British dance-music duo Gorgon City says its Kingdom project is more than an album or a collection of separate tracks; it’s a brand.
Gorgon City released Kingdom’s tracks separately, but together the songs form a complete project
The digital era changed everything about music—both how it’s consumed and how it’s released. But while a number of artists simply switched from putting out albums on vinyl and CDS to streaming on Spotify and itunes, producers like Gorgon City went one step further. Reimaging the scope of the conventional album format, the British duo is revising what it means to put out music as a collection with its Kingdom project.
“Sometimes when you’re writing an album it can get frustrating when you’ve worked on a track, finished it, and then have to wait for the label to figure out what to do with it,” Kye Gibbon, half of Gorgon City, tells the Straight on the line from London, England. “Because we’re touring so much, when we have a song done, we want to get it out there. We figured out that it would work to our advantage to release each of them one at a time.
“There are a number of positives,” he continues. “Putting out each track separately gives them their own space as well as their own attention. It lets us write music that takes in a lot of different styles. There’s songs like ‘Blue Parrot’, which is a straightup dark, techy club track, and there are things that are much more house. They’re all linked together by their heavy bottom end, and a focus on the bass. Together, they form a full album.”
Innovation has been a vital part of the duo’s career since they first hit the Top 10 in their home country with club banger “Ready for Your Love”. Taking U.K. rave music—jungle, drum ’n’ bass, garage, and grime—as reference points, Gibbon and fellow DJ and producer Matt Robson-scott traded in their solo careers to pursue Gorgon City full-time. It’s proven to be a good decision. Scoring a residency at Ibiza’s premier Amnesia club, touring in over 30 countries, and collaborating with everyone from Jennifer Hudson to Duke Dumont, the pair is filling bigger and bigger dance floors around the world.
Gibbon puts the final number of releases for Kingdom at 16, and hints that a bundle of tracks will be released together early next year. That’s not where the concept ends, though.
“Kingdom has become more than an album— it’s a bit of a brand now,” Gibbon says. “We have parties that are called Kingdom. We’ve done them at festivals around the U.K. like South West Four and Creamfields, in Mexico at BPM, and Florida’s Holy Ship! as well. We also started Kingdom Radio recently. It was an opportunity to create a mix that goes out to a lot of different countries around the world. It was a bit daunting to do a radio show every week, but it means we have to dig more than if we were just doing club sets. It’s a great way to showcase artists’ music that we’re into.”
The Kingdom brand also incorporates the pair’s live performances. Setting themselves apart from other electronic-music duos, Gibbon and Robsonscott have built a show that allows them to separate their DJ sets from concerts in nonclub venues.
“We love Djing, and I think we’ll always want to be Djing,” Gibbon says. “But when it comes to doing a live set, we want to play music like a band. We have a live drummer and two singers. The drummer plays electronic kits as well as acoustic stuff, so he’s triggering the kick drum, which is the same sound that we use in the production. There are other acoustic drums he can layer over the top. Me and Matt have a couple of synthesizers each, a MIDI keyboard for playing bass lines on, and loads of different sequencers.
“When we do those shows, it adds a different feel to the tracks,” he continues. “Everything is a bit looser. There are certain parts where we’ve deliberately not got a plan. A couple of tracks are literal jams, and we can do whatever we want. Whenever we’re playing our singles or the tracks that everyone knows, sometimes we might do it a little bit differently. If a certain chorus is going down well, we might play that bit for longer, or add in extra fills. It’s very spontaneous, and it keeps everyone on their toes. We’re taking the Kingdom party around the world.” > KATE WILSON Gorgon City plays at Celebrities on Friday (October 6).
