Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Category: Interviews (page 1 of 5)

Interview: DJ Lag

The Wire
January 2016


Gqom With Me

Gqom purveyor DJ Lag is helping to take the caffeinated rush of Durban’s dance style worldwide

Partyheads in Durban, South Africa have been not so quietly losing their minds over gqom music for the past few years. It’s pretty hard to stay in a relaxed state faced with gqom’s rush of uppers, the drama of its relentless kicks, its balls-out urgency to go higher and get hyper.

“GQOM music makes you think of fun, nothing else but fun,” says DJ Lag, real name Lwazi Asanda Gwala, a key player in the gqom scene, currently doing his bit to spread the brutal, bubbling dance sound around the world.

He’s just finished a tour of Asia and Europe, with stops in Berlin’s Panorama bar, Krakow’s Unsound festival and London’s Stour Space in Tower Hamlets. The Gqom Oh! Showcase tour came about after London imprint Goon Club Allstars released his self-titled four-track EP in November, a big, rushy, unapologetic, caps-lock permanently on, caffeine slap of beats.

“We were introduced to Kasimp3, the site that a lot of Durban artist upload their tunes to, about three and a half years ago,” says Ed from Goon Club Allstars, “and were just listening to loads of tracks on there. We were all drawn to Lag’s productions and so reached out to him via Facebook.

Lag’s tunes stood out because of the atmosphere he creates. His tracks are fierce. The reaction [to the EP] has been great. Lag’s tracks crossover a whole range of dancefloors so we’ve had positive reactions from lots of different scenes.”

Like a lot of gqom, Lag’s EP was made with a lo-fi set-up using FruityLoops software at his house.

“Ghost on the Loose” is a driving, pummeling opener to set the pace, “16th Step” introduces more colour and bounce to the cold, raw beats and “Umlila” features a metallic clang, building into a more forceful industrial battering, chaotically unravelling in various directions of chirping birdsong and chanted vocals.

The word ‘gqom’ is pronounced with a click consonant and comes from the Zulu word for ‘hit’ or ‘drum’ – something there is never a shortage of in gqom sets.

The word is taken from drama used in our traditional music,” explains Lag, who lives in a rural township of Durban called Clermont. Getting in contact with him isn’t easy – patchy wifi snags several attempts at a WhatsApp call, then he has to go offline while he’s round visiting his mum who has no internet, then he loses his phone charger and runs out of data allowance, so we chat mostly over texts, spaced out over a week.

Gqom first got played a lot on mobile phones in Durban as the microscene grew, and taxi drivers cashed in, blasting gqom DJs out their car windows to pick up people on their way to and from parties. The Wire reviewed the first big compilation of the genre, Gqom Oh! The Sound of Durban Vol 1 back in January featuring other gqom big hitters like Emo Kid and Citizen Boy, and by July the documentary Woza Taxi was screened on The Fader’s website. The short film, directed by Tommaso Cassinis, homed in on the link between gqom and ecstasy, as the two often go hand in hand. Is gqom better enjoyed on pills?

“No, in my view I wouldn’t say that, because when it comes to dancing and fun you don’t really need a certain boost. Gqom is vibey, fun, dance music. The best reaction from a crowd is non stop dance.”

Gqom’s association with illegal drugs, including a powerful upper called mkwini, and other amphetamine cocktails also popular in Europe, with names like Superman, La Costa and Mercedes, are why some people reckon the music isn’t as popular in its native South Africa as it might be. Big name, better paid and promoted DJs often rip off the township music and pass it off as their own, but class prejudices mean the original producers won’t always get airplay.

Lag says he first got into DJing as a way of getting his music played out. “It was a motive coming from production as I kept on asking other DJs to please play my music. DJs who believed did agree, of which there were few. Most did not believe in this kind of music I was bringing to them so I decided to learn how to play because I had so much belief in myself and this kind of music, and I could see the vision.”

The international club scene has embraced it pretty quickly though, reacting to the infectious, percussion-heavy excitement of gqom, which steamrolls over grime, afro-house, hard electro and hip hop styles with uncompromising screams, yells and drumrolls.

The EP is currently going down well, and Lag is riding the high. Just after his overseas tour finished, he went straight back out to play dates in Durban and Johannesburg clubs. “I just had my new best memory in a Durban club, whereby on my comeback event I had a crowd of 3000 and I gave them my best set. I would like for [the EP] to be enjoyed and played worldwide.”

This interview appeared in the January issue of The Wire.

Listen to an exclusive mix from South African DJ Lwazi Asanda Gwala for The Wire here.

 

 

Interview: Kill Alters

The Wire
December 2016

Kill Alters Bonnie Baxter

Bonnie Baxter of Kill Alters

Memory Holes

The cathartic racket of Kill Alters uses home recordings of a dysfunctional childhood as raw material

“I didn’t even know I lived above a porn video store at that time. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve stuffed down and forgotten,” says Kill Alters’ Bonnie Baxter casually, leaning down to plug the phone she’s Skyping from into a charger. Three years ago she discovered a box of cassettes, recorded by her mum between the 1970s and 90s, and memories started resurfacing from her childhood. Baxter’s mum, who has lived with OCD and Tourette’s Syndrome since her own childhood, constantly taped her daily life; singing, family arguments, crying, phone calls, whatever. The tapes filled in blanks for Baxter, a New York artist based in Brooklyn,  who was releasing dark, solo synth pop as Shadowbox at the time, but she decided to work the recordings into a debut LP from Kill Alters, her project with bandmates Hisham Akira Bharoocha and her husband Nico Kennedy.

Released in a limited run of 100 yellow cassettes, their debut was an unsettling, nightmarish blur of whispered malice, little girl chatter, industrial drones and lo-fi noise. It accessed memories from a chaotic phase in Baxter’s life, when she was being sexually abused by a neighbour, and living with her alcohol mum and coke-taking dad.


