The Best Live Act winners reflect on the power of art and the awfulness of Trump.
For U2’s guitarist and bassist, the year has been one of cultural enlightenment, sporting endeavour and taking themselves out of their comfort zones. In the background, though, they’ve been whittling their new songs down to a lean, mean 18… INTERVIEW: MAT
Despite spending most of 2016 in the studio working on their 14th album, U2 have enjoyed a landmark year. On 25 September, they turned 40. The passing of four decades since Bono, Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr first set up instruments in the kitchen of the drummer’s parents’ semi in Artane, Dublin, hasn’t prompted much celebration, though. “We’re notorious for segueing as quickly as possible from one event to the next and not looking back,” says Edge. “We’re all very proud that we’re still here as a band and we still love each other but… we’d rather think about what’s next.” “Although the fact we were actually in Vegas on the day was an irony that wasn’t lost on any of us,” adds Clayton. They’ll happily peer back into the last 12 months, though. It’s here that memories of “Looney Tunes” elections, tied-andbound artists and the Welsh national football team linger…
HEARING POLITICS IN POP AGAIN
Edge: “A record called 99.9% by [ Montrealraised DJ/producer] Kaytranada has just blown me away this year. It’s so innovative… so African. It’s hip-hop but it’s jazz, it’s so many things. Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo has been played a lot in our house too and Lemonade by Beyoncé was also a bit mind-blowing. It was encouraging to see, with the Black Lives Matter movement, music become politically relevant again. It felt like music had become dormant politically over the last few years and technology had taken over. Take the Arab Spring movement: it was a technology movement, it wasn’t music. If you take the top
50 on any music-streaming service there’s some beautifully made pop music but nothing with any ambition beyond just occupying the airwaves – apart from Kanye and Beyoncé. I’d like to see more like that, and within rock’n’roll, too. It’s not been a golden age for guitars recently but I don’t think they’re done. It’ll just take some fucking great songs with some innovation.”
Adam Clayton: “The Bruce Springsteen book [ Born To Run] is phenomenal. It’s a great cultural book that, in a strange way, tells you about America – the parts of his story about what being an
American means and what America means. It’s an interesting journey told very, very eloquently. Then, of course, you butt that up against the American election, which was just Looney Tunes. It was an interesting election because both characters are problematic – I understand that – but I think there was one candidate who clearly understands how to run a country and one candidate who doesn’t know how to tell the truth. To anyone who’s politically savvy, the lies, mistruths and manipulations that Donald Trump is involved in are just so obvious. It’s a terrible comparison to make but when you relate what he’s promising, saying and declaring to any other bad man in politics – whether it’s a Mussolini or a Hitler or any despot – they did exactly the same thing. There’s a large proportion of the electorate that has very little political experience but is prepared to believe these characters. And that’s what’s shocking: not that they’re not believable but that there are people who believe them.”
E: “The Welsh performance at Euro 2016 was incredible [ Edge is from a Welsh family]. Over the years, the Wales team has often been built around one star player. With Gareth Bale, you didn’t really know how that was going to work out. We saw a real team though. He inspired everyone and was instrumental in so many of their great moments, but often in a supporting role. That it was so successful [ Wales reached the semi-finals of the tournament] was a lesson to anyone that it’s about the team winning and not about the most able individual being to the front at all times. It’s sometimes about the weakest member of the team getting the biggest amount of help. That was very inspiring.”
THE WORK OF MATTHEW BARNEY
AC: “I saw a wonderful show [ River Of Fundament] at MOCA in LA by the artist Matthew Barney. He was with Björk for a while and their break-up produced that absolutely great record for her [ 2015’ s Vulnicura]. I think it’s his enormous ambition that appeals to me most. There’s a series of works he did called ‘Drawing Restraint’. He was restricted in some way – he was tied up or his head had limited movement – and it was about the effort he had to make to make a mark on the paper. He realises that creating art takes a certain amount of effort and you’ve got to find a way to get through your natural resistance to make that mark. It made me think differently about the
“Wales at Euro 2016 was a lesson to anyone that it’s about the team winning and not about the most able individual being to the front at all times.” Edge
“it took me 15 seconds to say yes to playing the sistine chapel. then i realised, ‘oh shit, i don’t do solo shows.’” Edge
energy it takes and how disciplined you have to be – how, to an extent, you have to be in training to be creative. You can’t do it from a void. I find it easier to get to arts shows than gigs these days, probably because they’re in the afternoon.”
E: “We were rehearsing in Burbank in September and who walked in? Macca. He was in the next room preparing for his Desert Trip shows. We played him a couple of tunes and then he gave us a private performance of Day Tripper. Come on! In terms of being close to the flame, that’s about as good as it gets! He’s the one we all measure our songs against and we’re very honoured by his enthusiasm for what we do. Growing up, watching A Hard Day’s Night every Christmas was the only rock’n’roll available. It really did inspire me to pick up a guitar and get into music. I don’t know how he’s been able to maintain it, but his voice is immaculate and he’s singing in the same key as he was in the early days. It’s remarkable and inspiring that he’s still playing these songs. The songs are the thing. It reinforces everything we’ve been feeling over the last few albums: the most important thing is that your tunes and lyrics are bulletproof. His are more bulletproof than anything, ever.”
INTERVIEWING WILLIAM EGGLESTON
AC: “I interviewed William Eggleston, the amazing, pioneering colour photographer for a magazine feature. Alongside his photography, he’s interesting because he’s a real music guy, he’s a self-taught pianist, loves classical music, and he’s got a musician’s heart. He can’t hear bass any more, though [ Eggleston is 77]. It’s very, very tragic because he believes hearing bass is very therapeutic and an essential part of life. Funnily enough, it may be something that all bass players are destined towards. I now have ear damage, not too bad, but I’m losing frequencies.”
EDGE PLAYS THE SISTINE CHAPEL
E: “I was going to Cellular Horizons [ a cellular therapy conference at the Vatican in April] anyway because I’m fascinated with cutting-edge medicine and scientific breakthroughs. I’m part of the Angiogenesis Foundation, which is dedicated to breakthroughs in medicine. When they said, ‘Would you mind playing in the Sistine Chapel?’ I thought seriously hard for at least 15 seconds. Then I realised, ‘Oh shit, I don’t do solo shows!’ It’s always good to be out of the comfort zone, though, and I was very happy with the show [ he performed Leonard Cohen’s If It Be Your Will and U2’s Walk On, Ordinary Love and Yahweh]. I actually had seven singers with me from Music Generation, an education programme in Ireland that’s giving access to music tuition to 26,000 kids who wouldn’t otherwise have it. It was just a jaw-dropping moment for them to be in this building. I was totally blown away by the acoustics, I had to change everything at the last minute and slow things down to take account of the unbelievable reverb time. It felt like one note lasted several minutes.”
For forward-facing U2, attention now returns to finishing the album. They started with 50 songs, whittling them down to 18. Losing more is proving tricky. “Larry wants to keep the ones with the best drum beats, Adam wants the ones with the best bass parts. For Bono it’s about the lyrics,” explains Edge. After 40 years, he’s confident they’ll reach a consensus. “Of course,” he says, “we all know it’ll be the ones with the best guitar parts.”
Playing politics: U2 mock US presidential nominee Donald Trump at a gig in Las Vegas, September 2016.
He shoots, he scores: Wales at Euro 2016 (Gareth Bale, pictured) impressed Edge; (below) Happy Birthday to us! U2 ‘celebrate’ 40 years in the game.
“Swapsies?” Edge is greeted by Irish Bishop Paul Tighe, ahead of his solo gig at the Vatican, April 2016.