Next Music From Tokyo showcases a wide spectrum of Japanese sounds
It might seem unlikely that an event as 2
narrowly focused as Next Music From Tokyo will include something for almost everyone, but consider the facts. The five acts that are part of this travelling minifestival, which surveys Japan’s burgeoning but little-known musical underground, encompass everything from the squeaky-clean pop princesses of Koutei Camera Girl Drei to the chaotic no-wave experimentalists of o’summer vacation to the unfathomably brilliant math-rock virtuosos of Nuito and Jyocho. So whether you show up to help inaugurate the new KW Studios art space in the basement of the Woodward’s building in a brand-new Lucy Heartfilia sundress, a studded leather jacket, or a sun-faded Yes T-shirt, chances are that you’re going to get your money’s worth.
Actually, at the rock-bottom price of $14 for advance tickets or $20 at the door, that’s a given. But what links these bands? According to tour promoter Steven Tanaka, it’s just that he enjoys them all.
“In terms of bringing any acts to Canada through this tour, I have to really like the music,” he explains, checking in from his Toronto home. “And one other thing is that I tend to pick bands that make music I can emotionally connect with, that really has some sort of impact.
“Well, emotional is maybe not the correct term,” he adds, “but it has to get me sort of worked up or energized.”
Another factor in Tanaka’s programming is that he tries to book bands that only truly obsessive Japanese-music fans will have heard of. “For the most part, I try to avoid mainstream acts,” he explains. “They’re usually good musicians, and they can write good music, although it often tends to be kind of cookie-cutter, following certain patterns that are meant to appeal to the biggest demographic possible. I tend to focus more on the indie-underground acts who are willing to take chances, to experiment, and to make music from the heart.”
Koutei Camera Girl Drei is one notable exception. An example of what Tanaka calls “idol pop”, a subgenre inspired by singing-competition TV shows, the quartet is as slick and plastic as a chain restaurant—perhaps because it’s a franchise, too.
“There’s Koutei Camera Girl Drei, but there’s also Koutei Camera Girl Zwei, Koutei Camera Actress… There are at least four different acts using the name,” Tanaka explains. “From the lyrical standpoint, the girls don’t really have any input. Also, in terms of producing the music itself, they have a team of about six or seven track-makers or beatsmiths that are tasked with coming up with instrumentation for the songs. They’re sort of mysterious, because only a couple of them have divulged their real names or identities, but they’re a diverse mix of DJS and instrumentalists.”
The other acts on the bill are more conventionally “indie”, but their music is often far more daring than what most North American alt-rock acts are willing to provide. Lovers of progressive music will especially want to check out Jyocho: fronted by the extraordinary guitarist Daijiro Nakagawa, the band inhabits musical terrain somewhere between late-phase
Sonic Youth and peak-period King Crimson, but with an odd sweetness all its own.
Just as remarkable as Jyocho’s music, however, is that the Vancouver-born Tanaka has been funding Next Music From Tokyo, now in its 11th iteration, out of his own pocket ever since its inception in 2010.
“I’m probably being taken advantage of, to some degree,” he says, affably enough. “But most of the musicians have part-time jobs, or they’re going to school, or they’re really just kind of scraping by, so it’s just like, ‘Oh, whatever; I’ll pay for it all.’ But I’m an anesthesiologist. I make a very comfortable living, so I can use some of that money to pay for this ridiculous hobby.”
His loss is our gain. > ALEXANDER VARTY Next Music From Tokyo Vol. 11 takes place at KW Studios on Wednesday (October 11).
SHAHDJS marks 10 years of creating positive vibes
Countless education programs 2
offer courses in how to get into music production, event management, and promotion. For SHAHDJS founder Willis Lombard, who performs as Willisist, it was more important to follow his intuition. Establishing a seven-person drum ’n’ bass crew that has been instrumental in revitalizing the Vancouver bass music scene, the artist stumbled upon a successful model by chance.
“Ten years ago, the ANZA Club was doing an open-decks session every Saturday night,” Lombard tells the Straight, on the line from his home in the city. “A few of us knew each other, and we all just started going there every week. It was predominantly a tech-house night, and still is, but we would all show up and play drum ’n’ bass. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we all had similar tastes.