“I was pretty surprised when I heard people’s reactions, they thought it was pretty fucked up, I guess to me it all just seemed normal. Some of the bits with my mum doing voices, telling jokes, wanting to be a star, I think it’s kind of funny.”

kill-alters-no-self-harmsThis year’s follow-up EP No Self Helps is way lighter in comparison, with each track intro’d by a clip of three year old Baxter and her mum singing, at first cutely, then maniacally, over Casio keyboard sample tracks. A secret track turns out to be a mother-daughter skit recorded on an iPhone, where Baxter pretends to have a genital wart, and her mum, in a gruff voice not unlike her comedy hero, George Carlin, offers hypnosis as therapy for it.  

“Growing up, my mum was very lonely so she talked to me more like a friend,” Baxter explains. “She’d show me how to puff a cigarette, or tell me she was going to some guy’s house to ask him for money, but she definitely wasn’t going to suck his dick, stuff like that.”

Although Baxter describes her childhood as dysfunctional, and her relationship with her mum remains complicated, she speaks sympathetically about her mum’s own traumatic upbringing, where she was labelled as possessed by her family because of her Tourette’s.

“I just couldn’t imagine ever cutting her off. Some of the stuff I’m unravelling now is pretty messed up – but I also think I’m pretty healthy and normal,” she adds with an awkward laugh, as her husband potters about in the background, popping in and out the webcam frame. “I guess making the music is part of my self-healing – expelling those things or something. I also hope some of it sounds fun, or playful.”

The new EP was recorded in Baxter and Kennedy’s apartment, but designed to be played live on “a really big soundsystem”. Kennedy describes it as ‘dark, mutated, heavy, weird shit’, also drawing heavily from their drummer Bharoocha’s past – he’s played with Lightning Bolt, Pixeltan and Black Dice, still tours with Boredoms, and has a solo project called Soft Circle.

The first album had a crackly, lo-fi texture which got them lumped in with the rest of Brooklyn’s noise scene, but they’ve invested in new equipment for a clearer, stripped down sound now, and are trying to shake off the ‘noise’ tag. “Don’t say it was expensive – we’re gonna get robbed!”, Baxter jokes.

“The noise scene here is very healthy, and also very cool,” says Kennedy. “But what we’re doing is actually a lot more melodic than noise, and Bonnie writes song-based music, so that label would probably mislead people now.”


Kill Alters’ visual side is also very strong – Baxter chops up Snapchat images with fuzzy VHS home movies and shaky iPhone footage to create DIY videos – a sickly, moreish blur of Miss Piggy masks, old Polaroids, her mum dancing in her bra and disembodied legs writhing around in red lace tights. The creepy aesthetic and theme of suffering sits them somewhere between Aphex Twin and Gazelle Twin, with some of The Julie Ruin’s twitchy energy or Moor Mother’s troubled and traumatised vibes.

As those names indicate, the couple’s musical influences are extensive. They enjoy listening to everyone from the Beastie Boys, BEAK>, Elliott Smith and Nine Inch Nails to Solange and Illum Sphere, and find it hard to guess who their own music will go down well with.

“What we do is pretty fragmented – there’s not one emotion. Some of it’s us hanging out and cranking out stoner jams, other stuff’s more fun, or dark. I guess if there are kids out there who listen to Kill Alters, and are maybe going through some weird shit of their own, feeling alone or anxious, and this helps them feel empowered, then I’ve done my job,” says Baxter.

Kill Alters’ No Self Helps is released via Bandcamp.

This interview was in the December issue of The Wire.

wire-dec-cover

Feature: Brexit Britain has made the comedy circuit a worrying place for many non-white comedians

The Herald
30 July 2016 

Shazia Mirza on the cover of The Herald Saturday Arts magazine

Shazia Mirza on the cover of The Herald Saturday Arts magazine

When the Brexit vote is no laughing matter

IT WAS Friday June 24. “Black Friday.” Many were still struggling to swallow the EU referendum news, and comedian Nish Kumar was playing a gig at London’s Comedy Store. More than a decade into his comedy career, it was the night he got his first racist heckle. “Go home!”, shouted someone halfway up the room. “I am home . . .?”, Kumar offered back. Born and raised in the UK, Kumar’s parents are from Kerala, India, hence his brown skin.

Fellow stand-up Paul Tonkinson was quick to Tweet about Kumar’s heckler, saying, “There’s no way this would have happened pre-Brexit.” The National Police Chiefs’ Council reported an alarming 57% rise in reports of hate crime that weekend, and hearing that xenophobes were now straying into the traditionally pretty liberal, arts-loving environs of the metropolitan comedy club sent ripples throughout certain pockets of the comedy scene. In particular, the non-white pockets.

Birmingham-born comedian Shazia Mirza has been performing material about Islamophobia since 2000, including gags about her Pakistani Muslim parents, so should be pretty unfazed about putting a non-white voice onstage by now. Yet since Brexit, she’s turned down six venues on her UK tour.

“I decided not to play certain venues, where I think it might not be safe now,” says Mirzia. “I don’t want to go to Sunderland, or Folkestone, where they’re not necessarily going to want to hear what I have to say. I wouldn’t have said that before.”

Three days after Brexit, a friend of Mirza was assaulted in the street during Ramadan, and asked, “Why haven’t you left yet?” When she replied that she was born in Britain, they spat back, “Change your f***ing clothes then.”

For Mirza, it’s a worrying jolt back to the 1970s, the last time she remembers people being openly racist.

“I was five when someone called by mum a ‘black bastard’ on a train, it was horrific. Lots of Irish in Birmingham were labelled as terrorists around then too. But that kind of visible racism – graffiti on walls, abuse in the street – I’ve not known it since my childhood. It seems so backwards and old-fashioned to go back there.”

