoluted and mixed up and because of the internet they’re open to a lot of different people and it means that you can be listening to and making pop music at the same time as appreciating and making more underground music and deeper stuff just for the clubs and I think it’s first time we’ve actually been able to do that,” he reckons, continuing “You can hear underground – I hate that word – dancey stuff made for  small groups of people now popping up in massive pop songs.  For example Britney Spears’ new song has some crazy dubstep breakdown in it – I’m not saying it’s good – but it’s basically influenced by what was happening in Croydon 10 years ago.”

Sonically bridging the gap between live and electronic, rap and sung vocal, poetry and House music, does he see the irony in a guy who pays the rent with beeps and buzzing sounds remixing an LP which contained a manifesto to “Turn off everything that rings or beeps or rattles or whistles”?

“I never thought about that to be honest,” he half-laughs, “I guess it’s kind of cool.”

We’re New Here is out now through XL/Young Turks/Remote Control/Inertia