“There’s a natural ebb and flow in Vancouver’s electronic-music scene,” he continues. “Drum ’n’ bass had a high point a few years before we got together, but it got a bit stale, people got older, and some major players left town. The one night that was still happening was pretty aggressive and grimy. It was doing fine for what it was, and the people who loved it really enjoyed it. But we were much more into the liquid side of things—the melodic stuff—and creating a more positive, happy vibe. No one else was promoting that at the time.”
In a few areas, the collective got lucky. Photographer Vasho joined the crew around the time that Facebook was becoming standard, and, as Lombard puts it, “Having quality media at every show was priceless.” Fellow SHAHDJ Kir Mokum, too, had serious visual-art chops, and started putting together the group’s flyers. It wasn’t a deliberate strategy, Lombard suggests, but it was invaluable for propelling the collective’s popularity.
On the promotion side, though, it was the founder’s gut instincts that elevated the crew’s profile.
“I decided a long time ago not to lock into a venue or have a fixed residency,” he says. “Venues constantly come and go. When one closes, another one will pop up for six months. I’ve always been a free agent, and when we want to put on a big show we put a call out and hopefully there’s a venue we can work with. It means that nothing gets repetitive and stale, and every performance feels a little different. The location makes a big difference to the vibe. If you’re decorating the same spot every week, it gets stale. When you show up for a one-off, it’s going to be unique.”
Over the course of its 10-year history, the crew has put on more than a few memorable events. Lombard recalls throwing a “False-o-ween” party at the venue that once housed huge tourist attraction Storyeum, setting up a giant party for more than a thousand people. Involved with Bass Coast Festival since its own inception 10 years ago, the DJ remembers rocking the main stage after British underground star dbridge, standing on top of a giant pirate ship that “looked like it had crashed into the stage”. A decade after its creation, SHAHDJS continues to sell out highprofile shows.
“The electronic-music scene here is thriving,” Lombard says. “You need to constantly evolve.” > KATE WILSON SHAHDJS plays the Commodore Ballroom on Sunday (October 8) as part of Bass Coast’s 10th-anniversary celebrations.
Trio Da Kali draws on rich traditions of the griots
Trio Da Kali takes the music of Mali back to its ancient roots, at the same time exploring new sonic spaces for a contemporary flavour. The group’s debut album, Ladilikan, released last month, is a collaboration with San Francisco’s famed Kronos Quartet that effortlessly spans the ground between the western classical tradition and the rich heritage of the griots.
Storytellers and praise-singers, the griots and their culture are found throughout the territories once part of the medieval Mali Empire that nurtured their art. “All three of us are griots,” says Lassana Diabaté, musical director of Trio Da Kali, reached on tour in Nelsonville, Ohio. “I play the balafon [a marimba with gourd resonators], which is the very first instrument of the Manding. It wasn’t necessarily only to get people dancing, or used for celebration—it could also be classical. I’ve worked to make music on the balafon that’s for listening.”
Trio Da Kali’s other members are bass ngoni (banjo-lute) player Mamadou Kouyaté and vocalist Hawa Diabaté, daughter of one of Mali’s greatest singers. The Diabatés are among the leading griot families, and for a long time Lassana was a member of kora master Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra, which performed at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival some years ago. More recently Kouyaté played here with his father Bassekou’s band Ngoni Ba.
Soon after forming, Trio Da Kali came to the attention of David Harrington, founder and musical director of Kronos Quartet. “The idea at first was not for us to make an album, just to do a few concerts together,” says Lassana. “So they wanted us to record some music and send it for them to work on. Dr. Lucy Duran in England, someone I’ve worked with a lot and who knew Kronos Quartet, helped me select songs with them in mind.”