Mirza believes certain racist views have been dormant for years, and the referendum has helped bring them to life. Sameena Zehra, a Brighton-based comedian who grew up in Kashmir, agrees.

“The referendum has unleashed something, or legitimised a lot of people’s views. It’s as if all the work against xenophobia before now, we didn’t teach them it was wrong to think like that; we just told them it was taboo. Now there’s this institutional endorsement of how they feel, certain people have just gone apeshit.”

Zehra, who will host a nightly club during the Fringe, The Cult of Comedy, and perform her solo show Poetry Can Fuck Off at The Stand, isn’t scared to go onstage, in fact it’s made her more determined to address racism through her work.

“The court jester used to make fun of society’s issues, and treat very dark matters very lightly. He could move across the entire continuum, play in front of noblemen and commoners and get away with making jokes about them all. As comedians, we need to focus on that power.”

She believes comedians are uniquely placed to speak about issues too often minimised and swept aside.

“I’m a brown, able bodied, heteronormative, middle class woman, but ask the LGBT or disabled community, and many would say the same, very disturbing problems can be written off as ‘just anecdotal evidence’ when it’s a much larger, culturally ingrained problem. It’s great these fictions are now being exposed, and we need to learn how to have nuanced conversations about them.”

Comedian Njambi McGrath has lived in London for over twenty years, and grew up in Kenya. She is writing a memoir about her childhood, where she witnessed the effects of structural racism, after both her parents were sent to concentration camps, on Winston Churchill’s orders.

“After centuries of portrayals of black people as backwards and dangerous, and these constant, subliminal messages, bigotry becomes a disease.”

Although McGrath has never experienced racist abuse in a comedy club, she admits she’s now “very nervous” about performing. If one did show up, she isn’t confident they’d want to discuss their views if challenged.

“Often it’s not a grown up debate. I would argue until I’m blue in the face, but would they want to listen? I grew up in Africa, so I know how easy it is for politicians to make people turn on one another. When people are living unhappy lives, they are very easy to incite.”

She is looking forward to playing Edinburgh, which she considers “an intelligent audience”, but is worried about other places. She describes a recent gig in Lichfield where she went on after three white male standups.

“The audience was in bits. Hysterics! I thought they’d be an easy crowd and I was about to shred it. But they just stared at me. I absolutely died onstage. I don’t want to cry racism – I wouldn’t cut it in this game if I couldn’t accept a crowd just not finding me funny. But sometimes racist vibes can be much more subtle.”

Mixed bill lineups can be more daunting than a solo show, admits Tez Ilyas, performing Made in Britain at the Pleasance.

“I’m feeling good about Edinburgh,” says Ilyas, after coming off stage at Latitude Festival. “I’d be surprised to get heckled by someone who’s seen my name and face on a poster and paid to see me. Playing to crowds who don’t know you is tougher. I’m certainly more apprehensive about playing gigs outside of metropolitan, liberal bubbles like the Edinburgh and London scene.”

For Nish Kumar, the “Go home” heckle has given him fresh material for his Edinburgh show.

“I’m 30 years old – I’m too old to be bullied! I refuse to be intimidated by the actions of a small bunch of dickheads.” He thinks of Edinburgh audiences as “judiciously comedy savvy and well behaved” and remembers a recent gig at The Stand where a drunk woman in the crowd kicked herself out before the show began, worried she was about to get boisterous.

“I’m painfully aware that I’m in a privileged, luxurious position. My job gives me a platform to discuss these disturbing ideas. In a protected environment, with security. Others don’t have that ability to challenge the idiocy. The worst thing we can do is dismiss what’s happening, and downplay the significance of hate crimes.”

Nish Kumar: Actions Speak Louder Than Words, Unless You Shout The Words Real Loud, Pleasance Courtyard, August 3-28; Shazia Mirza, The Stand, August 4-13; Sameena Zehra: Poetry Can F*ck Off, The Stand, August 4-28 (not 15); Njambi McGrath: 1 Last Dance With My Father, Laughing Horse @ Espionage, August 3-27(not 8, 15, 22); Tez Ilyas: Made in Britain, Pleasance Courtyard, August 3-28(not 15). edfringe.com


Read online and view a photo gallery at The Herald here

 

Interview: Drew Wright, on the soundtrack he and Hamish Brown wrote for Lost Treasure

The Times
15 March 2016

Hamish Brown and Drew Wright in front of Lost Treasure archive footage

Hamish Brown and Drew Wright

This Glasgow Short Film Festival opens tomorrow with the premiere of a recently rediscovered documentary about the Highlands and its people. Taking raw footage of Sutherland and Glasgow from the 1950s, an updated version of the film subtly weaves in modern influences, ranging from the poetry of Norman McCaig, the ideologies of George Monbiot, the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky and the folk music archive of Alan Lomax.


The accidentally perfectly-named film Lost Treasure was recorded in 1956 by Dawn Cine Group, a socialist film-making collective from Glasgow, who disbanded during the making of the documentary, and as a result, never managed to complete or release it. Fast forward six decades, and the unfinished black and white film will finally be unearthed, with a new live score, performed by Edinburgh musicians Drew Wright and Hamish Brown.

“The original film deals with issues of rural depopulation and land ownership, a subject still very relevant today – in fact, it’s become a real hot potato in Scotland, especially over the last two or three years,” explains Wright, a Leith-based singer and experimental musician who performs under the alias, Wounded Knee. The Lost Treasure project sees Wright reunited with Matt Lloyd, director of the Glasgow Short Film Festival, who had previously commissioned him to create a live soundtrack to John Grierson’s Drifters, a silent film from 1929 about herring fishing, filmed in Shetland and the North Sea.

It was during last year’s Glasgow Short Film Festival that Lloyd stumbled on the progressive cinema of Dawn Cine Group, whose work focused on social and political issues of the time, including slum housing in Glasgow, as covered in their most successful film, Let Glasgow Flourish, also made in 1956. Lloyd commissioned Wright to team up with musician and producer, Hamish Brown (a member of experimental pop trio, Swimmer One) to write and perform a new soundtrack for the unfinished film, Lost Treasure, which has been pieced together by Finnish cinematographer Minttu Mäntynen. After premiering in Glasgow, Lost Treasure will tour Scotland in April, with Wright and Brown performing their live soundtrack.

“We were interested in taking the original raw footage from the 50s, and folding in some other texts, poetry, Gaelic song and new music to create a sort of collage of our own,” says Wright.

“Both Hamish and I had been reading stuff by Norman McCaig – a poet who adored the West Highlands, and often wrote about Achmelvich, a part of the world where he spent a lot of time, where most of this was filmed. It was a bit of a luxury to have an excuse to re-read his poem ‘A Man in Assynt’, as well as Andy Wightman and Tom Devine’s writing on land ownership in Scotland and George Monbiot’s book, Feral, raising questions about who really owns a landscape.”

Wright describes Lost Treasure’s original script as “didactic at times” and decided to approach their new soundtrack “more poetically”.

“Hamish has created a lot of electronic, instrumental stuff which works really well as a sort of sonic bed, and we’ve put some spoken word bits over the top, including some of the original directions for the film, and me performing a Gaelic song called Cailin Mo Rùin-sa (The Maid I Adore) as well as some of my own music. The result is a mixture of textural, droney sounds and more processed synth-based music.

“Hopefully this is neither a piece of agit-pop, nor an exercise in nostalgia, but a modern response to the footage. It’s a remix I suppose, where we’ve allowed the music to come to the fore in places, slowing down some of the key scenes, drawing attention to some of the imperfections and flaws in the actual film, or focussing on the magnificent landscapes or natural light in other places.”

Lost Treasure is premiered at Glasgow Short Film Festival, GFT, Glasgow, Wednesday 16 March, then will tour to Hippodrome, Bo’ness, Sat 16 Apr; Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, Sun 17 Apr; Merlin Cinema, Thurso, Thu 21 Apr; Timespan, Helmsdale; Fri 22 Apr; Eden Court, Inverness, Sat 23 Apr; Filmhouse, Edinburgh; Thu 28 Apr
www.glasgowfilm.org/gsff

The Times Lost Treasure feature March 2016

Interview: Maurice Louca

The Herald
9 October 2015

Maurice Louca playing live

Maurice Louca

Cairo’s challenge to Glasgow audiences

“Crowds at gigs in Cairo are loud and intrusive – in a good way, it’s like the city,” Maurice Louca is explaining down Skype as, bang on cue, a loud motorbike zooms past with a high buzz. “If they like something, they’ll show it. There isn’t that kind of highbrow thing here; it’s quite the opposite actually. They’re very appreciative.”

Louca, an experimental musician born and based in Cairo, talks about a Danish DJ friend who played a club in his hometown not long ago. “The crowd had no alcohol, it was a Saturday about 7pm, and they listened! They went crazy. He couldn’t believe it. Not even drunk, not 4am, just really into it.”

It’s fairly easy to imagine a Glasgow crowd, maybe not 100% sober, but definitely losing their cool for Louca’s upcoming live set at the CCA. His music, and in particular his latest album, Benhayyi Al-Baghbaghan (Salute the Parrot), is by turns a multi-coloured, caffeinated, polyrhythmic frenzy, or a droning, rolling, hypnotic daze. He bends looping Middle Eastern percussion and psychedelic samples around addictive Egyptian shaabi melodies and metallic Arabic vocals, creating an exhilarating blur. Just please, don’t call it “fusion”.

“I hate that term – I don’t want to be associated with it, and always try to steer away from it!” he protests, laughing. “Often it just means, ‘Take metal music, then add some tabla’. I hope that’s not how I approach music. I’m not conscious or calculated about combining styles, it’s much more natural than that.”

Louca’s music mixes shaabi (an Egyptian genre of street, working class, wedding and political music that’s so broad, he says, the umbrella label pins down the style about as well as the term “world” music does) with the myriad musical influences he’s grown up around. He’s played in various bands (Bikya, and Dwarves of East Agouza with Alan Bishop and Sam Shalabi) dabbling in psych-rock covers, free jazz, techno, drum and bass, and this month [September 2015] released an exhilarating debut album of cosmic-Arabic sounds with Alif, an alternative Iraqi-Palestinian-Lebanese-Egyptian ensemble.

Although he’s been composing and performing music for years, the timing is perfect for Louca’s first Scottish appearance, and he’s glad to see a growing Western interest in Arabic music. Artists like Syrian wedding-rave wizard Omar Souleyman, hyperactive Egyptian DJ Islam Chipsy and high-energy Dutch collective Cairo Liberation Front have paved the way for him, taking the sounds of shaabi, and it’s dancier “electro-shaabi” offshoot mahraganat, into the crossover territory of European clubs and festivals.

“Those signature sounds – the polyrhythms, the scales, the textures and instrumentation – probably stand out more for Western audiences, which I am pleased about, but for me they’re just part of my musical make-up.”

Some have made a connection between the Arab Spring uprisings which began in 2010 and a gradual galvanisation of the Arabic underground music scene, but as far as Louca is concerned, the energy and creativity was there long before.

“For sure there’s a growing momentum. But things started getting interesting in Egypt back around 2005. There was definitely this feeling like, ‘we own the streets’, and it affected music, with people putting on shows and loud music in cafes, the streets and their homes. There was a bit more freedom of speech, and things got politically very interesting.”