The two groups first met in San Francisco on the occasion of Kronos Quartet’s 40th-anniversary bash in 2014. “We only played a couple of things but the next day the press were all over us, and someone immediately booked us. People were thrilled by what we did together—and all of us were thrilled too. David Harrington said that we had to take such a collaboration further—or someone else would do. We only rehearsed a few days before recording together, then flew off to play the Montreux [Jazz] Festival. After that the trio went on to play at the BBC Proms, and tour the U.K.. The response was amazing.”
For the music on Ladilikan Trio Da Kali drew inspiration both from their griot predecessors and a fresh influence—u.s. gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. “The first time we met Kronos Quartet, immediately after Hawa had sung, David went to get an album he had of Mahalia Jackson, and said to Hawa ‘She’s so much like you—the power, range, and the phrasing in her voice.’ So he gave us that album, and Lucy translated the words. We worked with that. When we first heard our griot music played by violins, viola, and cello, I felt it was going to be the best collaboration of my life. And it is.” > TONY MONTAGUE Trio Da Kali plays St. James Hall on Friday (October 6).
L.A. Witch aimed at vintage warmth on its debut album
If the members of L.A. Witch 2
seem vaguely obsessed with the past on their long-time-coming debut, that makes sense when you consider many of their favourite reference points.
In a conference call from their hometown of Los Angeles, singerguitarist Sade Sanchez, bassist Irita Pai, and drummer Ellie English rattle off a decidedly retro list of artists who’ve inspired them. Those in the golden circle include PJ Harvey, the Gun Club, Nick Cave, Sonic Youth, and the Cramps. Considering that shortlist, it’s perhaps no surprise that L.A. Witch’s eponymous debut is definitely on the dark side, the songs marked by goth-surf guitars, doom-generation vocals, and gloomy postpunk bass lines.
What binds the band’s biggest influencers together is that they came from an artistically pure time when no one making underground music expected to have their songs placed in Apple commercials or networktv dramas. And the attraction doesn’t stop there.
“The way that the music was recorded was really different and really hard to replicate,” Sanchez says. “There’s something that’s just really special about old music, even stuff from the ’90s era. Even the ’90s grunge and alternative-rock period had a huge impact on us. There was, I dunno, just more warmth to it.”
Understandably, then, getting the right sonic tone was important to L.A. Witch when, after a series of EPS, they began focusing on recording their debut album. One of the first things they discovered was that re-creating a vintage vibe is harder than it might seem.
“We tried to record the album a few times and it never really came out sounding right—it was like it didn’t represent us as a band,” Pai says. “I think what happened is that we were touring so much that every time we’d come back and revisit the recordings our sound had evolved.”
On L.A. Witch, that sound swings from the midnight-in-the-swamp garage of “Kill My Baby Tonight” to the gunpowder-black country punk of “Untitled” to the spawn-of-l7 grunge-pop of “Drive Your Car”.
A major part of the record’s appeal is that L.A. Witch doesn’t sound of its time, despite all three members of the band being in their 20s. Their obsession with the past doesn’t stop with music; one of the group’s other passions is analogue photography, out of a strong preference for the imperfections of film. Digital technology has made everything easier today. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that things are better.
“We wanted to record the album onto tape, but we never got the chance to do that,” Sanchez says. “Older records have a certain warmth to them— it’s the same as how there’s something more sensual about capturing a shot on film. The appeal is that you don’t really know what you’re going to get.”
But the members of L.A. Witch have a pretty clear idea of where they want to go next. Having taken a good half-dozen years to finally record a full-length album, the trio are eager to get back into the studio. When they do, expect them to take a page from the playbooks of those they admire.
“Look at Nick Cave and all the different places that he’s gone as an artist,” Sanchez says. “He’s one of those people who has really evolved from punk rock to where he is today. Sometimes artists grow older and you can’t relate to what they’re doing anymore. He’s stayed relevant by being true to himself. That’s something to strive for.” > MIKE USINGER L.A. Witch plays the Fox Cabaret on Saturday (October 7).