Although he describes the current mood in Egypt as, “like living under a dark cloud”, with several of his friends in jail, and increased attempts to crackdown on youth culture and suppress artistic expression through censorship, the grim backdrop doesn’t affect him, or his music.

“No-one is stopping me on a day to day basis from making music. I don’t ever set out to make uplifting or sad music anyway. That’s not how I work. I’ve always just written music that sounds good to me.”

Although his album title, Salute the Parrot might conjure up tropical, exotic images, and he’s excited at the idea that it does, that wasn’t necessarily what Louca was aiming for.

“My intention was to leave it very open. I suppose it sounds a bit surreal, which I like, plus there are political connotations. In Cairo, a parrot is someone who repeats something that he doesn’t understand. A parrot is also the master of ceremonies at weddings who shouts out names, and that ties in with the shaabi music, so I like all the interpretations.”

As for his live show in Glasgow, he hopes the crowd get into it. “A great audience is one that likes to clap and dance, and doesn’t stay cold. I’ve heard Glasgow has a very vibrant scene, and audiences are already pretty aware of the Arab music scene over there. I don’t expect them to be as chaotic and insane as a crowd in Cairo, but it’ll be looking forward to see how carried away we get.”

Maurice Louca plays the CCA, Glasgow, tomorrow.

Read online at The Herald here.

Interview: Doug Stanhope – ‘I’m part Scottish and some English, with German rising’

The List
8 September 2015

Doug Stanhope

Doug Stanhope

It’s around 11.30am, Arizona time. Doug Stanhope is at home, dealing with another fresh hangover in his own special way. He’s applied eye drops, he’s on his second cigarette, and he’s explaining a new coping mechanism he’s developed: an evolved version of hair of the dog.

Tonight, the stand-up comedian will head to Tucson airport, so he’s in position when the airport bar opens at 6am. From there he’ll begin an #airportpubcrawl (it’s a thing, apparently). He’ll board a plane to Tokyo (with stops at Salt Lake City and Portland), drinking vodka grapefruit juices and Manhattans in the airports along the way, not venturing outside until he gets to Honolulu, where he’ll use the 12-hour layover to visit one of his favourite Tiki bars, and maybe read a book. ‘I’ll be back home in 48 hours,’ he mumbles.

It could seem like an elaborate way to unwind, but as with so many things, the logic, when explained by Stanhope, makes astonishingly good sense. ‘As soon as I’m onboard, I’ll take a Xanax, maybe have a couple of cocktails. I get the best sleep when I’m flying, I absolutely love it. I think it’s because you’re moving, going forward or something. Plus at home you’re surrounded by your shit; the dog wants fed and the cats are crying. Fuck that. This is the kind of thing you can do when you live below your means, and you don’t have kids. I live in a town where you can buy a house for $60,000. So I have a disposable income, and a bunch of air miles. Plus my wife is away so I’d probably just be bored if I hung around here; I’d rather be in motion.’

Stanhope’s #airportpubcrawl will also provide a breather from writing his upcoming book, focussing on his life with his mother, Bonnie, who committed suicide at age 63. ‘She was the one who told me to do stand-up. She was this angry, crazy, miserable, awful person, with a truck-driver mouth,’ he says, with a wheezy laugh that belies his obvious affection. ‘Writing this book makes every day feel like the day after taking ecstasy. Plus my memory is such dogshit that I have to call up friends I’ve not spoken to in years to check the facts.’

Besides looking at their relationship and casting a backwards glance over his days as a Las Vegas stand-up and then a Los Angeles barfly, the now 48-year-old Arizonian will presumably get a chance to expand on some of his libertarian views too. He’s rattled a few cages in the past with his right-to-die opinions, an issue that’s understandably close to his heart after being present at his mum’s death when she chose to overdose on morphine, while suffering from emphysema.

A quick Google search for ‘Allison Pearson’ should cover the key points to Stanhope’s argument on end-of-life care. But he recaps today, calling the Daily Telegraph journalist with whom he had an online spat in 2012, ‘ruthlessly crass, uneducated, with a poorly thought-out op ed piece.’ He still feels just as strongly. In fact, this morning’s hangover is from last night’s city council meeting, where they were discussing right-to-die legislation, and Stanhope was speaking. ‘I happen to live in a very progressive town [Bisbee, Arizona] in a state with a lot of redneck retards. Elsewhere they dress it up; they’ll do anything to avoid buzzwords like “mercy killings” or “euthanasia”. But some people require physician-assisted suicide, or maybe even farmer-assisted suicide; maybe they just want to be taken out back and put down like Old Yeller.’

While Stanhope is candid and willing to air his anarchist, libertarian views (his regular podcasts,Twitter and Facebook posts are full of them), he says his upcoming UK tour won’t focus on politics. ‘Fuck, no. Who cares? It’s so boring. It’s this circular argument. Talking about Donald Trump: what does that do? It’s the Kardashian effect, talking about them just makes the problem worse.’

He’s deliberately not revealing what the content will be for his UK shows, but claims material-wise, ‘I have a loaded gun. Usually before I do dates in the UK, I have ulcers and worry that this shit won’t work for British audiences.’

This time, three years after his last UK visit, he’s had time to accumulate plenty new material, and doesn’t have the usual panic. He even confesses to having a soft spot for Scotland, owning up, slightly shamefully, that he recently discovered his great-grandmother was born there.

‘I know, I know, American douchebags talking about their family history in the same way people talk about their astrological sign . . . But apparently I’m part Scottish and some English, with German rising, or something. I really do enjoy being in Scotland. I’m sure it’s psychological; like, maybe if you told me I was in Scotland when I was really some place in England, I’d just feel better. I don’t know why I like it; you guys still don’t have proper condiments and everything’s made of that ugly stone everywhere. But I usually have a good time there.’

www.dougstanhope.com@DougStanhopeFacebook.com/officialstanhope

Interview: Bryce Dessner

The Herald
27 August 2015

bryce-dessner
Many will know Brooklyner Bryce Dessner best as the guitarist in moody rock band The National, where he plays alongside his twin brother Aaron. But his sister, Jessica Dessner is also an influence on his approach to writing music. “My sister is a contemporary dancer, and I like the idea that dancers have this immediate, primary response to music. Classical music is often met with more of an intellectual reaction. I’m interested in exploring how music can lull and surprise the listener, and the different levels we react to it on.”

For Wave Movements, a work he has composed with his friend Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, they took inspiration from the ocean. After taking field recordings of the sea, and examining the restless rhythms, swells and irregularities it produces, they wrote a piece that mimics those sounds, to be played in synch with a black and white film by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

“[Sugimoto’s] Seascapes photos of water and air and the horizon have this naturalistic feel, they’re very slow moving and gentle, so we’ve explored different string techniques to reflect that mood.”

The multi-media performance was premiered earlier this year at The Barbican, as part of the Mountains and Waves weekend that Dessner curated, featuring minimalist works by Terry Riley and Steve Reich. For the Edinburgh International Festival date, Wave Movements will be performed live by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as a result of Dessner meeting up with EIF’s director, Fergus Linehan a few years ago and being asked to take his compositions to the Sydney Festival, where Linehan was also director.

“I like that Fergus is interested in opening up the windows a bit and letting something new in,” says Dessner. “He wants to broaden the horizons of classical music, and make a bigger statement. We can leave at the door those old ideas of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. Fergus is more about encouraging composers and musicians to take a risk, and he’s in a position to empower them to do that.”

The blurred lines between high and low art are a subject close to Dessner’s heart. Although many would consider his day job to be touring, writing and playing with The National – and he admits it does take up a chunk of his time – he’s also a very sought after classical composer, who’s worked with the LA Philharmonic, Kronos Quartet and Brooklyn Academy of Music amongst others, and is currently writing a ballet for NYC Ballet to be performed early next year. Dessner also founded the MusicNow festival back in 2006, where his pals Sharon Van Etten, St Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Bang on a Can All-Stars and Nico Muhly have all played.

“There are these old ideas about classical music being formal and sophisticated, but for me the exciting things happen when we get away from those old paradigms. Look at Tim Hecker, or Oneohtrix Point Never who play around with sampled electronic sounds in an orchestral way, or [US composer] John Luther Adams who takes inspirations from Alaskan landscapes, or me – god forbid I should play loud music in a rock club, and write classical music. But it’s like a writer doing poetry, and fiction, and journalism, or letting them blend together. It’s just about using different muscles.”

As well as Wave Movements, the EIF concert will also include Heart & Breath, a piece written by Reed Parry, based on body rhythms and breathing patterns that Dessner and Reed Parry perform live, and Ballades, a score originally written by Dessner for LA Dance Project.

“Ballades was inspired by murder ballads, a lot of them Irish and Scottish actually. I wanted to look into the European roots of US folk traditions, and maybe figure out why American culture is so defined by violence.”

Dessner’s played Edinburgh before, but more recently at the Corn Exchange or Glasgow’s 02 Academy with The National. He’s excited to be returning to Edinburgh, a city he describes as “so, so beautiful”, and particularly chuffed about where his music fits into the festival programme.

“The Edinburgh festival is well established, and has this huge reputation. But this year’s programme isn’t about turning its back on the historical traditions, it’s more about letting more people into the party.”

Wave Movements is part of The Russian Standard Vodka Hub Sessions at the Edinburgh International Festival tomorrow.

Read online at The Herald here (subscription needed).

Interview: Oneohtrix Point Never

The Herald
20 August 2015

daniel-lopatin

As a ten-year-old, in the pre-internet days, Daniel Lopatin was hooked on sci-fi cartoons. He’d seen the MTV series Aeon Flux, a dark and dystopic animation, starring an icy heroine in leather fetish gear, coupled with avant-garde sound design, and asked around to see if his friends could recommend anything similar. ‘Cartoons with serious themes,’ as he puts it. It was his boyhood gateway drug into Japanese anime.

‘Since animation is not tethered to reality, like practical sets and the budgets they require, it makes it possible to materialise all kinds of incredible forms,’ he says. ‘Animation on the whole is a better platform for speculating on the fantastical.’

So last year, when the experimental composer was commissioned to soundtrack a film for the BFI’s Sci Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder series, he turned once more to Japanese cartoons for inspiration. His research led him to Memories – a trilogy of short animations from 1995, based on the manga stories of Katsuhiro Otomo, who also wrote Akira. ‘Magnetic Rose’ is the first story, an opulent and trippy tale set onboard a destroyed space station, where holograms reflect memories and dreams. ‘Its pretty chaotic. There’s a lot of rubble and devastation.’

The film already had a soundtrack of its own, by Yoko Kanno, which Lopatin describes as, ‘dreamy, sparse, beautiful choral stuff’, but he set about rescoring it with his own celestial, futuristic soundscapes. The result is a beautifully eerie, ethereal swirl of choir song, Japanese language, warped electronics and Eastern strings. It floats between the calm refuges of an ambient otherworld, into what sounds like the dark echoes of a chilling abyss.

‘I wanted to preserve aspects of the original’s environmental sound,’ he explains. ‘Once I found a way to more or less successfully separate the dialogue from the environmental and score sounds, I started working with them as raw materials. So it is less a matter of improvising over a film that’s been muted, and more about thinking of the whole of the film as a material entity and pushing that towards some new musical and environmental forms.’

Lopatin’s been making intoxicating electronic music since the mid 2000s, mostly under the alias, Oneohtrix Point Never – a play on words of the Boston radio station, Magic 106.7 – but also as Chuck Person, KGB Man, Infinity Window, Ford & Lopatin, Games and SunsetCorp. The latter was the pseudonym he used for 2009’s ‘Nobody Here’, his sublimely simple loop of three words from Chris De Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red’. Like a lot of his music, the track slotted neatly into the genre of hypnagogic pop, a term coined by David Keenan in The Wire magazine the same year. Keenan and Heather Leigh Murray, who set up Glasgow’s excellent Volcanic Tongue record shop – a weirdo treasure trove of avant-garde drones, Japanese psych, local acid-folk and everything in between (it’s online-only now after the Finnieston shop closed earlier this year) – stocked a lot of Lopatin’s rarities, and became friends.

‘Please give David and Heather a shout-out from me!,’ he chirps. Having played Scottish gigs booked by Cry Parrot, (Fielding Hope), and briefly toured the States with Glasgow’s Nackt Insekten (Ruaraidh Sanachan), and Edinburgh’s Usurper, (Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson), Lopatin is full of praise for the people making up the varied Scottish music scene.

‘They are sweet, intensely honest and just lovely people who care about music.’

For his upcoming Scottish date in The Hub, he says mysteriously, ‘I’m moving sounds around a room and giving them shape and texture and dynamics.’ He’ll also perform Bullet Hell Abstraction IV, a new composition commissioned by Red Bull Music Academy and inspired by video games (not for the first time either, his 2010 tape Ecco Jams blurred Sega theme tunes and Toto’s ‘Africa’).

‘They asked me to perform an original piece of music based on work by a Japanese video game composer of my choosing, so I chose Manabu Namiki, a musical hero of mine, and I created four pieces. He’s most famously a composer of great soundtracks to Bullet Hell or Manic Shooter games, which have a certain hypnotic feel.’

Hypnotic, hypnagogic, holographic; the music of Lopatin, sci-fi geek, synth manipulator and Japanese cartoon nut, somehow sounds like all of the above.

Magnetic Rose by Oneohtrix Point Never is part of The Hub Sessions at Edinburgh International Festival on Saturday.

pointnever.com

Read online at The Herald here (subscription needed)

Interview: Apphia Campbell on playing Nina Simone

Celebrating Nina Simone

Apphia Campbell playing Nina Simone in Black is the Colour of My Voice

Apphia Campbell playing Nina Simone in Black is the Colour of My Voice

The Herald
10 Aug 2015

What if Nina Simone hadn’t died when she did? The jazz singer would have been 83 years old this year, and chances are, if she was paying attention to the news, she’d be mad as hell and ready, as she once said, to ‘burn buildings’.

“I try and imagine if she was around now,” muses Apphia Campbell, a Florida born, now Edinburgh-based singer who has written a play about the blues legend turned black rights activist, who died in 2003.

“Would she be right back up there, singing those protest songs? Maybe she’d change the words of ‘Mississippi Goddam’ and be singing ‘Texas Goddam’ for 2015 instead!

“To hear her singing those civil rights songs back in the 60s, then seeing that forty or so years later we’ve not really moved on, there’s something incredibly sad about that.”

Campbell’s one-woman play, Black is the Color Of My Voice will return to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, alongside a new sister show, Nina Simone: Soul Sessions, where Campbell sings songs from Simone’s broad back catalogue, including ‘Sinner Man’, ‘Feeling Good’ and ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’.

Campbell’s not the only one sensing a fresh thirst for the story and songs of Nina Simone. Ruth Rogers-Wright will be starring in another Fringe play, Nina Simone Black Diva Power over at the New Town Theatre, barely a month after Netflix released the documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, a collection of rare footage and interviews with her family.

“Nina Simone’s brilliance would forever change the musical landscape and yet she never fully got her due,” explains documentary director, Liz Garbus, chatting to The Herald from Pasadena, Los Angeles. “She had been a very popular singer during the 50s, but she never compromised. After songs like ‘Backlash Blues’ and ‘Mississippi Goddam’, she was essentially blacklisted. They were considered too radical, and seen as commercial suicide. Some people gave their life for the black rights struggle, but it’s important not to overlook the price others paid too.”

Garbus’ documentary required a ‘worldwide scavenger hunt’ to find audio tapes, interviews, family confessions and diaries that would help trace Simone’s life. Originally a classically trained pianist, she became a jazz bar diva and latterly, an icon for black power. She became friends with American activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, as well as African activists including South African singer Miriam Makeba, who encouraged Simone to relocate to Liberia, where she lived in self-imposed exile for two years.

“She struggled against demons from both within and without,” says Garbus. “Her life was both a reflection of the legacy of racism in America as well as an extraordinary example of the power a righteous voice can bring to bear against even the most wicked historical legacies,” says Garbus.

For Campbell, a singer who keeps getting mistaken for Simone on her publicity posters for Black is the Color of My Voice, it was Simone’s struggle as a woman, and a musician, that seemed particularly fascinating.

“She was a dark character, someone who went through tumultuous times, with bouts of violence and depression, but through them she was always trying to find her voice – was it educated enough? Was it African enough? Was it real enough? Watching YouTube videos of her, I noticed how much her speaking voice, as well as her singing voice could change.”

Simone described her own voice as having the ability to change from ‘gravel’ to ‘coffee and cream’, but for Rogers-Wright, what was always consistent was the emotion she poured in.

‘Most singers don’t take that chance when they perform, but she dared to experiment, to say what she thought, to take you on an adventure of the senses, to show real depth and beauty, and the results were often incredible.”

In Black Diva Power, the story focuses on Simone’s friendship with Lorraine Hansberry – the playwright and black activist who encouraged Simone to become involved in the civil rights movement. Hansberry, who died from cancer, aged 34, urged Simone to carry on her legacy after her death, and Simone’s top ten hit ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ was inspired by Hansberry’s writing, which had been turned into a Broadway play of the same name the year before.

Both Campbell and Rogers-Wright admit they find Simone an intimidating figure to portray on stage. For Campbell, she has created a fictional character, Mena Bordeaux, inspired by the real-life spiritual cleansing that Simone embarked on following her father’s death, where she isolated herself for three days without cigarettes, alcohol, or access to the outside world.

Rogers-Wright saw Simone perform several times in London and was mesmerised, although scared off approaching her outside the venues because she was arguing or agitated each time.

“Nina believed she was the reincarnation of Queen Nefertiti, and sometimes, when you hear her sing in that emphatic way of hers, or even telling her crowd to shut up, you think, maybe she was on to something!

“Her music had a transformative power, it took her to a higher place, somewhere beyond even her shittiest behaviour. This show is a reminder to new and old fans that you can be a strong spirit, fight for what means the world to you, and that’s when unique things happen.”

Black is the Color of My Voice, Gilded Balloon, Wed 5–Mon 31 Aug, 1.15pm, £9.50-£10.50 (£6–£9.50); Nina Simone: Soul Sessions, Assembly Checkpoint, Thu 6–Sun 30 Aug, 8.50pm, £10–£13.50; Nina Simone Black Diva Power, New Town Theatre, Thu 6–Sun 30 Aug, 7.45pm, £7-£14 (£8–£12).

Read the article at The Herald here.

Interview: Jimi Tenor recalls making techno documentary Sähkö The Movie

Ahead of a rare screening in Glasgow, the director shares his memories of filming the 90s techno documentary

Jimi Tenor

The List
18 Feb 2015

Only the few will have seen Sähkö The Movie – regarded among certain technoheads as the ‘Holy Grail of electronic music documentaries’. Rarely screened live, besides the odd special event like Sonar festival, or a night at MoMA in New York, it’s coming to Glasgow for its 20th anniversary, and a special event in the Glasgow Short Film Festival. Although many won’t have laid eyes on it, there’s a chance some Scottish readers (especially clubbers of a certain vintage) could be in the film.

Jimi Tenor, director of the 44-minute documentary, and semi-legendary Finnish techno producer turned pop/jazz musician, remembers the mid-nineties trip to Glasgow where some of the film was made.

‘Keith [McIvor, aka JD Twitch) had his club at the Barrowlands – Pure. He invited me over for that which was a lot of fun. They liked a track of mine, ‘Take Me Baby’. It reminded him of Suicide and we all liked Suicide. Anyway, they liked it and released a 12” on their label [T&B] in 1995.’ (Warp Records later re-released it, and Hudson Mohawke covered it.)

‘After that Keith and I have stayed in touch, and worked on other events like Optimo and the Venice Biennale since.’

Two decades on, Tenor’s been invited back to screen his documentary at Glasgow’s Glue Factory, and play a live set, with support from the inimitable Golden Teacher.

‘It might be quite weird for Glasgow audiences to watch,’ says Tenor of his film, shot in 16mm and newly restored digitally. ‘Some of the clothes are quite funny, and it’s interesting to see the streets, the Barrowlands, a pool hall; how the city has changed since then.’

‘It’s a bit like a road movie, or a music video; there’s very little dialogue,’ explains Tenor, who was a key player on Finnish ultra-minimalist techno label, Sähkö Recordings (sähkö means ‘electricity’), founded by Tommi Grönlund in 1993. The film follows Tenor and labelmates, the excellent Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen (solo artists who performed together as Pan(a)sonic), as they share their ultra-sparse techno, weird noise music and self-made instruments with the world.

‘The quality is rough, but I think the Super 8 format is lovely. It was always supposed to be like that, but it’s not like, I don’t know … Harry Potter quality.’

‘It’s a piece of history now,’ he laughs. ‘It’s about those times, and the completely weird outfits we wore, those big plastic glasses I wore – and still wear now. The main idea behind what we were doing was to make something simple, nothing fancy. But we wanted it to be something hopefully a bit strange, and surprising.’

‘In those days the laptop thing hadn’t happened,’ he goes on. ‘We were using really heavy hardware back then. Sometimes my kit would weigh about 20 kilos. These days, flight luggage restrictions don’t even let you travel with that anymore! Back then they’d allow much more but I’d still board planes wearing three jackets, and all the pockets were stuffed with cables.’

Although Sähkö has earned cult status in some electronic music circles, Tenor stresses that a lot of the elements that fans love about the label’s sound sometimes came about through necessity, as much as design.

‘The equipment we were using wasn’t rare at the time – we just used what was cheap. Nowadays some of the bits have become really expensive, but it certainly wasn’t back then. We used unfashionable, second-hand, analogue stuff. It was a good moment for us to get hold of it – just as it was becoming out of step and they were switching gradually to new, digital equipment.

‘The main idea was that it was very simple, not complicated, so the audience could understand the system going on, and how roughly it had been made. I find often when people do stuff with laptops now, using a lot of samplers, the whole thing gets quite complicated. You listen, and it’s like, “what exactly is going on here?”. You can’t tell what was done at home, what’s happening live, when they are just pressing play … With our stuff, when something happened, you could see it happening. There was a live, improvised, noise side to what we did onstage, for sure.’

‘Obviously we wanted it to provide entertainment. It was always supposed to be enjoyable, just not in a predictable way. Now I may be a hippie with long hair, but I won’t be having an early night. I still hope to have a good party on the dancefloor in Glasgow. Of course I do – I’m still alive!’

Strange Electricity, The Glue Factory, Glasgow, Sat 14 Mar, part of Glasgow Short Film Festival.
jimitenor.com; sahkorecordings.com.

Read the interview at The List here.  View photos from the anniversary screening here.

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